The Turkel Commission is fighting yesterday’s war

No matter how thorough its investigation is or how comprehensive its findings, Israel will still face surprises and setbacks.

Turkel Committee 311 (photo credit: GPO)
Turkel Committee 311
(photo credit: GPO)
March 2011: Several “Freedom Flight” aircraft enter Gazan airspace to bring humanitarian aid. In addition to medical and food supplies, the planes carry several human rights luminaries, including a Nobel laureate and a former head of state. Israel is caught unprepared and confused. The air force is deployed with no clear mandate. Media channels and diplomats go into a frenzy.
This hypothetical scenario highlights a grave truth – no matter how thorough or comprehensive the Turkel Committee’s investigation is, the country will still face surprises and setbacks. That is because the Turkel Committee’s too narrow mandate, which focuses almost entirely on the Gaza flotilla, ignores the wider and more important context: Israel faces a systemic and systematic assault on its political-economic model – a campaign to delegitimize it.
Within this long-standing “war,” the Gaza flotilla represents only one battle and Israel’s policy on Gaza only one pretext. As a whole, the campaign aims to precipitate Israel’s political implosion and takes inspiration, despite the clear differences in circumstances, from the collapse of the Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa. And as the campaign continues to seek the country’s political demise, Israel has remained focused primarily on strengthening its military.
THE LOOSE network structure that allows the campaign to quickly mutate and adapt makes it particularly potent. Understanding how to better respond to a particular strike cannot help for what is next. The network that produced the flotilla, prominent mobilizations around the Durban conferences and Operation Cast Lead, the BDS campaign and the legal war against senior leaders (“lawfare”) will continue to innovate.
Therefore, we must focus on the campaign’s generators, not on their high-profile tactics.
In fact, the marginal radical forces driving the assault on our legitimacy have already made serious progress.
For example, the Gaza flotilla demonstrated a significant increase in cooperation between two separate groups: the country’s traditional enemies that reject its right to exist based on Arab and Islamist nationalist-religious ideology, and Western-based delegitimizers who oppose its existence based on political, philosophical or historical arguments.
This evolving campaign has hit us where we are most vulnerable – international media, public opinion and nongovernmental organizations. A failure to face it may threaten the country’s ability to defend itself militarily, encourage challenges to its sovereignty and fuel further use of universal jurisdiction and boycotts.
Therefore, the government, along with friends and allies, must launch a global, systemic offense. Only a sweeping, ambitious, networked approach can achieve synchronized victories – success across military, legal, political, diplomatic arenas. There is no alternative.
TO DO this, the security and foreign affairs establishment must focus on the source of the problem, the network that in varying forms and constellations launches repeated strikes. The Gaza flotilla was openly planned and uninterruptedly organized over a 14- month period by NGOs, primarily in friendly countries.
The information was available yet the threat was not on the radar. Israel and its allies should systematically collect information on these organizations and work to disrupt, expose their activities and isolate and marginalize them.
But it must also in allocate significant resources to cultivating and maintaining its own network of organizations, diplomats and friends. These can drive a clear wedge between the delegitimizers and those protesting the country’s policy by substantively engaging with criticism, however harsh, and by providing factual and relevant responses. Outing, naming and shaming delegitimizers must occur alongside engagement with critics, such as human rights organizations. One cannot succeed without the other.
The national security concept should make these activities routine so that delegitimization is systemically addressed. Getting there means overhauling the conceptual basis of its response. Unfortunately, the Turkel Committee merely offers a corrective to yesterday’s provocation. It does not offer any new strategy, let alone a systemic review. Israel needs much more.
The writer is a senior analyst on the Reut Institute National Security Team which published a comprehensive report on the Gaza flotilla last August. She previously worked at the Washington headquarters of AIPAC, where she served as communications and research director of the student leadership program.