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The blow Israel received from the United Nations' report on Operation Cast Lead stems partly from a misunderstanding by its authors as to the essence of the conflicts in which Israel is embroiled, and of what security steps they necessitate. However, it was also caused by the poor Israeli decision not to cooperate with the investigation.

Proper judgment would have led to the advance realization that participation and nonparticipation could have brought either good or bad results, and resulted in four possible outcomes, of which the lesser evil should have been chosen:

1. Nonparticipation in the investigation, with an optimistic view of the outcome: a severe report against Israel, but Israel's lack of participation would damage the report's legitimacy and reduce the negative impact on Israel.

2. Nonparticipation in the investigation, with a pessimistic view of the outcome: A very severe report against Israel, whose legitimacy would not be damaged by Israel's nonparticipation, that would damage Israel because it would strengthen the idea that Israel "has something to hide," and that Israel "shows contempt for the United Nations."

3. Participation in the investigation, with a pessimistic view of the outcome: a very severe report against Israel, underscored by the fact that Israel had ample opportunity to air its arguments, which were considered and rejected.

4. Participation in the investigation, with an optimistic view of the outcome: a severe but restrained report against Israel, with an opportunity for Israel to explain its side to the whole world, creating a basis for defense against the report's conclusions and against the fact that Israel's arguments were not given due consideration.

I tend to believe, in part due to the personality of the commission's chairman, that had Israel participated, the results would have been somewhere between pessimistic and optimistic. Any serious background work would, in my opinion, have reached the conclusion that an optimistic outcome if Israel did not take part would be highly unlikely. However, the concern is unfounded that Israel's very participation in the investigation would be construed as a kind of admission of guilt and result in harsher conclusions. Israel should therefore have participated, presenting its claims in the best possible way, with an eye toward the media and world leaders.

This is not a matter of 20/20 hindsight, but rather a conclusion that could have been arrived at ahead of time with a level-headed calculation. The question is, therefore, why Israel chose the worst alternative. There are three explanations for this failure:

1. A sense of contempt for United Nations bodies that clearly discriminate against Israel, and an emotion-based lack of desire to participate in an investigation that it is clear from the outset would draw conclusions that would be very bad for Israel.

2. The hope that if Israel did not take part in the probe, it would be easier to reduce the credibility of the probe's conclusions.

3. A fear that numerous appearances by Israel before the commission investigating its actions would complicate things further for Israel.

These three explanations can be summed up in one basic failure: the lack of a "strategic mind." Serious strategic thinking would have rejected out of hand following emotions on this issue (as opposed to, for example, the issue of kidnapped Israelis in enemy hands). Serious consideration would also have led to the conclusion that Israel's lack of participation would increase the chance of harsher conclusions against Israel, because of the material presented, a lack of full counter-arguments as well as the psychological influences on the members of the investigative commissions.

Comprehensive strategic thinking would have also given great weight to the opportunity to explain Israel's positions publicly by means of the commission's deliberations, while placing most of the onus on Hamas - not defensively after the report was published, which is far less effective.

Unfortunately, the lack of strategic thinking in the decision not to participate in the investigation is not surprising. Those same senior decision-makers at the governmental level already evinced a lack of such thinking while managing the Second Lebanon War, and also in not giving proper weight to the matter of Israel's image during Operation Cast Lead - all considerations that are the responsibility of the prime minister and not the defense establishment.

An essential step in learning a lesson is to stop justifying the decision not to participate in the investigation. Reasoning like "look at the conclusions - they justify the decision not to participate," has a serious logical flaw. There is also a need to rethink the weight that should be given during security operations to the impact on Israel's image.

However, most important is the development of a quality strategic mind in Israel's governmental leadership. From a professional perspective, without reference to this or that political position, the little that is known about the workings of the "forum of six" - the new format of the National Security Council - and about the strengthening of the policy-planning division in the Foreign Ministry, give reason for hope. But much more is needed, especially at the highest government level, because Israel cannot allow itself to continue to operate without an excellent strategic mind.