The blame game between the political and military establishments is revealing the same characteristics that led us to the Yom Kippur War, and the same subsequent spats over who was responsible and who must be held accountable. Then, as now, the chief failure was that of intelligence. Then, as now, the military was full of itself, sure that we'd "break their bones," in the famous words of then-chief of staff David Elazar on the second day of the Egyptian-Syrian assault.
How did Israel's prime minister and defense ministers think the interception of the "humanitarian" aid ship would be perceived in the eyes of the world? As a sort of latter-day Entebbe? Hardly. In effect, it came off as a heavy-handed operation: The vessel approaches, is seized and towed to Ashdod Port, just as in the days of the pirates of yore.
After the Yom Kippur War, the defense minister at the time, as his successor today, claimed that his role was to redirect "ministerial counsel" - that is, that the chief of staff himself would be directing the war. Now, however, there is no doubt that those responsible for this rather unfortunate affair are first and foremost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Together, the two leaders planned the violent reception for the supposedly compassionate fleet, but are now placing the burden of responsibility on the chief of staff. Why was he not at IDF operational headquarters during the raid on the Mavi Marmara? Why was the Israel Navy commander so near the ship at the time? Veteran combat soldiers claim that with today's advanced information and surveillance systems, military leaders could have made their decisions from a desert island just as well.
The current round of blame-casting is reminiscent of the frenzied search for a scapegoat in the dark days following the 1973 war. Netanyahu was in Canada when the naval commandos launched their raid under embarrassing circumstances, chief among them the intelligence failure to notify troops they would be met by a motley crew of terrorists. Now that we've seen the lynch committed against our soldiers, it's difficult to avoid recalling the troops caught under fire along the Suez Canal more than three decades ago and their desperate radio messages back to headquarters. This time, the initiative to intercept the vessel was taken by us alone, so it's unclear what considerations led Barak to give the order just hours before Netanyahu's scheduled meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.
In any case, it's clear Netanyahu and Barak authorized the operation down to the last detail, and that the responsibility should consequently fall entirely on their shoulders. In a well-managed country they would be called on to go home; in a properly run country one hears the term "accountability," a word the political establishment here doesn't seem to know.
As after the Yom Kippur War, a debate has erupted over what kind of commission of inquiry to establish. The difference between past and present is that then, public pressure was applied to create a commission of inquiry to examine the conduct of those responsible for the military surprise Israel suffered and the lack of preparedness it showed in facing it. The fact that the commission did not address responsibility within the political echelon led to a public outcry that culminated in the resignation of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, the prime minister and defense minister at the time.
And there is another small difference between then and now. Several years after the war, Egypt's Anwar Sadat, Israel's Menachem Begin, as well as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger of the United States turned the conflict into a path for forging a peace agreement. Now we face a U.S. president not particularly friendly to Israel and a hostile Europe that fears an Islamic takeover at home. This is the first time we can cry "the entire world is against us" without being accused of suffering from a persecution complex.
The blockade we have imposed on Gaza doesn't portray us in a positive light, but as an uncompassionate, blockheaded nation, one that supposedly "starves" Gaza's children. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Obama that the two-state vision is dissipating, a statement tantamount to placing a loaded pistol on the negotiating table ahead of Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.
Anyone who doesn't want an international commission of inquiry for fear of another Goldstone Commission is now forced to accept a "public independent committee to examine the events surrounding the raid," one that will include international observers. Though its description sounds harmless enough, it's important that Netanyahu and Barak have a good look at the Agranat Commission's report of 1974, which didn't deal directly with the conduct of either Meir or Dayan, but ultimately led to the resignation of both.
The flotilla raid won us the battle but lost us the war - the blockade on Gaza is now finished.
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