Dangers of Israel's War With Iran Are Written on the Walls of the Gaza Flotilla

Senior Haaretz analyst Amir Oren says that, for Netanyahu, a successful strike of Iran will be his own achievement, while a failed one, with missiles massacring scores of Israelis, will be the army’s fault.

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When the official commission of inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court justice Dorit Beinisch, is established to investigate the Iran War, chairwoman Beinisch – who was one of the people who collected the evidence for the Cohen Commission on the Sabra and Shatila massacre – will probably have mixed feelings about her new task: on the one hand, sorrow about the matter that necessitated the commission, and, on the other hand, satisfaction with the fact that a large part of the evidence was already collected by the state comptroller.

Or perhaps it won’t be former Supreme Court justice Beinisch who’ll head the commission, but rather former justice Micha Lindenstrauss, who by then will also be the former state comptroller. Lindenstrauss and his staff have done an impressive job on the double-headed report they published on Wednesday, about the Turkish flotilla and Israel’s security establishment. The two topics are inseparable, like Siamese twins, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The material that accumulated in the state comptroller’s office during this double investigation, plus the volume submitted more than a year ago to the previous IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, documenting (as of the end of 2010) the struggles hidden from the public eye within the apparatus of the state on the question of Iran, will be a start worth its weight in gold, even better than Harpaz, for figuring out the how and the what of the Iranian adventure that Netanyahu and Barak aimed for.

One must assume that Iran is nothing if not “the classified topic” that preoccupied the ministers and other settings in the 57 discussions mentioned in the report of the National Security Council. Turkey of the flotilla, the one that the elite naval commando unit was kept away from in favor of the prime minister’s military aide, is only a foretaste of the main course, the coming attraction for the Persian movie. The superficiality, complacence and carelessness that were the hallmarks of Netanyahu’s approach to the flotilla are enough to make one sick. There is no reason to think that the 57 – or 570 – discussions will ensure a better outcome for the Iranian affair.

The writing of the comptroller’s report on the NSC could have been outsourced, via a contractor named Benjamin Netanyahu. Who better than he, the founder of the National Security Council 13 years ago, an admirer of the American model, the most enthusiastic among the supporters of the law defining the staff’s authority and mission, could have provided the staunchest arguments in favor of inter-ministerial staff work on the entire gamut of security and foreign affairs at the very highest echelons? But that was Dr. Netanyahu, the speech-giver and advocate. Mr. Bibi, the politician also inhabiting the same body, acts completely differently. As prime minister in the last three years, he has transgressed the same two sins that had earlier spurred him to establish the NSC: he brushes aside the work of the staff on the most critical of issues and bows his head before the security establishment.

The insights that led to the establishment of the NSC and the legislation on its standing were written in the blood of military failures and the ink of political downfalls. War after war, accident after accident, committee after committee (and report after report after report by the state comptroller), everything comes down to the recommendation made by the Winograd Commission and subsequently the standing orders formulated by the Lipkin-Shahak Committee. The point is to make prepare before the party so as not to eat dirt at the party, as was the case in 1973 on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But Netanyahu has hitched his wagon to Barak, an old foe of the NSC, who as a young major general, the director of Military Intelligence, and former head of the IDF’s planning directorate, opposed an Israeli National Security Council as early as 1985 and proposed that the country make do with a committee of directors general. This model would have preserved the exceptional might of the IDF, along that of the Defense Ministry, the General Security Service, and the Mossad. They would continue to generate the data, analyze the significance, and propose alternate courses of action. This would have emptied the entire definition of government of meaning (and a ministerial security committee as the government’s delegate in practice) as the commander in chief of the army. In practice, especially when the prime minister worships him, the real commander in chief is the defense minister.

And everything, of course, is personal. In one of the compliments Netanyahu paid Uzi Arad, former director of the NSC, he said it was Arad’s obligation to be present at certain operations as the commanding officer. And yet, on the eve of the Turkish flotilla, this was something Netanyahu forgot as he went abroad; he failed to leave the ship’s helm in the hands of his official deputy, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, in his absence. The real power stayed with Barak who was not in charge of the important – and neglected – issues of policy, law and propaganda. This is exactly how Golda Meir acted in the first week of October 1973. She flew abroad, but her deputy, Yigal Allon, the rival of then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, did not receive the critical reports about the severity of the risk of war with Syria and Egypt from the IDF, Military Intelligence, or even the Mossad, which reports directly to the prime minister

Almost 40 years later, the state comptroller’s report indicates that nothing real has changed. Brig. Gen. Israel Lior of the Yom Kippur War (and the Six-Day War) turned into Lt. Col. Azriel Nevo of the Lebanon War who turned into Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker of the flotilla and discussions about Iran. The claim, which is a clear and gross violation of the law, that the NSC deals only with “political” matters, while “operations” are the responsibility of the military secretary/attaché, leaves the NSC doing the job of master sergeant and appoints Locker to be the operations officer of the State of Israel, without any apparatus or legal responsibility. Locker, who appears in the flotilla report as the “senior officer in the prime minister’s office,” acted, according to his own testimony, “out of a sense of responsibility and obligation to national security” – a lofty sentiment indeed – as opposed to having responsibility fixed in law, which if failed places the person in question in danger of being punished. Maj. Gen. Locker, therefore, was therefore just another one of Bibi’s enablers. The failure is personal.

This is also the spirit of the commanding officer. The comptroller reports that the army retains the monopoly on presenting military alternatives. This is not as obvious as it may seem. In the Lebanon War, for example, Ariel Sharon zealously guarded the sole authority to charge the General Staff with possible plans of operation, and insisted on getting a response by return mail. Sharon checked every effort by Mordechai Tzippori, also a former senior officer, to have the government sign off on requests for other alternatives whispered quietly behind closed IDF doors. The result? If Netanyahu, for example, wants to attack Iran, he only needs to place an order with the IDF to present general rather than specific operation plans. The army will let him know what force, manner and timing it proposes to use (even though this and an assessment of the American reaction and other angles of the battle of the day after, have nothing to do with the professional skills of the officer class).

And that’s the key to two aspects that apparently did not come under the comptroller’s looking glass. The first is the appointment of the chief of staff. Barak is honest when he denies that two years ago he asked the major generals who were candidates for the position of chief of staff about their stance on the Iranian question. There was no need. He wanted a sense of which of them, as chief of staff, would submit to him operational plans to his liking. The second aspect is Netanyahu’s desire to stay away from the operational details, which is why he turns his back on the NSC, located in his own backyard. If the Iran War is declared a success, it will be Netanyahu’s success, and if it fails – missiles massacring scores of Israelis, POW pilots climbing the gallows in Tehran – it will be the army’s fault, or at most the fault of the government minister responsible for the army.

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Benjamin Netanyahu appearing before the Turkel Commission, August 9, 2010. Credit: GPO
Satellite image showing the military complex at Parchin, Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. Credit: AP