A Disgraceful Evasion of Responsibility

The decision to appoint a committee to investigate the Gaza flotilla events avoids the need to examine the causes of the full extent of Israel's political, diplomatic and moral failure in handling the flotilla.


The members of the Gaza flotilla committee of inquiry

The decision to appoint a committee to examine the international-law aspects of the events surrounding the Gaza-bound flotilla is to be welcomed, but it is not sufficient. The decision avoids the need to examine the causes of the full extent of Israel's political, diplomatic and moral failure in handling the flotilla. The Israel Defense Forces' examination of the action's operational aspects is also inadequate to answer the questions troubling Israelis regarding the decision and why it was taken.

Nor is it sufficient to heap praise on the soldiers - who acted correctly in difficult circumstances - or blame Turkey's prime minister, who deserves all possible criticism. The decision-makers' willingness to examine everything except themselves is grave from the perspective of democracy and morality. This is a disgraceful evasion of responsibility. The following must be examined.

The decision to stop the flotilla in the way it was executed was taken neither in the cabinet nor in the security cabinet. Similarly, the members of the forum of seven senior ministers were apparently not aware of the details. It appears that the matter was decided between the prime minister and the defense minister.

Decisions of this sort must not be made this way. As director general of the Foreign Ministry, I was partner to the discussions and decisions before Operation Entebbe. The operation was discussed and approved at several levels: in discussions between prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, defense minister Shimon Peres and foreign minister Yigal Allon, and in the presence of the chief of staff, the head of the Mossad, the head of Military Intelligence, the prime minister's adviser on terror issues and others. Afterwards the issue was presented to the full cabinet for discussion and authorization, and the prime minister informed the head of the opposition (Menachem Begin ) and the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (Yitzhak Navon ).

The fact that the hijacking of the Air France plane to Entebbe came as a complete surprise to everyone, that there was an immediate threat to the lives of hundreds of Israelis and that the preparations for the operation took place in total secrecy did not preclude detailed discussions and decision-making at various levels, without leaks and while successfully deceiving the hijackers.

The flotilla, however, was a public event whose date was known in advance, and the IDF, navy and police had been preparing for weeks. The media were fed operational details, intended perhaps for self-glorification, but this certainly did not make the operation any easier.

Israelis are entitled to know whether the decision-makers considered the strategic implications for relations with Turkey involved in the takeover on the high seas of a ship flying the Turkish flag and carrying Turkish civilians. Was this discussed at all? Was conferring with the Turkish authorities considered? Did someone ask what would happen if Turkish civilians were killed?

Was the National Security Council a partner - as mandated today by law - in the consultations and preparations? Did the decision-makers have information about who had boarded the boats, and if not, who is responsible for this intelligence failure?

Was there a discussion on whether the ships would be stopped when approaching the exclusion zone, or nearly 100 kilometers from the shores of Israel and the Gaza Strip, which is what occurred? After all, from the perspective of international law, this question has crucial significance - this is the difference between a legitimate action and piracy.

Was the prime minister's trip abroad on the eve of the operation an error of judgment? During the preparations for Entebbe, Rabin canceled an important trip to Tehran for a secret meeting with the shah of Iran.

After what was said in the Winograd Committee about the way decisions are made in Israel, it is impossible to escape these questions. It's not "who is guilty," but rather "who is responsible." When in the background very much more difficult challenges might be facing us, Israelis have the right to know how their leaders made their decisions and whether we can rely on their judgment. It is not the decision-makers' fate and future that lie in the balance, but rather the fate and future of the State of Israel.