Analysis / The First Report on the Last War

A brief look at the state comptroller's report on the National Security Council, published yesterday, suggests that it is a serious indictment - not against the NSC (it is the victim, not the suspect) but against the last three prime ministers, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, who abused the NSC by neglecting and abandoning it.

A more careful study of the report shows that its implications are more severe than an indictment: It is a court ruling that convicts Olmert of not making use of the NSC, neither in the run up to the war in Lebanon, nor during the campaign itself.

In about a week's time, officials from the State Comptroller's Office will make their way to the North, tour the border area and meet with Israel Defense Forces commanders, as part of their preparations for a more comprehensive report. However, the fact that a draft of a special report on the NSC was completed and given to Olmert even before the start of the war, and the prime minister chose to ignore its conclusions and conduct the war without consultations with the NSC, makes what is now being published the first report on the last war.

There are plenty of hints about what Olmert is in for as the investigative work continues. "Supreme responsibility when it comes to matters of national security rests with the government and the individual heading it, but they are also obliged to ensure the existence of the appropriate staff work prior to making decisions on such matters," says the draft report.

Also, "Furthering the issue of staff work in matters of national security depends, at the end of the day, on the prime minister."

This is the formulation of the specialists working in the security department at the comptroller's office, under the guidance of Major General (res.) Yaakov Or. For his part, the comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, draws a direct link to the war in his preface to the report: "These days," he writes, "the issue of the decision-making process in matters of national security is one of immediate and grave relevance. Correcting most of the shortcomings is a matter for the prime minister, as the apex of the decision-making pyramid."

The helplessness of the NSC, whose head is directly subordinate to the prime minister, is particularly noticeable in view of the relative increase in the power of the two bodies that are meant to coordinate the staff work on strategy for the government - the Planning Department at the General Staff, and the Diplomatic-Security Department at the Defense Ministry.

The jockeying over the nature of the committee of inquiry into the war revolved mostly around the triangle of prime minister-defense minister-chief of staff; however, the report's findings put the prime minister in the spotlight since they do not allow Olmert to evade responsibility by claiming that he was fed information from the security branches.

After all, Benjamin Netanyahu had set the precedent back in 1999, when he relied on his own staff in the form of the NSC, and did not make do with the views presented to him by the IDF and the Defense Ministry.

The report is also critical of the "associates" phenomenon - those special, private advisers, such as Dov Weisglass from the Sharon era, and the bureau chief in the form of Yoram Turbowicz in the Olmert case.

The report also criticizes the Shin Bet security service for opposing the presence of the head of the NSC during discussions on operational matters related to the service. This is a failure of previous prime ministers, who surrendered to the heads of the Shin Bet and the Mossad on the matter of preventing others from being present during their meetings.

One of the lessons to be learned from 9/11 was the danger of failing to coordinate between intelligence and operations, between Foreign and Defense ministries. In short, compartmentalization, whatever its purpose, is disastrous.