Contrarianism at the Police

The one thing the Holyland case and the Galant document case have in common is the ever-present doubt gnawing at the police investigations and intelligence department.

The investigation of Yossi Olmert in New York had been delayed. Several weeks had passed since the police announced they were investigating the Holyland affair, creating time and opportunities for suspects to speak to Dr. Olmert in order to coordinate testimonies or ensure his silence. However, when police investigators finally sat down with the former prime minister's brother, they were relieved to find out their fears had been baseless. For reasons only he knows, including perhaps concern about his legal status in the United States, Yossi Olmert cooperated. His admission that he received half a million shekels from a person he didn't know, who now has turned state witness, confirmed the latter's testimony and helped the police formulate their recommendation that former prime minister Ehud Olmert be charged with accepting a bribe.

The Holyland project in Jerusalem.
Daniel Bar-On

The one thing the Holyland case and the Galant document case have in common is the ever-present doubt gnawing at the police investigations and intelligence department. The investigators are not immune to errors, but their awareness of this helps them identify obstacles ahead. The skepticism, which manifests itself in contrarianism, is often introduced by Brig. Gen. Varda Shaham, chief of the investigations division, and in particularly sensitive files, by department head Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovitch. In other information-based organizations, like the media and military intelligence, that balance is weaker.

The Agranat commission condemned the top brass's groupthink on the eve of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. It focused on Military Intelligence, but the entire general staff and government had the same disease. Since then, the general staff has gotten a planning department, the Foreign Ministry has gotten a diplomatic research center, and the Mossad now has a research and intelligence department. The National Security Council also came into being, and the Military Intelligence established a control department. Despite all those organizational solutions, the leaders continue digging holes and falling in.

In the case of the Turkish flotilla, excessive responsibility was placed on the Navy's intelligence service, whose narrow specialization focuses on naval issues like vessels, ports, beaches and weaponry. Its talented officers, both in active service and reservists, are never appointed to head the intelligence service, a position reserved for combat officers. No dissenting opinions are expressed during their staff meetings. Military Intelligence, charged with exploring other aspects of the operation, including diplomatic ones, played only a passive role. MI chief Amos Yadlin is a member of the forum of seven, which is called up and chaired occasionally by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and includes Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and retired officials David Ivri, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Uri Sagi and Amos Yaron. Yadlin may well have voiced dissent in other discussions; he didn't do so in the flotilla affair.

The conduct of Barak and Ashkenazi over the appointment of the next chief of staff was even worse. Ashkenazi, normally an excellent contrarian, forgot to suspect the person who knew how to feed his suspicions of Barak - Boaz Harpaz, who was pretending to be his best friend.

Barak, lacking an advisor who can show him a mirror, is behaving as if the decision-making process over choosing the next chief of staff is happening exclusively in the black box of his mind. He believes his word is the state's last word, as in the appointment of Shalom Simhon as Jewish National Fund chairman on behalf of the Labor Party. In his rush to start briefing Yoav Galant to become the next chief of staff, before the Turkel appointment committee has released its opinion on the matter and before the cabinet has voted on the appointment, Barak attempted to overturn proper governance. Any ministers with self-respect, which doesn't include Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 28, would have put the defense minister in his place.