Investigate Before, Not After

Ultimately, more people were killed in the Gaza flotilla raid than if the navy had been prepared for battle. This does not relieve the decision makers from responsibility.


The War of Independence during the transition from Palestinian "gangs" to invading armies. The 1973 downing of a Libyan airliner over Sinai that did not pose a threat to the Negev. October 6, 1973, when our people at the front heard that a war was imminent, but they were deployed for a routine battle. The invasion of Lebanon (28 years ago today ), which was to be a two-to-three-day operation, though prime minister Menachem Begin, defense minister Ariel Sharon and chief of staff Rafael Eitan had other designs. The outbreak of the intifada. The murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The debacle at Joseph's Tomb outside Nablus. The Mavi Marmara.

All the above were disastrous from a diplomatic and military point of view. They represent a very different situation from what the military had planned for, and it's hard to grasp how important it is to refrain from responding in a set manner as in the past. The Mavi Marmara is just the latest example of this, as are President Barack Obama's America and Prime Minister's Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey.

Rabin's assassination, including attempts to calm the public by claiming that the shots were blanks, was an example of a real mental block. The security guards knew that such an eventuality was possible, but when it actually happened, they couldn't believe it.

In the 1990s the Israel Defense Forces had to undergo two conflicting major changes. In 1996, when the IDF still viewed things through the prism of the Oslo peace process, six Israeli soldiers were killed at Joseph's Tomb near Nablus at a time when the army had stopped seeing armed Palestinians as the enemy and had not yet returned to its battle-ready stance.

Of course, the situation is different depending on a soldier's rank. Soldiers, including junior officers, are taught to obey orders and rely on training drills, and should not pretend that they are leading military theorists. At the same time, the top command is expected to identify new realities or realize that what was thought to be reality did not exist. They should avoid pat, conventional thinking.

During the period leading up to the summer of 2000, the correct approach that GOC Central Command Yitzhak Eitan and Binyamin Brigade commander Gal Hirsch championed even before their previous posts in the Judea and Samaria Division was considered a major change. Commanders and their soldiers learned to assess the situation in real time, so they would know that previous cooperation with the Palestinians had suddenly evaporated and the disturbances they faced were really a duel.

However, after Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in response to the waves of suicide bombings in Israel, and then again after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the IDF and the Mossad forsook the experience they had amassed and changed the rules.

In key positions such as chief of staff and chief of intelligence, transitional capabilities are required, from one arena to the next, from the tactical to the strategic, from the last of the fighters to the first of the diplomats. Humility is also required. There is no need to thaw out members of former investigative committees, aging major generals with their set perspectives, when realities have changed. Wrong people on wrong committees produce wrong conclusions, followed by mistaken preparations for the future.

One of the main guilty parties in the Mavi Marmara case was Richard Goldstone, who investigated Operation Cast Lead in Gaza for the United Nations. Out of a great desire to please him and soften Cast Lead's legacy into something more like soft rubber, the Israel Navy acted insufficiently a week ago, endangering lives. Ultimately, more people were killed than if the navy had been prepared for battle. This does not relieve the decision makers from responsibility.

The air force deploys helicopters on rescue missions, as do the Navy Seals on naval missions. About six months ago, it was suggested that we purchase from the United States a device consisting of a basket or cabin that could be armed. Deployed from a helicopter, it could lower eight or even 16 combat troops onto the deck of a ship, or rescue survivors at sea or in tall buildings. This could be done faster and with more force than a single soldier rappelling down a rope.

With such facilities on the deck of the Mavi Marmara, it's reasonable to assume that everything would have turned out differently, without a loss of life. The proposed purchase is still being considered. It wasn't a major priority.