Watchdog Report Takes Netanyahu to Task Over 2014 Gaza War, Sources Say

Particular criticism is said to focus on a failure to convey intelligence information concerning the Hamas tunnel network to members of the security cabinet.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Netanyahu and then-defense chief Ya'alon during a tour on the Gaza border, 2015.
Netanyahu and then-defense chief Ya'alon during a tour on the Gaza border, 2015.Credit: Ariel Hermoni, Defense Ministry
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

In a final version of a report on the 2014 Gaza war State Comptroller Joseph Shapira directs most of his criticism of Israel's handling the conflict at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's defense chief at the time, senior officials who have seen the draft say.

"The report reflects criticism by the state comptroller over Netanyahu's faulty functioning and his responsibility for a lack of operational and security preparedness," a source who has seen the draft said.

The criticism of Netanyahu, and even more so Ya'alon, relates to the withholding of information about a network of Hamas tunnels in Gaza from members of the inner security cabinet. Criticism, the sources said, is also directed at then-Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and other senior officers of the Israel Defense Forces. However, criticism of the IDF and Shin Bet has been softened compared to an interim report.

On the subject of the tunnels, essentially Shapira is said to be telling Netanyahu that, in addition to the IDF chief of staff, the defense minister and the head of the operations division, the prime minister also has responsibility for ensuring that operations plans are developed.

The final draft was delivered on Thursday to Netanyahu and to a group of ten current and former cabinet ministers and senior army officers who held key positions during the Gaza war. Sources who have seen the report but asked not to be identified said the report appears to direct major criticism at individuals at the political level.

The report paints a gloomy picture of how the security cabinet functioned during the conflict, the sources said, and gives the impression that, on the eve of the war, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, most of the inner cabinet members didn’t know or understand the threat from Gaza, especially with regard to Hamas’s offensive tunnels. The state comptroller is said to have concluded that even though the army and Shin Bet explained the gravity of the tunnel threat to Netanyahu and Ya’alon in the second half of 2013, the two did not adequately brief security cabinet members on the matter until July 2014, shortly before the war broke out.

One of the individuals who read the report said the comptroller has adopted the position of the leader of the Habayit Hayehudi party, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, on the subject, specifically asserting in the report that that at a security cabinet meeting on July 30, 2014, during the war, it was Bennett who at his own initiative, raised the issue of the tunnels, as a result of which Netanyahu also addressed the subject.

The impression from reading Shapira's report was that some of the criticism was also directed at the security cabinet members themselves, most of whom purportedly did not read the intelligence reports they were provided with or which they could have obtained on request. Most are also said to have shown no interest and asked no questions even when the tunnel issue came up at meetings.

One of the prominent points raised in the report involved the disparity between the intelligence information gathered by the army and Shin Bet since 2008 regarding the tunnels and the degree to which preparations were made for dealing with them in 2014. “The abundant intelligence was never translated into operational plans,” said a source who read the report. Another source said that the report blames Netanyahu for poor performance and places the responsibility for the lack of operational preparedness on his shoulders.

In recent months, the prime minister has embarked on a public relations campaign to present his account of Operation Protective Edge and preparations taken prior to the fighting, particularly regarding the tunnels. The prime minister has held about 20 briefings for media outlets and in various other forums attended by hundreds of military, diplomatic and political reporters and senior editors.

Each of the briefings has lasted several hours, the majority of which were devoted to a detailed presentation of the range of discussions in the year that preceded Operation Protective Edge, discussions of the tunnels, as well as decision-making during the war. The briefings even included quotes from transcripts of relevant security cabinet meetings.

The impression has nevertheless been created by the state comptroller's report that Shapira failed to accept most of Netanyahu's arguments. Following the prime minister's briefings, the state comptroller's staff reexamined the minutes of the security cabinet sessions and other security sessions to ensure that the conclusions contained in the first draft of the report were not mistaken, a source familiar with the work of Shapira's office said. The additional examination essentially dispelled the claims made by Netanyahu in his briefings, the source said, and actually led to harsher comments regarding the prime minister in the final draft.

A source close to the prime minister said: “The threat of the tunnels was presented in all of its seriousness in 13 different cabinet meetings. The prime minister even described it as one of the four strategic threats against the State of Israel, among them the nuclear threat, the missile threat and the cyber threat. This being the situation, it cannot be seriously claimed that the threat was not presented in its full severity to the members of the cabinet.”

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