Gaza War: 11 Key Headlines From Scathing Report Rattling Israel's Politicians and Military

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(FILES) This file photo taken on July 29, 2014 shows clouds of heavy smoke billowing into the air following an Israeli military strike in Gaza City on July 29, 2014.
Clouds of heavy smoke billowing into the air following an Israeli military strike in Gaza City on July 29, 2014. Credit: ASHRAF AMRA/AFP
Updates

Netanyahu, Ya'alon kept ministers in the dark about strategic Hamas attack

For months in advance of the Israeli army's 2014 operation in the Gaza Strip, top political, military and intelligence-community leaders concealed information from the security cabinet about a possible strategic attack by Hamas, according to the special report on the war by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, released Tuesday. Had the attack been carried out, Shapira notes, it could have constituted a casus belli.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (R) and then-IDF chief Benny Gantz during Operation Protective Edge ,July 30, 2014. Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO

Specifically, says the comptroller in his critical report on Operation Protective Edge, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Israel Defense Forces Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz and the heads of the Shin Bet security service and Mossad – all withheld information about an attack being planned by the Gaza-based Islamist movement. Indeed, this information only reached the cabinet early in July 2014, just hours before an operation meant to foil the attack was to be put on the table for their ratification.

Shapira notes that, according to Shin Bet documents, there was already a substantial amount of evidence about a serious Hamas strike against Israel in the months before the army's operation was launched – information that was passed on to the IDF's Military Intelligence branch. .

Netanyahu and Yaalon did not consider diplomatic moves to prevent war

The comptroller determined that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and members of Israel's security cabinet did not, in the year preceding the outbreak of the war, on July 7, explore the possibility of taking diplomatic steps to stop the escalation of hostilities in the Strip.

A cabinet meeting on July 31, 2014. Sitting: Ministers Yuval Steinitz and Moshe Ya'alon. Standing: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief Benny Gantz.Credit: Moti Milrod

Shapira's report quotes three statements made by Yaalon two days after the fighting erupted, in which he said that the war could have been averted if Israel had provided a timely response to the distress of Gazas population. In a cabinet meeting on July 8, then-Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said that We've focused on tactics, but repeatedly – year after year for nine years – avoid dealing with the strategic reality taking shape before our eyes.

No clear government policies and strategies on Gaza were set

Even when there were discussions intended to formulate strategies regarding the Strip, they were incomplete and did not yield any actual results. On October 10, 2013, there was a meeting with the head of the Shin Bet security service at the time, Yoram Cohen, who stressed that Hamas was in strategic distress, whereupon the premier instructed the National Security Council to convene to address Israel's policies regarding Gaza. Six months elapsed before such a discussion was held. On March 13, 2014, this topic came up again at a cabinet meeting that dealt with escalating tensions. Then-Economy Minister Naftali Bennett noted that Israel had no strategy regarding Gaza; Gilad Erdan, the public security minister, concurred. Only on March 23, 2014, a year after the government had been formed, was there a cabinet meeting dealing with setting strategic goals vis-a-vis the Strip. However, the comptroller found that the meeting only dealt with the intensification of IDF actions against Hamas – not with other possible modes of conduct, such as in the diplomatic arena.

Cabinet did not discuss humanitarian crisis in Gaza

In the 16 months between the creation of the government in March 2013 and the outbreak of hostilities in July 2014, the security cabinet did not hold even one meaningful discussion about the Gaza Strip. The vast majority of discussions – even those considered to be strategic in nature – dealt only with military matters. The comptroller's report notes that the absence of discussion on the various political aspects of the situation in Gaza was particularly noticeable on the backdrop of mounting reports about the deterioration of the humanitarian conditions there, the economic crisis and the collapse of vital infrastructure, including the shortage of water supplies.

In December 2013, the prime ministers military secretary, Eyal Zamir, wrote then-National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen that Netanyahu wanted him to arrange a cabinet discussion regarding the civilian situation in Gaza and its implications for Israel. Such a discussion never took place and up to the outbreak of hostilities seven months later, the cabinet did not hold even one session on the Strip's humanitarian crisis. The comptroller notes that Cohen should have followed the prime ministers directive and he also criticizes Yaalon in this regard, since the latter was cognizant of the civilian and humanitarian situation in Gaza and should have understood the potential for escalation of tensions. Despite this the defense minister also did not initiate any discussion of this subject in the cabinet. The report notes, however, that Yaalon expressed regret for not doing so after the war began.

IDF failed to achieve main goal: Only half of Hamas' tunnels were destroyed

Not only did the 2014 war expose defects and shortcomings in the IDF's preparedness for dealing with the attack tunnels Hamas dug from the Gaza Strip into Israel, says the comptroller. The army, he notes, also not did achieve the objectives it was given during Operation Protective Edge: to destroy or neutralize the underground passageways. Indeed, even though this was its key mission, the IDF destroyed only half of them. The army later reported that it had rendered 32 tunnels unusable.

IDF forces in the area where a Hamas tunnel was discovered, on July 20, 2014. Credit: IDF spokesperson

Army lacked suitable combat methods for dealing with the tunnels

No military doctrines, combat techniques or explicit orders were issued for dealing with the Hamas tunnels, the comptroller determined. Only in July 2014, while the fighting was going on, did the IDF Engineering Corps issue guidelines for locating and destroying the structures.

Until that point, the forces improvised or based their mode of operation on methods that had been previously used when coping with the smuggling tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border. Only in December 2014, four months after the war ended, did the headquarters of the chief infantry and paratroop forces issue combat orders outlining the principles of fighting in areas containing multiple tunnels.

The army did not prepare plans well in advance for a situation in which combatants would be forced to deal with such tunnels upon entering the Strip, as part of a ground operation – even though there was a high likelihood of such fighting there. Moreover, even after such a plan was drawn up, according to the comptroller, it was formulated just before Operation Protective Edge, so that some of the brigades involved in the fighting only received the guidelines after the war had started.

Air Force was not prepared to take out Hamas tunnels

The IAF possessed limited means and lacked the knowhow, intelligence and appropriate operational guidelines – as well as relevant capabilities and skills – for addressing the threat of Hamas' tunnels. Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who at the time of the Gaza operation was IAF chief of staff (and is due later this year to become the next IAF commander), said on the eve of the campaign that the force did not have sufficient intelligence to allow it to formulate operational tactics for confronting the tunnels.

Despite this, during a session held during the war, the cabinet recommended that they be attacked from the air, even though the defense establishment knew this would not destroy the entire route of the underground passageways and would actually impede future ground operations against them – which is what indeed transpired. However, that information was not provided to the cabinet members before they recommended aerial attacks, according to the comptroller.

A ball of fire rises from a building following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on August 23, 2014. Credit: AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED OTHMAN

Israeli intel only prioritized tunnel threat after the war

The threat posed by Hamas' tunnels was not considered a top priority by Israel's intelligence community until early 2015, months after Operation Protective Edge ended.

Even though Prime Minister Netanyahu and defense establishment officials had defined the tunnels as a strategic threat to the country, they were not targeted as part of major intelligence missions. This impacted the assignment of resources to the intelligence agencies for the purpose of dealing with the threat.

The comptroller notes that the head of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and Shin Bet chief Cohen should have made this issue a top priority among the intelligence community, and adds that the political echelons – the prime minister and the defense minister – should have been overseeing this process.

The Shin Bet and MI began to ratchet up their intelligence-gathering activities with respect to the underground structures at the end of 2013, after three tunnels dug by Hamas and extending into Israel proper were discovered within one year. The comptroller comments that despite that, the general intelligence passed onto IDF combat units during the 2014 war, including information about the tunnels, was an important intelligence achievement".

Ministers Yuval Steinitz, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Gadi Eizenkot at a cabinet meeting on August 10, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod

Significant intelligence gaps on Hamas in Gaza

From mid-2013 until the outbreak of hostilities in July 2014, and during the campaign itself, the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence suffered serious and significant gaps with regard to intelligence gathering in Gaza. These lacunae, says the comptrollers report, related both to the underground tunnels and to identification of targets for the air force, as well as to another area – presumably, regarding the plans and activities of the heads of Hamas military wing in Gaza. 

Specifically, there were flaws in intelligence-gathering efforts by MI and the Shin Bet concerning the tunnels from 2008 until Operation Protective Edge. In particular, the comptroller identified significant gaps in the information passed on to combat units regarding the defensive tunnels in Gaza (i.e., tunnels in the Strip that do not pass under the border into Israel proper). This impacted the way the tunnels were related to before and during the operation. Moreover, information concerning these gaps was not relayed to cabinet members up to the outbreak of hostilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF chief Benny Gantz at a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 27, 2014.Credit: Michal Fattal

Development of tunnel-detection technology was delayed; foot-dragging continues to date

The search for a technological solution that can be used to locate underground tunnels has been going on for years, and the defense establishment takes pride in having examined virtually all possibilities. Even when such a system was found – and the army and the Ministry of Defense defined its implementation as a matter of urgency – the IDF was slow to deploy it.

As early as the end of 2012, the Defense Ministry commissioned a firm to carry out this effort, stipulating that the first stage should be completed by February 2014. By the time the war broke out in Gaza, however, this stage had not been completed; moreover, the equipment in question was deployed only in limited areas.

Even after the operation ended there were delays in installation of the system: Only in late March 2015, a year after the scheduled date, did work start on installing it along Israel's border with Gaza – but the foot-dragging continued. By mid-2016, the system was still only partly operational and work is now underway to complete it.

IDF forces near the area where a Hamas tunnel was discovered, on July 19, 2014.Credit: IDF spokesperson

National security advisor (today's Mossad chief) severely criticized: Failed to fulfill his role

One of the major players on the receiving end of the state comptrollers barbs is Yossi Cohen, national security adviser during Operation Protective Edge, and current head of the Mossad espionage agency. At least five times in his report the comptroller cites Cohen for problems in the functioning of the security cabinet, for which he was personally responsible, during the course of the war.

In this context, the comptroller mentions the tunnels in three different contexts in his report. Even though Cohen was aware of the seriousness of the threat posed by the underground passageways, he did not initiate a discussion or suggest that Prime Minister Netanyahu bring this subject up for serious consideration at cabinet meetings. The report adds that, while making preparations for cabinet discussions, Cohen did not see to it that the IDF would present the members with operational plans for dealing with the tunnels. Moreover, counter to a directive by the prime minister, Cohen did not set a time for a discussion of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. The comptroller discovered that during cabinet sessions, particularly those devoted to formulating a policy vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip, the NSC did not offer diplomatic or other alternatives to proposals presented by the military. Even though the council, under Cohen, had grown more powerful, the comptroller spotted many flaws that impeded it from functioning according to its mandate.

Cabinet sessions relating to the 2014 operation were almost completely dominated by proposals put forth by the army, says the comptroller in his report, and the NSC did not fulfill its role as stipulated by the law: to propose alternatives as a counterweight to the defense establishment – ones that would give cabinet members a broader understanding of the problems and lacunae that should inform them when drawing up and approving any plan of action.

Knesset panel to monitor security matters highlighted in report

MK Avi Dichter (Likud), chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said on Tuesday night that the committee would monitor matters that have been dealt with or are being dealt with to improve operational capabilities in the political, security and military systems mentioned in the report.

He said the committees monitoring would also extend to issues that do not appear in the report but which the security establishment is dealing with them.

This would be done, Dichter said, to ensure that the army, the security establishment and the government were prepared for future threats that have been presented to the committee. (Jonathan Lis)

Israeli opposition summons Netanyahu to Knesset over Gaza report

The opposition has obtained the signatures of 40 lawmakers needed according to the Knesset rules to summon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a Knesset session to discuss the reports findings. The session is scheduled to take place in about three weeks.

In asking Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) to schedule the session, Zionist Union floor leader MK Merav Michaeli, said: According to reports so far, the serious findings of the report attest to a failure of the prime minister and the cabinet he heads, as well as a lack of policy vis a vis Gaza and a lack of security-related and diplomatic strategy, which led to the faulty management of the operation.

"The prime minister must appear and give an accounting to the entire public in Israel of the reports findings and his failure to bring security to Israels citizens, she added. (Jonathan Lis)

IDF chief: Army learning from report, acting to improve Gaza capabilities

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said at a ceremony honoring outstanding civilian employees of the army that the army is learning from the state comptrollers report, which it had received a while ago, and was formulating a work plan and acting to continually improve its operational capabilities on the Gaza Strip front.

Eisenkot also said: As deputy chief of staff and a partner in the outcome of the battle, I saw first-hand the IDF soldiers and their commanders, on land, sea and in the air, first and foremost the chief of staff, Benny Gantz, working night and day to achieve the goals of combat and restore security to our country.

Eisenkot said the IDF was not immune to criticism over the operation. But we must remember that these are excellent people who have devoted their lives to Israels security and contributed to a better future for the people of this country. (Jonathan Lis)

Yaalon: Security cabinet during Gaza war was worst I've seen

The conduct of the security cabinet during the war in Gaza in the summer of 2014 was poor and irresponsible, former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Tuesday in response to the State Comptrollers report on Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

The report itself was political and his actions as defense minister, along with those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz during the fighting prevented a disaster, said Yaalon.

This is a report that examines partial aspects of the complex campaign. It ignores extensive considerations because it has been taken captive by politicians with [foreign] interests, who fed the State Comptrollers Office with one-sided information and polluted the process of the examination, he added.

Yaalon called the security cabinet during Protective Edge the worst and most irresponsible he had seen. I say that as someone who participated in the cabinet since 1995. It was a superficial, political and populist cabinet A cabinet of leaks, of speaking with two voices – one in the room and one in public. This reality turned the discussions into one big farce, that if it was not for the prime minister, the chief of staff and myself, could well have ended in a disaster, he said

Yaalon called the security cabinet a kindergarten and said it was possible that a solution should have been found back then, in real time.

Today I am proud that I stood along with the prime minister and chief of staff against the harsh public criticism and the political and personal  subversion while our soldiers were under fire, said Yaalon. 

Today we are suffering criticism for that, then it saved the campaign. The champions of spin did not succeed in dragging us into [Operation] Defensive Shield 2 in Judea and Samaria, into a third intifada and not into an occupation of the Strip, he added. (Amos Harel)

Netanyahu: Report omits real lessons to be drawn from war

In response to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "The unprecedented quiet that has prevailed [on the Israeli side of the Gaza border] since Operation Protective Edge is a test of the results." The real and significant lessons to be drawn from the war do not appear in Shapira's report, Netanyahu said. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

"The real lessons have already been thoroughly implemented – responsibly and quietly," the prime minister added. The threat of the tunnels in Gaza was presented in detail to the members of the security cabinet at 13 separate meetings, he stated. "It was debated in all its seriousness, with consideration of the range of strategic and operational scenarios."

Opposition leader Herzog calls on Netanyahu to resign

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said the picture presented by the report "should engender fear and concern in the heart of every citizen of Israel." He called on Netanyahu to draw conclusions and resign.

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog at the Knesset, January 16, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Herzog described the report as professional, detailed and devoid of politics. "The report clearly reveals how Prime Minister Netanyahu and the [security] cabinet which he led failed in their role of understanding the threats, setting strategy, understanding the reality [and] properly preparing soldiers and civilians, particularly residents of the south. The leadership of the country conducted a political quarrel on the backs of each of them for personal purposes, bearing no resemblance to the weight of responsibility with which they were entrusted," the Zionist Union leader said. "The comptroller decisively finds that this was not a one-time mishap, mistake or stumble, but rather a pattern of behavior and a continuing failure over years."

Herzog called the report "strategic" and "important" and said that it should be read as a criticism and should "not turn the comptroller into an enemy of the people." And he added: "They will soon say that Shapira should be bulldozed rather than listening to the criticism and study it. It reveals substantial failures."

Referring to Tzipi Livni, his No. 2 in the Zionist Union who was a member of the security cabinet at the time of the war, Herzog said: "I back the actions of Tzipi Livni, who worked in the security cabinet as would be expected from diplomatic and defense leadership, and if there had been two or three others like Tzipi, it would be reasonable [to assume] that this cabinet would have functioned differently, achieving much better results."

Tzipi Livni: 'A total change in thinking is required'

Tzipi Livni, No. 2 in the Zionist Union, said in response to the report that instead of attacking State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, the government should act to implement his report. "Israel needs a strategy now regarding what military and diplomatic achievement is required and what the exit point is in future operations regarding Gaza and in general," she said.

Tzipi Livni at the INSS conference in January 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod

"That's how I conducted myself during the [war] – quietly, without leaks and without media criticism. A total change in thinking is required. Instead of slogans that just do harm to the Israel Defense Forces and to deterrence capabilities, set strategic goals and diplomatic steps."

President Rivlin: Rectify shortcomings exposed by report

President Reuven Rivlin called for the shortcomings exposed by the comptroller's report to be rectified. "This is not the time to trade accusations. This is the time to learn lessons and strengthen the Israel Defense Forces so it can continue to be our defensive wall," the president told a conference of the Jewish People Policy Institute on Tuesday.

President Reuven Rivlin.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / AP

The state comptroller's reports should be studied rather than attempting to challenge their contents, Rivlin added. "We are all smart in retrospect and it would behoove us to invest our energies in drawing conclusions and implementing them."

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