Oligarchy or Anarchy

The re-emerging Pollard affair highlights a sad truth: There is no central authority in Israel, only separate feudal holdings headed by self-appointed barons. Every minister or chief is an oligarch.

The latest outburst by Ehud Olmert's cronies against the state comptroller in the case of Jonathan Pollard encapsulates a synopsis of the entire 24-year affair since Pollard first appeared and offered his services as a spy: There is no central authority in Israel, only separate feudal holdings headed by self-appointed barons. Every minister or chief is an oligarch.

Pollard, U.S. Federal Prisoner 09185-016, due for release on November 21, 2015, would not have managed to help Israel get itself into trouble had there been an effective and coordinated government in power in Israel during 1984 and 1985. Instead, there was a government that failed to oversee all its operational branches.

The Bureau of Scientific Relations, which ran Pollard, operated without control, but not as a rogue organization, as the political leadership tried to argue. Those consuming the secret information that was clearly drawn from internal American sources, and which was proudly displayed by bureau chief Rafi Eitan to ministers and the chiefs of the intelligence community, preferred to ignore its significance.

The arrogant negligence that was at the base of the recruitment of Pollard and the decision to run him, also characterized the clumsy effort to hide the evidence by those responsible. It still emanates two decades later, as a result of the assault on the state comptroller.

In a different life, as an MK who was a member of the Knesset subcommittee on Foreign Affairs and Defense headed by Abba Eban, Olmert was very eager to investigate the Pollard affair. Now he has changed his view and is trying to divert attention from the substance of the criticism: comparing the planning to the actual operation, an evaluation of the extent to which the governments met its declared goals.

The state comptroller may be the last person in Israel who insists on taking the government seriously. The state comptroller's point of departure is that the government, which is sovereign to decide, really means to make the decisions it makes and that monitoring their implementation is necessary. Prime ministers and ministers are up in arms at this naive approach: it is sufficient that they had their say; why should anyone expect them to also do something, and even document their actions, so that they can know precisely what took place and prevent redundancies and gaps, and also prepare an orderly file ready to brief their successor in the post. Such documentation is nearly nonexistent: those at the center, born in the 1940s, are returning, post facto, to the underground.

The upper echelon of the political leadership, the bureaucracy and the army is cut off from what is going on right next to them and below them. They have no idea, and what is worse, they have no idea that they have no idea. The walls between the offices and the organizations are strong, high and are momentraily removed only in specific operations, such as the air force strike in Syria last September, or in anticipation of foiling terrorist attacks or stepping up security following the assassination of Imad Mughniyah.

Thus accumulated the multi-year failure of governments, the IDF and the Defense Ministry - particularly its directorate of defense R&D - to identify ballistic missile-type weapons as the Achilles heel in the country's defense, one that requires the highest priority.

Within these organizations, instructions are not making their way to the bottom of the well and information finds it difficult to rise to the surface. Unusual in this are those defense branches where centralized control is the essence of their existence: the Mossad, the Shin Bet, the air force and navy. Within them it is also a lot simpler to include all the external and command units on the same wavelength, making efficient and quick use of their abilities.

If IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi believes that privates and sergeants in the ground forces understand and incorporate the policies he ordered, from a post that is seven or eight ranks higher than them, he is deluding himself. The chief of staff influences the brigade commanders, and possibly the battalion commanders, but after that point his intentions lose their meaning in translation.

The chiefs of the various branches, not to mention their commanders, the generals, are insulated from the reality of their representatives in the field. In order to learn the truth, Ashkenazi, or a reliable emissary, must dress up as an experienced sergeant-major, Harun al-Rashid-like in "One Thousand and One Nights," and go down to the masses, in dozens of places all the time. And what the chief of staff does not know, the government above him certainly does not know.

There is a different way: A much more complete picture from the one that nearly every minister gets is available to two official, though non-governmental bodies. One is the branch at the State Comptroller's office in charge of investigating defense (sometimes this is limited only to the head of the branch, Major General (res.) Mendy Orr, a former Military Intelligence officer, to Colonel (res.) Hovav Shapira, and another member of staff); and the subcommittee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, Intelligence and Secret Services (Silvan Shalom, Tzachi Hanegbi, Amir Peretz, Ephraim Sneh, Benjamin Netanyahu and Otniel Schneller).

These bodies have maximum access but the catch is that they are in on the secret and can never do anything about it; they can recommend but they cannot be involved. The executive branch, the government, is fighting with itself, without being of the same mind, or having anyone obey it.