When people start praising failures, it's time to worry. And that's exactly what happened a week and a half ago: Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the chief of staff and the air force commander for the "sharp, effective performance in which a drone was intercepted and shot down in the area south of Hebron." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also praised the drone's interception.
In reality, this incident was anything but a "sharp, effective performance." By any professional standard, the penetration of an unmanned aerial vehicle into Israeli territory, apparently after it had flown for more than two hours over the sea, and its subsequent flight clear across the country over the course of another half hour, are an embarrassing failure for the Israel Defense Forces.
As far as is known, the UAV made its way over the sea from Lebanon to the coast of Gaza. During its long flight parallel to the coast, it was not discovered by a single one of the various detection devices that "look" westward. If this wasn't due to negligence on the part of someone manning these detection systems, who wasn't alert to what was happening out at sea, then it points to holes in the IDF's radar coverage of the western sector.
Moreover, during its flight, the UAV passed over Israeli naval vessels without anyone noticing it. It also passed over the drilling platforms at the Leviathan natural gas site - a point worth noting for those who are supposed to defend our gas production sites in the future. Those who launched it could very easily have loaded it with explosives and then blown it up over one of these platforms.
According to official IDF sources, the UAV was discovered only as it was about to cross the coastline near the Gaza Strip, and at that point, fighter planes were scrambled. Someone in the IDF needs to explain why it was discovered so belatedly. After all, had the drone been laden with explosives, its operators could have aimed it at the coastal city of Ashkelon, the nearby power plant, or Ashdod Port. In that case, the explosion would have occurred with no advance warning.
No less astounding, upsetting and worrying is the description of the air force's activity after the UAV was discovered. A statement put out by the IDF Spokesman said that fighter planes escorted the drone on its flight eastward for about half an hour before launching two missiles at it, one of which hit. If so, it's hard to understand the considerations that guided those who managed the interception.
After all, it was impossible to know for sure that the drone wasn't laden with explosives, turning it into a flying bomb. And if it had been, there was a reasonable possibility that it would suddenly dive and explode over a preplanned target - for instance, the air force base over which it flew. It's not clear why the IDF decided to take such a risk instead of downing it as soon as it was discovered.
Even if those responsible for the decision believed that it was carrying a camera rather than explosives - and it would be very hard for the fighter-plane pilots to confirm or deny such a guess just by observing the drone as it flew - it's not clear why they allowed it to continue flying, thereby enabling it to photograph targets in the heart of the country. The explanation that "operational considerations and considerations of protecting [nearby] communities" led to the army's decision to down it only after about half an hour is unconvincing.
But what ought to be most worrisome about the UAV affair is the depiction of this failure as a success. After all, if the IDF and the air force are being praised for a superb performance, it's clear there is no need to investigate, ask questions and learn lessons.