Our Primitive Policy-making

It seems that more radical steps are necessary to overcome the failures of Israel's policy-making culture, including changes in structure, personnel, training and processes of decision and supervision.

The events of the military operation to stop the flotilla to Gaza make patently clear that the main lessons of the Second Lebanon War, as set out by the Winograd Committee, have not been applied. The National Security Council has been beefed up, more attention has been paid to defense of the home front, but the political-strategic front has kept on failing.

Gaza flotilla protest

Below are details of the recommendations and how they were ignored, based on the information we have at the moment.

Don't underestimate the enemy. In the Second Lebanon War the enemy was roundly denigrated, especially by the navy; this made possible the attack on the warship the Hanit. This serious failure was repeated in the operation to stop the flotilla; the planners underestimated the sophistication of Israel's enemies and their willingness to use the flotilla to harm us.

Tactical field intelligence is essential. There seems to have been no reliable intelligence on preparations aboard the Marmara to fight an attempted takeover by the Israel Defense Forces. And even if such intelligence existed, it clearly did not affect our planning of the operation and did not reach the forces in the field.

Study both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios, and prepare for the worst. These are the ABCs of decision-making, but this seems to have been too much for Israel's political-security planners. All signs indicate that no preparations were made for the pessimistic scenarios.

Field a critical mass of forces that can overcome unexpected opposition. This rule, espoused by 19th century Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz, was ignored.

Realistic, goal-oriented training is essential. Behavior during the operation clearly shows that the forces were not trained for the real thing.

The composition of forces and weapons must suit the various conflict scenarios. It turns out that the forces did not include enough experts and enough nonlethal weaponry suitable for overcoming violent opposition without resorting to firearms.

The government be skeptical about the IDF's statements that "everything will be okay." I don't have information on the discussions by the forum of seven senior minsters, but all the signs indicate that they did not show the necessary skepticism regarding the IDF's promises of success.

The plans must be discussed by the security cabinet. Despite the seven minsters' rich experience, the existence of that forum should not rule out an organized discussion by the security cabinet. This was not done.

Involve the Foreign Ministry in decisions on operations that will affect Israel's foreign relations. This means not only the foreign minister, but also the diplomatic staff, so that proper weight can be given to considerations of foreign relations and our image abroad. All the signs show that this was not done.

Let the National Security Council provide a second opinion, from a comprehensive and long-term perspective. If the council was approached in the flotilla operation, the quality of its contribution should be scrutinized. However, it is my impression that its members were not asked to evaluate and propose alternatives to the planned operation.

Beyond all the recommendations detailed here, the Winograd Committee stressed the need for radical change in the culture of political-security decision-making. However, Monday's operation once again exposed Israel's primitive culture of policy-making, with all its dangers.

We must ask why talented people continue to fail. One explanation is the multiplicity of ideological differences and coalition problems. That's always a suitable excuse for a situation we are not trying hard to change. However, it is clear that this factor did not influence preparations for the naval operation.

It seems that more radical steps are necessary to overcome the failures of Israel's policy-making culture, including changes in structure, personnel, training and processes of decision and supervision, especially the example the leadership needs to set. If the additional shock of the naval operation's failures help generate the necessary change, our loss will be our gain. If not, it is highly likely we can expect more failures that put our future at risk.


The writer was a member of the Winograd Committee that investigated the failures of the Second Lebanon War.

Professor Dror is finishing a book on Israeli statecraft: Challenge and Response.