The Right Questions About the IDF

There is a vast disparity between the contents of the Eiland report, and the way that it is being reported on in the media.

A disconcerting fact: Any reasonable person reading the classified document drafted by Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland on May's flotilla raid should be shocked three times over. First upon learning of the string of errors the Israel Defense Forces committed in the operation, second on finding there is no link between the content of the report and its conclusions, and third on discovering the wide discrepancy between that content and the way it has been presented in the Israeli media. The reader is likely to conclude that something is rotten in the IDF, and that the military has done an impressive job hiding the stench from the public.

Another disconcerting fact: The army didn't submit the Eiland report to the government immediately after it was completed. The prime and defense ministers struggled for days to obtain the report on the army they're charged with overseeing. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was sent home in June over much less. A democratic state in which the military refuses to subordinate itself to the government is a disabled democracy at best.

A third disconcerting fact: It was clear on the morning of May 31 that the army had already failed in its efforts to confront the flotilla. The chief of staff was not at operational headquarters, the navy commander failed to demonstrate reasonable judgment, intelligence was poor and forces had been prepared in a manner that left much to be desired. The results were unacceptable - three soldiers seized, an elite unit humiliated and nine foreign nationals killed.

The IDF knew the facts, but failed to take responsibility for them. At first the army launched a spin campaign to rally the nation behind the commandos, then proceeded to wage a broad and bizarre media blitz, turning up its smoke machines to hide the truth from the public.

The flotilla incident had little strategic significance. It wasn't a war, or a broad-scale military operation or a strike on a nuclear reactor on enemy soil. It was significant in that it revealed deeper layers of the army often concealed from view. The incident underscored the blindness of the prime minister, the complacency of the defense minister and the superficiality of the forum of seven senior ministers. It revealed flawed strategic thinking and even worse public-relations policy. But more than anything, the raid revealed the three disconcerting facts that so clearly demonstrate the IDF is not what it should be.

No heads must roll because of the flotilla incident. An armada of inquiry panels and reports need not be launched against the decision-makers involved. But any reasonable Israeli should be disturbed by the systemic flaws exposed by the incident and Israel's attempt to deal with the subsequent fallout. He or she should be particularly worried by the military's conduct over the past few months. An army that doesn't know how to tell the truth and confront it head-on is cause for real concern.

In 2007, Gabi Ashkenazi inherited a beaten and battered army. He did superb work in rehabilitating the military, as did IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu in restoring public faith in it. The military, its commanders and its spokesman are worthy of admiration and praise for their accomplishments.

But at a certain point, Ashkenazi and Benayahu's collective achievements became dangerous, having forged circumstances in which the IDF was alternately immune and allergic to criticism. This situation must change. Even after Ashkenazi's appearance before the Turkel Committee investigating the flotilla raid, the picture of what exactly happened there remains opaque. The primary lesson of the incident, then, is that the discourse over the state of the IDF must be deeper and more critical, for the army's own sake. The question of what is really happening to the Israel Defense Forces has to be asked.