When IDF Successes' Are Failures

A certain amount of arrogance is behind the statement that "the defense establishment is not upset over the affair and says that this is a success of the navy, which rapidly detected a foreign vessel."

How do we know that the recent discovery of a submarine that infiltrated Israel's territorial waters is not a "naval success" story, as senior navy officers past and present have hastened to boast? It is very simple: The Israel Defense Forces concealed information about it; it was an Army Radio reporter who first broke the story.

The army does not usually hide its successes. It actually moves quickly to put the IDF spokesman into high gear to reveal them to the public. The real problem in light of the submarine affair is the increasing tendency of the IDF to try to conceal its failures, and when they are revealed, to pull the wool over the eyes of the public, to white-wash the investigation and - what is even more serious - to present these failures as grand successes.

A certain amount of arrogance is behind the statement that "the defense establishment is not upset over the affair and says that this is a success of the navy, which rapidly detected a foreign vessel."

This is the reaction we get when an unidentified submarine succeeds to reach a short distance from the most highly protected coastline in Israel. Since the end of the 1970s, the navy has changed its deployment off the northern coast following a number of terror attacks, among them the murder of the Haran family in Nahariya, the perpetrators of which came from the sea. The navy installed a closely spaced array of radar stations along the coast, and its ships continually patrol the area.

In the face of this state of readiness, when a submarine - a large, slow-moving body - manages to approach the shore undetected, it is a resounding failure.

Even the claim that the submarine was detected immediately after it entered Israel's territorial waters must be viewed with skepticism. The IDF did admit it had no clue how long the vessel had been in the vicinity.

Former navy commander Major General Avraham Ben-Shoshan gave new meaning to the actions of the mysterious and evasive submarine: "I do not agree with the term `infiltration.' What caused the submarine to run? That's what it did - it ran. It sensed it was under surveillance. They noticed it, it was discovered, in fact it failed in its mission. That's what happens to a submarine that fails in its mission, instead of being the chaser it becomes the chased."

That clears everything up. The failure is that of the party that managed to creep up to the coast without being detected; the success is that of the party that did not discover it in time.

And with braggadocio coming from who knows where, a senior officer explained exactly what had happened: "It's not the navy that failed here, but rather the commander of the submarine, in that he lost the covert action of his vessel."

In light of the navy's impressive "success," we can easily imagine what would happen if the submarine did not belong to a friendly country, but was armed with missiles and hostile intent.

The submarine's infiltration occured three days after a drone launched by Hezbollah buzzed for long minutes through Israel's airspace over Nahariya without the air force detecting it. It was a phone call from a reserves officer who alerted the air force to its presence. But even then it was not shot down, and after its operators decided that its mission was accomplished, they managed to direct it back to Lebanon.

The air force's failure is more serious because along the northern border - ever since the 1987 "night of the gliders," when six soldiers were killed at the Gibor camp east of Kiryat Shemona - closely arranged mechanisms have been in place to detect any aircraft coming in from Lebanon, even if its radar signature is small, such as that of a glider or a hang-glider.

As in the case of the submarine, the defense establishment spokesmen hastened to make clear here that this was not, heaven forbid, a failure, but a Hezbollah PR ploy: While it managed to penetrate Israel's air space, the aircraft was a mere "model airplane, which could probably have been purchased on the civilian market."

The truth, of course, is different, as the chief of staff admitted: "The drone could carry a weight of 40-50 kilograms and could carry out attacks." Such a drone could be directed with precision at any target by means of a satellite navigation system sold on the open market.

The IDF would do better if, instead of bragging about its nonexistent "successes," it would tell the truth and deal with it. It is clearly a failure when a system especially installed to detect aircraft coming in from Lebanon fails to do so and one flies freely over a city in Israel, and when sophisticated intelligence-gathering does not manage to identify the intent of Hezbollah to launch a drone. The same is true for the navy. The failure is clear, and all the boasting of senior air force personnel will not change it.

Failure must be dealt with and investigated, so that faults can be rectified. The public must be told that Israel's air space and maritime borders cannot be hermetically sealed, but that attempts can be made to keep the number of infiltrations to a minimum. But when the truth is not told, there is no chance that real investigation will take place. And without that, the chances are very small that mistakes will be fixed.