Analysis: Lebanon War lessons were totally ignored

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 10, 2010
Netanyahu visits soldiers hurt in the raid, approved without a cabinet vote

Netanyahu visits soldiers hurt in the raid, approved without a cabinet vote

When the commission of enquiry into the botched raid finally gets down to work, they should start by reading a three-year-old document. The Winograd Commission report, written in the wake of the Second Lebanon War four years ago, has no direct connection with the clash off the coast of Gaza, but all it had to say regarding the decision-making process of Israel's political and military leadership is relevant to the current crisis.

All the ills that were exhibited in the summer of 2006 have recurred. The cabinet was not seriously consulted, there was no consultation with the National Security Council, inaction in the face of a looming crisis and no consideration of the options.

True, much has changed since the Second Lebanon War. The IDF has significantly improved its training regimen and it is better prepared for the various threat scenarios. The National Security Council has been bolstered and is included today in many of the high-level discussions where once it was absent. The preparations for a national crisis on the home front have been revolutionised, as could be seen in the annual home front exercise two weeks ago. The command structure and the pipeline connecting the various levels of the military with the civilian leadership have all been streamlined.

And despite all this work, at the crucial moment of truth, Israel's leaders and senior military officers fell back on their bad old habits.

Asides from one sparsely attended meeting of the "group of seven" senior ministers, all the main decisions regarding the Gaza flotilla were taken by PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, with almost no input from their cabinet colleagues and civil advisors. Even before that, there was no attempt to hold a serious discussion on the long-term implications of the five-year closure of the Gaza Strip. It was clear many months ago that Israel's enemies would try and use the closure to their benefit, but no-one thought that Israel should take the initiative.

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Barak both seemed content to leave the situation to IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Navy Commander Eliezer "Chiney" Marom. Once again, as on the eve of the Yom Kippur War and so many times since, the prevailing wisdom went unquestioned by almost everyone.

Flotilla 13, one of the IDF's elite units, was given the job of the raid, with scant regard whether the naval commandos had sufficient manpower, equipment and, most crucially, proper intelligence to achieve the required results.

When Vice Admiral Marom and the commander of Flotilla 13, Colonel A, were bobbing in a dinghy alongside the Mavi Marmara moments before the commandos landed on board, they saw the real-time surveillance footage of a large group of knife and club-wielding passengers, lying in wait. Why did they not decide to postpone the boarding and regroup? And why were there no fallback plans for the large team of spokesmen, spin-doctors and press-handlers which had been preparing for weeks to present Israel's case to the world's media?

Few Israelis have any harsh words for the commandos who fought it out on the Marmara. But at every level of military command and political leadership above them, serious questions have to be answered.

Last updated: 2:00pm, June 10 2010