Within Israel, Finger-Pointing and Lessons Learned
Knesset testimony begins, amidst calls to treat "peace groups" as potentially violent allies of terrorists rather than benign protesters.
June 1, 2010 - 8:20 am
With a barrage of unrelenting condemnation and hate cascading on Israel, the battle outside of the country is one of black and white, right and wrong. Israel’s diplomats and spokesmen were still busy on Tuesday defending the Jewish state’s actions in the international arena — pointing out that when confronted with bats, metal pipes, and violent mobs, the soldiers that landed on the roof of the Mavi Marmara intending to divert it from Gaza to Israel had no choice but to open fire to defend their lives.
Within Israel, however, the black and white has melted into gray, as the internal debate heats up as to whether this diplomatic and public relations black eye could have somehow been avoided while still protecting the country’s security. And the questions are not being asked only on the left. Even those who firmly believe that the blockade is justified, its enforcement necessary, and that the flotilla’s progress to Gaza needed to be impeded somehow are asking if there could have been a better way for the story of the “Freedom Flotilla” to end.
Some even believe that heads — particularly Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s — should roll over the numerous miscalculations.
Questions over the decision-making regarding the flotilla, both on the political level and the military level, flew thick and fast on Tuesday, in both the media and in the political arena. The lead story in the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv quoted senior ministers angrily calling for Barak’s resignation, charging that the final decision about the Gaza flotilla was made without proper discussion by the full cabinet or even the full “group of seven” ministers at the top. An unnamed minister “at the most senior level” charged that Barak made the decision to move ahead with the commando operation singlehandedly, asking only for Netanyahu’s approval. The official is “furious” at Barak’s “power-drunk,” “irresponsible” behavior at a time when the prime minister was out of the country. And he is not alone.
In Ha’aretz, Ari Shavit rounded up a few of the questions Israelis were asking one another over the radio airwaves and on the street:
What happened to Israel’s vaunted creativity? Why was the worst of all possible options chosen? Where was the army chief of staff? Where were the intelligence services? Why did we walk into this trap, which we managed to avoid in all the years of the second intifada, with our eyes open? Why didn’t we see that instead of tightening the siege on Gaza, we were about to tighten the siege on ourselves?
Shavit’s colleague Yossi Melman, author of a book on the history of Israel’s intelligence services, painted the operation first and foremost as an intelligence failure.
Apparently Israel, which prides itself as having the best intelligence in the world, should have known that there were violent elements aboard one of the boats equipped with iron bars, knives, and slingshots. Had Israel known this, it would have probably used more appropriate ways to storm the boat to avoid death and injuries.
Melman was not alone in his criticism. One need not have been an intelligence operative to understand the nature and intentions of those aboard the flotilla. Video of the chanting of inciting slogans was available on the internet, and messages coming from the flotilla on Facebook, Twitter, and other websites made it clear that there was more of a chance of violent confrontation than military decision-makers took into consideration. If Israel did know this was no humanitarian group, but a Hamas-affiliated terror organization, why didn’t its leadership expect this behavior and equip its soldiers properly? Instead of ridiculously believing that paintball guns would be sufficient?