Tel Aviv Diary: Revealed, the Blunders of the Gaza War

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An Israeli soldier enters a damaged Palestinian home with a smuggling tunnel on May 22, 2004, in the Rafah Refugee Camp, the Gaza Strip. Marc Schulman writes that the new report clearly states that Israel did not achieve its goal of destroying all the tunnels, having successfully destroyed only half of them. In addition, the report claims that while the intelligence knew of the tunnels' existence, no plan had been developed to deal with the tunnels. Jim Hollander-Pool/Getty

At 4:40 p.m., Red Alert notifications appeared on phones throughout Israel.

For the second day in a row, Red Alerts indicated there had been a rocket attack launched from Gaza. This time it was a false alarm.

It was fitting that this blaring siren sounded less than an hour after Israel’s state comptroller-general, Judge Yosef Shapira, released a scathing report on Israel’s 2014 Gaza war.

The report was divided into two parts—tactical and strategic. In the strategic-political section, that was probably the most devastating part of the report. However, two important things stand out: First, that in all the time leading up to the war, no serious discussions were held to establish what Israel’s goals in Gaza should be. Second, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not allow discussion that might lead to an alternative approach to going to war.

A major focus of the report dealt with the question of whether the army was prepared to tackle the threats presented by the tunnels Hamas had dug into Israel. The report clearly stated that Israel did not achieve its goal of destroying all of the tunnels, having successfully destroyed only half of them.

In addition, the report claimed that while the intelligence knew of the tunnels' existence, no plan—neither strategic nor tactical—had been developed to deal with the tunnels.

Much of the criticism of the report centered on the fact so many of the comptroller's comments were devoted to the inadequate and incompetent handling of the tunnels and not to other aspects of the war—e.g., successful use of the Iron Dome system, which reduced Hamas's rockets to a mere nuisance for residents in most of the country. (Of course, an investigation generally focuses on what failed and not what succeeded.)

The comptroller's report very much reflects the general sense of how this country has been led over the past few years—i.e., the current government that reacts but never takes action.

It’s clear now that Israel does not have a coherent policy towards Gaza and never really did. Even though the comptroller's report did not deal with the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority, there is no reason to believe that the same lack of planning and discussion apply to Israel's policies regarding the future of the West Bank or Israel’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority.

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A major segment of the report was devoted to the structural failures of Israel’s National Security Council. However, those weaknesses are not new and have been discussed in previous reports. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the report's recommendations in this area will be seriously addressed.

The bulk of the contents of the report were known in advance and had been discussed widely. There were no bombshells revealed in the report, and while it specifically criticized individuals (such as Netanyahu, Former Defense Minister Moshe "Bogie" Ya’alon, Former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Former Head of the National Security Council and current head of the Mossad Yosef "Yossi" Cohen), it did not assign official blame to any of them—something that might have impacted their careers.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot responded to the report by saying that the IDF has studied the report and taken actions to address the weaknesses it highlighted.  

Israel has a very limited tradition of leaders taking personal responsibility for their actions. The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin resigned because his wife, Leah Rabin, retained a bank account in the U.S. with $5,000 after he was no longer ambassador (during that period, Israelis were not allowed to hold foreign bank accounts).

In the wake of the devastating report on the Yom Kippur war, Prime Minister Golda Meir resigned, as did Prime Minister Menachem Begin after the failures of the First Lebanon war. With such meager precedent, there is no presumption that this comptroller report will have a major political impact.

The expectation in Tel Aviv is that within a day or two, for all but those who lost their loved ones in the war, the comptroller's report will become a distant memory.

In fact, a few hours after the report was released, Raviv Drucker of Israel Channel 10 presented a special investigative report on what is known in Israel as “Case 3000,” the investigation into corruption that took place amidst the process of purchasing submarines and other naval vessels from Germany. The submarine story, which leads directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inner circle, is now officially the subject of a criminal investigation.

At the moment, Netanyahu is not a suspect. However, if Netanyahu's term comes to an early conclusion, it will likely be due to either this investigation, and/or one of the two other criminal investigations that do involve him directly—and not the strategic mistakes he might have made as Israel’s prime minister during the Gaza war of 2014.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.