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Flotilla Flub: Bibi Acted Poorly, Public Did Worse

Israel’s state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, in his second-to-last report before retirement, delivers a searing critique of the Netanyahu-Barak government’s handling – make that catastrophic mishandling – of the lead-up to and aftermath of the May 2010 Turkish flotilla incident. The report charges haphazard, seat-of-the-pants decision making in place of planning, consultation and staff work. Yediot Aharonot political-military commentator Ron Ben-Yishai writes about the report’s broader implications for Israeli security – the evidence that Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak simply ignore the elementary requirements (including legal requirements) of good defense and intelligence work when they make fateful decisions about Israel’s future. He worries – as do numerous other commentators in the last few days – about the fact that these are the guys who will decide whether or not to take Israel to war against Iran.

The report, and particularly Ben-Yishai’s analysis, flesh out what I wrote a few months ago about the disorder in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bureau, with accent on his critical mishandling of the National Security Council set up three years ago, largely in response to his own legislative initiative as an opposition lawmaker before the 2009 election.

Having said all that, the most stunning piece I have read about the comptroller’s report and what’s not in it – namely the Israeli public’s response to the flotilla incident – is this blog post by Chemi Shalev in Haaretz.

In case you can’t get past the paywall, here’s the heart of his argument:

…as the Comptroller’s report makes amply clear, this was not some force majeure or an unforeseen terrorist attack for which Israel had to provide an immediate, makeshift answer that caused unexpected collateral damage. There were weeks of advance knowledge, heaps of early warning, time enough to prepare for seizing boat that was slowly approaching Israel’s shore in a way that would not immediately land Israel in the defendant’s seat in the court of world public opinion. In the days before the May 31 takeover the Marmara, it was clear that Israel was facing a dangerous situation that could blow up in its face if not handled properly, which, as we all know, it did.

But in the hours and days following the incident none of the Israeli ministers, very few politicians and only a handful of media commentators had anything to say about the mishap, which had either caused serious damage to Israel’s relations with Turkey, according to one school of thought, or played into Erdogan’s hands, according to the other. Only a few brave souls challenged the wisdom of the government’s move or the effectiveness of the army’s operations. Instead, almost the entire country, egged on by the government and aided and abetted by much, though not all, of the media, exploded in a frenzy of hate towards the Turks and in an orgy of holier-than-thou resentment towards the world. Israeli public opinion withdrew inside its fort, raised the drawbridges, immersed itself in nationalistic justifications and closed its ears to any recriminations. Any questioning of the military operation was derided as a sign of betrayal and criticism of the government, perhaps by accident but more likely by design, was drowned in a sea of righteous indignation.

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