Israeli analysts question govt's decision-making

09:19, August 11, 2010      

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After a two-day inquiry of the Turkel Committee, local media and leading Israeli analysts are at odds: should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been more involved in the planning and execution of the raid on the Gaza- bound flotilla, or was he right in his decision to entrust the responsibility to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)?

This question has become the subject of domestically heated debate since the committee, set up to probe the tragic aftermath of the naval raid aboard a Turkish ship trying to break the Gaza blockade on May 31, began its work on Monday.

Netanyahu was the first of Israeli high officials to give his testimony before the committee's five members, two of them international observers.

"It depends on the talent and qualifications of a prime minister," said Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

"Going into details and making sure that the army is indeed operating in a way that's beneficial to the political cause is certainly worth doing. There is a strong link between the use of force and political aims," Inbar added.

While it is still premature to determine what will follow the completion of the Turkel Committee's work, it has, in the eyes of some local analysts, already proven itself invaluable in revealing the decision making culture of the current Israeli government.

When asked whether or not it was the IDF which decided on the means to prevent the flotilla from reaching the Gaza shore, Netanyahu answered "yes, that's the standard procedure. Politicians determine policy while it's up to the military to execute it. This is the division of labor."

According to Netanyahu, he and his ministers convened for a special brainstorming session on May 26 to mainly discuss the media and diplomatic aspects of the raid but didn't discuss its details or possible alternatives. The latter were determined exclusively by the IDF.

Netanyahu then left on a planned trip to meet U.S. President Barack Obama, leaving Defense Minister Ehud Barak in charge of the operation.

"We have to remember that Netanyahu wasn't in Israel and left the responsibility for handling the matter with (Defense Minister) Barak," said Inbar.

The view is partially shared by Prof. (emeritus) Yehezkel Dror, a former Hebrew University political scientist and world-renowned expert on public policy, decision making and international relations.

"The army should be trusted with skepticism since no military action today is void of political and media significance," he said, adding "the political hierarchy was obligated (in the naval raid operation) to examine the military plans from a political aspect."

In 2006, Dror served as a member of the Winograd Committee, established to investigate the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in the year. After a year and a half of testimonies and thorough deliberations the committee issued a report highly critical of the political and military decision making process before and during the war, and concluded there was a lack of "interface" between the military and political echelons.

Dror now claims the aftermath of the flotilla incident proves that the lessons of the 2006 war were not learned or implemented by Israeli decision makers.

"The politicians had to inquire if the IDF understands the political implications, did it check and prepare itself towards a pessimistic scenario," Dror said in an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.

"In addition, no second independent opinion was heard by involving the Israeli National Security Council. The decision- making process did not improve sufficiently. It was evident in what the prime minister said on Monday and from the things the defense minister said on Tuesday," he concludes.

Another issue currently at the limelight is the very credibility and legitimacy of the Turkel Committee, which has been widely questioned since its establishment became public. Besides investigating the naval raid, it is tasked with examining the legality of the continued naval blockade of the Palestinian enclave.

Turkey and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas dismissed it and claimed it would not meet demands set by the UN Security Council. Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz described the commission as "farce" and questioned its fairness.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon repeated his demand for an independent investigation, saying that an Israeli investigation will lack international credibility. Some jurists, including Turkel himself, criticized the panel's initial limited mandate and demanded that its investigative powers be expanded.

The two international observers appointed to oversee the proceedings and testimonies, Lord William David Trimble, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Ken Watkin, a former judge advocate general for Canada, have been dubbed "friends of Israel" by some critics who cast doubt on their objectivity.

"The commission is more of a public relations attempt," said Inbar, "I do not know what it will develop into, since its mandate is limited, but its creation is the result of international pressure."

However, Dror holds another view. He argues that most critics of Turkel are entirely missing the point.

"Obviously the commission is developing into a serious one. Its chairman demanded greater authority, strengthened the panel and secured the assistance of the Supreme Court. Its members are asking serious questions," he said.

By Gur Salomon, Xinhua


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