The Blame Game

What is the purpose of the Tirkel “Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of 31 May 2010?”

The Commission headed by Israeli Judge Tirkel consists of seven members, of whom two are foreign observers with full access to all (including classified) materials. There are no women serving on the Commission. With the exception of one foreign observer, the average age of the members of the Commission reminds me of the synagogue in an old age home where I pray. Wisdom of years and experience.

This week was full of activity for the Commission. It started on Monday with the Prime Minister’s testimony, which could have been summarized as follows: “I assigned the responsibility to the Defense Minister.” The Prime Minister later qualified the statement, but the impression was imprinted on the collective memory.

The following day, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak testified, and his main message as reported in the press: “It is the responsibility of the military and its head, Chief of Staff Ashkenazy.”

From Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday, the responsibility passed faster than a flying fireball. As I was en route to the testimony this morning, speculations were made whether or not the Chief of Staff would blame the soldiers or find another scapegoat.

A combat non-commissioned officer joined us, expressing full trust in his Commander-in-Chief. When the rank-and-file have faith in their leader, we are in good hands. Ashkenazy did not disappoint me.

The Chief of General Staff

Ashkenazy, the professional fighter, the top commander of the Israeli military, showed what it means to take charge and leave no soldier behind. It is his battlefield, he is in command and he assumes responsibility. He commended the soldiers on a job very well done under changing circumstances, in the face of the most difficult of situations. The terrorists were determined to engage in a confrontation, to become Shaids (martyrs) and both attacked the soldiers and were the ones to open fire.

The questions were presented in advance, and Ashkenazi read the answers. He broke to show a video presentation of the conclusions of the Eiland Commission (an internal commission of IDF experts led by Major General Giora Eiland whose findings were made public weeks ago).

The same segment has been available since July 15th on YouTube (two parts, each almost nine minutes long). To-date, hardly forty thousand views. Is anyone really interested in knowing what really took place? The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles made it available, but not even one percent of the Israeli community there, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, has viewed the segment.

So who is really interested in the testimony and does it serve anyone’s purpose? Was a viewing of the two YouTube segments, personally guided by the Chief of Staff and his entourage, really necessary? To me, this deposition could only harm Israel’s case.

Value Added

Being a democracy does not mean everything is permitted. Submitting to international pressure and opening Israel to scrutiny that should be handled militarily serves only the purposes of our enemies. But there was some value added in the Commission’s hearings.

The questions from the foreign observers were very pointed and centered around legal proceedings (against the soldiers and possible others). Who can initiate a criminal investigation and was the death of every one of the terrorists thoroughly investigated were the main questions. Resonating in the background was the main question: *Why did Israel not initiate criminal proceedings against the soldiers and others in Israel responsible?*

The scrutiny of Israel and the blame game have just commenced. If we listen closely to the questions asked, we will be able to map what is in store for Israel. Thus, the questions are exactly whence the essence of this commission lies.

Israel is … GUILTY

No matter what Israel does, she is judged guilty. When a terrorist organization assembles an army of mercenaries trained in combat to break a legal blockade then takes cover under the guise of (expired and unnecessary) humanitarian aid, Israel defends herself and her borders, within her legal rights. Seven of her soldiers are injured after being lynched by the “peace activists.” Nine terrorists die of the more than 700 on board the ship, indicating how careful and reserved were the Israeli soldiers. Turkey who supported the mission demands an apology, and the world community celebrates a song and dance of universal condemnation.

So who is being served? Only Israel’s enemies.

First, the scope of the Commission should have been the legal aspects, but it quickly expanded in questioning and testimony into a political framework, military war doctrine and issues of public diplomacy. None of these is under the strict purview of the Commission.

While interesting to the Commission members, expanding the scope of inquiry for superfluous reasons contradicts the necessity of forming the Commission. The Commission’s work starts resembling a fishing expedition, and the prey – Israel and her soldiers-defenders – jumps into the net saying, “Here I am!”

Second, Israel is engaged in self-scrutiny and is submitting to international attention which should have commenced and concluded as an internal investigation in the military. Instead, we are now aware of the following weaknesses:

Israel did not have sufficient intelligence of IHH (the Turkish terrorist organization) primarily because it views Turkey as a friend not a foe.

Operationally, the next time a flotilla arrives and the military is directed to stop it, the military will use whatever means necessary to ensure a safe landing place under guaranteed sterile conditions. Now our enemies know what to expect. Undoubtedly, the organizers will prepare accordingly and probably already have devised a few ideas how to better deal with these landings.

A very effective way to fight Israel is by initiating a process like litigation that engages and consumes the country in preparing for hearings, appearing in them and later explaining statements made. This is exactly the way Muslims are now occupying innocent and naive Americans, utilizing the judicial framework of the West to accelerate its downfall.

In summary, we have exposed the workings of the General Staff in wartime and asked for the public’s hand vote. Make no mistake, nothing we do will result in anything but a resounding NAY.

Equally more importantly, Al Jazeera and other outlets have had a field day (actually a few consecutive ones). What is the message that resonated from Jerusalem? Well, that depended on the particular reporter, his or her viewpoint and the message she or he wanted to relate. What I found extraordinary is the IDF Spokesperson, a Brigadier General’s good rapport with Israeli reporters. He was schmoozing around during the testimony, but during the break disappeared.

The reporters were left to interpret to one another what they heard. One reporter explaining, two others listening. One checking his notes while another explains what was said. A coherent message cannot flow from Jerusalem, from this testimony, because the Public Diplomacy is improper. It is both a wasted opportunity and a theater of the ridiculous.

Shifting Blame and the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs

At only one point during the Chief of Staff’s testimony did he react visibly to the question raised: the accusation (raised repeatedly over the past two months, primarily, but not only by the Foreign Ministry) that Israel’s failure in Public Diplomacy stems from the delay of several hours in releasing IDF footage.

The Chief of Staff talked about the preparations, from video equipment mounted to record the events as they unfolded, to crews and teams of reporters and foreign observers embedded during and after the operation. The creation of media centers and the attempt to prevent any information leakage from the ships themselves were successful other than a short interval of pictures broadcasted on Al Jazeera. But, explained Ashkenazi, we had to notify the families of Israel’s wounded, a process that delayed release by a short few hours.

It took the various representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Israeli embassies and consulates) much longer to react. In Los Angeles one of the first dispatches was sent some 14 hours after the operation commenced. After all, it was a long holiday weekend.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, entrusted with Israel Public Diplomacy outside of Israel, is taking cover with respect to its failure to prepare the world during the month preceding the Turkish Terrorist Flotilla of Lies’ arrival and the hours and days following.

The Chief of Staff stated: “We did not know enough about the organization (IHH). The level of information was not the same as the one we have about Hamas and other terrorist organizations since we did not investigate. It was not in our list of priorities [because] Turkey is not an enemy country and I hope it will not become one.”

Barely hours have passed and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came out with an announcement on Israel’s national news: “The Chief of Staff had to know it!” The attacks before (“it is not our fault, it is the IDF’s”) have now escalated to a higher, explicit level: let us blame the military and Gaby Ashkenazi, its Chief of General Staff. If only the MFA had reacted equally as swiftly in real time against our enemies.

Corrective Course of Action

Possibly the MFA should assign a consul in Israel’s Washington DC Embassy to follow attacks being carried out against Israel in the international arena. These may include other theaters, such as “thirsting the Palestinians,” “illegal construction,” “the threat to Al Aqsa Mosque” and others.

Then, such a Consul would have known, from reading Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism news dispatches of January 8th and May 26 th 2010, about the Flotilla, IHH, its (MFA’s) own warnings and the promise of martyrdom by the organizers:

“Allah is our goal.

The Prophet Muhammad is our leader

The Koran is our Constitution

Jihad is our path

Death for the sake of Allah is our most exalted desire.”

The MFA should look at its own archives. It may discover that on July 7, 2008, it published a list of 36 organizations that are banned as Hamas-affiliated charitable organizations. The article ends with number 36: Insan Haklary Ve Hurriyetleri Vakfi (IHH) / International Humanitarian Relief Organisation / Internationale Humanitere Hilfs Organisation (Turkey).

I am reminded of the day before Israel went into Gaza in December, 2008. The Military was disseminating reports on humanitarian aid into Gaza, but the Foreign Ministry was not communicating with the military. Thus it failed to disseminate these same reports to foreign journalists. Why is this relevant? It is exactly the topic of humanitarian aid to Gaza that became the focus of international attention that escalated into the Flotilla to end the humanitarian crisis in Gaza in which Israel is now embroiled.

All roads lead to the MFA’s continued Public Diplomacy failures. Do not blame the IDF. The Testimony heard today reminded me where values can still be found.

I was proud of Ashkenazi’s testimony, proud of Israel and her army, the likes of which can be found nowhere in the world. West Point cadets should study this testimony, as should generations of officers in the IDF. It highlights the very essence on which the IDF is built, a set of values engrained in one’s very being.

The Chief of Staff should continue, once his term ends, to become involved in other leadership roles to protect Israel on the international scene. That is the one front today left completely unprotected. It would be an honor and a privilege to serve under him.

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