Operation Protective Edge was the first significant military operation since The Six-Day War (1967) that was not investigated by a state commission of inquiry. This could indicate that after all, the public does not conceive this operation as a total failure.
1. Processes rather than Decisions
Wars being what they are, Operation Protective Edge uncovered profound failures and tactical faults from which lessons should be derived at all levels. The main problem is the fact that the State Comptroller's office cannot be the organ that would draw the significant lessons from any operation, military or diplomatic. This may be explained by many reasons, the primary one being the fact that the State Comptroller's office is authorized and accustomed to investigating processes – not the quality of decisions. This is a significant difference, which led the State Comptroller to investigate in depth a number of serious failures like the tunnel omission (which, to a considerable extent, was known in advance), while completely missing the truly important lessons.
2. The Bias of the Protocols
Admittedly, the State Comptroller's investigation included the testimonies of the key figures, but it was based primarily on protocols. This makes the investigation intrinsically biased, as past experience from all of the world's wars and at all levels has shown that major decisions are made as a result of interaction between people, including chance encounters in corridors in the late hours of the night, and are affected by such sentiments as hatred, personal animosity, primeval fears or optimism – that could be exaggerated at certain points in time. In any case, the management of a military operation is far from being a rational analysis of alternatives under the conditions that prevail at the Millennium Towers – where the State Comptrollers' offices reside.
3. The State Comptroller's Limitations
The tools available to the State Comptroller are far removed from those entrusted to state commissions of inquiry, and the prestige enjoyed by the Supreme Court judges, retired IDF generals and academicians who were members of past commissions cannot be compared to the public standing of the State Comptroller's team headed by Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Beinhorn – the team charged with investigating the defense and military aspects. Admittedly, Beinhorn is a respectable officer who had rose through the ranks of the IDF Artillery Corps, but he spent most of his career at the Quirya compound in Tel-Aviv, in chambers that are perfectly similar to those his subordinates have recently investigated in depth. To put it mildly, during Beinhorn's term at the office of the Minister of Defense, the processes and conduct of that office were not the model of orderliness and fine organization.
4. The True Failure of the Cabinet
The State Comptroller had composed a lengthy analysis with regard to the defense-diplomatic cabinet but he missed the main point – big time. The true failure in the performance of the cabinet did not involve the information that had not been submitted to it (like the remark, which is inherently correct, that the Chief of Staff and the Head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate should have emphasized that the tunnels constituted a strategic threat). Instead, it begins with the inferior caliber of the cabinet members.
Compared to other cabinets over the years, which abounded with people who possessed extensive defense and diplomatic experience, the cumulative experience and knowledge of the cabinet members in recent years are minimal. Consequently, even if the Prime Minister had listened to their opinions 'by the book', he would have never actually taken those opinions into consideration. Moreover, in recent years, many cabinet meetings are conducted with ministers speaking, first and foremost, 'for the record' – a fairly natural lesson, as far as they are concerned, from the Second Lebanon War, following which all of the cabinet discussions were publicized, word for word. The State Comptroller's report regarding Operation Protective Edge will only enhance the phenomenon of speeches and statements made strictly for the protocol.
The most important aspect of this issue – for decades, the defense cabinet was known as a truly confidential forum, from whose attendants no leaks could be obtained, even in the days when the cabinet consisted of members of rival parties, like the Labor and the Likud. The confidentiality of the discussions was so important that any leak would have been regarded as a criminal offense – on paper only. In recent years, the cabinet has been leaking like the roof of a refugee camp hut on a rainy day. For the cabinet to once again become a relevant forum, the leaks from it should be investigated, as the Chief Military Censor had asked the Attorney General to do during Operation Protective Edge (which never actually happened).
5. The Failed Strategy
Even the State Comptroller's analysis according to which the State of Israel does not have a valid national strategy vis-à-vis the situation in the Gaza Strip, or at least did not have such a strategy, misses the point by a mile. The truth is, the continued rift between Fatah in the Judea and Samaria District and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is a highly desirable situation for Israel, and leaving Hamas in power, allowing it to dominate the territory while still deterring it – that was the ultimate objective of the operation.
The State Comptroller was fully aware of that, but analyzing processes and protocols will not emphasize one particular problem, which has remained unchanged for decades: the consolidation of the Israeli strategy is biased toward military considerations (and measures), as the organ charged with the task of consolidating the national strategy, the National Security Council at the Prime Minister's Office, is shockingly inadequate and unable to compete with the assessments of the IDF (and since Operation Protective Edge, the weakening trend continues, as the NSC has not had a permanent 'chief' heading it for a long time).
For example, the NSC had suggested, at the beginning of the decade, an option for building a sea port at sea, opposite Gaza, in order to neutralize the claim that Israel was imposing a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip. For years, this proposal was not considered seriously by the political echelon, as it had not originated from the IDF (in the last year, the Minister for Intelligence Affairs, Israel Katz, started raising this proposal again).
6. The Greatest Failure: an Empty Threat
Many of the findings in the State Comptroller's report on Operation Protective Edge are correct, including findings relating to such issues as the manner in which the tunnel problem was addressed and how the intelligence picture was handled. However, a proper and unbiased analysis of the war – which lasted not less than 50 days while the IDF strategy is "to shorten the duration of the operation" owing to the threat imposed on the rear area – should have started with the fundamental failure of the intelligence agencies. They completely failed to understand the decision-making processes and the mentality of Hamas. This failure led to false expectations, time after time, that Hamas would accept the proposals for a ceasefire submitted to it.
From here, the report should have continued to the most severe fault: the leaks from the cabinet, to the effect that Israel had never intended to embark on a ground operation aimed at toppling Hamas in Gaza, actually neutralized the tangible threat imposed on the leaders of Hamas and encouraged them to press on with the longest armed confrontation since Israel's War of Independence (1948). From many aspects, this failure is similar to the air strikes against Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War, which were accompanied, over a long period of time, by declarations made by the Prime Minister that actually reassured Hassan Nasrallah – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised, time after time, that Israel would not initiate a ground maneuver (until he belatedly ordered a very limited maneuver).
So, just like Hezbollah, Hamas estimated that their achievement would be their ability to survive the Israeli air strikes – and they were right. In this respect, even the excellent work done by the Winograd Commission on the failures of the Second Lebanon War did not help: the fundamental mistake of the Second Lebanon War was repeated.
Similarly, some of the fundamental failures of Operation Protective Edge will be repeated in the next operation (with the exception of failures that remain latent during peacetime and keep surprising us in every new operation).