Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Blaming Bibi

by Elliott Abrams
June 14, 2012


I am in Jerusalem, where the State Comptroller has just issued a lengthy report blaming Prime Minister Netanyahu for his handling of the Mavi Marmara affair.

The BBC summarized the report this way:

Israel’s state watchdog has criticised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the navy’s interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla which left nine Turkish activists dead and commandos injured. In a report, the State Comptroller identified “serious shortcomings” in the way decisions were taken by Mr Netanyahu before the May 2010 incident….
“The process of decision-making was done without orderly, agreed-upon, co-ordinated and documented staff work, despite the recognition of the senior political echelon and IDF (Israel Defence Forces) chiefs, intelligence bodies and the National Security Council on the exceptional nature of the Turkish flotilla compared to previous flotillas,” the reports said.

I don’t buy it.

Having served in two American administrations, I do not believe that the fundamental “lesson” being taught here–in essence that good process results in good policy, while process failures produce bad policy–is correct. They may, and they may not; I have seen both. In general, good decision-making in my view results from the intelligence, judgment, and courage of top officials. Whether those qualities are reflected in a lovely bureaucratic process seems to me a secondary matter at best; certainly they can be manifested in informal decision-making that is effective and successful.

Comptroller Lindenstrauss occupies a position (fortunately!) unknown in the U.S. government, a sort of all purpose investigator, special prosecutor, and accountant all rolled into one. Of course, he is invited by the very nature of his position to second-guess all decisions, substituting 20-20 hindsight for a better understanding of what decision makers face in real time. I note that in this case, he let the army off the hook. Whatever failures there were at the political level, the more direct responsibility for the operation–for its planning and its implementation–lay with the IDF. The army provided its own report some time ago, and it was considerably less critical of itself  than was the Lindenstrauss report of the Prime Minister. That seems suspicious, as if the army protected itself but the defense bureaucracy then attacked the Prime Minister.

The report does make one point with which I do agree: that Israel needs a strong National Security Council. The Israeli NSC was created some years ago but, often due to the personalities involved–as prime minister, defense minister, IDF chief of staff, or NSC director–it has never played the role the NSC does in Washington. This is unfortunate, because the defense establishment in Israel is very powerful and influential, and a strong NSC that provides the prime minister with independent opinions and judgments would be very valuable.

But the failure of Israel to establish a strong NSC cannot be attributed to Netanyahu, or certainly not to him alone. So the bottom line for me is that this Comptroller’s report seems unfair. Blaming Bibi is not good enough.

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by EthanP

    Of course it has to be “someones” fault. Why does somebody always have to be at fault. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. And no one can think of everything all the time.

    If Lindenstraus is from an opposition party, I would not be surprised.

  • Posted by Yuval

    “But the failure of Israel to establish a strong NSC cannot be attributed to Netanyahu, or certainly not to him alone.”
    Well… until you go back and check who established the Israeli NSC.

  • Posted by Organizational Behavior

    Would a stronger Israeli NSC have come up with a less ‘safe’, plodding, groupthink approach?

    What would have been the correct action to take? Probably to let the ‘knives, Molotov cocktails, detonators, wood and metal clubs, slingshots and rocks, large hammers and sharp metal objects’ and cement go to Gaza and to entrap the next convoy, the one with the rockets when the smugglers think they’re safe.

    What you’re talking about is an NSC of intrepidity and cunning… one composed of rabbis! The blockhead MBA approach played right into their hands, just like it will with Iran.

    Not to blame Bibi. He is, after all, not Yoni.

    Surely the Foreign Minister deserves the credit for tape-bombing the relationship with Turkey. G-d only knows what kind of notes Obama is passing to the Ayatollah through Erdogan.

  • Posted by What is occupation

    The whole problem with the thought process is that Israel is to “blame” for something.

    I see it differently.

    Israel needs to teach terrorists and their backers that they will not allow attacks to occur without severe response.

    A report should be written scolding the Israel government for not SINKING the ship.

    Can you imagine the response that China, North Korea, Russia, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria or any one of a dozen other “hostile” nations that are critical of Israel would be if the shoe were on the other foot?

    Oh yeah, Syria uses incendiary rounds on children, Turkey? bombs Kurdish civilians, Russia killed how many in Georgia and chechnya..

    One standard for Israel, no standards for anyone else.

  • Posted by Asher Pat

    Call me paranoid, but I suspect that Micha Lindenstrauss is a closet left-wigner, bent not only to topple the right-wing government, but even more than that.

  • Posted by Jeopardy

    What is occupation? How religious Jews and Muslims alike view the Zionist experiment in Eretz Israel.

    What is a double standard? What Israel raises to differentiate itself from “terrorists”, as if the Irgun and Lehi were just law-abiding citizens.

    But perhaps they were that, fulfilling Joshua’s mandate for proscription, if unconsciously. If so, their progeny is bound by the Chosenness inherent in that choice.

    If Israel can embrace its religious and messianic Zionist roots, it has a future in a region which can not justifiably deny its presence. If it is simply a collection of colonizers and narcissists employing religious imagery while flouting its responsibility, it will be annihilated.

    This would not have been an issue in Uganda, in what may have been the true meaning of Entebbe.

    They went for the gold. I, for one, am rooting for them.

  • Posted by Lon W

    Started reading a 150-page pdf entitled the ‘Palmer Report’. Interesting data and “fair”.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    To issue such a scathing report at this late date , singling out the Prime Minister , indicates a political agenda rather than a real concern over how the flotilla operation should have been handled . Lindenstrauss may have his sights set on an office higher than Comptroller . Rank political maneuvers aren’t just an American franchise . Lindenstrauss should be working for Obama .

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