The State Comptrollers Report – Passing the Buck once again?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under heavy pressure due to a report published by the State Comptroller Yosef Shapira on 28 February.

The State Comptroller is tasked with independently overseeing the executive branch of Israeli politics. The newly published report is thus concerned with the decision-making and information processes surrounding the 2014 Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. The report, which has been circulating through the media ever since, not only criticises the country’s leadership for its flawed information policy towards the Security Cabinet. It also testifies to the larger public a lack of coherent strategy. Apparently, Prime Minister Netanyahu did not inform his Security Cabinet about the strategic threat of tunnels leading from the occupied Gaza Strip into Israel, known to him since the late months of 2013.

Further, the report argues that then Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gatz had not determined a post-confrontation goal for the Gaza Strip. In what some would characterize as a damning verdict, it goes on to say that, in disregard of proper alternatives, military confrontation was conducted without proper training and strategic planning. Former Minister of Justice, Tzipi Livni, the report finds, endorsed a diplomatic solution, while the Prime Minister pushed for a ground operation against the Hamas tunnels. In fact, according to Livni the Israeli leadership still today lacks a clear vision of how to deal with Gaza policy-wise as well as militarily. Netanyahu, having read the report before its release to the public, wasted no time defending the operation, claiming that "soldiers and commanders fought risking their lives."

The 2014 aggression in Gaza, also known as the Israeli military operation called "Protective Edge", erupted following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by members of Hamas. The ensuing military intervention aimed to arrest suspects in the West Bank. Hamas’ response by firing rockets led to the war in Gaza. According to human rights organization B’tselem, some 2,202 Gazans, 1,391 of them non-combatants, and 73 Israelis, 6 of them non-combatants lost their lives in the following 50 days in July and August of 2014 – the largest death toll since the Second Intifada and the largest within a single year of the conflict. With the new report published, people in Gaza are once again reminded of the large scale hostilities of 2014, which exacerbated life in the Gaza Strip and similarly Israel’s image in the international community.

Despite international criticism, most observers do not expect grave repercussions for the political elite, as they have identified a clear lack of accountability. In the aftermath of the war in Gaza, Israel had been criticised for violations of international humanitarian law. As human rights groups, like Israeli B’tselem, claim, the current Israeli law enforcement system cannot address suspicions of such misconduct adequately. Both on a military as well as a political level, no mechanisms exist that would hold decision makers accountable with respect to the lawfulness of the actions they previously authorized. While the Prime Ministers failure to inform his Security Cabinet in a clear and detailed manor may be questionable indeed, there appear to be no legal consequences. The Military Advocate General (MAG), a legal adviser and counsellor to the Israel Defence Force, is also the leading authority charged with opening criminal investigations into soldiers conduct. Observers have questioned whether or not the MAG would in fact open investigations into military actions he advised. If, however, an investigation is opened it usually focuses on the misconduct of low-ranking officers and the process is protracted for extended periods of time. The lack of external and independent supervision into military conduct is a worrying status quo and if the findings of the State Comptroller’s report can change that remains to be seen. It is important to note that the report, despite its findings, does not recommend measures to be taken against individual decision-makers or otherwise.Former Palestinian Authority (PA) minister Ghassan Khatib was quoted, saying that it was "hard to believe that there will be any serious lessons learned by Israel’s political leadership from this report". In similar fashion, the Jerusalem Post concluded that "there is no culture of taking responsibility in Israel", but that instead there was a tendency to pass it to next person in line.


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