The State Control Committee headed by MK Karen Elharar (Yesh Atid) on Sunday held the first hearing on the State Comptroller's report on Operation Protective Edge regarding the cabinet's decision-making process before the operation commenced.
At the outset, Chairman Elharar said: "This is a report that the state has been waiting for two-and-a-half years, which takes us back to a complicated time. We will hold three debates - today we focus on the NSC, the second discussion will focus on the army Chief of Staff, and for the third we will host the Prime Minister. We want to see both what happened during the operation and what was rectified. We do not intend to castigate. Criticism is important not as a bludgeon but as a management tool to improve."
Brigadier General (Ret.) Joseph Beinhorn, Director of Defense Oversight in the State Comptroller's Office, said at the opening of the hearing, "We checked the decision-making process and the information that was before the decision maker's eyes, rather than the quality of the decisions themselves. We did not establish the tunnel threat's seriousness, the security apparatus did. Especially noticeable was the lack of cabinet discussion on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. We checked if the political echelon set objectives for the military prior to the operation. We examined whether ministers, in deciding to launch the operation, had enough information to instruct the IDF how to achieve its objectives."
Hovav Shapiro, Senior Director of the State Comptroller's Office, told the MKs that "there was inadequate collaboration between all the relevant bodies and the NSC. Ministers lacked background for the cabinet discussion, with claims that these materials were classified. The NSC did not always provide the cabinet alternatives and did not direct the focus to discuss certain issues such as the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip."
Avi Yacoby, father of Gilad Yacoby, who was killed in Operation Protective Edge, said: "The picture that emerges from the report is very serious. My son served in the Golani Reconnaissance Unit and was never trained for a tunnel scenario."
Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who headed the National Security Council during the operation, responded to the criticism, "As head of the NSC I did my best, but I certainly made mistakes. I am not in a position to attack report or passages from it because also today as Mossad head I am under scrutiny and I see the importance of the matter. I'm looking straight at the bereaved families and I say that every lesson will be learned to improve ahead of the next campaign. The NSC is constantly improving and intensifying but we certainly need to examine where we performed less well and what needs to further improve and these are lessons we have to draw."
He said, "One should look at the National Security Council's work more broadly than the specific conduct in Protective Edge - like Operation Brother's Keeper, in the political battleground on the issue of Ben Gurion Airport's closure during the operation. I encourage everyone to study the NSC's work from the beginning of 2014 until the end of the battles. Cabinet members had a plethora of information in the months before Protective Edge. The cabinet received volumes of reviews from all the relevant factors. There were dozens of cabinet discussions throughout Protective Edge, including sometimes twice a day. I find it hard to accept the assertion that members of the cabinet did not know, did not understand, or did not posses all the information. Each cabinet member can at anytime ask for information and there is no subject that was completely unknown to the ministers. There is an Israeli strategy in the Gaza Strip. There is an Israeli obsession with the Gaza Strip. There is an obsession with discussing alternatives. After deciding to go in a certain direction then the discussion about alternatives is over and sometimes there even are no alternatives, unless a strategic shift in assessing the situation has been created."
At the end of the discussion Chairman Elharar said: "I heard from the former NSC chief answers that are at odds with the report's findings. I urge those audited to read the report in preparation of future hearings, and we will also direct questions to the acting NSC head Yaakov Nagel when he arrives to the hearing with the Prime Minister. I call to appoint a permanent NSC head and to adopt the Amidror Commission's recommendations [examining the coalition's Security Cabinet's work], or at least hold a discussion on these recommendations."