Last updated: 14 June, 2012

Government watchdog slams Israel PM over handling of flotilla

A damning report that slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the 2010 flotilla raid has raised fears over how a strike on Iran would be managed, press reports said on Thursday.

The 153-page report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss dominated the headlines.

Most commentators heaped scathing criticism on Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak for their handling of the raid on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of a Gaza-bound flotilla, in which nine Turkish nationals were killed.

Most were quick to point out the deeply-flawed decision-making process exposed in the report raised serious questions about Netanyahu and Barak’s ability to make sound decisions on crucial issues like a strike on Iran’s nuclear programme.

“The state comptroller issued a charge sheet,” wrote Shimon Shiffer in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

“It cries out to the prime minister’s bureau that if this is how you manage affairs in an uncomplicated matter like how to stop the Turkish flotilla, who will believe that you will handle things differently while preparing to attack nuclear facilities in Iran?”

Lindenstrauss said there were “significant shortcomings” in the decision-making process which was led by Netanyahu, and accused the premier of failing to hold any structured, formal discussions with a group of top ministers nor with the National Security Council about the handling of the flotilla.

Instead, Netanyahu had held separate, private discussions with Barak and with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, none of which were documented.

Amos Harel, defence correspondent for the Haaretz newspaper, said the flawed procedures laid out in the report set “a worrisome precedent” regarding Iran.

“If the prime minister’s office is run as indicated in the comptroller’s reports, why should we believe that the situation is necessarily any different when it comes to handling nuclear sites?”

Lindenstrauss’s probe showed problems arose from the excessive concentration of power in the hands of the prime minister and the defence minister, which was a worrisome revelation, said another Yediot commentator, Sima Kadmon.

“At least one thing emerges from the state comptroller’s report on the Mavi Marmara that noone can argue with, and that is that we have good reasons to be concerned,” she wrote.

Netanyahu and Barak are “the two people who will decide whether to attack Iran. Who can promise us that the decision-making process in that case will be better, that all the questions will be raised, that all the scenarios will be examined, that all the ramifications will be taken into account?”

On Thursday morning, parliament’s state control committee was meeting to discuss the report, with chairman Uri Ariel expected to ask Lindenstrauss to prepare another report on the government’s handling of the Iran issue, army radio reported.

“Unfortunately, the report paints a bleak picture of flawed, problematic and worrisome decision-making processes by the prime minister and defence minister, who didn’t share and consult with other essential parties,” Ariel said after the report was published.

Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power, has said that if Iran goes nuclear, it will pose an existential threat to the Jewish state and has consistently warned that all options remain on the table to prevent it, including a military strike.

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon reiterated that if Israel was forced to chose between letting Iran obtain a nuclear bomb or attacking its facilities to prevent it, the choice was clear.

“If it comes down to a bomb or a bombing — as far as I’m concerned — it’s a bombing,” he told Haaretz in excerpts of an interview to be published in full on Friday.

“As far as we’re concerned, the Iranian ability to create nuclear bombs is a sword held to our throat. Today, that sword is getting closer. Under no circumstances will Israel allow the sword to touch its throat.”