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Outside of the Box

Israel, Ma'ariv

By Amos Gilboa

Based on my experience and my historical knowledge, many decisions have been made without recording, without any orderly bureaucratic process, in conversations tête-à-tête and even in chats in the bathroom.


Translated by Viktoria Lymar

Edited by Steven Stenzler


18 June 2012



The Comptroller’s report on the Marmara flotilla is a stellar model of a bureaucratic perspective. But with all due respect to staff work, it is just one element in the picture.


In the State Comptroller report (page 140) on the Marmara [flotilla] published last week, the following things were said: “The State Comptroller notes the positive contribution of the research of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center headed by Dr. Reuven Erlich, which was used by the [National] Information Directorate1, mainly in light of the flotilla’s results.” It seems to me, this is the only praise appearing in the report about some organizational body. Who are we talking about? The aforementioned is a research body belonging to the non-profit organization Israeli Intelligence and Heritage Commemoration Center (Malam). It provides open-source information and research on all the issues related to terrorism, Islam, global jihad, delegitimization of the State of Israel, Arab anti-Semitism and more.

It was the one to identify the Turkish “human rights” organization IHH as a body affiliated with terrorism and global jihad and warned that because of this, the Marmara flotilla would carry specific, violent characteristics – different from all the previous flotillas. In other words, the Center and its head correctly identified the severity of the threat and its dangerousness and understood its implications, primarily in the context of the “struggle for hearts and minds.”

In my opinion, here lay the key mistake of the entire decision making system in Israel and of all the bodies assisting it – substantial underestimation of the threat and reliance on the past precedent: We have already had flotillas and we have passed them in peace. No big deal.


According to the Report, Everything Here Is Managed Disorderly


Why didn’t the media publish the comptroller’s words of praise which are so outstanding against the abundance of derogatory stuff in respect to all the other institutions and their heads? You can only guess. It could be that a part of reporters and commentators did not read the report thoroughly and didn’t get to the page 140; it could be that this does not fit the general media atmosphere conveying that everything is bad and defective. A full disclosure: the author is a member in the steering committee of the Israeli Intelligence and Heritage Commemoration Center.

And a comprehensive note apropos the report: the paper is a superb model of a formalist bureaucratic vision. All of its criticism is [refracted] through these prisms: no records, people weren’t called for discussions, the procedures weren’t followed, laws weren’t implemented, deliberations weren’t conducted properly. It’s true. Almost always. But according to this view, everything going on in the real world is a total disorder.

Based on my experience and my historical knowledge, many decisions have been made without recording, without any orderly bureaucratic process, in conversations tête-à-tête and even in chats in the bathroom. Sometimes the result is good and sometimes it is [very] bad. How was the establishment of the State of Israel decided? How was peace with Egypt decided? How were the Oslo Accords decided on? How was the second Lebanon War decided? How was Disengagement2 from the Gaza Strip decided on?

It’s not just a matter of lack of culture, as many say over here. The Americans apparently have order and organizational culture, and yet our eyes see how they make mistakes on the right and on the left.


A Word of Reassurance


I am a proponent of staff work, and in no way do I disparage it; however, it should be understood that it is only one component out of numerous factors affecting decision making in the conditions of reality, and not in the conditions of war games or academic models. It gets accompanied by personal constraints, personal whims, time pressure, severe uncertainty, political pressures, prejudices and postulations that shape the perception of reality. And there is something else which is beyond all the staff work: a brilliant lightning flash of an idea “outside of the box.”

And a word of reassurance: I read that some of the media people can’t sleep soundly at night from now and fear – how the pair Bibi and Barak are to lead us against Iran after they were exposed, stripped bare with regard to the Marmara? Well, to the best of my memory, there was another big flotilla which was supposed to be “the mother of flotillas,” and the duo took proper care of it. It appears, they have learned the lessons.


The author is Brigadier General (res.), advisor on intelligence affairs to the Israeli intelligence community and lecturer on intelligence. He has held several senior positions in the Intelligence Corps and in the Intelligence Department of the IDF General Staff, most recently as Head of the Research Division. He also served as Advisor to the Prime Minister on Arab Affairs and as Advisor to the Defense Minister.


Original Hebrew article:



1. In a broader meaning: hasbara apparatus - with the specific Hebrew word referring variously to Israel's [global] public relations efforts of dissemination and explanation of information about Israel, propaganda; also Public Diplomacy

2. Israel's unilateral disengagement plan (Hitnatkut, "Gaza expulsion plan") – a proposal by Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, adopted by the government  in June 2004 and enacted in August 2005, to evict all Israelis from the Gaza Strip and 4 settlements in the northern West Bank.