Sherwin Pomerantz is a 26 year resident of Israel and President of Atid EDI Ltd., an economic development consulting firm in Jerusalem.
The most important consideration in planning any action is to evaluate the decision using the test of “realistic benefit.” If the “realistic benefit” cannot be identified, then the decision not to proceed is the only alternative. A retrospective of the “flotilla incident” of May 31st leads me to believe that recent actions of the Israeli government were not sufficiently evaluated against this rule of thumb.
Permit me to explain.
When one is confronted by an enemy the best defense is an offense that removes the ammunition from his arsenal.
But there are two kinds of ammunition.
There is physical ammunition such as weaponry and there is non-physical ammunition such as public relations and the newest weapon of a smart enemy, social networking.
Based on our experience over the last 62 years, Israel will be criticized whenever it tries to remove ammunition of any type from the hands of the enemy.
But the criticism is generally less volatile and even somewhat muted when the ammunition is physical.
For example, when Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reaction in 1982, there was initial criticism, some of which was far from muted. But it dissipated relatively rapidly and, in retrospect, the world ended up being somewhat grateful for Israel’s actions in crippling an element of Saddam Hussein’s war machine.
Similarly, when Israel’s military captured the Karine A vessel in January 2002 and demonstrated that the ship was carrying 50 tons of weaponry headed for Gaza, there was again muted criticism. But there was also an understanding that there could be no argument with a country’s sovereign right to protect itself from attack.
Even when Israel allegedly attacked the nuclear reactor installation inside Syria in 2007, while there was, as expected, criticism of Israel’s incursion into another country Syria did not respond and the world understood why Israel took such action.
In all of these cases Israel acted to take physical ammunition out of the hands of the enemy.
The later blockade of Gaza after its takeover by Hamas, was yet another attempt to control the inflow of physical ammunition into what Israel defined as hostile territory.
While the sea blockade was Israel’s alone, the land blockade of Gaza was joined by Egypt as well, as Egypt is also concerned about the proliferation of weapons in that area.
After all, once someone has weapons capability there is no telling in which direction those weapons will be pointed.
The decisions required to take these steps also seemed to pass the test of whether there was “realistic benefit” to be gained from these actions. Of course, one can argue that blockade or no blockade Hamas was able to continued its arms buildup in any event, albeit somewhat more slowly. Nevertheless, there was “realistic benefit” to be gained from these actions.
However, when it comes to removing non-physical weapons from the hands of the enemy, or from the hands of people who sympathize with the enemy, such an effort is much more difficult to manage, and, if handled incompetently, results in much more world condemnation.
In this area, and the “flotilla incident” is just the most recent example of this, Israel has not learned how to handle these situations and generally suffers badly as a result.
Many decisions related to this aspect of Israel’s efforts do not seem to have passed the test of “realistic benefit.”
The government here knew that regardless of how the flotilla was handled Israel would look bad in the world press.
If we did nothing, and let the ships dock in Gaza, as we had done previously, Hamas would have said that they had captured the upper hand and that Israel’s threats to foil the voyage were just that, threats and no more.
Given the fact that we knew who was organizing the flotilla, and that while many participants were pro-peace activists, we also knew that the leadership was seeking to provoke Israel into action, it was clear that stopping the ships would be seen by the world as yet another example of Israeli intransigence.
Worse, if there were people injured or, heaven forbid, fatalities, the entire situation could blow up in our faces.
And yet, knowing all this, we failed to apply the test of “realistic benefit” and went ahead with the operation which ended with all of our worst fears being realized. At this early date there is no telling how bad the fallout will be from this latest exercise which seemed to accomplish nothing more than creating more casualties in the ongoing battle for legitimacy, and a world diplomatic community bent on using this incident for its own less than objective purposes.
The key error here, I am sure, will turn out to be the failure to evaluate “realistic benefit” and the concomitant lack of understanding of how to handle the public relations aspect of crises when they occur, as they do time and time again.
Frankly, we had better learn how to apply this test rapidly and figure out, as well, how to leverage today’s social networking technologies to our benefit.
Else, one day, we will find ourselves so incredibly isolated as to be non-functional. At that point, the enterprise we call Israel will simply crash.