Judge Micha Lindenstraus is concluding a remarkable term as Israel’s state comptroller. Those in government who had welcomed him when he was elected six years ago, hoping to get a tame civil servant who would leave the executive branch alone to roam around free, were up for a bitter surprise.
Although he was often accused of trumpeting his reports to gain media headlines, the Israeli democracy was served well by his unremitting quest for the cleaning of the stables. Now he is leaving his job with a bang. Actually, with three bangs.
This week Judge Lindenstraus issued a damning report on the big fire which, in December 2010, killed 44 people and destroyed huge parts of Carmel Forest, one of the most beautiful areas in Israel. The report exposes a frightening picture of incompetence at all levels of government, from the prime minister to the last of the firefighters, lack of resources, poor coordination and so on.
Now the blame game starts, inflamed by the cut-throat Israeli media, and everybody wants to see heads rolling. The minister of interior should go, because he was in charge of the firefighting system. Or should he? He says he wrote letters asking for more funds.
Then the finance minister should go. After all, he was the one who had refused to give the necessary funds for firefighting.
But wait a minute, he claims he conditioned the funding on reforms in the obsolete firefighting system, which were never carried out. So what about the prime minister, the boss of both? Well, he has such a huge coalition that no report would rock his boat.
This reminds me of a CNN/USAToday/Gallup poll conducted in September 2005, asking who was to blame for the problems in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Thirteen percent said President Bush, 18 percent said federal agencies, 25 percent blamed state or local officials and 38 percent said no one was to blame. Really helpful.
Frankly, I’m not interested so much in finger-pointing but rather in lesson-learning. How can we turn this devastating event into a learning experience, so that in the future, in similar circumstances, we will hopefully function better?
Now comes the second report by Judge Lindenstraus, adding more urgency to this question. Earlier this month he published the findings of his inquiry on the Israel Defense Forces’ raid on the Turkish flotilla to Gaza in 2010. Turns out that the raid, which caused Israel to lose the vital Turkish ally in the Mediterranean, was carried out in an unbelievably lousy way. Poor intelligence, mediocre planning, too few people who stormed the ship, etc.
Again, should the former IDF chief of staff be blamed for this fiasco? He was the one who had authorized the plan, after all. But reading the report, it turns out that before the raid he had warned the cabinet about the consequences. But here is another turn: in real time, he wasn’t at the operations center, but at home. A mess, in short.
If this is not enough, then soon Judge Lindenstraus is going to publish a third report, about a stink in the military-security establishment. Believe it or not, but most Israelis can’t follow the intricacies of this complex plot. I think it’s about a shady officer in the reserves who wrote (or forged) a letter, which presumably exposed a plot to conspire against the IDF chief of staff (or, alternately, against the minister of defense; we don’t know yet), and who had (or didn’t have) an unusual relationship with the wife of the chief of staff, and so on.
Lot’s of bad blood at the top.
By the way, If you find the name Micha Lindenstraus difficult to pronounce, how about Gabriel Gustafsson Oxenstierna? This gentleman was a Swedish baron, a statesman and a seasoned diplomat in the 17th century. What makes him relevant to the recent damning reports of the Israeli state comptroller is the immortal sentence he once said to his son: “You will be surprised, my boy, to find out with how little wisdom the world is being run.”
Whether in Swedish, in Hebrew or in any other language, the sane caution of the baron is more valid than ever. When in Israel the debate goes on about whether to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, the question arises whether or not the Israeli government and its agencies are capable of coping with the repercussions of such action. Before hastening to answer that, I would carefully read the three reports first.
Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem.