Many years ago when I was in high school, I went to a basketball summer camp. I was never particularly good at basketball, I wasn’t a good dribbler, and I didn’t have anything that could be considered a long shot. But at six feet tall even in high school, the only thing I had going for it was my height.
One day, the coach explained to me what I had to do. On defense, he said, my job was to get under the basket and try to catch rebounds. On offense, my job was to stand just outside the lane, a few feet from the basket. We practiced plays where I would catch the ball, double dribble while turning, and then throw a relatively easy layup, bouncing the ball off the backboard and into the basket. That’s what the colloquial phrase “a tray” means: a relatively simple task.
I remember one day I practiced shooting about 100 times. At the end of the summer, he knew the cold move; it became second nature.
From the beginning, something was wrong with the story. The announcement on one Friday – that the NGOs had an “unequivocal and direct” connection to the PFLP – was made without the release of any supporting evidence, without instructions to the press, without videos, without documents.
Then came State Department spokesman Ned Price, who said the United States was seeking additional information from Israel.
That red flag unleashed a storm in Jerusalem, where it was unclear why the government would take such a controversial move, designating alleged Palestinian charities as terrorist groups, without first updating the Americans, if only to avoid criticism. This should have been obvious in Jerusalem as necessary when working with a democratic administration known to be particularly sensitive to the Palestinian issue and human rights.
On Saturday night, Gantz’s office briefed reporters in more detail, stating that they had in fact tipped off the United States through the usual defense channels. Not so, said Price, who stated Sunday that after verifying the Israeli claim, the State Department still could not find any record of receiving a warning prior to designation.
Meanwhile, even as Israel stuck to its claim that it had updated the Americans, Bennett and Lapid decided to send a senior Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) official along with someone from the Foreign Ministry to provide an briefing to Americans. Additionally, Bennett decided to convene the security cabinet to give frustrated ministers a platform to ask some questions.
The big question is, how did the government screw up this tray? How can something so simple turn into a disaster? All Israel had to do was set up a press conference, brief the Americans and perhaps the Europeans in advance, and simply run it according to known guidelines. Was there no one in the government who understood that touching the third railing was going to raise an eyebrow? How did no one warn of this?
What added to the failure was that most of this information was already available. The decision to designate the six NGOs as terrorist groups was based on information prepared by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs several years ago, as well as the diligent work carried out by Professor Gerald Steinberg and his staff at NGO Monitor. The information was there. How is it that the Ministry of Defense did not have it ready to spread to journalists and diplomats?
It was all too reminiscent of the way the IDF and the Defense Ministry handled the shelling of the al-Jalaa tower in Gaza in May. Regular readers of this column already know the story, but here’s a reminder: On May 15, Israel bombed the 12-story building that housed the Associated Press and Al Jazeera offices in Gaza City.
While he warned residents not to get hurt, he did not present any evidence before or after the bombing to show why he had to destroy an icon of Gaza that housed the world’s largest American news cable, AP.
The sentences came fast and furious. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued statements expressing concern for the protection of journalists. When Israel claimed the next day that it had shared “steamy” intelligence with the Americans, Blinken dismissed that claim and said it had not seen any information about it. Only on Tuesday, three days after the attack, did he say that he had finally seen something.
Last week, former IDF general Nitzan Alon, who investigated the incident on behalf of the military, publicly called the al-Jalaa bombing an “own goal” and a “public relations terrorist attack,” whose Military benefit was overshadowed by diplomatic damage. caused Israel.
While it was nice to hear an IDF general come to that conclusion, anyone who understands the dynamics of media, military operations, and diplomacy already knew it on the afternoon of May 15.
Do you see the pattern here?
And that’s exactly why this is disturbing. It is not rocket science and it is not too complicated. Do you know that you are going to bomb a building that houses the AP office? Prepare evidence, share it with Americans, and have it ready to report to the media. Vague statements that the building housed “Hamas military assets” are not going to be enough.
Are you about to announce the terrorist designation of six Palestinian NGOs known for their charitable work? Here too: prepare the evidence, share it with Americans, and have it ready to report to the media.
If we all understand this, why doesn’t the government do it?
There is not a single answer. In the case of the al-Jalaa tower, it had to do with the fact that the IDF did not understand what they were doing. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, which is responsible for managing the media, is not part of these operational decisions and is, anyway, led by officers with no media experience. Gantz, who as defense minister had to approve the bombing, should have understood the diplomatic ramifications of the attack as soon as it was presented to him for approval. But he too failed.
A very similar process led to the appointment of the NGOs. No one, it seems, had the foresight to understand that such a move, at a time like this and with an administration like Washington’s, would lead to a fiasco. There is apparently no one sitting around the table when these decisions are made who understands the modern media landscape and how these events unfold.
But there is something else, not least: Gantz has been operating for some time as a rogue cabinet minister. The animosity between him, Bennett, and Lapid is no secret; and there are ministers in the government who still suspect that the defense minister is looking for a way to overthrow this government in the coming months.
When a defense minister oversees a diplomatic disaster, he can excuse himself. When you oversee another just five months later, there is a pattern.
Ignorance and politics are causing Israel tremendous damage throughout the world. Our politicians need to get back to practicing their tray.