Tel Aviv, Israel – An Israeli military investigation into Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla concluded Monday that there were “no failures, but mistakes were made.”
Nine activists, all Turks, died and dozens were wounded in the assault. One of those killed had dual U.S.-Turkish citizenship.
The investigation, which was headed by Maj. Gen. (Reserves) Giora Eiland, found that while high-level officials had committed errors in judgment, no one in the military had behaved negligently. The report avoids recommendations that would have led to the demotion of military personnel or other strong actions.
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“We found that there were some professional mistakes regarding both the intelligence and the decision-making process and some operational mistakes,” Eiland said.
Parts of the report were declassified and given to reporters Monday by an official who insisted on being identified only as a senior military official involved in the investigation. The full, 100-page report was given directly to Israel Defense Forces head Gabi Ashkenazi and several other high-ranking military officials. Ashkenazi announced that he’d adopt all of its recommendations.
The main incident probed was the IDF’s handling of the Mavi Marmara, the largest vessel of a six-ship flotilla originating in Turkey that attempted to break Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip on May 31. The Israeli navy stopped all six ships, as well as the Rachel Corrie, which arrived nearly a week later.
The report praises individual commandos who took part in the raid, but cites “flawed intelligence” for underestimating the potential for violence on the Marmara. Despite three months of preparation before the flotilla arrived, various intelligence-gathering units in the Israeli military didn’t communicate with one another, it says.
It says the IDF failed to prepare a backup plan in the event of violence. Among the approximately 600 passengers on board the Mavi Marmara, accounts varied as to how the violence began. Several passengers said the IDF fired on the boat before landing. The report says activists on board were the first to open fire.
A gun that probably was seized from the first soldier to rappel onto the ship from a Black Hawk helicopter was used to fire on the second soldier who descended onto the ship, according to the senior official involved in the report.
He added that a bullet extracted from the knee of one of the soldiers was not of a sort the IDF uses, proving that the passengers had their own weapons, ammunition and a readiness to instigate violence. He said that only a small number of people on the Mavi Marmara had engaged in violence, but that they’d taken over the ship.
A Palestinian official who’s involved in the Turkish organization that sponsored the Mavi Marmara, the IHH, said the report showed “that the IDF has a vivid imagination. Instead of truly investigating their own criminal behavior they chose to accuse peaceful activists of starting the violence.”
“We hope that the international community continues to call for an independent inquiry so that we can learn what truly happened that day,” he said. The official spoke only on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution from Israel.
International criticism of Israel focused at first on the casualties of the raid on the high seas, but the United States and other countries later questioned why Israel was enforcing a stringent blockade of Gaza nearly three years after extremist Hamas forces took control of the coastal strip.
Israel eased the blockade last week but has refused to assume blame for the incident or respond to Turkish government demands for an apology.
An independent commission of inquiry led by Israeli Judge Jacob Turkel and including two international observers also is looking into the flotilla incident, and is seeking to broaden its mandate.
Israel’s highest court opened the door Monday for expanding the commission’s authority, saying it would consider allowing the panel to “probe persons and events outside” its current jurisdiction. The commission has been blocked from interviewing any of the naval commandos involved in the raid or military officials involved in its planning, except for the IDF and Navy heads.
The commission has argued that it must have greater access to probe the events adequately, especially in light of other flotillas that are being planned.
A military official involved in the Eiland report said that as a result of lessons learned, the navy would be able to stop other flotillas without violence, unless those on board acted with “the intention of being killed themselves.”
He added that the IDF had no way of stopping any other ships as large as the Marmara without sending commandos on board. Such methods “could be developed, if we see the need persist.”
Already, a Libyan ship is en route to Gaza and is expected to arrive Wednesday. It was sent by a charity group headed by the son of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
“This ship is carrying humanitarian aid and its organizers are not looking for political propaganda or media campaigns or any provocation,” said Youssef Sawani, the executive director of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. He added that the ship was determined to reach Gaza, despite attempts by Israel to thwart the ship and force it to dock at the Egyptian port of al Arish.
(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.)