An Israeli military inquiry blamed faulty planning, intelligence and decision-making by officers for a deadly commando raid on aid ships trying to breach the country’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
“There were mistakes in various decisions made, including at relatively senior ranks, that ended up in a result we didn’t anticipate,” reserve Major General Giora Eiland said at a press briefing in Tel Aviv. Most of the inquiry’s specific recommendations are classified, said Eiland, who led the probe.
The report, which took five weeks to complete, said the navy “relied excessively on a single course of action” and underestimated the level of violence that the commandos would face when they boarded the ships from helicopters, according to an e-mailed army statement.
Israel has faced international condemnation for its May 31 raid on the flotilla of six ships sailing toward Gaza, including the Mavi Marmara, where nine Turkish activists were killed. Alongside the Eiland Commission, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed a three-person panel, with two additional international observers, to examine whether Israel complied with international law in establishing a sea blockade of Gaza and raiding ships that tried to breach it.
The incident severely strained Israel’s political and military relations with Turkey, once its closest ally in the Middle East. Israel has rejected requests for an international investigation into the incident, including calls from Turkey.
Eiland said that since there may be more ships that try to breach the Gaza blockade “some of the things we learned in this event should be helpful in the next event.”
A Libyan vessel carrying humanitarian aid is expected to reach the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by noon on July 14, Youssef Sawani, executive director of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, which is mounting the operation, said today. The charity is headed by Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Israeli soldiers were attacked with knives and metal clubs and nine were wounded, including by gunfire, after people aboard the Mavi Marmara managed to grab Israeli firearms, the army said. Activists have said they threw the firearms into the sea and that the Israelis instigated the violence.
Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel’s military chief of staff, said “neither I nor the inquiry found that a major failure occurred or that there was negligence, but definitely following such an in-depth inquiry there are mistakes that must be corrected in the future.” Ashkenazi’s comments were carried in an e-mailed statement sent by the army spokesman’s office.
Israel has imposed restrictions on Gaza since the Islamic Hamas movement, which won parliamentary elections in 2006, ousted forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group and seized full control of the territory the next year. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.
Israel has said it issued numerous warnings to the Gaza-bound flotilla asking it to change course for the port of Ashdod and unload there, before it seized the vessels.
The other five vessels, as well as a separate boat that arrived June 5, were taken over without significant resistance.
The Eiland Commission “emphasized the fact that as far as is currently known, no country in the world holds the ability to stop a vessel at sea in a non-hostile manner,” the army statement said. “At the same time, the team determined that alternative courses of action could have existed had the process of preparation begun enough time in advance, and recommended to accelerate the process of examining alternative methods.”
The blockade of Gaza is legal, according to Israel, because it is in “a state of armed conflict” with Hamas. Some countries, such as Turkey, dispute the legality of the blockade. Legal scholars such as Robin Churchill, a professor of international law at the University of Dundee in Scotland, say the legality turns on whether the conflict is a full-fledged war and whether the military benefit is proportionate to civilian suffering.
Palestinians, backed by the United Nations and human rights groups, say the restrictions on food imports and construction materials have created a humanitarian crisis. Israel loosened its restrictions on the transport of goods by road into Gaza in response to international criticism of the raid, though it maintains a naval blockade of the area.
Israel’s Cabinet agreed on June 20 to allow in all foods and limit the shipment of construction materials. Israel said building materials could be used to build rockets, bunkers or bombs.
Israel launched a three-week military offensive in Gaza in December 2008 that it said was meant to stop the firing of rockets by Hamas and other Palestinian militants into its territory. More than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict.
More than 400 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since the end of the 2008 military operation, killing one foreign worker last March, the Israeli army said.
Israeli bombing and ground operations during the war destroyed more than 3,000 homes, the United Nations said, and Israel’s restrictions on construction materials have prevented Palestinians from being able to rebuild.