A series of operational and intelligence mistakes led to the botched raid in late May aboard the Mavi Marmara Turkish passenger ship that was trying to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip, according to an internal military probe.
The report was released for publication on Monday, as a Libyan-backed vessel was en route to the Gaza Strip, in another effort to break the blockade imposed by Israel. The vessel was expected to reach Israel’s territorial waters by Tuesday or Wednesday.
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As expected, the report refrained from issuing personal recommendations against IDF officers, although it did refer to a number of mistakes that were made by the most senior levels in the army.
In the raid by commandos from the navy’s Flotilla 13 – known as the Shayetet – nine Turkish men were killed and 10 commandos were wounded.
On Monday, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, who headed the probe, presented a 100-page report to the IDF General Staff in which he listed a number of “mistakes” that had been made in the planning stage of the operation.
In a briefing to reporters, Eiland, a former head of the IDF’s Planning Division and the National Security Council, said that he did not find any negligence in the planning and implementation of the operation. He also made it clear that there was a difference between “operational failures” and “operational mistakes” and that he had only found mistakes, not failures.
“There were mistakes, also on the high military levels, but happily, they were not the result of negligence,” Eiland said.
'Navy should have prepared a Plan B'
He slammed the navy for not preparing a backup plan – or “Plan B,” as he called it – for the operation, saying the navy should have reconsidered rappelling commandos onto the Mavi Marmara’s upper deck after noticing from sea and air that there were several dozen activists on board prepared to resist violently.
Eiland said that once the navy ships had sailed alongside the Mavi Marmara and seen the preparations on board for conflict, the top navy command should have reconsidered its options and possibly even delayed the boarding of the ship.
“Once they saw that there were dozens of people on the deck, the rappelling of commandos down to the upper deck could still have been avoided,” the report concluded, adding that the navy should have, as a result, prepared a “Plan B” for how to take command of the ship. He said that the IDF should have established an operational “red team” to test the navy’s plan for boarding the ships.
'Slug dislodged from soldier's knee didn't come from Navy gun'
Eiland’s probe also found that shots were initially fired at the boarding commandos from weapons that the passengers had brought with them. The slug that was dislodged from the knee of one of the soldiers was of a different caliber than that used by the navy.
He also detailed the events that led to the seizing of three commandos, who were thrown from the upper to the lower deck and were only recovered about 40 minutes later, after they were spotted standing wounded on the ship’s bow and surrounded by a number of activists.
Other commandos opened fire from above and scared off the passengers, enabling two of the wounded to jump into the water. The third, who was severely wounded, was then rescued by commandos who jumped down to the bow from the upper deck.
According to Eiland, the navy did not have technology that would have enabled it to stop the ship ahead of the operation without putting soldiers on board its upper deck to take control of the bridge.
“Such an option did not exist,” Eiland concluded in his report.
In the course of their work, members of Eiland’s panel met with a number of officials who offered ideas on how the navy could have stopped the ship without boarding it. According to the committee, it is possible to develop such a capability, but it would take approximately two years.
Since the raid, the navy has met with a number of companies and is pursuing technology that could be used to stop a ship in the future.
'MI should have designated IHH as a target'
Another mistake Eiland found was that Military Intelligence had not designated Turkey or the Islamist organization IHH, which organized the flotilla, as a target for intelligence-gathering. He said that this had been justified up until this year, since Turkey had been friendly to Israel and the IHH was like a dozen other radical Islamic organizations that provided financial support to Hamas.
Eiland said, however, that in the beginning of 2010 MI and Israel’s other intelligence agencies should have designated Turkey and IHH as intelligence targets due to the deterioration in ties between the countries. The Israeli intelligence community should have understood that it was dealing with an organization that was supported by the ruling political party in Turkey, and prepared accordingly.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said he had ordered the army’s Operations Directorate to adopt the panel’s recommendations.
“This type of specialist investigation is part of the foundations of the
organizational structure of the IDF as a controlled, transparent body
that is able to learn lessons. The aim is to always improve in order to
cope with all the challenges we face,” Ashkenazi said.
The IDF chief expressed his appreciation for the Shayetet, which he said
had demonstrated unique capabilities in taking control of ships.
“We continue to send our soldiers every day into the air, land and the
sea to conduct operations that pose a greater risk than that of the raid
in question,” Ashkenazi said.