'IDF failed in handling of Flotilla video'

Military slammed for not releasing video footage from takeover due to image considerations.

Palestinian flag on flotilla (photo credit: Freedom Waves/Facebook)
Palestinian flag on flotilla
(photo credit: Freedom Waves/Facebook)
The IDF delayed releasing the footage from the Navy’s takeover of the Mavi Marmara Turkish passenger ship due to concerns that images of commandos being beaten would damage the elite unit’s reputation, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss revealed Wednesday in his report on the 2010 flotilla.
The comptroller’s conclusion is basically a rejection of the IDF’s claim that a helicopter – allocated to transport the video footage from the sea – was diverted to evacuate the wounded instead, and therefore delaying the video’s release.
“Technical problems were not the only reasons that the release of the video was delayed,” Lindenstrauss wrote.
The footage was released at around 3 p.m., close to 10 hours after the takeover of the Mavi Marmara, where the clashes took place and nine activists were killed.
The takeover of the ship – which began at 4:30 a.m. – was completed by around 7 a.m.
One government official told The Jerusalem Post at the time that the footage was already available at the IDF’s underground central command- and-control center – called the Bor (the Pit) – located in the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Lindenstrauss backed up the official’s claims. He revealed testimony from Lt.- Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF chief of staff during the operation, that he watched the video in “real time” in Tel Aviv and “I debated whether to release it.”
In the end, Ashkenazi said he decided to release the footage “to tell our story and show that the soldiers were really in danger.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the comptroller that the decision to delay the release of the footage was made to “spare the public the embarrassment and humiliation” of seeing the Navy commandos beaten by the passengers.
The comptroller quoted Yigal Caspi, a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, who claimed that the IDF refused to release the footage or even a statement about the wounded soldiers.
Once the IDF decided to release the information, Caspi claimed, “it was too late.”
“The fact that Israel did not immediately release the information about the attack and wounding of the commandos was a critical blow to our ability to explain from the beginning why the soldiers used live fire to protect themselves,” Caspi said.
Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu served as IDF spokesman at the time of the flotilla. The current IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai was not in the unit at the time.
Technical problems did however play a role in the delay. The video footage was viewed in Tel Aviv, but could not record.
By the time the footage was obtained at about 10 a.m., it still took five hours for it to be released.
The IDF has made significant improvements since then and recently established its own command center where it can hookup in real time to cameras in the field, at sea or in the air, and obtain footage without needing to go through the Operations Directorate. In addition, the IDF Spokesman’s Office would not wait in a future case to inform parents of the wounded in similar circumstances if it can ensure that the footage does not reveal the soldiers’ identities.
“We would not want parents to learn that their child is injured from the TV, but we also are prepared to release footage immediately if we know that won’t happen,” one officer explained on Wednesday. The officer said that with today’s new command center, the IDF would have been able to release the footage from the flotilla within 30 minutes of the operation.
Lindenstrauss wrote in his report that the IDF’s calculations were also fueled by a misunderstanding of the importance of the international media. He called on the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the IDF Spokesman’s Office to clarify the division of responsibilities in handling the media in such cases. Lindenstrauss specifically criticized the IDF for its involvement in events like the flotilla that have political and diplomatic ramifications.
“Alongside some improvements in recent years, the flotilla incident shows that there still are problems and some have even increased and have not yet been corrected,” Lindenstrauss wrote in his report.
Kadima MK Nachman Shai, a former IDF Spokesman who has a doctorate in public diplomacy, said Wednesday that the footage should have come out earlier and that the decision to delay its release contributed to the breakdown in ties with Turkey following the flotilla incident.
“Morale of soldiers and the public is a consideration, but I think that opposite this is what we saw happen later in the breakdown in ties with Turkey and other countries,” Shai said. “This should have overcome the morale considerations, since without the footage it would have been extremely difficult to explain why people were killed on the ship.”
Since the flotilla, the Defense Ministry has established a media and public affairs bureau. It issued a statement on Wednesday saying that it plans to reorganize the division of responsibilities within the defense establishment and will assume responsibility for handling media affairs for security-military events.