Analysis: To Eiland, mistakes are not necessarily failures

While one might argue that Eiland’s use of language is an issue of semantics, it has deeper meaning.

aluf giora eiland 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
aluf giora eiland 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“Honest mistake” is how one could sum up the IDF’s operation in late May to stop the flotilla of international aid ships that were trying to break the Israel-imposed sea blockade on the Gaza Strip and were stopped by navy commandos.
The running theme within the 100-page report that Maj.- Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland submitted to the General Staff on Monday was that while the IDF made plenty of mistakes ahead of the operation and even during it, none of them were the result of negligence and none of them constituted failures that someone should pay the price for.
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Eiland went out of his way during briefings to the Israeli and foreign press to explain that when investigating such an operation, one has to make a distinction between what he called “negligence,” “failures,” and “mistakes.”
The lack of a backup plan for how to board the ship was a mistake, Eiland said; the lack of intelligence on the Turkish government’s involvement in the flotilla and the true nature of the radical Islamic group IHH was a mistake; the decision to rappel commandos down to the upper deck even after navy fast boats were attacked by the passengers was also a mistake.
While one might argue that Eiland’s use of language is just an issue of semantics, it has deeper meaning. A “mistake” is not as bad as a “failure,” which could be construed as a breakdown in the system. Instead of claiming that Military Intelligence “failed” by not collecting intelligence on the flotilla, they only made a mistake. The navy did not fail by not drafting a backup plan, it only made a mistake.
This fits in with expectations and predictions of what Eiland’s report would contain. As in the last probe he led, into the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Schalit four years ago, this time Eiland also let all those involved off easy. Even the language he used was meant to soften his report’s bite.
There could be a number of reasons for Eiland’s decision. One is the possibility that Eiland, an experienced general known for his brilliant strategic analyses, figured that his comprehensive report on its own is enough to teach the IDF a lesson. There is no need, he likely decided, for personal sanctions against officers involved in the planning.
Another possibility is that Eiland did not find a single officer who could be held responsible for the botched raid. In his presentation on Sunday night to IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Eiland reportedly said that Operation Sea Breeze 7 needed to be viewed as an operation by the navy but not as an event that had consequences for the entire military.
Interestingly, Eiland’s report ignores the political fallout from the raid and the unprecedented diplomatic damage it caused. Over a month later, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is still reportedly considering holding a debate on the raid in the General Assembly with the support of a number of countries, such as Russia.
Senior IDF officers said Monday that Eiland’s mandate did not allow him to investigate the political echelon or its dealings with the military in the run-up to the operation. In closed forums, Eiland has said that even though he did not write anything about the political echelon, this did not mean that he did not have a lot to say about them.
The question now is what retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel will do. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are likely praying for a similar outcome to the Eiland report – that they just made a few mistakes.