Israel military report says flawed intelligence led to botched raid

Flawed intelligence-gathering and planning led to Israel’s botched and deadly raid on a Gaza-bound protest flotilla, with security forces underestimating the potential for violence, said the official report released Monday.

TEL AVIV, Israel — Flawed intelligence-gathering and planning led to Israel’s botched and deadly raid on a Gaza-bound protest flotilla, with security forces underestimating the potential for violence, said the official report released Monday.

The report, however, praised the commandos who took part in the operation, saying they were justified in opening fire and killing nine after being confronted by violent pro-Palestinian activists on board one of the ships.

The report concluded that intelligence-gathering was deficient and that various intelligence units did not communicate properly with each other. It criticized the operation’s planners for not having a backup plan in the event of violence.

It did not recommend any dismissals, though it is possible that some senior officers will be ousted or demoted in an ensuing shake-up.

“We found that there were some professional mistakes regarding both the intelligence and the decision-making process and some operational mistakes,” the report’s author, retired general Giora Eiland, told reporters at a Defence Ministry briefing where declassified sections of the report were discussed.

Some of the mistakes took place at fairly high levels of command, he added, giving few details. The report itself was not made public.

The criticisms that were aired at the briefing — as well as the praise for the soldiers who took part in the raid — have been widely voiced inside Israel since the May 31 raid.

Video footage of Israeli commandos being beaten by the activists on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, coupled with an international outcry over the bloodshed, led Israelis to close ranks around their military.

But the raid also had an effect opposite to the one Israel desired. It focused international attention on the three-year-old blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and forced Israel to ease the movement of goods through land crossings.

Israel’s naval blockade on the territory, meant to keep weapons from reaching Hamas militants, remains in place.

Later this week the blockade will be challenged again, this time by a Libyan protest ship.

In a statement, the Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said the inquiry did not reveal failures or negligence, but “brings up mistakes which must be corrected for future incidents.”

Military officials briefing reporters said that as a result of the lessons from the botched raid and the inquiry, the navy will be able stop such ships in the future. However, if the activists on board attack soldiers with the intention of being killed themselves, that might well happen.

The officials made the observation after playing footage that he said showed passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara saying they wanted to die as martyrs. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were going beyond the findings of the inquiry.

On the flotilla’s five other ships, there was only passive resistance.

Organizers of the Libyan ship, which was sent by a charity group headed by the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, have said they do not seek confrontation with Israel but are determined to reach Gaza.

“This ship is carrying humanitarian aid and its organizers are not looking for political propaganda or media campaigns or any provocation,” said Youssef Sawani, executive director of the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, which dispatched the protest vessel.

Sawani has said he hoped the vessel would reach Gaza by Tuesday.

The boat may bypass Gaza altogether, however, and head straight for Egypt’s nearby port of El-Arish.

On Monday, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the boat was welcome to dock at El-Arish if the organizers made a formula request and then aid would be transported overland to Gaza.

Israel has resisted calls for a U.N.-led inquiry into the raid, saying it would be biased. In addition to the investigation conducted for the military, Israel has appointed a civilian inquiry with a mandate limited to investigating the legality of the operation.

Two international observers have been attached to the civilian commission, which is led by a retired Israeli Supreme Court judge.

In unrelated news, the Israeli military said Monday it plans to investigate the death of a Palestinian man killed by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli security forces during a protest against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier 15 months ago.

The military said it reopened the investigation because new information came to its attention. The B’Tselem group, which investigates alleged Israeli human rights abuses in the West Bank, pressed for an investigation and rejected the military’s original contention that Bassem Abu Rahmeh was standing in a group of Palestinians hurling rocks at troops.

Video footage showed him shouting, not throwing rocks, when he was shot.

Also Monday, Jerusalem’s city planning committee approved construction of 32 housing units in a Jewish neighbourhood in east Jerusalem. The U.S. and Palestinians object to new construction there. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their capital. Several steps remain in the approval process and actual building would probably be years away.