Israeli army finds errors in deadly Gaza ship raid

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – An Israeli military inquiry released yesterday found intelligence and operational errors in a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla but defended the use of force behind the killings of nine Turkish activists.

The report was the first of two separate investigations including a judicial-headed panel named by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government into the May 31 raid that strained Israel’s relations with Muslim ally Turkey and brought a world outcry that forced it to ease its land blockade on Gaza.

Giora Eiland, a reservist general who headed the army’s panel, said, summarising the findings of a 150-page document, which is classified, supported the use of force and the need for commandos to board one of the vessels so as to intercept it.  “But on the other hand there were mistakes that were made in decisions, including some taken at relatively high levels, which meant that the result was not as had been initially anticipated,” Eiland told reporters at the army’s headquarters.

“We found there were professional mistakes regarding intelligence and the decision-making process,” he added, and also cited what he called “operational mistakes.”

A senior security official said a plan devised before the incident, was “reasonable” but may have made a wrong assumption about expecting a dozen or so soldiers to easily subdue a shipload of activists bent on attacking them.

The team of eight investigators “concluded that not all possible intelligence gathering methods were fully implemented” and various intelligence units failed to coordinate, an army statement said, adding that “the anticipated level of violence used against the forces was underestimated.”

Some of the commandos, the Israeli military has said, were armed with paintball guns — but also carried pistols — in anticipation of only light resistance.

Eiland, who briefed reporters at the military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, said better intelligence on the activists’ plan to attack Israeli commandos may have helped prevent bloodshed.

The military’s chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazy said in a statement that “no failure or negligence was found” but that there were “mistakes which must be corrected.”

There was evidence that activists on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara opened fire on Israeli commandos, at least in one instance using a weapon they had on board, a senior Israeli security official said.

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