Mistakes were made at a “relatively senior” level during Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid boat but the use of live fire by commandos was justified, the results of military probe showed Monday.
“Mistakes were made in the various decisions taken, including within relatively senior ranks, which contributed to the result not being as we would have wished,” retired general Giora Eiland told reporters in Tel Aviv on Monday as he presented the results of the internal inquiry.
“In this inquiry we found that there were some professional mistakes regarding both the intelligence and the decision-making process,” said Eiland, who chaired the panel tasked with examining how the operation unfolded and learning lessons from it.
The Eiland Committee began its work on June 7, exactly a week after the botched naval raid in which Israeli navy commandos launched a pre-dawn raid on a Turkish ferry carrying more than 600 people.
In the resulting fracas, nine Turkish nationals were shot dead and dozens of other people injured, including seven Israeli commandos.
The raid, conducted in international waters, provoked a global backlash against Israel and prompted widespread calls for an international probe.
The Israeli government rejected the demands and instead ordered the military to launch an internal investigation.
Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said the report had found no evidence of “negligence.”
“Neither I nor the investigating team detected any omission or negligence, but certainly, in an investigation as thorough as this, errors were found which must be corrected for the future,” Ashkenazi said in a statement.
Details in the 150-page report also concluded that the use of live fire was “justified” and that troops on board the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara had behaved in a “very professional and courageous way.”
“The report … determines that the use of live fire was justified and that the entire operation is estimable,” a military statement said.
“They only used force when they were under immediate danger to their lives,” Eiland said.
Video footage showed the commandos being beaten as they boarded the Mavi Marmara ferry and Israel says its commandos only used force after they were attacked with sticks and stabbed.
But those on board the ship insist that the troops opened fire as soon as they landed.
Investigators also found flaws in intelligence gathering and said the navy failed to sufficiently consider the possibility the troops could encounter violent resistance during the operation.
“In terms of the intelligence effort, the team concluded that not all possible intelligence gathering methods were fully implemented and that the coordination between navy intelligence and the Israel defence intelligence was insufficient,” the military said.
The anticipated level of violence used “was underestimated,” it said, noting that the troops had not prepared any alternative course of action.
Eiland also said the committee had found evidence of “at least one weapon” on the ship before it was stormed — a statement which contradicts claims by those on board.
The retired general on Sunday presented the team’s conclusions to Ashkenazi and other military top brass involved in the preparations and the actual boarding of the flotilla, including Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
Israel has consistently argued in favour of its right to stop vessels travelling to Gaza since they could be carrying weapons for Hamas, an Islamist movement committed to the destruction of Israel which controls that Palestinian territory.