Libyan aid ship
The aid ship commissioned by a Libyan state charity prepares to set sail to Gaza on July 9, 2010. Photo by AP
Text size
Daniel Bar-On
Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2010.a Photo by Daniel Bar-On

The IDF is preparing for the forceful interdiction of a Libyan sponsored ship allegedly headed for the Gaza Strip, despite lingering criticism over the handling of the interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla on May 31 in which nine people were killed, military sources told Haaretz yesterday.

An internal military probe into the incident released yesterday found only professional mistakes in planning and carrying out the operation against the Mavi Marmara.

The Libyan ship could come within range of the Gaza-shore tonight, but at this stage it is still unclear whether its captain will opt to head for the Sinai port of El Arish, where it will instead aim for Gaza. In its official log the ship has El Arish as its destination.

The same military sources said yesterday that the report by Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland's internal military probe was acceptable to the Israel Defense Forces' General Staff.

The sources added that in future attempts by ships to break the blockade over the Gaza Strip, it will not be possible to have "100 percent intelligence," but this could not act as an excuse not to take action to block the flotillas.

The IDF committee headed by Eiland, appointed a month ago to investigate the incident involving the Mavi Marmara, presented its conclusions yesterday. According to information made public, the committee found serious flaws in intelligence gathering on the flotilla, the cooperation between various intelligence organizations, the preparation of the operational plan and the takeover itself.

Despite its conclusions, the committee did not recommend any punitive steps against individuals involved in the planning and the execution of the operation.

The committee's 100-plus page report was presented yesterday to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. In a statement to the press, Eiland said, "I was glad the investigation found that there were no flaws or negligence in anything significant, however there were mistakes at relatively high ranks, whose results were not what had been planned."

Eiland also noted that there were "some commendable things," mostly in the way the naval commandos conducted themselves on the ship and in the evacuation of the injured.

During the takeover of the Mavi Marmara, the troops faced violent opposition by a mob of activists who used metal bars, axes, firebombs and apparently also firearms. During the fighting, nine Turkish activists were killed and 51 injured, while nine naval commandos were injured, three seriously.

The committee described the failures in the planning and preparatory states as "mistakes" and not "negligence."

The committee did not focus on the decision-making of the political leadership, and did not examine the possibility of immobilizing the ships clandestinely in the ports of departure.

The committee focused on the operational considerations of the IDF ahead of the takeover, in the planning, the intelligence gathering and the execution of the mission.

After consulting with experts in the field of naval sabotage, the committee concluded that it had been impossible to stop the Mavi Marmara in open seas by striking at its engine or propeller without endangering the integrity of the ship.

Eiland said that in the past the navy had looked into developing a method for this but other matters had higher priority and the time frame for its development would have been two years.

The committee concluded that the sole way to prevent the flotilla from reaching the Gaza shores was through the takeover of the ship by naval commandos.

The committee said that the takeover plan was made on the assumption that resistance would be sporadic and there had been no prediction of mass violence by the activists.

The committee also found that the operational orders of the mission were lacking.

Moreover, the plan did not leave options for alternative means of takeover during the operation, if conditions changed, or in case resistance by the activists intensified.

For example, there was a ship available that could have directed powerful streams of water at the activists, but this was not used.

The committee found that in at least four cases the passengers on the Mavi Marmara used firearms against the troops. One of the first commandos on the ship was hit with a bullet in the abdomen. The committee believe that this was the first shot fired during the operation.

Some of the other shots were fired from pistols taken from the commandos.