Israel Navy Examines Ways to Avoid Repeating Gaza Flotilla Mistakes

Navy looking at bigger boats to be used for boarding vessels, water hoses for crowd dispersal.

While the Turkel committee continues its investigation of the Gaza flotilla affair, Israel's navy has already drawn operational conclusions from the altercation at sea last May and is mulling how to avoid the same pitfalls. One change being considered by the navy is to purchase equipment that will help it board vessels while minimizing harm to soldiers.

Gaza flotilla

The navy's deliberations stem partly from an internal investigation it conducted after the flotilla affair, in which nine Turkish activists were killed after the navy boarded a vessel trying to run the Gaza blockade.

The inquiry found that the main flaw of the commando raid was the bottleneck created as the commandos climbed down a rope from a helicopter, to board the Mavi Marmara.

The raid's initial stage, in which a few commandos found themselves alone, facing a relatively large and violent group of activists, involved a mortal threat to the Israeli soldiers. This caused the commandos to open fire, leading to the nine deaths.

The main operational conclusion was that the navy must find a way to assemble a critical mass of soldiers on the deck of the boat as quickly as possible. During the boarding of the Mavi Marmara, several commandos who tried to board the large vessel from small navy boats were pushed away.

Haaretz has learned that the navy is now considering the purchase of larger boats for its commando unit, to be used for boarding vessels. Navy officers have been testing a number of types of boats. The preferred boats are larger than the ones used in the May raid and come equipped with ramps that will allow commandos to rush onto the other vessel.

The navy is also contemplating the purchase of non-lethal crowd dispersal equipment. Following the flotilla raid, the navy was criticized for equipping its commandos exclusively with pistols and rifles. Among other items, the navy might adopt various water hose devices which the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli police currently use for crowd dispersal on land.

The Ynet news portal reported this week that the military is also considering the use of dogs against violent resistance in maritime incidents.

Following the Marmara affair, the navy suggested that a national panel be established to deal with sea-borne attempts to run blockades - the working assumption is that various international groups would persist with attempts to reach Gaza or provoke Israeli forces.

The proposal was relayed to IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, but no such new public body has been formed to deal with challenges from future flotillas. Military coordination against new Gaza-bound ships remains with navy chief Admiral Eliezer Marom.

In recent months, foreign news outlets have reported the organization of new flotillas in Arab states, but these have yet to set sail for Gaza. A Lebanese flotilla received much publicity, but never set sail; as a result of considerable Israeli and Egyptian pressure, a Libyan ship that was headed for Gaza changed course, and landed at an Egyptian port instead.

IDF officers stress that the fate of any future flotillas will depend largely on the behavior of their passengers. Last month, the navy managed to board the "Jewish flotilla," a small ship with a number of leftist Jewish activists, without incident.

Testifying to the Turkel committee in August, Ashkenazi said the IDF should consider using sharpshooters to fire at assailants and clear the deck.