MESS Report / IDF Probe of Gaza Flotilla Carefully Avoided Placing Real Blame

Giora Eiland's conclusions on the takeover of the Gaza-bound flotilla are as ineffectual as those he provided four years ago after investigating the abduction of Gilad Shalit.

Every four years Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland is called to the flag. He retrieves his general's epaulets from storage, squeezes into his fatigues and sets out to investigate the army. The results are fairly similar.

Giora Eiland
Daniel Bar-On

His conclusions on the takeover of the Gaza-bound flotilla, released yesterday, recall those he provided four years ago this week after investigating the abduction of Gilad Shalit: a clear and detailed analysis identifying numerous mistakes, and no recommendations regarding the individuals involved.

Eiland describes a series of mistakes, but none reflecting dereliction of duty. There were not enough soldiers on deck to face off against the violence of the Turks and the unpredicted magnitude of their opposition.

The naval commandos who arrived by boat were met by violence (including live fire ) that stopped them from boarding, leaving the 15 commandos who had slid down ropes from a helicopter at a disadvantage.

Coordination problems among intelligence agencies created gaps in information before the operation started. The navy, according to Eiland, did not properly consider alternatives to the original plan. It was not clear under what circumstances a decision could be made to delay the operation (for instance, an encounter on deck with activists armed with axes and clubs ). After all, the operation was taking place a few miles from Israel's shores. Tel Aviv was in no immediate danger.

The report also reveals that Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi had warned in a letter to government officials on May 13 - two and a half weeks before the operation - that the military option should be a last resort.

Should he have done more than that? Eiland did not say so.

Amazingly, a few hours after the report's release, someone leaked to Channel 2 that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had warned the army of insufficient intelligence about the intentions of the flotilla's participants. Barak's office denies any connection to the report.

The Eiland report correctly praises the restraint and expertise of the commandos under difficult circumstances and the navy's preparation efforts.

He determined - and in the international arena this is important - that the Turks fired first, apparently from weapons they later threw overboard. But the bottom line, four years after the Second Lebanon War, is that the entire defense establishment had planned for the wrong scenario in the flotilla affair, and this is something to worry about.

Eiland's approach not to make recommendations about individuals may be right. Does every probe have to end with rolling heads? In any case, the head of the navy, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Marom, is ending his term soon. An impressive career should not be stained by a single incident.

And yet it is hard to align the harsh findings with the soft recommendations. Armed with a scalpel and kid gloves, Eiland chose his words carfully. There are mistakes; there are no guilty parties.

The story arrived half dead to the evening news. If the probes headed by Jacob Turkel and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss do not resuscitate the saga, it seems the main party responsible for the failure, our political leaders (who were much slower than the chief of staff in its willingness to investigate themselves ) will also survive the flotilla affair.