- Associated Press - Monday, July 12, 2010

TEL AVIV (AP) — Flawed intelligence-gathering and planning led to Israel’s botched and deadly raid on a Gaza-bound protest flotilla, with security forces underestimating the potential for violence, said the official report released Monday.

The report, however, praised the commandos who took part in the operation, saying they were justified in opening fire and killing nine after being confronted by violent pro-Palestinian activists on board one of the ships.

The report concluded that intelligence-gathering was deficient and that various intelligence units did not communicate properly with one another. It criticized the operation’s planners for not having a backup plan in the event of violence.

It did not recommend any dismissals, though it is possible some senior officers will be ousted or demoted in an ensuing shake-up.

“We found that there were some professional mistakes regarding both the intelligence and the decision-making process and some operational mistakes,” the report’s author, retired Gen. Giora Eiland, told reporters at a Defense Ministry briefing where declassified sections of the report were discussed.

Some of the mistakes took place at fairly high levels of command, he added, giving few details. The report itself was not made public.

The criticisms that were aired at the briefing — as well as the praise for the soldiers who took part in the raid —have been widely voiced inside Israel since the May 31 raid.

Video footage of Israeli commandos being beaten by the activists on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, coupled with an international outcry over the bloodshed, led Israelis to close ranks around their military.

But the raid also had an effect opposite to the one Israel desired. It focused international attention on the 3-year-old blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and forced Israel to ease the movement of goods through land crossings.

Israel’s naval blockade on the territory, meant to keep weapons from reaching Hamas militants, remains in place. Later this week the blockade will be challenged again, this time by a Libyan protest ship.

“If tomorrow we face a similar ship, we’ll be able to stop it,” Gen. Eiland said.

“If there are dozens of people on board with cold weapons and they are committed to kill soldiers and committed to be killed, we can’t guarantee they won’t be killed,” he added, referring to the knives, clubs and other weapons used by the activists on the one ship.

Gen. Eiland made the observation after playing footage that he said showed passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara saying they wanted to die as martyrs. On the flotilla’s five other ships there was only passive resistance.

Organizers of the Libyan ship, which was sent by a charity group headed by the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, have said they do not seek confrontation with Israel but are determined to reach Gaza.

“This ship is carrying humanitarian aid, and its organizers are not looking for political propaganda or media campaigns or any provocation,” said Youssef Sawani, executive director of the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, which dispatched the protest vessel.

Mr. Sawani has said he hoped the vessel would reach Gaza by Tuesday.

Israel has resisted calls for a U.N.-led inquiry into the raid, saying it would be biased. In addition to the investigation conducted for the military, Israel has appointed a civilian inquiry with a mandate limited to investigating the legality of the operation.

Two international observers have been attached to the civilian commission, which is led by a retired Israeli Supreme Court judge.

In unrelated news, the military plans to investigate the death of a Palestinian man killed by a tear-gas canister fired by Israeli security forces during a protest against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier 15 months ago, an Israeli human rights group said.

The military had no public comment on the report by the B’tselem group, which pressed for an investigation and rejected the military’s original contention that Bassem Abu Rahmeh was standing in a group of Palestinians hurling rocks at troops.

Video footage showed him shouting, not throwing rocks, when he was shot.

Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.

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