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Israeli review finds fatal raid on Turkish ship lacked planning and alternatives

By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 13, 2010; A08

JERUSALEM -- An internal Israeli review of a navy raid on a Turkish aid ship headed to the Gaza Strip faults planners for not having alternative procedures in place and concludes that the agencies involved should have shared intelligence more efficiently before the operation, according to excerpts released Monday.

"The operation relied excessively on a single course of action, albeit a probable one, while no alternative courses of action were prepared for the event of more dangerous scenarios," the report said.

An eight-person review panel was established by Israel's military chief of staff after the May 31 incident, in which Israeli naval commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish American after meeting resistance from activists. The operation led to broad criticism of Israel internationally and to modifications of Israel's blockade of Gaza, which is meant to isolate the Hamas-led leadership there.

"There were mistakes that were made in various decisions, including in relatively high echelons, that led to the unexpected result," said retired Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel's National Security Council, who led the inquiry.

In the short excerpts released from the 100-page report, the panel did not single out specific commanders for censure. Rather, it found that the presence of an Israeli navy commander at sea during the operation "proved effective in terms of the decision-making process" and "saved lives."

Naval commandos operated "properly, with professionalism, bravery and resourcefulness," the report said. "The use of live fire was justified," and "the entire operation is estimable."

The report concluded that four to six Israeli soldiers were fired on and that one of the wounded was shot in the knee by a non-Israeli-issued firearm, suggesting that the activists had brought at least one gun on board. The inquiry also found that passengers had cut off banisters from the ship to use as weapons against the soldiers.

A separate, broader inquiry is underway, led by a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice. Turkey and other countries have demanded an impartial international investigation, a request that Israel has denied.

The release of the military inquiry came as a Libyan aid ship continued to make its way to the Gaza coast. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the Libyan ship a "provocation" and urged the ship to reroute to Israel's port in Ashdod or to Egypt's port of al-Arish.

Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.

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