JERUSALEM — An Israeli government watchdog sternly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for poor decision-making in the lead-up to a deadly Israeli military raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip in 2010.
Netanyahu, the state comptroller wrote in a long-awaited report, failed to heed multiple warnings, including from the army chief, that an Israeli military effort to enforce its blockade by intercepting the vessels could erupt into violence. The report also said he did not sufficiently coordinate or document high-level government discussions on how to handle the eventuality.
Although the report appeared unlikely to dent the domestic strength of Netanyahu, whose governing coalition is one of the largest in Israel’s history, it renewed questions about his willingness to weigh alternatives as Israel considers a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In recent months, some retired Israeli senior security officials have argued that an attack on Iran would be unnecessary and dangerous, and they have faulted Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for dismissing such warnings as they aggressively push the case for such an operation.
Echoing that criticism, the report on the flotilla operation said Netanyahu relied on several one-on-one, undocumented discussions with Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman before the incident. Netanyahu gathered senior government ministers — known as the “security cabinet” — only once, five days before the raid, the report said.
Israeli commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists during clashes aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of six ships in the flotilla that had sailed from Turkey and attempted to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Gaza is under the control of the Islamist organization Hamas, which Israel and the United States consider to be a terrorist organization, and Israel says the blockade was necessary to prevent shipments of weapons from reaching militants. The activists said they were transporting humanitarian aid.
The raid provoked international condemnation of Israel and the blockade, and it dramatically frayed ties between once-close allies Israel and Turkey. Under extreme international pressure, Israel eased its land embargo after the incident.
Netanyahu said in a short statement Wednesday that on his watch, government deliberations on security-related matters “have been unprecedented in their scope and depth.”
He added that proof of his sound decision-making could be seen today in Israel, where residents enjoy what he called “a level of security the likes of which have not been seen for many years.”
Critics seized on the report as evidence that Netanyahu and Barak could not be trusted to handle Iran, whose nuclear program Israel considers an existential threat.
“Today, we all have to be very concerned. The Barak-Netanyahu pair is making decisions on security affairs in a way that is not serious and not responsible,” Dov Henin, a lawmaker with the left-wing opposition party Hadash, told Israel Radio. “In the same way they made decisions regarding the Marmara, they can make decisions tomorrow regarding Iran. Therefore, this pair is dangerous.”
Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss did not criticize the outcome of the flotilla raid, and he stressed that it might have turned out the same even if Netanyahu had planned better for it.
That point was underscored by National Security Council Director Yaakov Amidror, who also suggested that the government recognized there was a problem and has rectified it. Successive flotillas and fly-ins by pro-Palestinian activists have occurred without violence, he said in a statement.
In an apparent reference to Iran, Amidror said: “Today, there are other major issues that we are dealing with in the international arena. I think that if one looks at all these events, one understands that the decision-making process is much, much better.”
Special correspondent Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.
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