Monday, July 12, 2010

#Flotilla: Israel Presents Military Conclusions On Mavi Marmara Incident

It is best to read the conclusions of Israel's military examination of what happened aboard the Mavi Marmara directly from the IDF Spokesperson site--if for no other reason than to see what was actually said as opposed to reading the spin in the media.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Giora Eiland noted that he was was nominated by the IDF chief of the general staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi 5 weeks earlier to conduct a professional military investigation of the events that occurred on May 31st. He concluded that there were some professional mistakes made, but at the same time there were positive aspects, as well--specifically, the manner in which the Israeli commandos behaved, the decisions that they made and the way in which they took control of the ship. All told, there were at least 4 incidents where Mavi Marmara passengers shot at IDF soldiers and there is good reason to believe that the first incident of live fire shooting on the ship was by passengers of the Mavi Marmara.

Major General Eiland noted that the classified suggestions that he made were accepted in an open and willing manner by the officers who received them.

Here are the issues addressed:
In terms of the intelligence effort, the team concluded that not all possible intelligence gathering methods were fully implemented and that the coordination between Navy Intelligence and the Israel Defense Intelligence was insufficient. At the same time, the team emphasized that it is not certain that an optimal intelligence effort would create a complete intelligence picture. The team also pointed out that the anticipated level of violence used against the forces was underestimated.

In terms of situation assessments towards the flotilla, the team clarified that 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.

Regarding technological alternatives, the team determined that on the day of the incident, decision makers were not presented with alternative operational courses of action other than a full boarding of the flotilla. The team emphasized the fact that as far as is currently known, no country in the world holds the ability to stop a vessel at sea in a non hostile manner. Therefore statements made on this matter following the incident are unfounded and irresponsible. At the same time, the team determined that alternative courses of action could have existed had the process of preparation begun enough time in advance, and recommended to accelerate the process of examining alternative methods.

The expert team determined that regarding media relations, the preparations made in advance were good. However, the release of press statements and visual materials was delayed due to the need to maintain reliability, the obligation to notify the families of the critically injured soldiers and the long authorization process at the levels above the IDF Spokesperson Unit. The team noted with favor the work of the IDF spokesperson following the incident and emphasized the need for better coordination between the IDF, the foreign ministry and other foreign affairs institutions.

In terms of operation command, the team determined that the location of the commanders during the incident and the presence of the Commander of the Israel Navy at sea during the operation, was proper and fit with the Chief of the General Staff’s view regarding the role of commanders at the front lines of IDF activity. His presence proved effective in terms of the decision making process, saving lives and more. The team praised the Israel Navy combat protocols, the preparations of the Naval Commando Unit, the Navy Command, the Electronic Warfare Formation and the medical evacuation.
And then perhaps the key point, which will be looked into further by the Turkel Commission:
The team determined that the Navy Commando soldiers operated properly, with professionalism, bravery and resourcefulness and that the commanders exhibited correct decision making. The report further determines that the use of live fire was justified and that the entire operation is estimable.
A senior military official spoke off the record. According to what he said:
The investigation did not find serious failures, but rather that mistakes were made. This investigation was a military one, and is typical of IDF operations. It is common policy of the IDF that at the end of every major incident the Israeli military conducts an investigation to learn from the incident. While this report concludes the IDF military investigation, that does not mean that the implementation phase or the evaluation phase of the recommendations is over. Only the examination itself is concluded. Thus, Eiland is merely presenting a military examination evaluating IDF operational conduct, while the Turkel committee will get to review and evaluate the findings of the Eiland report.

Three Israeli soldiers were taken hostage aboard the Mavi Marmara. They were all taken down below to the front of the ship. Two of those soldiers managed to jump overboard and were then rescued by IDF boats. The third soldier, however, was too badly injured to move. Later, he was rescued by additional forces. There were a total of 9 Israeli soldiers who were injured--3 of them seriously. There were a total of 9 activists were killed. There were also 55 activists wounded--14 of them seriously.

There were 4 confirmed incidents where IDF soldiers were fired upon by passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara. There may even have been more. In at least one case, there was a soldier who was shot in the knee--by a weapon which is not Israeli issue. The first IDF soldier who was shot was the second soldier who descended by rope off of the 1st helicopter. It is almost certain that this was the first incident of live fire used against the IDF on the ship. The soldier was shot with an israeli gun, however it cannot be said with certainty which gun since it didn't happen while he was descending, but shortly after. Thus, the gun used may or may not have belonged to the first soldier who descended or the to second soldier.

In addition, there were also shell casings from non-Israeli weapons found on the ship. In all incidents where soldiers used live ammunition and shot their guns, the soldiers were in life threatening situations.

The passengers aboard the Maviwere equipped with effective and lethal cold weapons--and they fully intended to use them. Some of the weapons were brought from Turkey, while others were prepared on board. The IDF found that there were between 65-100 'militants' on board the Mavi Marmara. Some of them belonged to the IHH, while others belonged to other Islamic groups. The IHH essentially took control of the ship. Even when the captain objected to them cutting the rails of the boat, they ignored him and did so anyway.

The preparations for dealing with the Gaza Flotilla began 3 months prior to its arrival, but unfortunately, in situations such as these when the passengers are committed to violence--there will be violence. There was nothing the IDF could have done to prevent all violence. The technology simply does not exist today to stop a ship without boarding it. The IDF had to board the ship, but there were other ways of boarding that may have been better.

While there were plenty of operational lessons to be learned from this incident, based on previous experience with such boats, the plans that were drawn up were reasonable. The assumption was that landing 15 commandos on board the ship inside of a minute would be sufficient to take control of the ship. Obviously when you have at least 15 violent activists on deck who are willing to use violence--even to the point of dying themselves--the situation is entirely different.
Of course, until the Turkel Commission finishes its work, the investigation is not over.

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