Watchdog criticises Israel PM over flotilla raid
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
Israel's state watchdog on Wednesday criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his handling of a 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine Turks dead and ties with Ankara in shreds.
In a 153-page report, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss slammed the decision-making process which led to the botched pre-dawn raid on the six-ship flotilla on May 31, 2010, which was headed by the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ferry carrying more than 600 people.
The maritime assault triggered an international outcry and a lingering diplomatic crisis between once-close allies Israel and Turkey, with Ankara demanding a formal apology and compensation for the families of the victims.
"In the process of decision-making, which was led by the prime minister and under his responsibility, regarding the handling of the (flotilla), there were significant shortcomings," Lindenstrauss wrote in the report.
Netanyahu, it said, had not held any structured, formal discussion with top ministers about the flotilla, and had only held separate talks on the issue with Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, none of which were properly documented.
"The prime minister did not order integrative staff work regarding the necessary policy to deal with the flotilla, instead there were personal, separate meetings, between the prime minister and the defence minister, and between the prime minister and the foreign minister, which were not documented or summarized, and there was no discussion between the prime minister and any group of ministers," the report said.
"The only discussion that took place on the issue was in the Forum of Seven just before the flotilla arrived, an 'ad-hoc' discussion without any preparation," it said, referring to Netanyahu's inner circle of senior ministers, which now numbers nine.
"The process of decision-making was done without orderly, agreed-upon, coordinated and documented staff work, despite the recognition of the senior political echelon and IDF (Israel Defence Forces) chiefs, intelligence bodies and the National Security Council on the exceptional nature of the Turkish flotilla compared to previous flotillas," it said.
Although Barak and then chief-of-staff Gabi Ashkenazi had raised fears the activists could be armed, nothing was done to plan a suitable response, it said.
"The defence minister and chief of staff raised fears during May 2010 over a violent reaction, including the use of arms by passengers" but it was not clear that Barak had "checked or examined the army's preparedness to deal with dangerous actions by passengers, despite the fact that he himself pointing out the possibility," the report said.
"The defence minister did not discuss ways of dealing with risks that emerged in consultations he himself held, including the risks he noted." Responding to the report, the premier's office issued a statement defending its record on managing issues of state security, saying Israel was enjoying a level of security not seen "for many years." "This security is the direct result of responsible management and determined policy. The security discussions that have been held over the past three years have been unprecedented in their scope and depth, as attested to by those who have participated in them," it said.
It also referred to a UN report on the flotilla, published last year, which endorsed the legality of Israel's naval blockade on Gaza, while chiding the Jewish state for using "excessive force" in preventing its arrival.
National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said it was not clear that handling the flotilla raid differently would have ensured a better result, but that the process of decision-making had improved greatly since then.
"The State Comptroller himself says that he is not at all sure that there is a link between a different process and better results," he said, adding that the authorities had better handled subsequent attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to reach Gaza and the West Bank.
"The result in these was different. If one looks at all these events, one understands that the decision-making process is much, much better," he said, indicating they were managed with "an orderly decision-making process." Barak also responded to the report, pledging to implement the necessary changes.
"Defence Minister Ehud Barak accepts the criticism and will work... to ensure the military and defence establishment will fix all that needs to be fixed," a statement from his office said.
"That's what should be done and that is what will be done." But commentators were quick to put the report by the outgoing-comptroller into a wider context.
"The most important thing is the comptroller's legacy," said Israel public radio's Hanan Crystal.
"What he's really saying here is 'Don't take decisions on Iran in the same manner, there you should have organised decision-taking'."