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Israel Comptroller raps PM for 2010 flotilla raid

Jerusalem: In a scathing criticism, Israel`s state watchdog today rapped hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the handling of a 2010 naval commando raid on a Gaza-bound Turkrish flotilla that left 9 activists dead and bilateral ties with Ankara in disarray.

"The decision making process regarding the dealings with the Turkish flotilla led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and under his responsibility was found to include essential and significant flaws," the 153 page report on government`s performance in the Turkish flotilla incident, by Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, has concluded.

"The Prime Minister`s decision-making was made without proper coordination, documentation, or preparation, despite the fact that the government, the IDF`s (Israel Defence Forces) top officers, and senior intelligence officials were all aware that the Turkish flotilla wasn`t like the flotillas that preceded it," the report noted.

Lindenstrauss indicated that despite the fact that Netanyahu was well aware that the incident was highly irregular in its scope and was personally involved in the preparation for it, he hadn`t internalised the fact that intercepting the flotilla with force could lead to a violent confrontation onboard the Mavi Marmara, leading to a large number of casualties.

The report points out that officials, including then Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, warned the government several times of the possibility of a violent response by the boat`s passengers. A few weeks before the flotilla set sail, Ashkenazi sent a letter to Netanyahu and Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, in which he suggested the flotilla be thwarted by diplomatic means before resorting to use of force.

Netanyahu is said to have held four work meetings with Ashkenazi after receiving the letter to discuss the issue. The long-awaited report also accuses the Israeli Premier of keeping the National Security Council in the dark and ignoring scenarios of extreme violence. Six flotilla ships attempted to sail to Gaza in May 2010, aiming to break Israel`s naval blockade of the Islamist Hamas controlled Strip.

Around 600 flotilla protesters sailed on the main vessel, the MV Mavi Marmara, which was seized by the IDF naval commandos who encountered violent protest and in the ensuing fighting 9 Turks were killed and 55 others injured. Nine Israeli naval commandos were also injured in the fight on the vessel on May 31, 2010. The incident severely damaged Israel`s relations with Turkey and led to a wave of international condemnation of Israel`s handling of the event.

The Comptroller`s report includes a special chapter on failures in public diplomacy and public relations both before, during and immediately after the flotilla incident, which caused considerable damage to Israel`s international image. A separate chapter about alleged intelligence failures preceding the arrival of the flotilla has been distributed separately, but is classified.

PMO spokesperson Mark Regev thanked the comptroller for his work and said that "Israel`s democratic process includes institutional mechanisms for independent oversight". Regev reiterated that despite criticisms in the report of the decision making process, "the panel established by the UN Secretary General to investigate the flotilla incident clearly ruled that the maritime blockade to prevent weapons reaching the terrorists in Gaza is legitimate self defence and that Israel`s decision to intercept the flotilla was indeed legal under international law".

"Weapons that reach Hamas in Gaza end up being used against Israeli civilians," the spokesman asserted. The IDF in its response said that it welcomed the criticism and was committed to working together with the Comptroller`s office to implement the findings and recommendations. The army noted that immediately after the flotilla operation, it decided on its own to launch an investigative committee to probe the military`s performance ahead of and during the actual raid on the Mavi Marmara.

"Important lessons were learned and applied immediately in all of the different areas involved in the flotilla and in dealing with additional flotillas in the future," the IDF responded. It also noted that the state-appointed Turkel Committee had ruled that the IDF operation was permitted according to international law and that the seizure of the ships was also legal.

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