Comptroller slams Netanyahu, Barak over Turkish flotilla incident

The 'Mavi Marmara' is escorted by Israel Navy ships en route to Ashdod Port. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Wednesday published his long-awaited report on the May 31, 2010 Gaza blockade-running attempt by a Turkish ship that resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish nationals. He harshly criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for failures in the decision-making process.

Lindenstrauss found the decision-making at the highest levels to be “unsystematic”—particularly by Netanyahu, in the weeks and days before the Turkish-led flotilla reached Israeli waters.

Lindenstrauss’s 153-page report examined the government decision-making that preceded the nighttime boarding of the Mavi Marmara by Israel Navy SEALs, who rappelled from helicopters onto its deck on May 31, 2010. The Marmara carried some 600 pro-Palestinian protesters who were trying to breach Israel’s weapons blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

What was expected to be a peaceful takeover of the ship—the naval commandos were armed with paint guns—quickly became a pitched battle. The SEALs were attacked as they landed on the upper deck by a number of Turkish thugs armed with knives, clubs, and several firearms. The commandos had to fight for their lives, killing nine Turks in self-defense. Nine commandos were wounded, several seriously.

Another casualty of the incident was Israel’s relations with Turkey, which have not improved since. Turkey last week filed murder indictments against Israel’s chief of General Staff at the time and three other senior officers.

The comptroller found “serious faults” in the way Netanyahu made decisions leading up to the takeover of the Mavi Marmara. “Decisions were made without staff work that was organized, agreed-upon, recorded, and coordinated,” he wrote.

The prime minister did not convene a broad decision-making forum at an early stage and did not sufficiently rely on the National Security Council, which had been established precisely for that type of consultation, Lindenstrauss found. As a result, decisions did not take into account all necessary considerations.

The comptroller found that strategic evaluations and preparatory work are still done mainly only by the military, which by its nature does not have a broad view of Israel’s strategic and political concerns. Therefore, he said, “the decision-making process in the upper echelon of the State of Israel, in some of the most important matters, is not as good as it could be.”

Lindenstrauss called for an expanded role for the National Security Council, which was designed in large part to offset the outsize role of the military in deciding strategy. Even though the senior political echelons had clearly recognized the seriousness of the Turkish flotilla, Netanyahu had not instructed the NSC to carry out staff work on the matter, Lindenstrauss wrote.

The comptroller also found that the IDF did not formulate a course-of-action (COA) regarding a possible violent response from the flotilla passengers. As a result, no COA was presented to or discussed by the senior political echelon.

Barak had raised the issue of potential military intervention on the flotilla in various meetings, Lindenstrauss said, but he had neither tested nor examined the IDF’s readiness to deal with any dangerous actions by the flotilla passengers, although he discussed the possibility that the passengers might carry out such actions.

The state comptroller also criticized Netanyahu for waiting until May 26, 2010 before meeting with relevant ministers to review strategy and policies regarding the flotilla, and to develop a coordinated attempt to prevent the flotilla from sailing, as well as preparing for possible naval intervention.

MK Shelly Yachimovich, the Labor Party leader and head of the opposition, said she found the results of the report “infuriating.”

“It reveals a smug prime minister making decisions by himself and with Defense Minister Barak in a process that is irresponsible and smacks of excess self-confidence,” she said. “It is a shame that the price for this complacency and arrogance was paid by the navy commandos, who—unlike the political leadership—acted with bravery, resourcefulness and mutual responsibility.”

The IDF said that it welcomes the criticism and is committed to working together with the comptroller’s office to implement the findings and recommendations. “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 said in its response to the report.

Barak released a short statement saying that he would work to ensure that the IDF and the general defense establishment implement the necessary recommendations of the report. “This is what needs to be done and this is what I will do,” Barak said.

“In the end result, Israel’s citizens enjoy security the likes of which they have not known for years,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office. The country’s security, it said, “is a direct result of responsible administration and determined policy. The security discussions of the past three years are unprecedented in their scope and depth, as anyone who has participated will testify.”