Israeli report criticizes Netanyahu's handling of flotilla raid
JERUSALEM -- More than two years after an Israeli raid on an aid flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip turned deadly, a report released Wednesday criticizes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as making poor decisions and misunderstanding the magnitude of the unfolding confrontation.
In a special 153-page report, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss used harsh words to describe a long list of flaws in the government's preparation for the approaching flotilla, which carried activists determined to run Israel's blockade of Gaza.
Lindenstrauss accused the Netanyahu administration of failing to coordinate the actions of relevant agencies, ignoring military warnings about potential violence, keeping the National Security Council out of the loop and dropping the ball on media response and public diplomacy.
The interception of the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in the mainly Turkish aid flotilla, turned violent when the shipboard activists fought back against Israeli commandos. The clash resulted in the deaths of nine passengers and fierce international condemnation of Israel, forcing it to ease its blockade of the Hamas-controlled coastal strip. The attack also worsened relations with Turkey, already soured following an Israeli military assault on Gaza, sending them into a tailspin from which they have not recovered.
Although Lindenstrauss found fault with others, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the army, his report holds Netanyahu responsible for the overall outcome.
"The prime minister's decision-making was made without proper coordination, documentation or preparation," despite the fact that all were aware that the Turkish flotilla was larger and more politically sensitive than those that preceded it, he wrote.
According to the report, Netanyahu skipped over authorized decision-making bodies and preferred private, undocumented meetings with Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Barak, for his part, was accused of silencing opposition to a military raid.
In reality, Lindenstrauss wrote, Netanyahu decided how to deal with the flotilla "based on the recommendations of his friends."
In response, Netanyahu's office said Israeli citizens have been enjoying a level of security unknown for years, "the direct result of responsible management and determined policy." Security discussions held over the past three years, the statement said, "have been unprecedented in their scope and depth."
Netanyahu also stressed that a panel "established by the U.N. secretary-general to investigate the flotilla incident clearly ruled that the maritime blockade to prevent weapons reaching the terrorists in Gaza is legitimate self-defense" and that the interception was "indeed legal under international law."
"The report is infuriating," said opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich, adding that it revealed a "haughty prime minister who makes decisions with himself and with Barak," believing "they could do everything on their own."
Yachimovich's comments echo criticism voiced by Yuval Diskin, former chief of the Shin Bet security agency, who recently accused Netanyahu and Barak of misleading the country on Iran. Diskin declared he had no faith in a "leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings."
With decisions to be made on Iran and possibly Syria or Lebanon, wrote defense commentator Ron Ben-Yishai on the popular Hebrew site Ynet, "this report should worry all citizens."
Israel has long refused Turkey's demand for an apology over the flotilla events and several attempts to negotiate a settlement have failed.
The dispute may have implications beyond ties between the two nations.
If Israel and Turkey were on good terms today, "the entire crisis with Syria and balance of powers with Iran would look totally different," said Alon Liel, former Israeli ambassador to Turkey and past director general of the Foreign Ministry. Embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad "is the greatest winner" of this continued feud, he added.
Others believe Israel is right to express regret but stop short of apologizing.
"It's not only a matter of national pride, it wouldn't have helped change Turkey's strategic decision to enter a collision course with Israel," said Giora Eiland, a former general who headed the Israeli military's own inquiry into the flotilla incident."They made a decision and unfortunately, I do not see it changing any time soon."
Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday in Jerusalem. Credit: Baz Ratner, pool / Getty Images.