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The Israeli Defence Forces' investigation of its response in May to the Gaza-bound Turkish ship Mavi Marmara once again shows Israel's capacity for self-criticism, rare in the Middle East. The larger context, however, is the search for a balance between the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza and the preservation of Israel's ability to prevent missile attacks from Hamas's terrorist statelet.

The scope of the report of the committee chaired by Major-General Giora Eiland was military; a different, civilian panel is examining Israel's compliance with international law in the Mavi Marmara incident.

The committee's five-week work is particularly timely, considering that a similar Libyan expedition has set out from Greece, whether bound for Gaza itself or for a nearby Egyptian port is still unknown.

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Although the 100-page Eiland report has a specific focus, its conclusion points beyond the military aspect of how the six-ship flotilla was handled. In the committee's view, the IDF did not co-ordinate well with the Mossad, and consequently did not have adequate intelligence. It did not have a clear view of what to expect, especially from the Insani Yardim Vakfi, an ostensibly humanitarian organization in Turkey, deeply involved in the flotilla, but more radical than it seemed on the surface.

If Israeli military personnel had recognized the militancy of some of the activists on the ship, they might well have proceeded differently. According to Maj.-Gen. Eiland and his colleagues, the potential degree of violence that the Israeli commandos might meet with was underestimated. They were not sent with a variety of options for their course of action, depending on what they found on the Mavi Marmara.

That was a planning error. In other words, the mistakes were at an upper level; these were not the fault of Navy Squadron 13, whose commandos were praised for their "professionalism, bravery and resourcefulness." Nonetheless, nine people were killed.

More broadly, the Mavi Marmara incident was a foreseeable public-relations disaster for Israel. War is indeed an extension of diplomacy by other means, and the Israeli government as a whole, not simply the IDF, should have figured out ways to prevent the flotilla from landing in Gaza; with intelligence, Israel should have known whether it was a cover for Iranian missile smuggling. Violent confrontation could probably have been avoided - and should be now with the impending Libyan provocation.

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