`Israeli Army lacked intelligence before raid on aid flotilla`

Israeli military lacked enough intel before flotilla raid, says Army chief.

Jerusalem: The Israeli military lacked enough intelligence, especially about the main organisers of the Gaza-bound aid vessels, before its raid on the flotilla on May 31, the Army chief said on Wednesday.

"We didn`t know enough about the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), and we didn`t investigate it. It was not on our list of priorities like other groups," Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told the Turkel Commission on the third day of the testimony into the raid, during which nine activists were killed.

Responding to questioning by the retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, who heads the investigation, Ashkenazi said that the assumption was that Turkey was not an enemy state, and the IHH was not considered as a terrorist group but "outlawed", Xinhua reported.

The Israeli government charges that the IHH is affiliated with groups that a number of governments have designated as terrorist organisations, which the IHH denied.

Turkey on Tuesday rebutted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s criticism over Turkey`s support for the Gaza-bound ships, saying Israel should first take responsibility for the raid.

The IDF`s biggest operational mistake in the raid lay in not being able to get enough helicopter-borne troops onto the top deck soon enough to create a "sterile zone", Ashkenazi said.

Ashkenazi, noting that the IDF was aware of at least two more flotilla attempts in the making, including from Lebanon and Europe, said the military would consider using more lethal methods than the side arms, paintball and bean-bag guns the troops carried.

"There was need to fire with accurate weapons and neutralise those who prevented the rappelling down of soldiers, something that would have decreased the risk of harm to them. That is the chief lesson for the next operation," he said.

Some passengers on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship of the flotilla, accused Israeli soldiers of firing on sleeping passengers.

Ashkenazi, however, said he "totally denied" Turkish pathology reports on the nine victims alleging that troops shot them "gangland style" and at point-blank range.

Defending the soldiers` actions on board, he said the nine activists were killed "as a result of the passengers` decision to violently engage the troops”, and that the commando forces behaved "proportionally" to the threat.

Israeli cabinet on June 14 approved the establishment of the Turkel Commission as a result of international pressure over the flotilla raid.