Israeli intelligence service 'made mistakes' storming flotilla ships

The Israeli intelligence service made mistakes during the deadly storming of ships taking aid to the Gaza strip, a former military official today acknowledged.

Nine civilians were killed after Israeli commandoes boarded the flotilla carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid en route from Cyprus in May.

Retired Major General Giora Eiland, who led the Israeli military inquiry into the storming of the Mavi Marmara, told the BBC's 'Panorama' programme that planning for the operation was lacking.

He explained: "Certain mistakes were made by the Israeli forces, both by the intelligence and by the commanders of the navy ... there was under estimation of the potential resistance on the ship.

"The resistance was huge, much above expectation. Someone had to say 'well the right conditions do not exist let's do something else ... let's take Plan B'."

"They (the activists) were committed to kill and be killed."

The Gaza flotilla was organised by The Free Gaza Movement, and a Turkish group called the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH).

Following the incident, Israel faced widespread international condemnation.

Israel claimed it would co-operate with a UN investigation into the deaths, although it is currently holding its own second inquiry where it has so far defended its commandos' actions.

In all, almost 700 activists from various countries were seized in the Israeli operation.

Giora Eiland told the programme that in the circumstances the number of deaths was "surprisingly low".

The incident focused international attention on the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

A month after the storming of the ships Israel announced it was to significantly ease the blockade.

Mr Eiland said: "Unfortunately they managed to achieve exactly what they wanted, a provocation, to be able to show the Israelis caused the nine deaths.

"So Israel is seen as using excessive force and is guilty for everything."

'Panorama: Death in the Med' is broadcast on BBC One at 8.30pm on Monday August 16.

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