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Ship raid censure clouds Israel PM as he eyes Iran
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A state report on Wednesday criticised Benjamin Netanyahu's decision-making in a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship in 2010, casting a shadow over the prime minister as he weighs action against Iran.
The findings by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss were unlikely to have immediate political impact on Netanyahu, who heads one the biggest governing coalitions in Israel's history.
But the audit, which the government watchdog said was also a cautionary tale for a wide array of "future incidents", grabbed headlines in Israel, highlighting the scrutiny Netanyahu could face after any risky strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
"The decision-making process by the prime minister was carried out without any orderly, coordinated, authorised and documented staff work," said the 158-page report of the May 2010 interception of the Mavi Marmara.
Israeli marines killed nine pro-Palestinian activists from Turkey during fierce brawls aboard the converted cruise ship, which, along with five other vessels, tried to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza, a coastal enclave run by Hamas Islamists.
The incident prompted Turkey to slash its once extensive ties with Israel and threaten war-crimes suits.
Lindenstrauss said Israeli discussions on stopping the Mavi Marmara was largely limited to one-on-one meetings that Netanyahu held with Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Israel's security cabinet, which the prime minister is obliged by law to consult before major military endeavours, convened only five days before the raid.
Its members "were unaware of the purpose of the debate and did not have enough time to prepare for it", the report added.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev responded: "Israel's democratic process includes institutional mechanisms for independent oversight and we thank the state comptroller for his work." A separate statement from Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu's national security adviser, seemed to allude to arch-foe Iran.
"Today we are dealing with bigger things in the international arena," Amidror said. "The decision-making process is much, much better."
Topping Israelis' regional worries is Iran, in whose uranium enrichment they see the makings of a mortal threat. Tehran denies having hostile designs but the meagre yields of its compromise talks with world powers has stirred concern Israel could resort to preemptive strikes against Iranian facilities.
In what appears to have been an effort to put the brakes on any such action, some recently retired Israeli intelligence and military leaders have come out against Netanyahu and Barak.
One accused them of pursuing an ill-advised, "messianic" policy on Iran, which is distant, well-defended, and has promised wide-ranging reprisals if attacked.
Lindenstrauss retires this year after an unusually productive tenure in a post that can influence public opinion though it lacks legal clout.
A U.N. inquiry involving Israeli and Turkish representatives last September largely exonerated Israel's Gaza strategy and interception of the Mavi Marmara, though it faulted the navy for excessive force. Two previous internal Israeli probes, by the military and a government-named commission of inquiry, reported limited tactical and planning errors in the raid's execution.
"The state comptroller's determination that the decision-making process was faulty does not mean the results could have been different," the Lindenstrauss report concluded.
"But (we) see the Turkish flotilla as an example from which we must take away lessons about the way decisions are made in future incidents - not necessarily the next flotilla."
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Crispian Balmer)
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