IDF absolved of blame in deaths of naval commandos in Lebanon

JERUSALEM — Twelve Israeli naval commandos killed in a recent failed raid into Lebanon were caught in an ambush and were not the victims of an intelligence failure, according to an official commission probing the raid.

The 52-day internal IDF probe by the Israel Defense Force was conducted by Maj. Gen. Gaby Ophir and Brig. Gen. Ran Galinka, a former head of the naval commando unit.

According to the inquiry, the 16-member force led by Cmdr. Yossi Kurakin walked into a random ambush. The IDF has not clearly identified which militia in Lebanon was to blame. Both Hezbollah and Amal have claimed responsibility.

Ophir noted that a number of actions, carried out both by intelligence officers and the commando squad itself, were not done entirely according to procedure. But Ophir stressed repeatedly that none of the deficiencies had any direct bearing on the failure.

"We believe that this was an incidental ambush which was set up in the field by the terrorist groups out of fear of an IDF operation and not on the basis of concrete information," Ophir said Monday.

The commandos were killed in a Sept. 5 raid that resulted in the IDF's heaviest casualty count in more than 12 years in a single military operation.

The report was presented to the IDF chief of staff, the defense minister and the families of the commandos.

There had been speculation in the Israeli media that the botched raid was the result of an intelligence failure or a leak to Lebanese guerrillas.

The panel said that there is a very low probability that an intelligence leak occurred, but that the possibility could not be ruled out. Ophir said it is unlikely that the force was detected as it approached its target.

He indicated that military intelligence had apparently mistakenly assessed that there was a low probability that terrorists would plant bombs so deep inside their territory.

Ophir said that one of the commando squad's mistakes was in not crossing a road in accordance with IDF procedure. Also, at the time of the explosion, the force was more concentrated in one spot than it should have been.

The committee also noted a lack of organization in evacuating the wounded, including the fact that the rescue helicopter was called in before the force was prepared to board and ended up staying on the ground for 24 minutes, exposed to enemy fire.

Ophir also noted it was not until about three hours later that the group realized one soldier had been left behind.

Some of the dead commandos' relatives were quoted as saying that they remained unconvinced by the report's conclusions.

"The intelligence question remains open, even after the report," said Brig.-Gen. Shlomo Ilya, the uncle of one of the victims. He added that "due to security considerations, the report did not contain much that the family did not already know."