The Israeli military recognized they sank a boat transporting refugees during the Lebanese Civil War in 1982, allegedly mistaking it for Palestinian forces, killing 25 passengers.
A military report was revealed by the Israeli news outlet Channel 10, which filed a petition to the Supreme Court of Justice to get access to an investigation on the issue, breaking with a 36-year-old blackout of the incident by Israeli occupation forces.
The boat, carrying refugees and foreign workers on board, was near Tripoli’s coast in northern Lebanon when faced by the naval blockade of the Israeli military, imposed after invading Lebanon in June 1982 ostensibly to fight the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The report by Channel 10 says an Israeli Gal-type submarine was taking part in “Operation Dreyfus,” supposedly preventing the Syrian naval forces from approaching the conflict zone. The captain of the submarine, identified as “Maj. A.,” saw the boat trying to escape the area during a brief ceasefire and ordered two torpedos be shot at it, killing 25 of the 54 passengers on board.
During an IDF inquiry 10 years later, the unnamed captained declared he saw about 30 or 40 men wearing similar outfits and no women or children, leading him to think the boat was carrying PLO fighters. After the boat was hit by the torpedoes, the captain kept watching for two hours, “until darkness had completely fallen.”
Neither the names or the nationalities of the deceased were ever revealed.
The IDF’s investigation had concluded that the captain acted on orders and noted that they in other circumstances even avoided firing at boats carrying fighters due the presence of civilians on board, ruling out any war crime or misconduct and discarding legal actions.
But retired Colonel Mike Eldar, who commanded the 11th fleet during the same conflict, disagreed with the report issued by the IDF.
Speaking with Channel 10, Eldar explained he has tried to make the IDF acknowledge its mistake for decades, which he thinks has been covered up to avoid national embarassment.
Eldar explained that submarines have rules for engagement, and that you “don’t just shoot a boat because you suspect maybe there was something,” but a boat on the surface must investigate before engaging in such manner.”
“I turned to the police, the army, the justice department and they all ignored me,” he said. “It’s insulting, personally and nationally.”
The retired colonel pointed to the testimony of “Capt. B,” who declared that at some point in the conflict the mood of the turned from refraining from firing into “a desire to attack and fire at any cost,” and he believed they should have not fire without a proper identification.
Channel 10 reported that many senior navy officers refused to be interviewed over the incident and, according to Eldar, several others were forbidden from testifying at the IDF inquiry.
Israel invaded Lebanon for the second time in 1982 in the context of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), getting involved with an intricate complex of alliances and enmities, fighting hand-in-hand with fascist militias against Palestinian and other forces installed in the country.