IDF Preliminary Investigation in Aid Worker Deaths Shows a Cascade of Errors and Confusion

The Israel Defense Forces on Friday released a preliminary investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the destruction of a World Community Kitchen convoy and the deaths of seven aid workers. The IDF cashiered two officers and reprimanded several more, but even this will not be enough to tamp down the international outrage.

As always, in cases like this, the best way to understand events is visually. This is a map prepared by IDF investigators.

The WCK volunteers left an IDF jetty at 2200 on April 1. The staff were in three passenger vehicles, traveling with an unidentified number of trucks loaded with food. This is Implementation (the white dot) Point 1 on the map.

The departure time and route had been coordinated between WCK and the IDF, but it is unclear if that coordination filtered down to the people making the kill/no-kill decision.

Things begin to go pear-shaped at Implementation Point 2. That point marks what is essentially the line of contact between the IDF and Hamas. At this point, at least one armed man climbed onto the aid trucks.

Let’s stop here for a moment. There appears to be an agreement between the IDF and Hamas that Hamas fighters can ride shotgun on aid trucks to safeguard the supplies. If you recall, when Biden announced the construction of a temporary port in Gaza, I pointed out that issue.

Seth Frantzman makes this observation on “X” or whatever the hell Elon Musk is calling it this week.

The Hamas gunman fired shots into the air as he climbed into one of the aid trucks.

According to the report, the cars with the aid trucks had distinctive markings on the roof, but the drone operators could not see those. Further confusing the matter was the vehicles were Toyota pickups, which the IDF said were associated with Hamas and rarely used by aid organizations. Without visible WCK markings and unaware of the coordination for the WCK convoy to move, the drone operator went straight to the assumption that Hamas had taken over the aid convoy. That working assumption governed all subsequent actions.

As the convoy proceeded, other vehicles joined and left the convoy, making an accurate assessment more difficult. However, through all of this, the working assumption was that the food aid convoy had been hijacked. The drone operator refrained from attacking the convoy during this time.

At Implementation Point 3, the three vehicles containing WCK staff split off from the convoy. Some of the aid trucks go into a warehouse, further confusing the situation. The WCK vehicles and aid trucks continue to Implementation Point 4. From there, the WCK vehicles head to the coast road. 

As the errors were cascading, the IDF tried to contact the WCK vehicles and WCK watch officers.

Having been shut down while running a range at Grafenwoehr for missing a communications check, I can tell you how vital it is that if you are in a hostile area and have a radio, you listen to it. At least one of the WCK staffers was a military veteran. Either it was a major breach of basic safety protocol or, more likely, given their experience, something happened to their communications gear. 

Having designated the three vehicles as Hamas, the kill chain went to work. The first aid vehicle is hit three minutes after leaving the warehouse (Implementation Point 5).

The aid workers bail out of the stricken vehicle and pack into the other two. Two minutes later, the next vehicle was hit. The scene repeated itself. Surviving passengers move to the remaining vehicle. Two minutes after the second vehicle was hit, the third vehicle was also smoked. All seven aid workers were killed.

The IDF identified three critical errors. The official coordination between WCK and the IDF never made it down to the shooters. The convoy was labeled as being under Hamas control based on seeing one Hamas fighter despite, and here I’m adding my two cents, it being known that Hamas “police” guarded the aid trucks. Finally, the shooting continued until all three vehicles were destroyed.

The IDF also took action against several officers. Two officers were dismissed from the service: the brigade fire support commander (a major) and the brigade chief of staff (a reserve colonel). The brigade commander and the commander of the 162nd Division commander received reprimands. The IDF Chief of Staff also formally reprimanded the commander of the Southern Command, a general, for his overall responsibility in the incident.

No one thinks this is the end of the affair. The WCK is demanding an “independent” commission, and I can’t imagine the usual suspects in Washington won’t be hopping on that train.

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