A Canadian military official was told to expect Israeli troops on board a specially chartered flight from Athens, Greece to Tel Aviv, Israel days after Israel began its brutal war on Gaza last October, in what the Department of National Defence (DND) insists was a typographical error.

An email obtained by The Maple from DND through an access to information request shows that the official was told to be prepared for “70+ IDF and critical professional ie doctors etc to be at the airport” for a flight from Athens back to Israel on board a Canadian CC-150 Polaris. “IDF” is the official acronym for Israel’s armed forces.

The email was sent on Oct. 12, 2023 by Capt. André Boisjoli, of the regional Canadian Defence Attaché, to Col. Ben Irvine of the J3 Expeditionary Canadian Joint Operations Command. The email was also copied to Walter Bernyck, a counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Athens.

DND told The Maple in an emailed statement last week that the apparent instruction to expect Israeli troops was made in error.

“No IDF personnel were transported,” said DND spokesperson Kened Sadiku. “The correspondence in question was subject to a typo, and was intended to say ‘Expect 70+ ISR and critical professional ie doctors etc to be at the airport in the morning.’” “ISR” is a ministry shorthand for “Israel” or “Israeli.”

In the other correspondence obtained by The Maple in the ATIP package, no correction or acknowledgement of the alleged error was made, and no official questioned the instruction to expect Israeli troops on board the Canadian flight.

The military’s transportation of Israeli citizens was part of a larger cycle of 19 flights, dubbed “Operation ION,” between Athens and Tel Aviv. The operation also saw the Canadian military evacuate Canadian citizens and other “entitled persons” who had been unable to book commercial flights out of Israel following the Hamas-led attacks of October 7.

It was announced at the time that some of the flights to Tel Aviv included Israeli citizens at the request of the Israeli government, but details about who those individuals were remained murky.

In a separate statement, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) offered a slightly different response to questions from The Maple about the supposedly erroneous instruction for the Canadian military official to expect Israeli troops.

GAC spokesperson James Emmanuel Wanki said the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) transported “a total of 36 Israelis inbound over the 17 inbound flights” but insisted that “none of those Israelis were identified as military personnel [emphasis added].”

“The Embassy of Israel would identify selected [passengers], control documentation and screen its nationals travelling into their country.”

The Maple followed up asking if the military service status of any of the Israeli passengers was information that Canada would have expected Israel to disclose, and whether “military personnel” included Israeli military reservists. GAC said: “We have nothing further to add to our previous response.”

GAC’s recent response echoed a similar statement that it issued to The Maple back in November. That statement, however, distinguished between reservists and “military personnel.”

Spokesperson Pierre Cuguen said none of the 36 Israelis on board the flights “were explicitly reservists or military personnel [emphasis added in both cases].”

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“Canada’s much bigger role right now is providing diplomatic cover for Israel.”

At an October 13 news conference, CAF Vice Admiral Bob Auchterlonie said that CAF had at that point flown two flights sending 28 Israelis from Athens to Tel Aviv “at the request of the State of Israel.”

“I don’t have the details, the information on who they were. But it was a request from the state of Israel, which we got through the [sic] Global Affairs Canada,” Auchterlonie added. “We certainly actioned that.”

The supposedly erroneous instruction to expect Israeli soldiers on board one of the flights occurred when Israeli forces had launched its massive bombardment of Gaza, with the besieged enclave’s hospitals already pushed to “breaking point” and the death toll standing at more than 1,500. Human Rights Watch had published a report on October 12 warning that Israel had used white phosphorus on civilian areas in Gaza and Lebanon.

Before the flights began taking off on October 12, Israel had attracted widespread allegations of embarking on a genocidal campaign in Gaza. On October 9, Israel’s war minister, Yoav Gallant, ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, and said Israel was fighting against “human animals.”

The International Criminal Court this month announced it was seeking an arrest warrant for Gallant, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leaders, for alleged war crimes.

On October 13, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog suggested that civilians in Gaza were legitimate military targets. The same day, Israeli professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University Raz Segal published an essay calling Israel’s campaign a “textbook case” of genocide.

The Canadian military’s flights between Athens and Tel Aviv were initially focused on evacuating “Canadian entitled persons,” but changed to include foreign nationals.

On October 12, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre emailed Defence Minister Bill Blair informing him that he predicted a request for the mission’s mandate to be “modified to include the movement of foreign nationals.”

“This will make it possible for us to flow Israeli citizens and others designated by GAC into Israel from Athens,” Eyre explained. Parts of the email listing further details about the mission and the expected passengers were redacted in the documents released by DND to The Maple.

Blair’s office promptly approved the proposed changes. The same day, Col. Mark Sheppard, deputy director of current operations, confirmed “we should now have the authorities for everything we are about to execute — including foreign national movements and in transit medical care if required.”

Alex Cosh is the news editor of The Maple.