Israel announces several panels to investigate Flotilla tragedy

According to the news announced Monday night:

(1) Major-General [res.] Giora Eiland (an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, or INSS, in Tel Aviv) has been appointed by IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to head an investigative team to “conduct an internal military investigation into the Israel Navy’s deadly raid of a humanitarian aid convoy bound for the Gaza Strip”, as Haaretz reported.  “The team has been charged with studying the failures and lessons of the commando raid on a Turkish-flagged ship last week that left nine activists dead and several people wounded … Eiland and his team will consider internal navy testimonies already gathered in the week since the raid and will open a series of fresh investigations as well”.

(2) Haaretz added that “Hours before the IDF’s announcement, Haaretz learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had decided to appoint a state panel of inquiry to investigate the Israel Navy raid.  A senior source in Jerusalem said the panel would comprise top justices experienced in matters of international and marine law. Two international justices – at least one of them American – would be invited to participate as observers, said the source. In addition to investigating the circumstances surrounding the Israel Navy’s seizure of the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the committee will also be charged with looking into the legality of Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip and its naval blockade

[UPDATE: On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu noted that Israel was still in consultations with the U.S, over the form of the inquiry, but said that “I, the minister of defense, other cabinet ministers and the chief of staff will all testify and supply all the facts. But I have insisted that the only body that will continue to oversee questioning of the commandos will be the IDF. This is how the armies of all our global allies operate”… According to a report in Haaretz, Netanyahu said that the activists on board the Freedom Flotilla should be investigated as well: “We have to establish who stood behind this extremist group, who financed its members, and how knives, axes and other weapons were brought aboard … We also need to ask what large sums of money found aboard the boats were doing there, and for whom they were intended”. This is reported here.

The Haaretz article continued: “The forum of seven [ministers who form Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s selected “security cabinet”] ruled in its decision that the panel would not be allowed to interrogate soldiers or officers who took part in the commando raid, which left nine Turkish activists dead and several people wounded. It was not yet clear whether senior Israel Defense Forces officials – including IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Israel Navy Commander Eliezer ‘Chiney’ Marom – would be investigated by the panel … Despite growing international pressure, Netanyahu had balked at the [United Nations] proposal, claiming Israel has the right to investigate itself …  Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Knesset on Monday, in response to a no-confidence motion submitted by the opposition with regard to the raid, that Israel would examine ways to minimize friction in enforcing its blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza.  ‘We intend to achieve an investigation of the events’, Barak said, without giving details about the format of the probe.  He did say that the state panel would serve in addition to the separate military investigation, and that it would seek to establish whether Israel’s four-year blockade of Gaza and its raid ‘met with the standards of international law.  We will draw lessons at the political level [and] in the security establishment’, Barak said. ‘Since the event we have heard and read mountains of talk and questions and without a doubt in the coming months we shall discuss lessons … perhaps additional ways to achieve the same goals of the blockade, by reducing as far as possible the potential for friction’.”

This Haarez report is posted here.

[According to a sumhmary translation from the Hebrew original to English, compiled and sent around by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), Dan Margalit wrote in the Yisrael Hayom newspaper today commending “the putative choice of former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar to chair a commission of Israeli experts to investigate – inter alia – the international legal aspects of the action and calls on the Government to ask ‘a serious and responsible’ Turk to serve as one of the commission’s foreign observers”.]

The IDF announcement, which I received only today, explains that “The team of experts will present its findings to the IDF Chief of the General Staff by July 4th, 2010. The team is also made up of Brig. Gen. (Res.) Aviv Kohavi, the former head of the Operations Division, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yuval Halamish, former head of the IDF Intelligence and a senior member of the Israeli National Security Council, and Col. (Res.) Ben Tzion Daabul, the former head of the Israel Navy Operational Branch and a senior figure at the defense establishment’s controller’s bureau. A team of experts differs from an investigative team in that it is made up of a group of professionals with expertise on the matter, and were not a part of the operational chain of command during this specific incident. The IDF carries out examinations and investigations of various operations and exercises of this kind routinely and following Operation Cast Lead … Maj. Gen. Eiland (Res.) and his team are to determine the outcomes and lessons learnt from the operation. The team will analyze the various investigations already being carried out within the IDF regarding the operation, looking into the findings found in common … A team of experts was appointed due to the great significance the IDF attributes to reviewing the operation on May 31st, 2010 to enforce the maritime closure of the Gaza Strip”.

The IDF-appointed team headed by Giora Eiland is scheduled to hold its first meeting today.


Meanwhile, the Defense Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, who will be the ultimate judge of the IDF internal probe announced yesterday evening, has already come to his own conclusion about the operation against the Flotilla, telling the Knesset last night that the goal was achieved — and that it was something to be proud of: “The soldiers of the IDF Naval Special Forces acted in an optimal way during the flotilla takeover … I can guarantee you: there is no perfect operation from an intelligence standpoint, which unfolds according to plan. An assessment ahead of time is never perfect. An operation does not unfold like a movie; a military operation is not a reality show. In the flotilla raid, the goal was achieved. Without self-control, courage and professionalism from the IDF soldiers there would have been far more casualties. I salute the IDF soldiers … The Israeli Government, the public, and friends of Israel feel pride about the flotilla takeover”. This is reported here.


Israeli blogger Moshe Yaroni (a pseudonym) has written a post on his blog, Realistic Peace, which he titled Flotilla Fallout, an Early Assessment, saying that: “There aren’t a lot of winners in this affair. Facts tend to be one of the first casualties in these things, and such has been the case again. We can start with that.  Israel’s claim that she’s entitled to take this action is disingenuous at best.  There simply is no legal basis for taking an action such as this one in international waters, far from Israel’s zone of sovereignty.  The idea that a civilian ship intending to run a blockade (one which itself has no basis in law, despite claims to the contrary) can be boarded in international waters before attempting such a run is simply absurd.  Boarding civilian ships in international waters by armed commandoes invites the use of force, and the notion that such commandoes were ‘victims’ of a ‘lynching’ simply turns reality on its head.  Israel is also talking out of both sides of its mouth.  On the one hand, Israel claims that they needed to board these ships in force, with an elite commando unit, because they feared they might be carrying weapons to Hamas, particularly due to the involvement of ‘terrorist supporters’.  On the other, they say they were unprepared for significant resistance and were expecting non-violent tactics.  You can’t have it both ways.  There is a lot of wailing to the effect that the real purpose of these ships was to run the blockade of Gaza and make a media splash, not primarily to deliver the goods they brought.  Well, yes. That’s not a secret, and no one is claiming otherwise … But the facts are not the only losers here.

The Free Gaza Movement

This group (and as I said earlier, I know a number of people involved with it) made a terrible mistake in associating themselves with the Turkish IHH. One of FGM’s strengths was its commitment to non-violence.  Apparently, from what the media has reported and from what I’m told, they themselves stuck to it on this mission and instructed their people to use non-violent resistance.  But the IHH has its own program, and they most certainly are not committed to non-violence.  Again, the media reports and my own sources seem to indicate the IHH was much more prepared to use violent tactics in resisting the Israeli assault.  The fact that it happened that way opened the door for criticism.   It clearly escalated the situation and will forever reflect on FGM.  No matter what they do, it will be impossible for FGM to portray itself as a non-violent group again.   And that was an important tool in their PR kit.


The intense criticism Israel has faced is reflective of the new realities of the world. Operation Cast Lead, in fact, was a turning point. With the exception of the United States, the world is no longer prepared to accept that Israel’s use of overwhelming force against much weaker opponents or even civilians is an act of ‘self-defense’.  The condemnation by virtually the entire western world outside of the US shows how thin this argument has become. And even in the US, defense of Israel is far less universal than it has been in the past.  Israel’s relationship with Turkey, which before Cast Lead was easily Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world, may have been dealt a crippling blow here. It certainly has been badly damaged.  Israel may not mind. The current leadership may well have decided that the growing and already strong influence of Islamist parties in Turkey make it an ally whose friendship may require a price they don’t want to pay. Certainly the treatment of the Turkish ambassador at the beginning of this year by the Israeli Foreign Ministry supports this notion.
Israel may believe it can force the US to choose between itself and Turkey somewhere down the road if relations continue to degenerate, and they may be right about that as well.  But the increasing tension between the two countries obviously impacts Israeli security quite negatively.  Turkey has been Israel’s only military ally in the region, and the two countries have cooperated in many military exercises, as well as in water projects, and in other forms of economic, military and political cooperation.  All of this is in peril.  That’s an effect that many see as very bad for Israel, but perhaps Israel does not. Many of us also believe that the determined effort to eschew diplomatic solutions with Iran and pursue sanctions that are not likely to deter the government but will hurt the Iranian people is a bad idea.  But Israel has pushed hard for it.  This too is now in jeopardy”

This post can be read in full here.

Moshe Yaroni’s ideas about the Turkish relief organization IHH seem to have hardened a bit in recent days, as the Israeli effort to persuade everyone that IHH is a very bad Islamic “terrorist” organization, is in full swing.

A day or so earlier, in another post, entitled Shades of Grey, Yaroni had written that “The Israeli propaganda machine has helped to inflame and actually define the debate over IHH by accusing them of ties with al-Qaeda. As a result, the debate has revolved around whether they’re ‘terrorists’.  The IHH having ties to al-Qaeda was an absurd accusation on its face.  If they did, Turkey would never sanction them on any level and would much more likely be persecuting and arresting them.  Americans and Israelis might think of al-Qaeda as primarily targeting them, but secular Muslim regimes are much more in their crosshairs than we are.  And, indeed, Israel has quietly retracted the accusation.  Thus Israeli propaganda set up the false dichotomy: either the IHH were horrible terrorists or they were pacifistic heroes.  But they’re neither.  On five of six ships, tactics of non-violence were employed.  Apparently, from the reports of those who were on the ships, these tactics were indeed met with violence from the invading Israeli commandoes.  But equally apparently, things did not escalate to the point they did on the Mavi Marmara.  This is not necessarily an indictment. The Israeli forces, putting it kindly, were acting outside of their jurisdiction and were, contrary to the contention of some, also outside their powers under international law.  The passengers on the ship had a right to defend themselves from being boarded, although the specific actions they took may have gone beyond that right—that’s why an investigation is needed. But it does seem that some of Mavi Marmara passengers did eschew non-violence as a tactic.  Again, they may have had a right to do so, but the issue is whether it was wise.  I contended that it will mean the Free Gaza Movement’s legitimate contention that they are a non-violent movement will be a very tough sell from here out.  More broadly, the question is one of a group’s character and orientation.  I’ll start by saying that just because a group or individual supports Hamas ideologically or politically, this does not mean that group or or individual does not have the same rights as anyone else. One’s politics cannot be criminalized in any decent society—that is the very cornerstone of totalitarianism. IHH has every right to their views. But ideologically, IHH is clearly connected with the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas strain (whether there is any practical connection is a separate question, one I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to). This hardly precludes it from being a humanitarian organization, as the MB does a great deal of charitable and humanitarian work.  But there is also an underlying ideology there that I think most liberals and progressives, in the Muslim world as well as in the West, would not agree with.  The same false dichotomy has plagued the West’s dealings with Hamas. They rose to power as a terrorist group, which is also true of parties in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Algeria and, yes, Israel.  The difference with Hamas is their transformation into a political entity is not complete and is opposed not only by the US and Israel, but also by many of the Arab countries, though most are careful about how they talk about this fact in public.  The other difference is that, whether due to a stubbornness of ideology or the circumstances they’re in, they have not foregone the tactics of terrorism.  Those differences are significant, and I am not in favor of accepting Hamas as a legitimate governmental entity.  Nonetheless, Hamas is and has always been very different from al-Qaeda and similar groups.  They have always been a political movement, albeit a violent one, and have long had an agenda and a desire to be part of the politicalprocess.   That’s not the case with the groups of al-Qaeda’s ilk.  But Hamas does hold to an ideology that is reactionary and what would be equated in the West to ‘fundamentalism’.  Their rule in Gaza has been far from clean, with their reneging on a promise not to institute shari’a law in many regards, assaults on civil society (the latest being done under the cover of the flotilla controversy).  None of this justifies the siege on Gaza, much less the invasion of the flotilla ships. And, sure, much of this stems from the Bush Administration’s push for Palestinian elections and their and Israel’s subsequent refusal to live with the result. But that shouldn’t turn a reactionary and repressive ideology into something that those seeking a just, peaceful and practical resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict support.  Nor should it mean that we need to divide everyone into good guys and bad guys. IHH, from all indications, are part of an ideological movement I oppose.   But they were also part of an effort to break a blockade that is collectively punishing innocents in Gaza.  That was a noble effort and Israel, despite its best propaganda efforts have yet to show that the IHH activists on the flotilla were trying to do anything illegal, were involved in any kind of weapons running or were guilty of anything, before their own attack on the ships, of anything at all. I may not like IHH, but they are entitled to the same rights as everyone else.  I don’t think acknowledging that means one needs to embrace the group.  And it’s far past time Israel realize that their distaste for the politics of another group or country does not entitle them to extend their powers under the law or under the norms of international relations. The presence of activists who may (and I stress may as we know nothing of the views of the particular people on the ships from IHH) be quite anti-Israel or may support Hamas doesn’t diminish their rights”.

This is posted here.


But, the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) informs us that the European Jewish Congress is urging that European countries ban the IHH — saying that this will prevent future Flotilla tragedies…

Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the EJC said, according to an EJC press release distributed by the GPO, “Organizations affiliated with and used as front for terrorist groups like Hamas and Al Qaeda have to be outlawed with immediate effect” The EJC, like at least one of the commentors on this blog in recent days, cites a report issued in 2006 by the Danish Institute for International Studies, that claims this: “during the 1990s the IHH maintained links with al-Qaida and a number of ‘global jihad networks’. The report also said that the Turkish government launched an investigation into the IHH which began in December 1997 after receiving intelligence that the IHH had bought automatic weapons from Islamist terrorists. Following the revelation, the Turkish government launched a raid on the organization’s Istanbul offices, where they found weapons, explosives, and instructions for bomb-making. The report added that an examination of documents found at the IHH office indicated that the group was planning to take part in terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Bosnia. According to the study, a French intelligence report found that in the mid-1990s IHH leader B’ulent Yildirim recruited soldiers for jihad activities in a number of Muslim countries and that the IHH transferred money, firearms, and explosives to jihadists in said countries. ‘It is evident that the IHH has been an organization long associated with terror and global Jihad’, Kantor continued. ‘Such organizations need to be immediately exposed so Europeans will not be deceived into believing that they are a legitimate humanitarian organization’.
It became clear that this flotilla did not have a humanitarian goal when its organizers rejected repeated calls to pass their aid through Egypt or Israel, which is done on a daily basis [sic!] and used regularly by the United Nations and Red Cross. The EJC calls upon the European Union and the Council of Europe to initiate a study and establish an advisory list of organisations which have ties to terror to warn Europeans from associating with them”. This “information” is posted here.

This line of argument fails to explain how the Turkish government now manages to have good (though perhaps not perfect) relations with the IHH now, after having previously suppressed their activities. It is clear that the IHH has changed, at least to some extent.

And the Freedom Flotilla partners rejected passing their aid through Israel or Egypt because, as they said, it doesn’t get through that way…

But, it has to be said, that’s what happened in the end — though more of the supplies those ships were carrying (perhaps not all but more) would have gotten through if the Flotilla had accepted the Israeli offers.

Echoing Moshe Yaroni’s argumentation, the fact that the Flotilla did not voluntarily accept the Israeli offers still does not justify the violent assault at sea, nor the deaths, injuries, mistreatment, imprisonment, and deportation of the Flotilla participants.


And, Defense Minister Barak told the Knesset on Monday evening that “The only man in the Gaza Strip who needs humanitarian assistance is Gilad Shalit … The blockade on Gaza is required in order to prevent the launchings of rockets towards Israel. A million and a half people are living in Gaza, and only one of them truly needs humanitarian assistance, only one of them is imprisoned, does not merit to see daylight, his health situation in unknown, and his name is Gilad Shalit. There is neither humanitarian crisis nor starvation in Gaza”.

2 thoughts on “Israel announces several panels to investigate Flotilla tragedy”

  1. Of course Gilad Shalit should be freed — this is a scandal. There is no purpose, no advantage to be gained, and no principle involved in holding him, even if Israel itself has more than 8,000 Palestinians detained, including hundreds of children at any given time.

    It is simply immoral to deny that great hardship exists for well over a million people trapped in Gaza. If the markets are brimming with second quality but expensive goods, there are still over a million people who cannot afford to buy them. There are tens of thousands of people living beside the rubble of their destroyed homes, unable to rebuild them. Raw and only-partially-treated sewage is still flowing into the Mediterranean (the currents travel northward, towards Israel, by the way). And the water acquifer is heavily polluted and inflitrated by sea water, and unhealthy to drink…

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