More on Flotilla fiasco from Netanyahu and from Ehud Barak

Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s testimony before Israel’s non-IDF commission of inquiry into the Flotilla fiasco that Netanyahu yesterday called a “maritime incident” that: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed visibly unprepared for his public testimony before the Turkel Committee yesterday – hesitating over key details, evading questions and finally [later] publishing three statements clarifying and even denying what he had said just hours earlier … [The committee is headed by former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel.] But while his [Netanyahu’s] opening address, in which he enumerated Hamas’ crimes and Israel’s attempts to persuade the Turkish government to stop the flotilla, went smoothly, the subsequent questions – on issues such as the government’s decision-making process, Israel’s intelligence on the flotilla and Netanyahu’s personal responsibility for the incident – showed no evidence of these preparations. He refused to answer six questions entirely, saying he would do so only at a closed hearing.  And he said he didn’t know the answers to many other questions – such as how much humanitarian aid was entering Gaza before the raid.   But the Turkel Committee’s spokesman, Ofer Leffler, said Netanyahu did answer all six questions in his subsequent closed-door testimony, and had promised to respond in writing to those to which he did not know the answers yesterday”.

Ravid wrote that when asked who decided on the raid, “Netanyahu replied that it was the Israel Defense Forces’ decision”…

Ravid’s report on Netanyahu’s testimony continued: “The only orders the government gave the army, he [Netanyahu] said, were ‘to carry out the operation with minimal friction, and as far as possible without harm to life or limb’ … But he admitted that the septet [the seven-minister Security Cabinet] never thoroughly discussed all the ramifications of a military operation; it focused mainly on the diplomatic and public-relations angles … Asked by Turkel whether the government considered nonmilitary options for enforcing the Gaza blockade, Netanyahu said no. “I said the IDF should examine the various options for carrying out the order,” he said … Panel member Miguel Deutsch, a jurist, asked whether the septet heard any assessments on the likelihood of resistance by the Mavi Marmara’s passengers. ‘It arose incidentally, as part of a discussion on the problem of friction, the public-relations problem that could arise’, Netanyahu answered. ‘I left explicit orders that the person responsible for dealing with the flotilla, in all its aspects, was the defense minister [Ehud Barak]’, Netanyahu [who was in Canada at the time of the Israeli naval raid on the Flotilla] replied … Netanyahu told the panel that information about the flotilla and its organizers, the Turkish group IHH, first reached Israel in April. ‘ The goal of the flotilla’s organizers was to foment a well-publicized clash on the high seas with the IDF and generate international pressure to remove the naval blockade’, he said. ‘ That’s the material we had in our hands.  It was in my hands as prime minister, it was in the hands of the defense minister, the foreign minister and the ministers of the septet, and of course it was in the hands of all the professional agencies involved in enforcing the blockade – the IDF and the other security agencies’.  He added that ‘all the ministers of the septet, without exception, expressed the view that despite the expected public-relations damage, the blockade policy must be enforced, because of the matter’s importance to Israel’s security’.”   This account of Netanyahu’s testimony can be read in full here.

After the public testimony, Netanyahu reportedly stayed for another hour of discussion behind closed doors yesterday.

Ravid then wrote in Haaretz about Israeli Defense Minister [and former Prime Minister] Ehud Barak’s testimony today before the Turkel commission, saying that “Unlike Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu, who in his testimony the day before dodged tricky questions by skimping on detail, Barak bombarded the panel with names, dates and facts before launching an evasive maneuver in the form of a pompous oration on the dangers of global terror and a nuclear Iran, helpfully informing the committee that Israel was not North America, or indeed Western Europe. Barak’s testimony showed him far better prepared than Netanyahu. While the prime minister came poorly equipped with the information he need to answer the panel, Barak was armed top the teeth with minute details on every question raised during every cabinet discussion before the raid, and every similar operation preceding it. The defense minister presented Turkel with a briefing so comprehensive that for an hour and a half – an hour longer than Netanyahu’s testimony – the panel could only grimace their frustration as they failed to get a word in edgeways. Eventually, one panel member, Reuven Merhav, managed to force a halt to the tirade. ‘We only got the defense ministry materials yesterday’, he said. ‘You’re talking fast and swamping us with details. I’d like to move on to questions’. Barak responded with a request for another 20 minutes to complete his overview before being cross-examined”.  Ravid’s account of Barak’s testimony can be read in full here.

Ravid reported that he detected signs that Netanyahu had tried to soothe friction with his Defense Minister that arose as a result of the testimony.

The Jerusalem Post reported today that “Barak said as he entered the panel session to testify that he ‘bears all responsibility for what happens in the IDF and full responsibility for military instructions that were given during the flotilla raid’. ‘The decision to stop the flotilla was made after a thorough examination of the options available by the prime minister and the Septet’, Barak stressed. The defense minister said ‘concrete intelligence information was presented during a military briefing’. ‘During the military briefing [IDF Chief of General Staff] Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi reiterated his concerns over the conduct of the world media if force was used to stop the flotilla, however, he said that it wont be easy but we will do it’, Barak commented. Barak said that the orders for the flotilla raid were formulated in accordance with all the relevant government offices”. This JPost account is published here.

The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu commented today that “Israel should take full responsibility for the deaths of the nine Turkish citizens who were killed on the Mavi Marmara, Israel Radio reported. ‘No one else can take the blame for killing civilians in international waters’, Davutoglu was quoted in a Reuters report. ‘Israel has killed civilians, and should take the responsibility for having done so’. Davutoglu’s comments came as a response to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s testimony before the Turkel Committee, in which he said that Turkey did not make any efforts to stop the Mavi Marmara and should be investigated … ‘Turkey has no responsibility in the attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla’, Davutoglu told Reuters”. This was published in the JPost here .

A UN investigation launched by UNSG BAN Ki-Moon after a UN Security Council resolution is getting organized.   BAN said that there is no private agreement not to call Israeli soldiers to testify, but he said that there would be no finding of “individual responsibility” either.

A separate inquiry authorized by the UN Human Rights Council held its inaugural meeting in Geneva today.  A UN press release indicated that “The Mission of high-level experts is chaired by Judge K. Hudson-Phillips, former judge of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and its members are Sir Desmond de Silva, Queen’s Counsel, who was Chief Prosecutor of the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal and Ms. Shanthi Dairiam of Malaysia, a human rights expert and former member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women …  The Chairman of the Mission noted that the Mission’s principal task is to conduct an inquiry into legal issues and possible violations of international humanitarian and human rights law … It is its intention to travel to the region in order to interview persons and gather first-hand information as far as possible.  As requested by the Human Rights Council’s resolution, the Mission will present its report at the next session of the Council in September”.

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