The Israeli apology to Turkey – two [mirror-image + nearly-identical] texts

In fact, this was clearly all worked out well in advance — the long-awaited but still not expected apology, by Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to the Turkish people via his counterpart, Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, for the deaths of nine Turkish men.

The brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama [and, according to the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was instrumental in the process, which Davutoglu said was “interesting”…]

The Turkish Government has apparently produced two [mirror-image and nearly-identical] texts, in English and in Turkish, here, which are also reproduced below:
Continue reading The Israeli apology to Turkey – two [mirror-image + nearly-identical] texts

What Obama said to get Netanyahu to apologize to Turkey for Mavi Marmara "operational errors"

We really don’t know, yet, what U.S. President Barack Obama said, or did, to get Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to offer, finally, an apology to Turkey for the deaths of 9 Turkish men [one of them a 19-year-old Turkish-American high school student]… but the fact that one of the dead was a 19-year-old American high school student Furkan Dogan may have been part of Obama’s leverage.

Israel has needed to resolve this situation, in which its apology was required by clear and repeated Turkish demands, for a long time.

There were hints that a breakthrough might be coming, but nothing solid until last night’s surprise announcement.

Obama’s insistence offered Netanyahu a relatively “face-saving” way to do it. An statement issued by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said that Netanyahu told the Turkish Prime Minister that “the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional“. UPDATE: The Israeli Government Press Office has just sent around, by email, a new version, which says Netanyahu “made clear that the tragic outcome of the Mavi Marmara incident was not intended by Israel and that Israel regrets the loss of human life and injury“.

Haaretz reported here that “During the conversation, Netanyahu made it clear that ‘the tragic consequences of the Mavi Marmara flotilla were unintentional, and Israel regrets any injury or loss of life’.”

The Israeli statement also said, with notable pride about its own investigation into the “maritime incident”, that “In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation“.
[UPDATE: The new version sent around by the Israeli GPO is almost identical to the original, above, but the word “nonliability” has been added.  It now reads as follows: “In light of Israel’s investigation into the incident which pointed to a number of operational mistakes, the Prime Minister expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation/nonliability”.]

Turkish and Israeli diplomats engaged in months of negotiations about the wording of the apology itself and the compensation Israel would offer. Israel insisted on limiting the blame to “operational errors”.

There was, reportedly, a three-way phone call between Obama, Netanyahu, and Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, made from a portable trailer set up on the runway at Ben Gurion Airport. Israeli journalists said it was a 30-minute conversation. The New York Times reported here that the call lasted 10 minutes.

The New York Times reported that “senior Turkish government officials said: ‘The Israeli prime minister, in a phone call that lasted 10 minutes, apologized to the Turkish nation for all operational mistakes evident in an investigation that led to human loses, agreed to offer compensation’.”

Obama announced the result either just before or just after Air Force One was in the air, taking off from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport en route to Amman.

A short while later, a statement published by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, and sent by email from the Government Press Office [GPO], said:
“…The Prime Minister expressed regret over the deterioration in bilateral relations and noted his commitment to working out the disagreements in order to advance peace and regional stability. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he saw Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent interview in a Danish newspaper and expressed his appreciation for the latter’s remarks. The Prime Minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life. In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation”.

Turkish officials confirmed that Erdogan had, “on behalf of Turkey”, accepted the apology proferred by Netanyahu.

UPDATE: In the new version sent around by the Israeli GPO, the following is omitted: The Israeli statement claimed that “The two men agreed to restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against IDF soldiers”.

The revised Israeli statement is now posted on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s website, here

The Times of Israel reported here that Erdogan said, shortly after the announcement of the apology + its acceptance, that “it was too early to cancel legal steps against Israeli soldiers who took part in the raid on the Mavi Mamara”.

As the Times of Israel noted, “four IDF generals stand accused of war crimes over the incident. The indictment, prepared last summer, sought ten aggravated life sentences for each officer ostensibly involved in the 2010 raid — including former chief of the IDF General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former head of military intelligence Amos Yadlin”.

The Times of Israel added that, according to the Hurriyet daily, Erdogan also said the exchange of ambassadors between Israel and Turkey would not take place immediately…Erdogan said that, in the past, Israel had ‘expressed regret several times, refusing to offer a formal apology’ over the killings of nine Turkish citizens of the Marmara in 2010 — the incident that led to the freezing of Israeli-Turkish ties. However, Ankara had ‘insisted on an apology’, he said. That apology had finally been delivered by Netanyahu on Friday, he said. ‘All our demands have now been met with that apology which was offered the way we wanted’.”

The Times of Israel also reported, in the same story, that “Erdogan also announced plans to visit Gaza, possibly next month. Hamas’s Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, calling Netanyahu’s apology ‘a diplomatic victory for Ankara’, confirmed Erdogan would visit ‘in the near future’, and said this trip would mark ‘a significant step to ending the political and economic blockade’ of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip”. According to this report, Erdogan may visit both Gaza and the West Bank in April, “in the context of a general effort to contribute to the resolution process”, Erdogan is quoted as saying.

Other Hamas sources were less enthusiastic about the apology, however.

The Israeli statement said that “Prime Minister Netanyahu also noted that Israel has already lifted several restrictions on the movement of civilians and goods to all of the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and added that this will continue as long as the quiet is maintained”.

But, this rang a bit hollow a day after four rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza, with two hitting Israeli areas, after which the Israeli Defense Forces announced that they were reinstating crippling restrictions on Gaza’s fishermen that were lifted in a cease-fire agreement with Hamas brokered by Egypt after Operation Pillar of Clouds last November.

In a separate but related development, Hamas “complained to Egypt Friday after Israel suspended part of a Cairo-brokered truce agreement by halving Palestinian access to fishing waters in response to a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip”. This is reported here. It was also reported, in another story, here, that “Gaza’s Hamas rulers have arrested two Salafist militants, sources close to the Palestinian Islamist hardliners said Friday, after a Salafist group claimed a rocket attack on Israel. A coalition of Salafist groups in Gaza, which oppose the Hamas regime, claimed responsibility for the firing of two rockets at southern Israel on Thursday while US President Barack Obama was visiting…”

Reuters reported here that “Ankara expelled Israel’s ambassador and froze military cooperation after a UN report into the Mavi Marmara incident, released in September 2011, largely exonerated the Jewish state. Israel had previously balked at apologizing to the Turks, saying this would be tantamount to admitting moral culpability and would invite lawsuits against its troops. Voicing until now only ‘regret’ over the Mavi Marmara incident, Israel has offered to pay into what it called a ‘humanitarian fund’ through which casualties and their relatives could be compensated. A source in Netanyahu’s office said opening a new chapter with Turkey ‘can be very, very important for the future, regarding what happens with Syria but not just what happens with Syria’.”

UPDATE TWO: Laura Rozen wrote on Al-Monitor here that “Once close Israeli-Turkish ties have been deeply strained since Israel’s 2008 Cast Lead operation against Hamas, and more broadly as Erdogan’s ruling Islamist Justice and Peace (AKP) party has moved against the country’s once dominant secular military commanders. Military ties formed the backbone of the Turkish-Israeli alliance at its height, said Dan Arbell, a former Israeli diplomat studying the relationship as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Instition. Even the restoration of formal diplomatic ties now–as well as brisk economic trade–is not likely to return Israel and Turkey to the level of rapport they enjoyed in the past, given the reduced role the Turkish military plays in the country under Erdogan and the AKP, he said. ‘This begins a process of normalization, but I do not see it bringing the countries back to the level of relations they had between them in the 1990s’, Arbell, Israel’s former Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, told Al-Monitor in an interview Friday, adding that there has been, however, a growing “’convergence of interests’ between Ankara and Jerusalem, including on the Syria conflict and Iran. Though Turkish-Israeli reconciliation was certain to be on the agenda for discussion during Obama’s conversations in Israel this week, Arbell said he was pleasantly surprised at the speed of the diplomatic breakthrough”.

The Haaretz report noted that “Over the past few months, Israel and Turkey have been trying to reach an agreement over the wording of an apology, in an attempt to end the bilateral crisis. Just a few weeks ago, Turkey’s Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Feridun Sinirlio?lu met in Rome with Israel’s National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror and envoy Joseph Ciechanover. But during this meeting the parties failed to reach a magic formula to bring the crisis to an end. Part of the reason the reconciliation talks between Turkey and Israel encountered difficulties was because of Erdogan’s inflammatory comments a few weeks ago. During a United Nations Conference in Vienna, Erdogan called Zionism a ‘crime against humanity’, and compared it to fascism. Erdogan’s comments caused great anger in both Jerusalem and Washington”.

Perhaps Erdogan said something placatory today, too.

[Israel’s former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, now chairman of the Knesset Foreign Relations + Defense Committee, said that unless Erdogan apologized as well, in today’s phone call, for his “crime against humanity” accusation, Israel’s dignity would be compromised”. Brent Sasley wrote here a blog post today saying that “It’s hard to avoid noticing that the apology was only realized with Avigdor Lieberman gone from the Foreign Ministry. Blustering and belligerent, Lieberman was never the right choice for the position. If Bibi’s apology can warm his relationship with Obama, reset the relationship with Turkey, and lead to the inclusion rather than exclusion of Israel in global and regional forums, conferences, and exercises, then it’s hard to argue bringing Lieberman back is a good thing. In fact, the obvious conclusion is the opposite one: Israel can accomplish much with Foreign Minister who’s pragmatic and has a broader sense of Israel’s position in the world”.]

Now, back to the opening question: what did Obama do to get Netanyahu to take this step?  Here’s one strange theory, from The Washington Institute’s Robert Satloff: “It is no coincidence that Netanyahu spoke by phone with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan just as President Obama was departing Israel for Jordan, opening the door to a mutual return of ambassadors. Mending ties between the two leaders has long been a U.S. objective. The fact that Obama delivered a highly symbolic (if indirect) rebuke to Erdogan by visiting the tomb of Theodor Herzl — implicitly endorsing the ideology that the Turkish leader recently called a “crime against humanity” — almost certainly gave cover for Netanyahu to reach out to Ankara”... This is posted here.

The Apology – more background from Israeli officials via Turkish media

Israel’s colorfully-spoken Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor has kindly explained, to representatives of the Turkish media, some of the problems involved in Israel’s failure to apologize [so far] for the deaths of nine Turkish men [including a 19-year-old Turkish American high school student] during the ill-prepared and ill-conceived boarding of the 600-passenger Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010 by a few helicopter-borne Israeli commandos [who apparently expected to be instantly obeyed].

The Turkish Hurrieyet Daily News reports today that Palmor said negotiations with Turkey involved discussions including the word “apology”. “Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, also told a group of Turkish journalists in Jerusalem earlier this week that the deal was put on hold at the very last minute before being voted on by the Israeli Cabinet. This was due to ‘additional conditions’ set by senior Turkish government officials”. This is reported here.

As it turns out from a reading of this Hurriyet report, the “additional conditions” were not part of the discussions or negotiations, but rather were entirely separate. It appears that the linkage was made by Israel.

Hurriyet reports that “the agreement had lost its credibility before it was put to a vote by the Israeli Cabinet, Palmor said, due to the additional conditions later publicly set by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. ‘While it was being discussed by the Israeli Cabinet, Mr. Erdo?an made a statement in which he called on Israel to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Later, a high-ranking Turkish official, it may have been Mr. Erdo?an again, said the government would not pursue prosecution of the Israeli soldiers involved in the raid, but that they could not give guarantees for other parties. Those were additional conditions’, Palmor said. Following these statements, the deal was shelved, Palmor said”.

So, what was the “apology” going to be?

According to this account in Hurriyet, Palmor “revealed the long-discussed wording of the planned deal on the issue: ‘If possible operational mistakes led to unintentional damage and unintentional loss of life, then Israel apologizes’. The spokesperson also underlined the fact that it was an agreement that ‘included an “if”,’ and it was not intended to state as a fact that something wrong had happened as a direct result of Israeli policy”.

This Turkish newpaper’s report on Palmor’s briefing adds that “The planned agreement, which was negotiated by Turkish and Israeli diplomats in Geneva, had many layers, said Palmor. ‘According to the plan, Israel was supposed to announce an agreed formula that would be satisfactory for both sides, to agree with the [UN’s] Palmer Report before it was published, and to agree to pay compensation to the families of victims through a joint Turkish-Israeli fund’, he said … According to the spokesperson, Turkey, in return, agreed to restore diplomatic ties to their previous level, to declare it had no claims left on the issue, and to announce it would not pursue the prosecution of the Israeli soldiers who were involved in the raid. But, following the statements from Turkey, the deal was never submitted to the Israeli Cabinet for voting, Palmor said”.

The Mavi Marmara was part of a “Freedom Flotilla” of some six boats, with large unofficial Turkish participation headed by the IHH humanitarian aid organization, headed to “break the siege” on Gaza — over a year after Israel had declared a formal maritime blockade of Gaza’s maritime space.

Israeli think-tanks and Israeli officials warned many times in advance of the sailing of the Freedom Flotilla that they viewed it as a “terrorist” threat.

Charm offensive? Israeli PM Netanyahu gives interview to journalists from three Turkish newspapers

As the regional situation continues to be extremely tense, Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu today met with journalists from three Turkish newspapers: Hurriyet, Zaman and HaberTurk. Earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met the three journalists.

It was a surprise.

On Twitter, Zaman journalist @MahirZeynalov that his newpaper’s correspondent reported that “the Turkish flag was displayed during the interview, in a hall where Israeli cabinet meets”.

Hours later, the Israeli media was almost unanimously reporting that Israel was on the verge of reestablishing relations with Turkey.

But, it was Turkey who lowered the level of its relations with Israel, because Israel has not apologized for the deaths of nine men aboard the Mavi Marmara when it was boarded by Israeli commandos at the end of May 2010.

Nine Turkish men, including one Turkish-American high school student, were killed during an Israeli commando boarding of the 600-passenger Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the Eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010. The Mavi Marmara was en route to Gaza as part of a Freedom Flotilla that intended to “break the siege on Gaza”, almost 1.5 years after Israel declared a formal naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Turkey has continued to insist that Israel must apologize for the deaths, and must also offer compensation to the families of the men who were killed during the botched boarding.

It is not yet known what effort Netanyahu or Lieberman might have made, during their separate meetings with the three Turkish journalists, in the direction of meeting either or Turkey’s demands.

But, apparently no apology was offered.

UPDATE: Today’s Zaman has reported here that “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained that Turkey and Israel are looking for ways to normalize political relations, saying, ‘We want to restore relations with Turkey’. As the crisis in Syria aggravates and instability in the region looms, Israel has started to send warm messages, the first of which came from Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week, to Turkey in an effort to mend significantly damaged diplomatic relations. Relations between the two countries have been strained since 2010, when Israeli troops killed nine civilians of Turkish origin in cold blood during a raid of the Mavi Marmara vessel in international waters as it headed to the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid supplies”.

Today’s Zaman also reported that “As another indication of importance Israel attaches to restoring political relations with Turkey, Netanyahu received Turkish journalists in the same room where Israel’s National Security Cabinet meets. And in the back, behind Netanyahu both Israeli and Turkish flags stood”. The newspaper politely avoided making any comparison with Israel Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s deliberate humiliation of Turkey’s Ambassador to Israel by summoning Israeli media to the Foreign Ministry and then explaining, in Hebrew, while the Turkish diplomat was in the room, that the chair on which he had been offered a seat was lower than the chair Ayalon was using.

    UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post reported here that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Monday with a delegation of eight senior Turkish print journalists the Foreign Ministry brought to Israel in an attempt to “break the ice” with Turkey’s public. The delegation, representing such leading Turkish newspapers as Hurriyet, Zaman and Haber Turk, met with Netanyahu a day after meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman”. According to the JPost eport, the encounter was organized by Israel’s reduced embassy in Turkey; there were 8 Turkish journalists invited; and it was the first time in more than two years that Turkish journalists have met with Israel’s “senior leadership”. The JPost reported that an Israeli “diplomatic official said the delegation was invited because Israel was interested in reaching out to the Turkish public and letting it know that relations between the two countries were important to Jerusalem”.

Today’s Zaman noted, in its report, that “A high-level Israeli official’s comment on the present situation in the region was revealing as to why Israel finds it necessary to mend ties with Turkey: ‘Now that the circumstances and interests have changed. We need to get positioned accordingly’.”

There were months of Israeli-Turkish negotiations about an apology, which fell apart.

We reported a year ago, here that Özdem Sanberk, described as “one of Turkey’s most experienced diplomats” and Turkey’s representative to the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General, which came up with the UN’s Palmer Report, said in an interview published on 19 July 2011 in Today’s Zaman that “obviously we cannot be expected to accept nine deaths”.

Sanberk gave the interview after a week of closed-door negotiations in New York at the beginning of July 2011. The paper added that “The report’s publication has been further delayed until the end of July in a [further] attempt to give Turkey and Israel a chance to resolve their differences”.

In fact, as the negotiations over an apology continued, the publication of the UN Report was delayed until it was actually leaked, in an precipitous action, by the New York Times on 1 September.

Sanberk noted last July that in the negotiations over an apology Israel “repeatedly expressed their demand for understanding in the face of their serious security problems, and expect the same understanding from Turkey, which they see as a friend”.

The situation appears to be the same today.

Sanberk also expressed disagreement with the then-draft conclusions of the UN Palmer Commission’s Report on the grounds of whether or not Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal and legtimate, or not — because “we know that the Israeli blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment as it includes civilians, women and children who bear no responsibility for the perceived threat to Israel”. Sanberk also said that “even though these details are not clearly stated in the [UN] panel’s report, another UN body, the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission in Geneva, had said last October that Israel’s military violated international law during the raid”.

Now, Today’s Zaman has just reported that: “According to the high-level official, the two countries have been trying to find a magical formula to mend the bilateral ties, but as of yet the efforts remain fruitless. Noting that they are open to proposals from third parties regarding the magical formula, ‘The formula needs to not only appeal to both countries but it should also not harm the dignity of either country’, the official remarked. The Israeli official repeated their standard version of the Mavi Marmara incident, maintaining that the incident also led to trauma in Israel, but he is of the opinion that it is important for the two countries to get over the trauma at this point”.

However, on 1 September 2011 there was an under-reported apology of sorts offered, in what was presented as an unofficial way — but it didn’t do the job, As we reported at the time, here, the former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz [Haloutz] told journalists at a hastily-organized briefing for journalists at the Misheknot Shaananim center in Jerusalem: “Yes, we are sorry people were killed during the operation, very sorry”.

Was that an attempt at satisfying Turkey’s requirement of an apology?

The timing and purpose of the press briefing that day would otherwise seem…vague. It was only afterwards that journalists there realized the New York Times was about to publish the leaked UN Palmer report. But Israeli officials knew in advance.

Halutz appeared at the press briefing in the company of a professional Public Relations man [who also had a military rank].

But, in response to a question about whether it was an apology, Halutz seemed to back off a bit, qualifying his words: “I believe there were some innocent ones among those nine, but…that mission was not so innocent … The word apology is too strong…because Israel was doing a legal action to prevent [a violation] of the siege we imposed”.

Halutz added: “Our soldiers were under a live threat”.

Halutz was IDF Chief of Staff from 2005-2007, and was previously commander of the Israeli Air Force, and said he had made many trips to Turkey in his professional capacity. But, he is now retired from active military service, having been severely criticized for Israel’s military performance during the Second Lebanon War. After retirement, he dabbled briefly in business before joining, in early 2011, the opposition Kadima party, which he has since left.

Halutz spoke in the briefing about his close ties with his counterparts in the Turkish military during his period as ID Chief of Staff.

But, as Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal notes, in Israel Halutz is remembered for other reasons: “When asked what he feels when he drops a multi-ton bomb on a Palestinian building in Gaza [after this powerful explosion killed more than a dozen members of a family in an effort to eliminate one man], his response was ‘a bump in my plane’. For the general public, he’s known for having found the time on the morning of the second Lebanon War to protect his savings in his bank account, based on his advance knowledge of what was about to happen. His historic role is having replaced Ya’alon as chief of staff at the request of Sharon, because Ya’alon had misgivings about the disengagement from Gaza, while Halutz was ready to carry it out”…

Schenker added that though Halutz was “one of the trio of leaders, together with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz who are perceived in Israel to be responsible for ‘the failure’ of the Second Lebanon War, he was the first to pay the price with his position — particularly since he was the only one of the three considered to have security expertise”.

The way that the Halutz press conference was so hastily arranged last 1 September suggests something and somebody other than Halutz by himself was behind it. The timing — just hours before an early version of the UN Palmer report on the Mavi Marmara boarding was leaked to the New York Times — suggests it was a deliberate attempt either at damage control or at altering the course of reaction. Halutz was accompanied by a PR escort [who was also a serving IDF officer, though not in uniform in that PR function]. And, an official of Dore Gold’s Jerusalem Center for Policy Affairs was also present, unusually — and this person appeared to be functioning in that event as a journalist, and asked a question that led to Halutz saying: “We’re sorry, we’re very sorry”.

Halutz himself, who chain-smoked nervously after the briefing, then raced all the way up several flights of steep stone steps, taking two at a time, with his PR escort bounding up a few steps behind Halutz.

The UN report, released a few hours later, made pointed criticism about the use of force, and resistance, during the Israeli naval interception — which, the report notes, took place 72 nautical miles off the coast, well outside of Israeli territorial waters [or Gaza’s maritime space]:

“Israel´s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable … Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance…[and]…The operation should have reassessed its options when the resistance to the initial boarding attempt became apparent…”
“Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded…”
“The loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces during the take-over of the Mavi Marmara was unacceptable. Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces. No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths. Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel…”

In its report on the meeting with Netanyahu yesterday, Today’s Zaman noted that “Deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel, which earlier enjoyed rather good relations at all levels, started at the end of 2008 when Israel, which was on the verge of concluding a peace agreement with Syria, with Turkey acting as the mediator, suddenly bombarded the Gaza Strip in a devastating assault, eliminating all hopes for peace with Syria. Turkey probably felt deceived at the time and had the impression that its efforts to bring about peace were not given due respect by Israel. Then came the Davos summit in Switzerland in January 2009, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke out against Shimon Peres for bombarding Gaza and walked out of the forum. Then in May 2010 came the raid by Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara that led to the death of nine Turkish civilians”.

[It should be noted that Israel was raising alarms about the Freedom Flotilla being a “terrorist” threat against Israel’s interests — and its blockade of Gaza — for months before the Flotilla set sail for Gaza, before the Israeli commandos descended from hovering helicopters onto the decks of the Mavi Marmara. Nine Turkish men were then killed… which Turkish officials have said cannot be forgotten.]

IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazai also takes responsibility for Flotilla Fiasco

According to a report in Haaretz, the IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi testified Wednesday, at the Turkel Commission investigating the “maritime incident” which occurred when Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara and five other ships sailing toward Gaza in a “Freedom Flotilla” on 31 May, that “the raid quickly became ‘chaotic’, and the soldiers had no choice but to ‘continue with the plan’ … From the moment the operation began, it was clear that the circumstances were unprecedented’, he said, adding that as commander he took full responsibility for the troops’ actions”.

Ashkenazi is the third high-ranking Israeli official to take responsibility for the Flotilla fiasco.  Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak also said the responsibility was theirs.

Haaretz also reported that “despite initial reports that military personnel would not testify before the Turkel committee, Ashkenazi has authorized Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit to testify before the panel.  Ashkenazi also approved the questioning of General (Res.) Giora Eiland, who headed the IDF’s internal inquiry into the deadly raid”.  This is reported in Haaretz here.

Continue reading IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazai also takes responsibility for Flotilla Fiasco

Investigation: As it happened – "IHH statement as Israeli naval warships approached the Mavi Marmara

This statement, an IHH communication dated 31 May, is posted [still] on the IHH website.

It is entitled: “Crisis Furthers In the Mediterranean, Turkish Government Expected To Intervene”, and is posted here.

Here is the sub-title:
“Israeli assault boats are harassing the ships of the Freedom Flotilla, which are carrying humanitarian aid to Palestine. 6 ships are persistently followed by Israeli warships despite being in international waters”.

Here is the text:
“Helicopters and unmanned aircrafts are tracking the ships as well. Israeli officials are calling the Captain of Mavi Marmara and they are constantly harassing the ships. The Captain of Mavi Marmara refused to change the route of the ship. Meanwhile 578 passengers onboard Mavi Marmara have been given life jackets. Passengers were also provided with gas masks. The ships are on alert now. Israel can carry out a possible operation any minute now. They are expected to intercept the ships.

“The activists onboard are trying to make their voices heard through live broadcast. There are women, children and the elderly onboard. The ship is packed with civilians. An operation by the Israeli navy with gas canisters might lead to chaos onboard.

“As the crisis furthers in Mediterranean, Turkish government is expected to interfere. Flotilla organizers expect the Prime Minister of Turkey, Erdogan, to interfere into the situation and stop a possible military operation by Israel.

Continue reading Investigation: As it happened – "IHH statement as Israeli naval warships approached the Mavi Marmara

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.

Continue reading Israel announces several panels to investigate Flotilla tragedy

Violence was used on all the Flotilla ships + afterwards too

In the aftermath of the Israeli raid on Freedom Flotilla that began before dawn on Monday, we were informed that the only one of the six ships on which there had been violence was the large Turkish-owned passenger ship Mavi Marmara (carrying at least 600 persons, including one baby, and almost the entire accompanying press corps).

The Israeli military apparatus controlled the whole process from the moment of the raid at sea until Tuesday afternoon, when the first small group of released Flotilla participants arrived home and began talking. More were released on Wednesday.

Once the Israeli government mobilized and ordered all detainees returned, it became clear how fast the country can move, when they really want to — in fact, they can turn on a dime.

By this morning, almost all of the 700 or so detainees have left Israel.

Until then, we were told there was violence on only one ship, the Mavi Marmara. “The remaining five ships docked at Ashdod as requested and have followed IDF instructions”, the Jerusalem Post reported late on Monday, here.

Now, from reports trickling out, we know that there was violence on all the ships, and during the entire processing process afterwards. Passengers (some, often targetted randomly) were beaten indiscriminately. What were initially called “electric prods”, now being referred to as “tasers”, were used abundantly — even on journalists trying to finish up their last reports on board the Mavi Marmara.

The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia — whose photographer, Kate Geraghty, was “tasered” when Israeli commandos boarded the Challenger on Monday morning — has done a sidebar on the tasers, published today and entitled Victims get more than a stunning, in which the paper’s Health Editor writes: “TASER victims are incapacitated by pulses of electricity that trigger muscle spasms and such overwhelming pain they invariably fall over. And while the manufacturer, Taser International, portrays the gun-like devices as a gentler form of law enforcement – designed to block ”co-ordinated actions” while protecting vital organs – they have been associated with heart irregularities, miscarriage and eye damage.   Taser’s barbed electrodes, which shoot from the device at 55 metres per second and deliver up to 50,000 volts of electricity, have penetrated people’s brains, lungs and throats, and have been associated with sudden deaths. They do not have to make contact with the skin as the electrical jolt can penetrate thick clothing…

Continue reading Violence was used on all the Flotilla ships + afterwards too

Shock sets in

Shock is setting in, a day after the Israeli interception of the Freedom Flotilla at sea in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday morning.

The IDF still has not released names or numbers of those who were killed, injured, or detained yesterday.

Israeli reports now say that the IDF has confirmed that there were “more than” ten deaths on board the ships — but the actual number has not yet been made public.

Overnight, all police in the country have been called up, and all leaves cancelled, for deployment today, as the High Follow-Up Committee of Arab Citizens in Israel have declared a general strike.

There are unconfirmed reports that at least 5 Arab citizens of Israel are among the dead. The influential and respected (by his peers, though feared and detested by others in Israeli officialdom) Sheikh Raed Salah was on board the Freedom Flotilla, and was wounded in the Israeli naval assault, and hospitalized. He has not been seen or heard of since, and the true extent of his injuries is unknown at the time of this writing. Haaretz is reporting this morning that Sheikh Salah was “interrogated” by Israeli police in Ashdod yesterday. Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi was also on board the Mavi Marmara, and she has not been seen or heard of since yesterday morning’s operation). At least one right-wing MK (by definition, this indicates not Arab) has called Zoabi treasonous for her statements, and called for her arrest when she returned to land.

The IDF has just announced that that the “humanitarian aid” (what the IDF includes in that is yet not clear) that was found on board the six ships intercepted at sea yesterday will be transferred to Gaza this morning via Kerem Shalom — this has never happened faster. In fact, this is lightning speed, indicating the pressure that Israeli officials feel themselves under as a result of their extra-territorial military operation against the Freedom Flotilla just over 24 hours ago.

Last night, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent around a legal backgrounder (see our previous post here) arguing that the Israeli naval operation was ordered enforce the government’s (or, the military’s) declared (but apparently specially-expanded-for-the-occasion) naval blockade of Gaza.

Why? Because Hamas is in charge in Gaza.

The Israeli representative at the UN during an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called at Turkey’s request to deal with the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla, Daniel Carmon, said in the Council session: “What kind of humanitarian activists demand to bypass the United Nations, the Red Cross and other internationally recognized agencies? …What kind of peace activists use knives, clubs and other weapons to attack soldiers who board a ship in accordance with international law?” A UN summary of the meeting reported that Carmon “asked what kind of activists embraced Hamas and terrorist organizations that openly shunned a two-State solution and called for Israel’s destruction. ‘The answer is clear. They are not peace activists; they are not messengers of goodwill. They cynically use the guise of humanitarian aid to send a message of hate and to implement violence … “Let me be very clear, this was not a peaceful protest. The Insani Yardim Vakfi [IHH] people on-board one of the ships were not humanitarian activists’.”

So, there it is, the justification for the Israeli military assault yesterday on the Freedom Flotilla.

Earlier, the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (who had rushed to New York to present his country’s complaint to the Security Council, said in the meeting: “Today, we observed, through live coverage, an act of barbarism, where provision of humanitarian aid has been punished through aggression on the high seas … Today, many humanitarian aid workers went back in body bags …Israel has blood on its hands”.

According to a UN summary of the meeting, Davotoglu said that “International law dictated that, even in wartime, civilians were not to be attacked or harmed. The doctrine of self-defence did not in any way justify the actions taken by the Israeli forces. High-seas freedom was one of the most basic rights under international maritime law, including international customary law. No vessel could be stopped or boarded without the consent of the captain or the flag State. The law permitting such action in exceptional cases was clearly stated. Any suspected violation of the law on the part of the vessel and its crew did not absolve the intervening State of its duties and responsibilities under applicable international law. ‘To treat humanitarian aid delivery as a hostile act and to treat aid workers as combatants is a reflection of a dangerous state of mind, with detrimental effects to regional and global peace’, he said … He pointed to official statements made claiming that the civilians on the ships were members of a radical Islamist group, saying he was saddened to see a State stoop so low as to lie and struggle to create pretexts that would legitimize their illegal actions. The flotilla was made up of civilians of many faiths and countries, representing the conscience of the international community. ‘We must be able to show that use of force is not an option, unless clearly stated in law’, he said, adding that Israel must be prepared to face the consequences and be held accountable for its crimes. He called on the Israelis to express their dismay over this wrongdoing, and take steps to reinstate their status as a credible partner and responsible member of the international community … ‘This is a black day in the history of humanity’.”

[Remember what Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said to Israeli State President Shimon Peres on stage at the Davos World Economic Forum on 29 January 2009, right after the IDF’s Operatri0n Cast Lead in Gaza? “You are killing people”…  Still, not as bad as returning the Israeli  phrase used when refusing to release Palestinian “terrorists” who are said to have “blood on their hands”… Tuesday, Erdogan himself addressed the Turkish Parliament, and reportedly also said today what his Foreign Minister said at the UNSC meeting in NY on Monday, that what happened during the naval raid was a “massacre”, and that Israel has “blood on its hands”… UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post later reported that Erdogan said to Parliament that “Turkey’s hostility is as strong as its friendship is valuable,” he said. “Israel in no way can legitimize this murder, it cannot wash its hand of this blood”.]

The big mover in the expanded coalition of organizations that made up the Freedom Flotilla was IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief organization with distinctly Islamist tendencies.

One Israeli think tank has been sending out analysis since early April strongly implying (when it didn’t state it explicitly) that this Freedom Flotilla expedition to Gaza was being led by a bunch of “terrorists”, in particular IHH.

The unfortunate truth is that for many Israeli officials — and, as a result, for much of the Israeli media and the public which follows its line — Islamist almost necessarily equals “terrorist”.

As we reported here several weeks ago, Israel arrested (at the main Bethlehem checkpoint) and eventually deported back to Turkey the IHH organizer in the West Bank, Izzet Shahin, who may have registered as a student of Hebrew at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in part to facilitate his entry and stay in Israel.

The IHH leadership claimed to have the support of the Turkish government (which occasionally made statements that seemed to confirm this), but in the end, the Turkish government was shocked, shocked, at what happened yesterday — and may or may not have said (the reports are not very well sourced), in the heat of the moment yesterday, that the next Flotilla will be escorted by Turkish warships.

IHH maintained an entertaining and useful live + streaming website of events on board the Mavi Marmara, a passenger ship which was also the largest boat in the Freedom Flotilla, carrying an assortment of TV journalists and crews working in several languages, and not fewer than 600 passengers — including a year-old-baby.

During this live streaming, there were occasional bursts of enthusiasm from various Islamist members of the expedition, including a group from Jordan, and from other Muslim countries.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon — who is scheduled to hold yet another press in about an hour-and-a-half in Jerusalem (maybe this time to answer questions from international journalists, as yesterday he would only entertain those from Israeli journalists) — cited, two days ago, some of the chanting from these Islamist expedition members as proof of the absolute evil of the Freedom Flotilla’s intentions.

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Oh, and by the way, UNSG BAN Ki-Moon yesterday said: “I condemn this violence … It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place … I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Tarancosaid, at the Security Council meeting that “today’s bloodshed would have been avoided if repeated calls on Israel to end the counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza had been heeded … the blockade is unacceptable and counterproductive and must end.”

In Geneva,  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “nothing can justify the appalling outcome of this operation … I unequivocally condemn what appears to be disproportionate use of force, resulting in the killing and wounding of so many people attempting to bring much-needed aid to the people of Gaza, who have now been enduring a blockade for more than three years … [the] almost unanimous international view that [s that] the continued blockade of Gaza is both inhumane and illegal … [and it] lies at the heart of so many of the problems plaguing the Israel-Palestine situation, as does the impression that the Israeli Government treats international law with perpetual disdain.”

Princeton University Professor Emeritus Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, said that “Israel is guilty of shocking behavior by using deadly weapons against unarmed civilians on ships that were situated in the high seas where freedom of navigation exists, according to the law of the seas … [and it] essential that those Israelis responsible for this lawless and murderous behavior, including political leaders who issued the orders, be held criminally accountable for their wrongful acts”.

Falk added, according to the UN news release, that the blockade of Gaza is a “massive form of collective punishment … [and] Unless prompt and decisive action is taken to challenge the Israeli approach to Gaza all of us will be complicit in criminal policies that are challenging the survival of an entire beleaguered community”.   All this and more can be read here.

Overwhelmed with grief

Grief. Grief. Too much grief.

They didn’t think Israel would do it — they didn’t believe Israel would use overwhelming force against the Freedom Flotilla.

The Israeli Navy reportedly intercepted the Freedom Flotilla in international waters — it’s last reported position (at 04:30 GMT) before the IDF attack, was at Latitude:32.64113, Longitude:33.56727

Does it do any good to hold demonstrations now? These protests should have been going on for the past few days — demanding that the Flotilla ships get through to Gaza with their passengers cargo in safety.
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AP says the largest number of deaths in the storming of the ships were Turkish (six killed). Five were Israeli citizens — Israeli Arab Palestinians, from Haifa, on board the Flotilla. Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern Islamic Front movement, a figure particularly loathed by the Israeli political echelons, is in very serious condition after being shot in the head. He underwent surgery at Tel Hashomer hospital. Later Israeli reports contradicted this news, and said Sheikh Salah received only minor injuries.

Israeli Arab communities will hold a general strike on Tuesday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning.

Turkey called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (Turkey is presently one of the non-permanent Council members), and for a meeting of NATO.

UPDATE: The Turkish Foreign Minister went to UNHQ/NY to present his country’s case at the UN Security Council meeting.

Turkey recalled its Ambassador from Israel, and Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan and Egypt were among the countries which summoned the Israeli Ambassadors in their capitals.

AP reported that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “It should be known that we are not going to remain silent in the face of this inhumane state terrorism”, and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Turkey was canceling three joint military drills and that a Turkish youth soccer team currently in Israel would be brought home.

According to another report by AP, “The White House said in a written statement that the United States ‘deeply regrets’ the loss of life and injuries sustained … and was ‘currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy’.”

Meanwhile, yet another AP story reported that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli naval commandos who raided a Gaza aid flotilla “were under attack and acting in self defense … Netanyahu says Israel wanted to check the cargo to ensure it contained no weapons. He says this was done successfully with five ships, but the sixth did not cooperate. He says hundreds of people on board that ship beat, clubbed and stabbed soldiers, and there was a report of gunfire”. This news report is posted here.

Netanyahu was due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday, but the meeting has been cancelled as Netanyahu, who was in Canada, is flying back to Israel to deal with the crisis that followed this Israeli attack.

He said before leaving that “we regret the loss of life”, and he wished a speedy recovery to those injured — including four Israeli soldiers, he said. He said, rather disingenuously, that Israel tries to bring in all kinds of humanitarian goods – “any kind of goods meant for peace” — to Gaza, while keeping out weapons that could be used against Israel.

The IDF later reported that seven of its soldiers were wounded.

Commentators have noted that the Freedom Flotilla — and the tragic denouement of its mission — have put the spotlight on Israel’s policy of restricted supplies to Gaza, and on Israel’s restrictions of movement into and out of the Gaza Strip.

Americans for Peace Now (APN) has joined its “sister organization”, the original Israeli Peace Now, in “expressing outrage at the way Israel’s government is dealing with people who challenge its policies”. The two organizations calleerd “for an end to the radicalization of the Israeli government’s language and policy.”

“It is becoming increasingly common for Israeli officials and pundits to refer to challenges to its policy as ‘terrorism’ – we hear terms like ‘economic terrorism’ used to describe a Palestinian Authority effort to boycott products made in Israeli settlements, ‘popular terror’ to describe non-violent protest, and ‘cultural terror’ to describe pressure on international artists to cancel appearances in Israel. This past week we heard terms like ‘violent propaganda’ to describe the Gaza flotilla, even before any clash when it acts in genuine self-defense. It also makes almost inevitable the kind of tragedy that is unfolding today”, said an APN statement issued Monday, which can read in full here.

There are very contradictory reports of how events happened this morning.

Flotilla participants said that shots were fired at the ship even before Israeli commandos rappelled down to the deck from hovering helicopters. But, when the commandos landed on the ship, they said they felt their lives were in danger — see the IDF Youtube video here — and then greater force was used. But, what did the IDF think would happen when those first commandos dropped from the sky?

All of the deaths reportedly were on on the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying at least 600 people.

Out of 80 people taken from the boats on shore at Israel’s Ashdod Port at last report, 16 were already transferred to Beersheva Prison for “non-cooperation”. UPDATE: Haaretz is reporting that at least 32 of the Flotilla participants have been jailed.

UPDATE: Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi, of the Balad (country”) party, who was also on board the Mavi Marmara, has reportedly “been removed from her boat” and is unharmed. [Was she released?] Yesterday, right-wing Knesset members said Zoabi should be arrested and tried for treason…

Three Israeli human rights organizations — Adalah, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel — have filed a habeas corpus petition with the Israeli Supreme Court concerning the Flotilla Participants who are being held either in tents at Ashdod Port pending deportation or at Beersheva prison, asking for the names of those who have been killed or injured, and the names and locations and status of those who are detained.

Another Israeli human rights organization, GISHA, said in a statement that it “expresses sorrow at reports that dozens of civilians have been killed or injured during the Israeli military’s interception of boats bound for the Gaza Strip, carrying humanitarian assistance and hundreds of foreign and Israeli activists, including elected representatives. This incident is proof that despite claims to the contrary, Israel never ‘disengaged’ from the Gaza Strip but rather continues to control its borders – land, air and sea. Gisha notes that Israel cannot maintain such control while at the same time renouncing responsibility for its effects on the 1.5 million human beings whose access to the outside world has been cut off nearly hermetically for the past three years. International law requires Israel to permit the kind of access necessary for Gaza residents to live normal, dignified lives. It would be better for all concerned – Israel, Palestinian residents of Gaza, and those seeking to visit Gaza – if Israel would allow the regular and free passage of people, raw materials for industry, building materials, and export goods in and out of Gaza, subject only to concrete, individual security checks”.