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ISRAEL: Officials testify before Israeli commission examing the flotilla raid

Israel's top officials are testifying before the Israeli commission set up to examine the circumstances of the raid on the Gaza flotilla. The Turkel Commission's official mandate mostly concerns questions of compatibility with international law of the naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip since January 2009 and Israel's moves to enforce it, including the military interception of the Mavi Marmara that left nine civilians dead. 

This is more for international consumption. The Israeli public is more concerned with the process of decision-making and responsibility, which the committee is reaching for too. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi -- the order of the testimonies reflects hierarchy and has its own dynamic. This is the unplugged version.

First before the committee was Netanyahu.  Netanyahu's testimony was strong on the background for Israel's policies on Hamas but slightly weaker on decision-making issues. Some of his answers raised more questions, leaving unclear the key question of who decided on the military operation. The political echelon wanted the blockade upheld, diplomatic efforts to prevent the flotilla had failed and the ministerial forum discussing the flotilla dealt mostly with media damage control. Somewhere in the middle a military operation was born, his answered seemed to imply. 

Netanyahu said the ministerial group discussed the military's plan only in passing. The army was responsible for that. No decision was made in that forum, and he wouldn't say whether it had considered letting the ships through. He said he had left Barak in charge of flotilla matters as he was out of the country.

Whether it was his intention to distance himself from responsibility or wasn't properly prepared, Netanyahu's testimony was interpreted as unloading the responsibility onto Barak and the army. Fair or not, punditry and political commentary in this vein grew louder and before the day was out, Netanyahu tried to remedy this perception in a series of statements clarifying that the overall responsibility was his. But the damage was done, and the Hebrew press reported Barak was hopping mad.

This doesn't preclude getting even. The following morning, Barak walked in briskly, surveyed the press and smiled at reporters, already in contrast to Monday's slightly glum-looking Netanyahu. And he came prepared, very prepared. Armed to the teeth with documentation of dates, memos and his fabled memory, Barak began to fill in the blanks left by Netanyahu. Right at the top, Barak assumed responsibility, that magical word everyone was waiting to hear. 

Sure he's responsible, he said.  And the prime minister, the ministerial committee, the chief of staff too. In his meticulous documentation of who participated in which meeting that discussed what, Barak name-dropped for nearly two hours, "generously spreading responsibility," as one commentator remarked later. 

But like Netanyahu, he too defended the division of responsibilities. The political echelon decides on the "what," the army decides on the "how." It behooves the first not to give the army assignments that can't be carried out, and the second to warn that an assignment is undoable or not worth the damage. Neither happened in this case, said Barak, who said the "gap" was in implementation, not decision-making. 

Netanyahu said the ministers  discussed only the military plan in passing. Au contraire, said Barak. They had a two-hour detailed discussion including a "plastic and colorful" scenario description, at the end of which the picture was adequately clear, as was the dilemma between breaching the blockade and an unattractive, public confrontation. It was a choice between two evils, said Barak, and everyone understood this. 

Still, the "how" and "what" still stand. Ministers may discuss military scenarios but don't go into details like which side of the helicopter troops use on the way down, said Barak (to this, Channel 10 noted Tuesday evening that as defense minister, Barak had demanded operational changes be made in a "strategic operation").

All eyes will now be on Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who will appear before the committee on Wednesday and deal with all the balls that have been thrown into his court. Speaking as a politician, Barak had defended the division of responsibilities and decision-making. Speaking as a lifelong soldier, he said no operation every goes exactly as planned. The difference between a tidy operation, a messy one or total failure is a hair's breadth. Stuff happens.

Exactly what stuff happened was examined by the army's internal examination, led by Giora Eiland, who found "mistakes" in planning, intelligence and information integration but not "failures."  Parts of it are confidential. The Turkel Commission has his report and will not question soldiers. Israel feels strongly about protecting its soldiers from testifying, certainly not before an external, international body. Israel threatened to withdraw from the U.N. panel after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested soldiers might be questioned. On Tuesday, Barak had likened this to doctors making life-and-death decisions with malpractice suits in mind.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Comments () | Archives (8)

Oh, sorry, let me correct a legal technicality in my prior post.

The Israeli attack is actually illegal under Article 110 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, the "Right of Visit". Even though most people would call an armed attack on the high seas an act of piracy, someone pointed out Israel's actions do not meet the legal definition of piracy enumerated under Article 101 on the UNCLOS. But they're still clearly illegal under international law.

why should the la times regulate the jerusalem center of public affairs.
their comment has been passed,and published here for all to read,just as yours has ,mr trapp

Why is the LA Times allowing the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs to openly post Israeli hasbara propaganda on this page? Hamas is not relevant to this discussion. The ships in question were not linked to Hamas, and were carrying things like paper, chocolate and children's toys.

Here are the two simple facts the Israeli hasbara propagandists want you to ignore:

(1) The Mavi Marmara was in international waters. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, Israel's armed attack and boarding of the ship was therefore an act of piracy on the high seas. A debate about whether or not the IDF soldiers killed peace activists before the passengers fought back is therefore IRRELEVANT: piracy in international waters is illegal, period, end of discussion.

(2) Israel's seige of Gaza, and Occupation of East Jeresulem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, are all illegal and contrary to Israel's obligations under the Geneva Conventions, international law, and multiple U.N. resolutions. Therefore, any action taken in support of these illegal acts is also in itself illegal.

Israel is staging these hearings in an attempt to generate a false debate in the world media about the lawfulness of Israel's conduct during the raid itself. The intent is to make us all forget the premise of the raid – a pirate attack in international waters, in support of an illegal seige – was fundamentally illegal under international law, and therefore not justifiable under any circumstances.

And in brief response to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs hasbara propaganda, it is Israel, not Hamas, that refuses peace. The facts are that Hamas has repeatedly offered Israel peace in exchange for Israel complying with the demands of the entire international community, as well as its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Here are three news articles that document some of Hamas's peace offerings to Israel:

If you are tired of hearing people defend Israeli ethnic cleansing, racism, apartheid and war crimes, then join the worldwide movement of Jews, Israelis, Americans, Christians, Muslims and others who oppose Israel's policies. Together, we can bring change and peace to the Middle East.

Join us today:

Stefano888 - Dissappointed its not another Goldstone kangaroo court? Please distinguish between the UN panel sponsored by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the UN and the Hon. Chief Justice Turkel Israeli panel. The facts is Turkel has more experience and better credentials than Ki-moon. He doesn't have an axe to grind, only his judicial reputation to preserve, and at his age, with all due respect, that's about all he's got to look forard to or worry about. I don't see that either panel is a whitewash.
In light of your other prior anti-Israeli posts, you seem disappointed that the outcome is not assuredly anti-Israeli. Aaawwww.... sorry to disappoint you.
I think it would be a whitewash if the Turks, Greeks, Cypriots and Irish don't get criticized for encouraging and hosting the flotilla knowing full well there militants on board.
And why did they all allow 600 people on those boats? You don't keed 600 to deliver and unload the goods and supplies. They wanted to make a big scene and prevent the Palestinians from turning it into a refugee flotilla going back to Turkey where they would be refused asylum from Hamas. That would have been a backfire.

Referring to atrayu: "Where is the aid ship for Darfur?"

Right here:

Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Israeli owner of MV Faina, Vadim Alperin, pays $3.2m ransom
The vessel, carrying loads of military hardware including 30 T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and automatic weapons, allegedly expected to reach rebels in the Sudanese violent Darfur region.

February 4, 2009
Sudan: Israel arming Darfur rebels

Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Israel is arming the rebels in Sudan's western province of Darfur, and Germany is hosting their leaders, said State Minister at the Interior Ministry, Mohamed Ahmed Haroun

Where is the aid ship for Darfur? How about Pine Ridge Indian Reservation?

Does anyone else in the world count?

 Israel, as a democratic State, looks for legal tools to curb such smuggling and respond to Hamas' terrorist attacks against its citizens. One of the tools available under international law is the maritime blockade. Israel, finding itself in a state of armed conflict with Hamas, has opted to employ this legal measure.
For more information click here:

Given who is on the investigative committee, this is likely to be a white wash.


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