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January 25, 2011 12:27 pm

Turkel Report Justifies IDF Actions; Flawed Intelligence Questioned

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Seized weapons found aboard the Gaza bound Mavi Marmara.

The Israeli government is not known for being easy on those who make strategic or ethical mistakes.  Accountability is demanded, especially from its soldiers, even on front line.  In the face of worldwide criticism of the actions taken by a platoon of soldiers that boarded a ship attempting to break the naval blockade of Gaza, the government of Israel “established a public, independent, autonomous commission of inquiry, headed by a former Supreme Court justice and including jurists and world-renowned experts as well as international observers.”  No stone – or, in this case drop – was left unexamined.  Israel allowed itself to be placed under an internal and international microscope in order to examine every action taken by its military.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, with five Israeli members and two international observers headed the committee.  The international observers included Lord David Trimble, co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 1998 given in recognition of his role in achieving peace in Northern Ireland and a member of Britain’s House of Lords, and Brigadier-General (Ret.) Ken Watkin, a 33 year veteran of the Canadian army and former legal advisor for the Governor General of Canada, the Defense Minister, the Department of National Defense and also supervised the military justice system of the Canadian Forces.

Despite every effort to be fair and impartial, what Israel is likely to face is that many of its critics will see it as a whitewash. This was an Israeli government-commissioned inquiry and people will say it simply wasn’t balanced.

The Algemeiner spoke with the Israel Defense Forces spokesman in Jerusalem seeking the IDF response to the Turkel Report.  The soldier spokesman responded, noting that “prior to (the Turkel) report, the IDF conducted comprehensive operational investigations in the various forces, branches and directorates” headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, and had “already published the findings and conclusions.” The conclusions and findings of the (Turkel) report will be taken into consideration in line with all operational and legal aspects and appropriate findings will be implemented.”

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Starting with the premise that “imposing and enforcing a blockade including in international waters was legal and justified,” the Turkel committee concluded that “Israel stated the truth and acted in accordance with the law;”  “the government and security forces will continue to employ all actions necessary to protect the citizens of Israel,” and “There is no need for any flotillas, which … have no connection to humanitarian aid.”

Noting that goods of a non military nature could be transferred to Gaza through established border crossings; the report concluded that Israel’s establishment and enforcement of a maritime blockade was within its international rights. The report noted that vessels are allowed into Ashdod Port to unload actual humanitarian equipment, and despite that fact that  “Israel’s effective control over the Gaza Strip ended when the disengagement was completed in 2005″ the State continues to provide humanitarian and medical assistance as necessary, and is in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and the international community.

The findings of the Turkel report indicate that “Israel ultimately decided that imposing a naval blockade provided the most efficient and comprehensive legal tool to confront the prevailing security threat” and constitutes a “legitimate method of warfare,” and that no “collective punishment” of the Gazan population is being conducted, saying that Israel is “complying with the humanitarian obligations imposed on the blockading party” and is not preventing the entry of essential goods.

It’s findings state that the takeover of the Turkish vessel was based in International Law, and is legal according to the following points:

·         A vessel intentionally trying to breach a blockade, can be boarded

·         Takeover is allowed wherever a vessel trying to run a naval blockade is, even in international waters.

·         Instructions were not to shoot except in the case of a real and immediate threat to life – the expectation was only a “law enforcement” situation, not an active attack

·         Warnings were transmitted, but the captain refused to change course.

·         No humanitarian equipment was found on board the Marmara.

·         Lowering soldiers from helicopters was an appropriate tactic and suits international law; the method is consistent with the experience of other navies.  The Turkel report noted that the IDF “did not anticipate that the flotilla participants would not be innocent civilians but rather direct participants in hostilities.”

·         Less commonly known is that the Israeli forces initial boarding attempts were more conventional – from small speed boats.  However, the IDF met “violent, fierce resistance.” the helicopter drop decision resulted from that reception.  During the operation, IDF soldiers were attacked with shots, knives, clubs, hammers, blows and metal rods. Nine soldiers were injured; three soldiers were dragged to the ship’s interior.

·         The 40 IHH activists who boarded in Istanbul did so without any security inspection.  They functioned as a separate group from the “peace activists.” 60 additional “non-peace” activists participated in the attack on the Israelis.
According to the Turkel committee, the members of this group are direct participants in hostilities (DHP), and thus do not have the protections granted to civilians.

·         Only one of the nine killed was not connected to these groups.  Among the activists, some had testified that they wanted to die as shahids (martyrs); others had left “last will and testament” letters with family members.

·         Once the attack was subdued, Israel offered medical aid and secured the prisoners. The committee found that the actions taken were legal and in accordance with international law.

The report recognizes that the operation was “seriously flawed,” noting that the lack of Israeli intelligence about the impending “violent reception” may have led to the deaths.”  Because of a failure of intelligence, and lack of incorporation of information available in a naval intelligence report circulated two days before the raid, Israel had “not planned sufficiently” for the threat that its soldiers could (and did) face.  “Throughout the planning process, whether looked at from a policy, operational, or legal perspective, the scenario of an organized force armed with lethal weapons actively resisting the boarding attempt appears not to have been considered.”

The document did call on Israel to “make an effort to limit the suffering of the civilian population in the Strip, possibly by using “smart sanctions” that focus on Hamas” and suggested that “Israel should continue in the future to examine whether it is possible to improve the current position. It also reports on failed diplomatic efforts between the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Turkish government.  Turkey retracted a proposal, to which Israel had agreed, “at the last minute.”   “We tried every possible channel to prevent the flotilla from departing,” Foreign Ministry director general Yossi Gal told the committee. “At no stage was a positive response received.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his content with the results. Attempts at making “political hay” are already under way on every side.  Deputy Prime Minister Danny Danon says the report completely repudiates Israel and has demanded an apology, saying: “If Erdogan does not apologize to Israel; our government should move immediately to curtail all security cooperation with Turkey.”  Turkish Prime Minsiter Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the counter, says it is an “attempt to ‘spin’ the flotilla incident and accuses Israel of inappropriate behavior.”  He criticized the results of the probe” saying it had “no value or credibility.” He told reporters in Ankara that he was “appalled and dismayed” at the results of the Israeli inquiry into the raid. Israeli Arab MK Hanin Zoabi (Balad) who was on board the ship said “The committee did not summon the only witness who saw what happened on board for fear that the harmony of the report would be damaged.” She accused the Turkel committee of trying to whitewash the deaths of the nine Turkish activists who were killed during the raid, and said the committee had been used as “an open stage for propaganda” as it allowed military and state officials to speak uninterrupted and without objection.

“This is an Israeli committee with very limited authority, which has totally ignored the sensitive issue that raised the need for an investigation, and that is the deaths of nine activists on board,” she said.

The second segment of the Turkel Commission Report is due shortly.

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