by Warren Popp
Impuntiy Watch Reporter, Middle East
TEL AVIV, Israel – An internal military investigation headed by Israel’s Major General, Giora Eiland, which was created to look into the deadly Gaza aid flotilla incident, recently completed its work. The deadly flotilla incident covered by the report occurred on May thirty-first when the Israel Defense Force (IDF) attempted to overtake a convoy of ships that was determined to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid. The report found that the IDF faced violent resistance by armed activists, including being shot, stabbed, and beaten with metal objects. Activists claim that the IDF indiscriminately used live fire against activists as they boarded the ship, and that the IDF was the first to fire. The incident left several IDF soldiers seriously injured, nine activists dead, and dozens of other activists wounded. According to the IDF Spokesperson, “The [investigation] team was appointed by the Chief of the General Staff to examine the deployment towards the flotilla, the chosen course of action and other possible alternatives, advance preparations, and the operation’s implementation.”
The report concluded that the military made several mistakes in the preparation for the raid, including a failure to utilize all possible intelligence gathering methods (although the IDF claims there is no guarantee that a complete intelligence gathering effort would have created a full intelligence picture); a failure to plan for all possible contingencies, including both the general outcome that ensued and especially for the expected level of violence; and a failure to seek other technological alternatives for stopping vessels from reaching Gaza, although here the report emphasized that no country in the world, at least to their knowledge, has the ability to stop a vessel at sea in a non hostile manner.
In terms of the actions of the IDF commandos, the IDF spokesperson said the following in regards to the report: “The team determined that the Navy Commando soldiers operated properly, with professionalism, bravery and resourcefulness and that the commanders exhibited correct decision making. The report further determines that the use of live fire was justified and that the entire operation is estimable.” The report also found there were mistakes made “at quite a senior level” but did not recommend punishments for any of the officers involved in the May 31 raid.
Israel has rejected calls by the United Nations Secretary-General, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other world leaders for an international investigation, and has claimed it will not cooperate with a Human Rights Council commission that is being set up to investigate the incident.
In addition to the mlitary investigation, Isreal has set up a panel, the Tirkel Committee, to investigate the incident, and to decide whether the raid was in compliance with international law. This panel consists of three retired judges and two experts, and also includes two prominent foreign observers: David Trimble, a Northern Ireland politician, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the Canadian jurist, Ken Watkin. The Tirkel Committee has no power to summon anyone from the IDF except for General Ashkenazi. Prime Minister Netanyahu , Defense Minister Barak, and General Ashkenazi are all expected to testify before the panel publicly and under oath. Al Jazeera reported that Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, told Al Jazeera that, “Israel’s investigatory process, both civilian and military, meets the highest international standards,” and, “It’s standard operating procedure [to investigate] after any military operation, especially an operation that has human fatalities.”
The Turkish group that organized the humanitarian convoy, IHH, criticized the report, particularly the claim that the IDF was justified in using live ammunition. The IHH maintains that the IDF commandos were responsible for starting the violence. Huseyin Oruc, a member of IHH’s board reportedly told Al Jazeera, “If you compare the passengers on the Mavi Marmara and the soldiers, even their equipment… you can understand how much balance there was between the two sides.”
Turkey, whose close diplomatic relationship with Israel have faced serious strains since the incident, including the withdrawal of the Turkish Ambassador to Israel, welcomed the internal investigation and report, but is still calling on Israel to agree to a full and impartial international investigation. All nine of the activists who were killed in the incident were Turkish, including one who was a dual United States-Turkish citizen. Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said that he welcomed the acknowledgement that “mistakes” were made, but believed that IDF commandos committed “a crime” and that an international investigation is warranted.
The report was issued during the same time that a humanitarian aid ship from Libya was heading for Gaza. The ship is carrying about fifteen activists, primarily from Libya, and a dozen crew members. The ship is associated with the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF) led by the son of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi. The foundation of GICDF said on its website that the boat’s goal was to deliver two-thousand tons of aid to Gaza. After threats by Israel to intercept the ship, including a disputed report that Israel issued an ultimatum to the Libyan vessel, the ship reportedly changed course on July thirteenth, and is now slowly heading towards Egypt (mechanical difficulties along with a reported dispute between the crew of the ship and the activists regarding the final destination make confirmation of this by news agencies difficult). The Egyptian government has offered to accept the ship at one of its ports in the Sinai Peninsula and then deliver the goods to Gaza. Youssef Sawani, the executive director of GICDF said, “We hope the Israelis will not ban the ship from entering the port of Gaza. If they decide to do so we have no means to object to that. This is a peaceful mission”
For more information, please see:
AFP – Israel PM to Testify Before Gaza Panel on Aug 9 – 13 July 2010
Al Jazeera – Gaza Aid Ship ‘Diverts’ to Egypt – 13 July 2010
Al Jazeera – Israel: Use of Live Fire Justified – 13 July 2010
Jerusalem Post – Conflicting Reports at Sea – 13 July 2010
Jerusalem Post – Turkey Welcomes Eiland Report But Still Wants Int’l Probe – 13 July 2010
N.Y. Times – Gaza-Bound Ship Diverts to Egypt, Averting Clash -13 July 2010
Israel Defense Force Blog – Maj. Gen. (Res.) Eiland Submits Conclusions of Military Examination Team Regarding Mavi Marmara, 12 July 2010– 12 July 2010
N.Y. Timess – Israeli Military Finds Flotilla Killings Justified – 12 July 2010
Al Arabiya News Channel – Gaza-Bound Aid Ship Sets Sail From Greece – 10 July 2010