Israel's internal investigation into the May 31 interception of a Turkish-backed humanitarian aid flotilla that tried to break the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip has gotten underway, and the army is bearing the brunt of the blame for perceived failures.
While Israel successfully blocked the flotilla from reaching Gaza, nine violent "peace" activists were killed aboard the largest ship after attacking and abducting members of the Israeli boarding party. The deaths resulted in an international uproar that all but ignored the circumstances of the incident.
In his testimony to the Turkel Committee set up to probe the flotilla raid, Israeli army chief Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said his troops had reacted correctly given the threat they were under. At the time, it was unclear if the abducted soldiers had been or were in the process of being tortured and killed. The other soldiers used the necessary force to rescue their comrades and bring the clash to an end.
But, Ashkenazi said he and the army do bear blame for failing to anticipate the level of resistance they would face, particularly from the Turkish IHH movement. The IHH was largely in control of the Mavi Marmara ship where the deaths occurred. The movement, largely unknown to Israel before the flotilla raid, supports Hamas, Global Jihad and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.
Ashkenazi's testimony was interpreted by some as criticism over the supposedly political decision to send Israeli commandoes to board the ships armed with nothing more than paintball guns and sidearms. Had they been carrying proper riot dispersal gear, the passengers of the Mavi Marmara would not have been able to overwhelm and abduct the Israelis. It was earlier reported that American pressure had resulted in the Israeli troops being under-equipped for the raid.
Nevertheless, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak also blamed the army, at least partially, insisting it was Ashkenazi's job to evaluate whether or not the raid could be pulled off without serious incident and to inform the government of the potential for either success or failure.
"The army honestly described the difficulties, but stressed that even though it would not be simple, they could carry it out," said Barak. "Clearly, it's vital for the army to clarify the significance of the mission, and here, they said, there will be friction, there will be difficult images, and maybe even injuries, but they said this could be done."
Barak did, however, agree with Ashkenazi that despite the diplomatic damage caused by the fatalities, stopping the flotilla was the right decision.
Ashkenazi told the committee that the Gaza blockade is "crucial in preventing terror groups from smuggling large quantities of weaponry into Gaza by sea," and that no ship could be allowed to dock in Gaza without inspection.
Meanwhile, the UN's investigation into the flotilla raid also got underway on Tuesday. In its opening session, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the commission that his nation "bears no responsibility" for the incident, and insists that Israel be punished for "killing civilians in international waters."
Many Israelis, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hold Turkey at least partially responsible for the outcome of the flotilla raid, considering that Ankara knew well of the IHH's deep involvement and the group's intention to use violence against the Israelis.