Israeli PM fuels fears of flotilla inquiry cover-up
ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday defended as lawful a deadly assault on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla amid concerns that a domestic commission of inquiry will whitewash Israel's conduct.
Giving evidence to a state-appointed panel, Mr Netanyahu sought to distance himself from the fateful chain of events that led to the death of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists. He said that Israel had repeatedly appealed to Turkey "at the highest level" to use its influence to stop or divert the flotilla, but its efforts ultimately failed.
"Apparently, the Turkish government did not see that a possible incident between Turkish activists and Israel was against their interests," he told the panel.
Mr Netanyahu was opening the proceedings of a much-anticipated inquiry, headed by retired supreme court judge Jacob Turkel, into the events of May 31, when Israeli commandos boarded the lead ship of a Turkish-led convoy trying to breach Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.
The assault, which took place in international waters, quickly descended into a bloodbath after Israeli soldiers opened fire on club-brandishing activists. The incident led to vicious recriminations on both sides.
Many Israelis have been fiercely sceptical that the inquiry, established only after intense international pressure, will have the teeth to investigate fully the lead-up to the raid and the events of that night.
Its mandate is limited to the legal basis for the raid, and for Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.
Moreover, the committee attracted unwelcome scrutiny over the advanced age of its members after an Israeli newspaper photographed a 93-year-old panel member dressed in his pyjamas with a dossier of the inquiry on his lap and his full-time carer at his side.
"I don't expect anything of real . . . substance to come of this," said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of Middle East current affairs website bitterlemons.org
"This inquiry is asking the wrong questions. No one is asking: how did we get to this flotilla (incident), or to this naval blockade?"
In a prepared address, Mr Netanyahu robustly defended Israel's three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, aimed at preventing the smuggling of weapons to Hamas, the Islamist group that seized control of Gaza in 2007.
"Hamas has been raining thousands of rockets, missiles and mortar bombs on the state of Israel, striking at our communities and citizens," he said, adding that it posed a threat to Israel's existence.
He also vigorously denied claims of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and said that a "mendacious propaganda campaign" had undermined support for Israel.
Human rights bodies have long lambasted Israel's policy as "collective punishment," putting the population at the mercy of the UN. (© Independent News Service)