Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As UN Probe Begins, Netanyahu Insists Force Necessary in Gaza Flotilla Raid

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As UN Probe Begins, Netanyahu Insists Force Necessary in Gaza Flotilla Raid

Article excerpt

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday told the Turkel Commission that force was necessary in Israel's Gaza flotilla raid that killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave lengthy testimony Monday defending Israel's fatal raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, saying it had exhausted all diplomatic options and faced an imminent threat from Hamas, the Gaza-based Islamist movement that Israel says is backed by Iran.

He told an internal Israeli inquiry into the raid that Israel stood as a shining example of democratic principles in a region where democracy remains an "endangered species."

"I am convinced that at the end of your investigation, it will be clear that the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces conducted themselves in accordance with international law and that the IDF fighters who boarded the [Mavi] Marmara displayed a rare courage in fulfilling their mission and in defending themselves against a real threat to their lives," he said in his opening statement to the Turkel Commission headed by former Israeli Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel.

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid

With the United Nations in New York today opening a separate flotilla investigation, Mr. Netanyahu's comments appeared crafted to defend Israel against international critics who are likely to zero in on Israel's heavy handed tactics rather than the larger picture - including security threats from militants.

At home, most Israelis say Israel's raid was unavoidable. Those who are critical of the raid see the Turkel Commission as too limited in scope to address the real issue: Israel's policies toward militant groups like Hamas.

"There's definitely a feeling that Israel responded in the only way it could, that this was a provocation against Israel, and I think that the Israel public is not expecting anyone to be held responsible," says Gershon Baskin, codirector of the Israel/ Palestine Center for Research and Information.

Limited mandate

But part of the reason there is unlikely to be any political fallout is because the Turkel Commission is tasked only with determining the legality of the raid, not the more controversial issue of whether Israel's blockade on Hamas-run Gaza is in accordance with international law.

"What's clear to me ... is that what we're going to hear is for the nth time that the internal decision-making process on national defense issues doesn't work well and it needs to be fixed," says Yossi Alpher, co-editor of the online commentary site Bitterlemons.org, citing similar conclusions in other inquiries such as the Winograd Commission on the 2006 war with Lebanon.

"What I find more painful is that for more than a year it was obvious that the entire policy of economic warfare against Hamas in Gaza was counterproductive," says Alpher. …

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