Flotilla violence was ‘expected’ 10Aug10 August 11, 2010

Aljazeera -  10 August 2010

Israel’s defence minister has said a Gaza-bound aid flotilla seized in a bloody commando raid was a “planned provocation” and that Israel had expected violence weeks before the operation.

Ehud Barak testified on Tuesday before an Israeli commission established to examine the legality of the raid and Israel’s four-year blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Barak said that during discussions going back to April “the image that emerged… was that the organisations (behind the flotilla) were preparing for armed conflict to embarrass Israel.”

Israeli naval commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists in the clashes that broke out after the soldiers rappelled onto the deck of one of the ships.

“People in Israel, by and large, believe that the army did a good job,” reported Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland from Jerusalem.

“There is no feeling among Israeli’s that heads should roll over the handling of the flotilla,” she added.

‘No alternative’

Barak said various alternatives were discussed in the weeks leading up to the raid and that he and other senior officials had considered the possibility that the activists would attack the troops when they landed.

“We regret any loss of life,” the minister said. “But we would have lost more lives if we had behaved differently.”

The minister’s appearance before the five-member panel came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stand and insisted Israel acted in line with international law when it stormed the boats in international waters.

Netanyahu also accused Ankara of looking to gain from a high-profile confrontation between Turkish activists aboard the flotilla’s lead ship and the soldiers who seized the vessels in international waters.

Gabi Ashkenazi, wIsrael’s top general, will take the stand on Wednesday and was expected to be quizzed on operational aspects of the raid.

Threats to withdraw

Meanwhile, Israel has threatened it will pull out of a separate probe by the UN into the flotilla raid if the panel insists on grilling its soldiers.

The Israeli announcement came after the UN denied on Monday that it had struck a deal making Israeli soldiers off-limits for the probe.

The Israeli government has made clear that its soldiers would not be available to the UN investigators, who will hold their first meeting on Tuesday in New York.

Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the UN, was asked at a monthly news conference if the UN had agreed that Israeli military commanders could not be interviewed by the panel.

“There was no such agreement behind the scenes,” he said.

“Their main work will be to review and examine the reports of the national investigations and liaise with the domestic authorities,” said Ban.

“Whatever is needed beyond that, they will have to discuss among themselves in close co-ordination with the national government authorities.”

After reacting coolly to the idea of a UN investigation, which is headed by Geoffrey Palmer, the former prime minister of New Zealand, Israel eventually agreed to cooperate with an investigative panel set up by Ban.

But Mark Regev, the Israeli government spokesman, said in Jerusalem on Monday that in the event Israeli soldiers are called by the panel to give evidence it could withdraw its cooperation.

In addition to reviewing the results of the Turkish and Israeli investigations, UN officials said Ban’s panel will consider ways to avoid similar incidents in the future.


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