Israel's Gaza flotilla probe findings could hurt Israel-Turkey ties

An Israeli investigation into last year's Gaza flotilla raid reinforces the government's position in a spat with Turkey that has brought bilateral ties between two US allies to the breaking point.

Israel Defence Force/AP/File
What the Israeli Defence Force says is one of several commandos being dropped onto one of the ships in the Gaza flotilla. The nearly 300-page reported released Sunday, by the government-appointed commission says the actions of the soldiers "were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law," but their findings could hurt Israel-Turkey ties.

An Israeli inquiry exonerated its military Sunday for the deadly clash last year with activists on a Turkish ship that challenged Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The ruling reinforces the government's position in a spat with Turkey that has brought bilateral ties between two US allies to the breaking point.

The commission, appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid the international uproar over the killing of nine passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara, said Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was legal and ruled that Israel's military was justified in intercepting the ship in international waters.

Headed by former Israeli high court justice Jacob Turkel, the commission argued that the force used by activists from Turkey's Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) against commandos who boarded the ship was "planned and extremely violent.'' It follows a Turkish government inquiry which placed responsibility on Israel.

Attention will now shift to the deliberations of an international commission appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, which includes representatives from each side and will have to weigh the opposing interpretations of the events. But in the meantime, the two countries' contradictory flotilla inquiries only complicate the strained relations that both countries have been working to improve since the deadly incident.

"Bilateral relations are a mess. I don't think that this contributes in any way,'' says Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat in Turkey. "Quite the opposite is true. It further complicates relations, even though this is complicated already.''

Erdogan 'appalled' by Israel's inquiry

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan slammed the commission's findings, saying that it had "no value or credibility" and that he was "appalled" at the report.

Both Israeli and Turkish reports on the incident will be reviewed by a four member UN panel chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minster Geoffrey Palmer and vice chaired by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

A panel appointed by the UN Human Rights Council found Israel in violation of international law.

Israel resisted calls to commission its own wholly independent panel of inquiry with power to collect subpoena witnesses from the army for testimony. The Turkel commission did comply with demands for international participation, though Israel's media noted that the observers on the committee were known for pro-Israeli sentiment.

More difficult relations?

Praising Israel for the decision to appoint the commission, Ron Ben Yishai, an Israeli military analyst for the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, wrote that the Israeli report "dismantled" the Turkish accusations.

Much of the international community, however, is likely to look at the report differently.

"People won't see it as sufficient," says Meir Javadanfar, a Middle East analyst based in Tel Aviv. "The very fact that people on the ship were unwilling to give testimonies, that was a liability for the commission, and the fact that everybody exonerated, is going to make relations with Turkey more difficult."

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