Monday, June 21, 2010
Israel on Trial
P. David Hornik
Israel is trying hard to contain the damage from the Gaza flotilla incident. But it doesn’t seem to be working.
In addition to an announcement on Sunday that all nonmilitary goods can now enter Gaza, the incident is now under no less than three investigations within Israel. In the military sphere, a commission headed by Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, is investigating the conduct of the army top brass in the affair including Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. The existence of the Eiland Commission is not controversial in Israel. People want to know—to the extent that the military echelon was responsible for the foul-up—why naval commandos were sent inadequately armed into a trap, and almost killed, aboard the Mavi Marmara, and whether faulty intelligence, judgment, tactics, or some combination of those played a part.
Legal dimensions of the affair—like the naval blockade of Gaza and the interdiction of the flotilla in international waters—are being looked into by the Terkel Commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge Yaakov Terkel. Along with two other Israeli jurists it includes two foreign observers, Northern Irish politician David Trimble and former Canadian military judge-advocate-general Ken Watkin.
The Terkel Commission is already intensely controversial both domestically and abroad. In Israel, the Left charges that it doesn’t have enough teeth and will whitewash the political level; the Right says the inclusion of the two foreign observers is a grave capitulation to international pressure. Abroad, it’s charged that Trimble is too friendly toward Israel and that the commission lacks sufficient independence from the government.
Complaints that the Terkel Commission won’t probe the government have led the Israeli state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, to launch yet another investigation focusing on the political echelon’s role in the flotilla incident—both in the decision-making leading up to it and in the alleged defective PR after it. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have already been accused, including from within the government, of deciding on the interdiction exclusively by themselves and failing to consult with other bodies like the cabinet and the National Security Council.
Three separate probes of one incident, then, including one—the Terkel Commission with its two foreign participants—that was set up under intense pressure from the Obama administration to ward off, or so it was believed, an international investigation and get the issue off the international agenda.
Yet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon doesn’t seem to be impressed.
He told the Security Council, after the Terkel Commission had already been established, that he was still considering setting up an international panel to look into the incident. UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry said the Terkel Commission “could be consistent with the Secretary-General’s own proposals for an international panel—the two combined would fully meet the international community’s expectation for a credible and impartial investigation.”
In other words, the Israeli commission by itself, even with its international observers, wouldn’t fit that bill. It wouldn’t, no doubt, satisfy the standards of the bloc agitating most strongly against Israel—the Arab, Islamic, and “nonaligned” countries with their many distinguished democracies.
And as for the Obama administration, Anne Bayefsky notes that Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley has refused to affirm that the Terkel Commission fulfills the Security Council’s initial call on May 31 for an investigation of the flotilla incident. Bayefsky also notes that the particularly anti-Israeli UN Human Rights Council has already launched a “fact-finding mission” of its own and that “though the administration eventually voted against the resolution, it has done nothing to remove its standing pledge of substantial financial support for the investigation and everything else the Council does.”
If Ban’s panel is set up, then, there will be no less than five investigations—three Israeli ones and two foreign ones—into the flotilla incident. This will probably be a record considering that the incident took a total of nine lives all of them belonging to gun-, knife-, club-, and iron-bar-wielding aggressors who fell upon soldiers carrying mere paintball guns in an express attempt to avoid or minimize violence.
Meanwhile it was reported in Israel that, with two Iranian ships already en route to Gaza to challenge the naval blockade, “the Navy was put on high alert amid fears that another flotilla would be launched from Lebanon, leaving—due to the short distance—little time to stop it.” A flotilla from Lebanon, it’s believed, could include Hizbullah operatives. It was further reported that the IHH, the Turkish terror-linked organization behind the flotilla two weeks ago, is planning to send another one in late July.
All of which underlines the fact that, in the eyes of the enemies of Israel and the West, the first IHH flotilla was a great success. It entrapped Israel in a violent incident and got it caught in another round of severe international delegitimization and censure that is still—despite Israel’s best efforts—continuing.
In acquiescing to this latest anti-Israeli campaign if not helping to propel it, the U.S. administration and its European allies are in effect contributing to heating up the Middle East and increasing the chances of war. Perhaps they can summon enough rationality to recognize that this is not in their interest.