Turkey on Thursday warned Israel of drastic diplomatic sanctions if it did not apologize for the Mavi Marmara incident, even as the UN Palmer Commission report that will be formally presented to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday says Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was a “legitimate security measure” to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza.
The report, which was obtained and published by The New York Times on Thursday, concluded that Israel faces “a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”
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The 105-page document also said that “Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable.”
Neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the Foreign Ministry had any comment on the report, waiting until its formal presentation on Friday before issuing reactions.
One Israeli government official said, however, that the findings “clearly show that Israel’s actions were in accordance with international law, both in imposing the naval blockade and in enforcing it. We think both countries should accept the report and seize its recommendations as an opportunity to restore the relationship between the two countries for their benefit, and for the benefit of regional stability.”
Before the Times published the report, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that if Israel did not apologize for the incident by the time the report was formally released, Ankara would “put Plan B into play.”
Plan B refers to a threat made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month that if Israel did not apologize, Turkey would further downgrade ties with Israel and aggressively oppose it in international forums. The Turks have also threatened to cut economic ties as part of a Plan B.
A Channel 2 report on Thursday night said that this diplomatic downgrade would include declaring Israel’s envoy in Ankara persona non grata, a severe diplomatic step.
Israel’s ambassador to Ankara, Gabi Levy, is in Israel on vacation and is retiring from the Foreign Service in the middle of September. Israel has not named a replacement for him.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton two weeks ago that Israel did not intend to apologize.
The Palmer Report, in an introductory section called “rapprochement,” did not call for Israel to apologize to Turkey as Ankara has been demanding.
Rather, it said, “An appropriate statement of regret should be made by Israel in respect of the incident in light of its consequences.”
The report also said Israel should offer payment to those injured and the families of the nine people killed, “to be administered by the two governments through a joint trust fund of a sufficient amount to be decided by them.”
Furthermore, the report said, “Turkey and Israel should resume full diplomatic relations, repairing their relationship in the interests of stability in the Middle East and international peace and security.”
Israel has already expressed regret for the loss of lives in May 2010 incident, and said it was willing to pay compensation.
Davutoglu did not seem in a mood for rapprochement during an interview with the Istanbul newspapers Today’s Zaman and Hurriyet published on Thursday.
Referring to Netanyahu’s recent proposal – shot down by the Turks – to postpone the release of the commission’s report for another six months to give the sides additional time to try and reconcile, Davutoglu said, “We cannot accept a sixmonth extension. The release date of the UN report is the last date for us. We will put Plan B into play if [there is] no apology.”
According to Today’s Zaman, Davutoglu said, “Turkey will impose sanctions which both Israel and other international parties are aware of.”
Israeli officials said the Turkish foreign minister’s ultimatum was not a genuine attempt to get an Israeli apology, because that is something that would not be done publicly through the use of threats and ultimatums. Rather, one official said, Davutoglu was trying to prepare the Turkish public for the Palmer Report that upheld Israel’s blockade and was critical of Ankara, by showing that his government was “not backing down.”
The Palmer Commission wrote that the flotilla “acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade. The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH. The actions of the flotilla needlessly carried the potential for escalation.”
According to the report, neither Israel nor Turkey intended for the flotilla to end in violence.
“Both states took steps in an attempt to ensure that events did not occur in a manner that endangered individuals’ lives and international peace and security.
Turkish officials also approached the organizers of the flotilla with the intention of persuading them to change course if necessary and avoid an encounter with Israeli forces. But more could have been done to warn the flotilla participants of the potential risks involved and to dissuade them from their actions.”
The report said the Israel Navy commandos “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection.
Three soldiers were captured, mistreated and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded.”
Turning its criticism toward Israel, the report found that the loss of lives and injuries resulting from the IDF’s use of force was “unacceptable.”
“Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces. No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths,” the report read. “Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel.”
The report also said that “there was significant mistreatment of passengers by Israeli authorities after the takeover of the vessels had been completed through until their deportation. This included physical mistreatment, harassment and intimidation, unjustified confiscation of belongings and the denial of timely consular assistance.”
In a subsection titled “How to Avoid Similar Incidents in the Future,” the panel wrote that “Attempts to breach a lawfully imposed naval blockade place the vessel and those on board at risk. Where a state becomes aware that its citizens or flag vessels intend to breach a naval blockade, it has a responsibility to take proactive steps compatible with democratic rights and freedoms to warn them of the risks involved and to endeavor to dissuade them from doing so.”
On the other side of the coin, according to the report, “States enforcing a naval blockade against nonmilitary vessels, especially where large numbers of civilian passengers are involved, should be cautious in the use of force. Efforts should first be made to stop the vessels by nonviolent means.
“In particular, they should not use force except when absolutely necessary and then should only use the minimum level of force necessary to achieve the lawful objective of maintaining the blockade. They must provide clear and express warnings so that the vessels are aware if force is to be used against them.”