'Flotilla probe after Iran vote'

By
June 9, 2010 21:26

PM says IDF 'Marmara' commandos to face internal investigation only.

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (AP).

netanyahu 311. (photo credit: AP)

Israel has yet to formally announce the make-up of a probe to investigate the flotilla episode not because of US displeasure with the proposed format, but rather because of a desire by both countries to wait until after the UN Security Council voted on Iran sanctions, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met again Wednesday with his inner cabinet, a forum known as the septet, and discussed the probe, but yet again delayed formally announcing the establishment of a committee.

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Government officials said the US was focused on getting the Iran sanctions it had been working on for five months through the Security Council, and did not want anything to come out just prior to the vote that might have shifted the vote of the 15 countries on the council.

The sanctions resolution passed by a vote of 12 – 2, with Lebanon abstaining. Turkey and Brazil were the two countries that voted against.

Netanyahu – in his first public comments on the nature of the probe – said at an economic conference in Tel Aviv Wednesday that it would not have the authority to question soldiers involved in the incident, and would also deal with questions about how extremists made their way to the deck of the ship with weapons and pockets full of cash.

 "We are consulting with a number of actors in the international community concerning the suitable investigative process that will lead to a revelation of the facts regarding the flotilla," Netanyahu said.

The Prime Minister said that he, his ministers and the chief of general staff, would appear before the committee, but that the soldiers involved in the incident would not appear before the probe.

 "The IDF will be the only body that will, as always, be able to investigate our fighters," he said. "That is exactly the way it is done in the armies of our friends in the world, and that is how we will do it as well."

The IDF has established a panel of military experts, headed by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, which has already began investigating the flotilla operation.

"I ask that all the truth come to light," Netanyahu said, of the as-yet-to-be-established judicial probe.  "Therefore, the investigation must include answers to questions that some in the international community want to ignore. Who was behind the extremists on the deck of the ship?  Who funded the group, how did axes, clubs, knives and other cold weapons find their way to the deck?  Why were there large amounts of money in the pockets of those on the deck, and who was going to get that money?  The world needs to know the full picture, and we will make sure the whole picture comes to light."

Israeli officials acknowledged that Israel was still in discussion with the US about the probe, but that even had there been full agreement before Wednesday's UN vote on Iran sanctions, Israel would not have announced the establishment of the probe so as not to shift the focus from the UN.

The septet is widely believed to have agreed upon the establishment of a committee made up of jurists and diplomats, with the participation of two international observers – one from the US and the other from an as yet unnamed country -- to look into the legality of Israel's naval blockade, and the manner in which Israel prevented the flotilla from reaching Gaza.

The septet's decision to establish the committee will most likely go to the cabinet for final approval.

One Israeli official said that the committee that will be established will conform to criteria established by the UN Security Council presidential statement issued last week after the incident. That statement called for "a full investigation into the matter" and it called for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards."  It stopped short, however, of calling for an international investigation, as Turkey has demanded.

That statement called for “a full investigation into the matter” and for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”

It stopped short, however, of calling for an international investigation, as Turkey has demanded.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said on Wednesday it was time to “end the regime of commissions of inquiry.

“I hope the prime minister will have the courage to avoid a probe that would cause internal conflicts," Olmert said in a speech at the University of Haifa. But he warned that without a peace process, Israel will be more isolated.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.


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