'Don't submit to outside probe of raid'

Former UK commander urges Israel to act.

June 3, 2010 05:36
4 minute read.
Col. Richard Kemp.

col richard kemp 311. (photo credit: .)


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Israel should not agree to an independent international inquiry of the raid on the Gaza flotilla that left at least nine people dead, Col. (ret.) Richard Kemp, the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.

“Israel has a democratically elected government and like every other democratically elected government in the world, Israel should carry out its own investigation,” said Kemp.

“I believe Israel should do it rapidly and comprehensively and should be completely up front if it has made mistakes – mistakes should be admitted by Israel, but I don’t think it should be subjected to an independent inquiry any more than other Western countries are.

“Look at what appears to have been a very serious military error made by the German army in Northern Afghanistan last year when something like 50-150 civilians were killed in an air strike,” he said.

“Where was the independent inquiry about that? Where were the calls for an independent inquiry about that? Why is it that Israel is subjected to that kind of call when other democratic countries aren’t?”

Kemp is in Israel for a conference Wednesday organized by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) on “Israel’s Critical Security Needs For a Viable Peace.” Kemp spoke at the conference and warned against an Israeli decision to allow NATO to deploy in the West Bank following an IDF withdrawal.

As a top commander in Afghanistan, Kemp worked closely with NATO but said he was skeptical that the military alliance would succeed in recruiting the necessary number of forces. Some NATO forces, he said, operate under major restrictions.

“Many of the troops are restricted and some nations are simply not prepared to put their troops in danger,” he said.

Dr. Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations and the head of the JCPA, called a future NATO deployment in the West Bank a “disaster.”

“NATO today is not about blocking Soviet forces in Eastern Europe but has a counter-terror strategy that has not been all that successful,” Gold said.

While Kemp was critical of Israel’s handling of the flotilla raid, in particular its intelligence-gathering prior to the operation, he said the blame for the death toll lay with the “activists” who attacked the soldiers.

“I think there were clearly errors made in what the IDF did in boarding that ship,” Kemp said. “The main error seems to me to have been a failure of intelligence in having a prior understanding of what they were facing. Arguably, had they known better what kind of resistance they might face, they could have approached the ship in a different way.

“The real people responsible for what happened though are those people who attacked the soldiers who came on board.

“Intelligence is a notoriously hard thing to get right, but it was a flaw not to have recognized the nature of the people they were confronting.  The publicity surrounding those ships, though, was all to do with people in pursuit of peace and aiding the people of Gaza.

“It was not unreasonable not to expect them to behave in the way they did, but having said that, a military force that has the reputation and the sophistication of Israel’s should not be surprised in that way.”

Kemp added that in his opinion the planners should have taken into account a worse-case scenario irrespective of intelligence.

“From the reports I’ve heard and seen the Israeli soldiers appeared to be determined to show that they were not coming on board to offer violence and that may have been what led to the situation that occurred,” he said.

Asked whether once on board and facing those circumstances the commandos had no choice but to shoot to kill or whether they should have responded differently, Kemp replied, “I think one has to wait for more detailed facts to come out, but the rules of engagement, the laws of armed conflict, to an extent apply in that situation the same as they would apply anywhere.

“The Israeli soldiers were under obligation to use minimum force, but we’ve all seen the footage that’s been released of what happened and they appear to have been subject to a very vicious and violent attack.

“When you’re in that situation – by the look of it outnumbered by a group of people wielding iron bars and, according to Israeli reports, knives and possibly having taken weapons from soldiers – it’s very hard when you’re facing a situation which is effectively close combat to decide, unless you were actually there, what the rights and wrongs were. But for a soldier to be put in that situation is regrettable.”

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