'IDF, Turkish military relations good'

Ashkenazi spoke with Ankara counterpart following flotilla incident.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
July 7, 2010 06:19
3 minute read.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi

ashkenazi GOOD 311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)

A number of IDF soldiers will face criminal and disciplinary charges for misconduct during Operation Cast Lead, IDF Military Advocate-General Maj.- Gen. Avichai Mandelblit decided Tuesday, in the most comprehensive legal action taken by Israel in the wake of the Goldstone Report.

In the most severe case, Mandelblit decided to charge a soldier with manslaughter for allegedly shooting and killing a Palestinian woman during the operation in the Gaza Strip.

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Israel has an interest in preserving its security relations with Turkey, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee during a Tuesday morning briefing.

Ashkenazi described the relations between the IDF and the Turkish military as “good” and revealed to the MKs that he had personally spoken with his Turkish counterpart in a telephone conversation following the events of the Gaza flotilla.

The chief of staff added that the IDF’s ground forces commander, Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman, had also recently met with his Turkish counterpart during a conference in Europe. The Turkish general with whom he spoke is slated to become the next chief of staff.

Ashkenazi told MKs that he did not believe the Turkish army was behind the recent spate of cancellations of joint military exercises, but that it was a policy pressed upon the army by the political leadership.

“It is important to maintain security relations with Turkey as much as possible,” he added. “Turkey is going through changes, and we still don’t know their exact nature.”

In previous decades, the Turkish military wielded the power behind – or even in front of – the political scenes in Ankara. But with the ascent of Islamicist power, the influence of the Turkish military to dictate the country’s policies has become limited.

The IDF chief acknowledged that Turkey was far from the only source of potential flotillas challenging Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. A Lebanese flotilla, involving women, members of parliament and others, is still being organized, although it is taking longer than its Palestinian-Lebanese sponsor wanted. Meanwhile, he said, the IDF and Israel are trying through both open and secret channels to prevent its arrival.

“We communicated messages to the Lebanese government that it would be responsible for that flotilla and its outcome, whatever that may be,” he said.

The Lebanese government, he added, also did not want to stand behind the flotilla.

“We must make every effort so that flotillas will not embark,” said Ashkenazi.

“Their goal is to embarrass Israel.”

The IDF has received information that preparations are under way for another flotilla from Libya, but that enthusiasm for a similar endeavor in Iran has significantly cooled, Ashkenazi said. The navy’s boarding of the Mavi Marmara, he added, had a deterrent effect, and the Israeli decision to limit the scope of the naval blockade “increased the legitimacy of Israel’s actions and reduced the international legitimacy of future flotillas.”

Ashkenazi noted that there were three possible scenarios regarding the participants in future flotillas: They could be international peace activists, pro-Palestinian activists planning to meet forces with violence and stiff opposition, or terrorists with suicidal intentions planning to meet IDF forces with bomb belts and automatic weapons.

The chief of staff told MKs that in the case of the May flotilla, “we knew that there would be violence, but not intent to kill,” and that forensics experts were currently examining the origins of bullet casings found on the Mavi Marmara that did not come from any of the IDF-issued weapons used by the naval commandos.

Ashkenazi said the IDF was conducting an internal probe into the events, in addition to the official inquiry being carried out by Maj.-Gen.

(res.) Giora Eiland. Most of the conclusions, he said, pointed to the fact that the soldiers acted “bravely, professionally and proportionally.”

Nevertheless, neither Israel nor any NATO allies have yet developed a way to stop ships at sea without causing damage to the ships themselves or to their passengers and crews, Ashkenazi noted.


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