Ashkenazi: IDF showed great restraint on 'Marmara'

Chief of staff tells Turkel Committee soldiers took great risks to handle foreign activists with care; probe welcomes all witnesses on boat to testify.

Ashkenazi Turkel Committee 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Ashkenazi Turkel Committee 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
The naval commandos who seized the Turkish ferry boat Mavi Marmara at sea on May 31 fired 350 less-lethal projectiles at the passengers who attacked them, compared with 308 live bullets, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the Turkel Commission on Sunday.
Ashkenazi said the commandos had shown great restraint after being attacked by members of the radical Islamic Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and did not open fire with live ammunition even after the second commando descending on a rope from an IDF helicopter had been shot.
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“The second soldier was shot,” Ashkenazi said. “The ones that followed him down understood that [the IHH activists] on board had weapons. Some of the soldiers lost consciousness. Three were kidnapped. It all happened in the dark. Yet the soldiers did not open fire immediately.”
Ashkenazi testified for the second time before the members of the commission after he refused its request to summon the commander of the navy, who was in charge of the operation to seize the Mavi Marmara and five other vessels that tried to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip on May 31.
Ashkenazi added that the planners of the operation had even ruled out some less-lethal weapons, such as rubber bullets, because they could be lethal at close range. The soldiers had been equipped with paint ball and “Big Ben” ammunition. He admitted to the commission that although the army was aware that the challenge posed by the Mavi Marmara was exceptional compared with the boats that had tried to break the blockade up until then, the soldiers were not fully warned of what they were about to face.
“We instructed the soldiers,” Ashkenazi said. “[However], I can’t say they were prepared for every possibility.”
Later, Ashkenazi explained that while the soldiers had been told to expect violence, they hadn’t been warned of the possibility that they might be attacked by a large number of extremely determined assailants. The commanders themselves had not expected that, he said.
He added, however, that the proof that the soldiers had been prepared for violence of some sort was the fact that they were able to switch very quickly from a situation in which they were ordered to use lesslethal weapons to one in which they had to use live fire.
Commission member Miguel Deutch asked Ashkenazi why he continued to send soldiers down the rope when he saw what had happened to the first several. Ashkenazi replied that there was no other way to seize control of the boat and that it had to be done as quickly as possible. He added that had he waited until daylight to attack the vessel, there would have been even more IDF casualties.
According to Ashkenazi, when the operation began, there were only 10 to 15 IHH activists on the top deck of the vessel. The soldiers threw stun grenades at them in order to disperse them.
However, by the time the soldiers reached the ship, the activists had called their comrades to help and numbered close to 100 attackers.
He also told the commission that the Turkish activists stole four pistols belonging to commandos, but only two of them were recovered. He said the other two had likely been thrown into the sea.
The army also did not find the pistol which had been used to shoot the second commando in the stomach. But Ashkenazi said the activists on board had definitely used their own pistol because the commando who was shot was the second one going down the rope, while the only soldier in front of him had been carrying a short-stubbed Uzi submachine gun.