Ashkenazi to face Turkel c'tee

Chief of Staff follows Barak testimony that partially blamed IDF.

Barak Turkel 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Barak Turkel 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Following in the footsteps of the prime minister and the defense minister, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was scheduled to give his testimony to the Turkel Committee investigating the Gaza flotilla incident on Wednesday.
In his testimony before the committee on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak assumed “overall responsibility” for the decision to send navy commandos to intercept the Turkish ships en route to Gaza on May 31, but later appeared to pass some of the responsibility to the IDF, saying that it was up to the military to warn the government if “the mission cannot be carried out.
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'Flotilla probes are out of line'
“The army [officials] honestly described the difficulties [that would be faced in the mission], but stressed that even though it would not be simple, they could carry it out. Clearly, it’s vital for the army to clarify the significance of the mission, and here, they [army officials] said, there will be friction, there will be difficult images, and maybe even injuries, but they said this could be done,” Barak said.
“The military echelon must say if the mission can’t be carried out,” Barak continued. “The political echelon decided to stop the flotilla. It decides on what [to do], and the military echelon decides on how [to do it],” he said.
“Operations don’t always end the way we want... Such is life,” he added.
Barak said he still backs the decision to stop the flotilla, adding that it remained “the right and reasonable” course of action.
“I take overall responsibility for what happens in systems that are subordinate to me, including the IDF. I take full responsibility as a minister for instructing the military echelon... including on the flotilla incident,” he said.
Barak contradicts testimony of Netanyahu
During his appearance, Barak appeared to directly contradict testimony given to the committee by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a day earlier.
Netanyahu had said that the inner cabinet met before the navy operation, but only discussed the media and public diplomacy angles of the mission.
But Barak said cabinet ministers at the meeting also discussed military aspects of the operation, and received an intelligence briefing.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and the head of the Research Department of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate answered questions from the ministers that touched on operational issues, Barak said.
“The decision to stop the flotilla with a commando raid was taken by the premier, a forum of seven minister, and myself,” he said.
During the inner cabinet meeting, “ministers without portfolios but with a lot of common sense raised questions,” Barak added.
At the end, the ministers backed the operation, he said. “It wasn’t a decision between good and bad, but between the lesser of two evils,” Barak remarked.
The defense minister described the flotilla as a planned provocation aimed at embarrassing Israel and breaking Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
“We have an excellent chief of staff, excellent commanders, and excellent soldiers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, who recently headed an IDF committee of inquiry into the flotilla, attacked the government for failing to take proper responsibility for the incident, during an Israel Radio interview on Tuesday.
Eiland said there was no dialogue between the government and military command aimed at finding solutions to stopping the flotilla. Eiland also rejected the idea that the military’s relationship with the government was hierarchical, and said the army was not restricted to receiving and executing orders from the government.
The government should have initiated a plan to ease restrictions on Gaza in exchange for preventing confrontations such as the flotilla, Eiland said.