Israel to announce its own inquiry into flotilla

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 10, 2010

The Israeli cabinet is expected to appoint a committee of inquiry into the Gaza flotilla operation on Sunday.

The current plan is to a form a committee with a limited mandate which will not question soldiers who took part in the operation. The inclusion of international observers on the committee is still under consideration.

The IDF has already set up its own committee of military experts to investigate the operational aspects of the boarding of the flotilla.

The IDF committee will only address the military planning and execution of the operation. The government committee is expected to ask tough questions on the process by which the political leadership approved the operation.

Even before the committee has been appointed, accusations have begun flying. Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, a former IDF chief of staff, said on Tuesday that while "the fighting on the deck was heroic, there were problems with the operational planning."

He said he warned of these problems in advance, but would not elaborate.

It has emerged that the "group of seven" inner cabinet did not hold any formal meetings to discuss Israel's response to the Gaza flotilla and that all decisions had been made by PM Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

The inner cabinet held a number of meetings this week on the mandate for the committee but the final go-ahead is being held back until the American administration agrees to support Israel's move. The committee is expected to include senior Israeli legal experts and former senior IDF officers. It is also expected to include one or two foreign, most likely American, observers though the details are still under discussion with the Americans.

PM Netanyahu said that "We will be seeking answers to questions that most of the international community has ignored. We have to find out who was behind this radical group, who financed its members and how did knives, axes and other weapons get on the boat."

Mr Netanyahu stressed that the committee would not question soldiers, though it will be able to question the chief of staff and navy commander.

"The only body that should interrogate soldiers is the IDF," he said. "That is how it is done in all our allies' armies."

Meanwhile, the government has denied reports that it is about to ease the closure of the Gaza Strip due to international pressure and in an attempt to receive backing for the Israeli inquiry from friendly governments. Senior officials, though, admit that the government is seeking ways to change the closure policy while continuing to block arms shipments to Gaza.

This week, Israel began allowing in shipments of snack foods and soft drinks along with the daily food convoys to Gaza but a senior security source denied Palestinian claims that this was in response to the flotilla.

"We began extending the list of foodstuffs allowed in Gaza months ago," said the source. "Two weeks ago we began to allow jams and halva in. We plan, over the next few months to allow all kinds of food into Gaza."

Last updated: 2:00pm, June 10 2010