Israeli army chief: flotilla raid 'unprecedented'

By Jennifer Lipman, August 11, 2010
Gabi Ashkenazi

Gabi Ashkenazi

Israel’s chief of staff has told a panel investigating the Mavi Marmara operation that his soldiers behaved in a "proportionate and correct" way.

Appearing before the inquiry, which is headed by retired Supreme Court judge Jacob Turkel, Gabi Ashkenazi said that the circumstances on board the Gaza-bound flotilla had been “unprecedented”. But he added that the commandos had “exhibited calm, bravery and morality.”

Mr Ashkenazi said the soldiers had legitimately opened fire and that he was proud of them.

But he said the central mistake was that the commandos did not shoot to “neutralise those who prevented the rappelling down of soldiers” before landing on the ship.

“That would have decreased the risk of harm to them. That is the central lesson for the next operation.”

Nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists died after the May 31 clash, and it was later reported that many of those on board the flotilla had links to the Turkish Islamist group IHH.

Mr Ashkenazi admitted that Israel did not know enough about the IHH and had not prioritised investigating it.

The IDF chief, who reaches the end of his four year term in early 2010, stressed to the panel that Israel’s military contacts with Turkey have not suffered.

He said: "Turkey is not an enemy state and I hope it never will be.”

Mr Ashkenazi also said that he and the IDF were committed to studying any mistakes.

“The IDF is committed to examining its actions and investigating every operation.

Mr Ashkenazi’s comments came as video footage from the flotilla surfaced, revealing that an Israeli Arab Knesset member was aware the IHH activists were armed.

MK Haneen Zoabi had said she was unaware of this. But photographs from the Mavi Marmara have shown that there were knives and other weapons on board, which Mr Ashkenazi said was important.

He told the committee: "When someone comes at a soldier with an axe, the soldier will shoot.”

Last updated: 2:21pm, August 11 2010