Analysis: Flotilla probe set up to satisfy world

Young Israelis in the coastal town of Ashkelon demonstrate in support of the country’s navy commandos

Young Israelis in the coastal town of Ashkelon demonstrate in support of the country’s navy commandos

The commission of inquiry into the flotilla set up this week by Israel may be called the Turkel Commission after its head, Judge Jacob Turkel, but the man whose name it really should carry is Richard Goldstone.

The only reason Binyamin Netanyahu caved in to demands to set up an inquiry is the fear of another hostile international commission, like the one set up by the UN after Operation Cast Lead last year.

Mr Netanyahu and his closest political ally, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, would have done almost anything to prevent a commission probing into their decision-making - everything but run the risk of another Goldstone.

There certainly is no significant pressure within Israel to set up such an inquiry. Israel is undergoing a surge of patriotism, engendered by the "everyone is against us" feeling sweeping the country. Dozens of spontaneous displays of support for the naval commandos have taken place. Polls show that a majority of the electorate is against a commission and that an uncharacteristic 57 per cent trust the leadership on security issues.

But in his discussions with Western leaders, especially with Mr Obama, Mr Netanyahu was clearly told that if he expected them to block a Goldstone-style commission, he must deliver a credible alternative. The result was the product of protracted talks between Jerusalem and Washington. Mr Netanyahu also spoke to David Cameron and Angela Merkel.

In a cabinet meeting on Monday he expressed the hope that the commission will "first, safeguard the IDF's soldiers' freedom to operate and the integrity of the army's debriefing system, and second, provide a trustworthy response to the... international community."

For that, Israel has been forced to concede international observers on the committee. These, like the Israeli members, have been hand picked. The members are old establishment figures. The 75-year-old former Supreme Court Judge Yakov Turkel, never a maverick while on the bench, will chair the commission, while the military expertise will come from 86-year-old former general Amos Horev and 93-year-old Shabtai Rosen, a world-renowned expert on international law.

The international observers will be the youngsters on the panel. Lord Trimble, as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, will bring international credibility. Ken Watkin is the previous Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Armed Forces. As the man who crafted the legal aspects of Canada's military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Watkin is expected to be an understanding soul.

As of yet there is no clear schedule or mandate for the commission. Mr Netanyahu wants it to focus mainly on the legitimacy of the Gaza blockade and the operation against the flotilla while the internal IDF commission concerns itself with the operational aspects. If he is lucky, neither commission will deal with the chaos which allowed the operation to
be authorised without full deliberation by the cabinet or the National Security Council.

    Last updated: 4:02pm, June 17 2010