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Analysis: Salvaging the wreckage

● Israel resists another UN inquiry ● Fights pressure to lift the blockade

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In the aftermath of the disastrous raid on the Gaza flotilla, the Israeli leadership is scrambling to prevent two specific developments. The first is a re-run of the Goldstone Commission that produced a damaging report on Israel's conduct in Operation Cast Lead last year. Few Israelis imagine that another report commissioned by the United Nation's Human Rights Council would be any kinder to their country.

The other major concern is a campaign of international pressure on Israel to remove the blockade of Gaza at a disadvantageous moment.

Avoiding another Goldstone is the more immediate problem as the UNHRC has already voted for a fact-finding mission. The government also has to find its own way of investigating exactly what went wrong and, naturally, it hopes that the commission it forms will satisfy most Western governments as a sufficient measure, thereby rendering the UNHRC efforts irrelevant.

The lines are already drawn within the Israeli leadership over the nature of this commission and they are identical to those that existed in the previous argument over investigating Cast Lead.

The IDF is steadfastly opposed to any external body probing into its affairs and maintains that its internal system of debriefing is sufficient.

A number of ministers and senior officials in the justice and foreign ministries are convinced that an external commission is needed, perhaps even with the participation of an eminent expert from abroad. Only that, they say, will convince Israel's erstwhile allies that the country has nothing to hide.

Last time, the generals won the debate and the politicians had to concede them their investigation. But this time it could well go the other way. The IDF's most elite unit was publicly humiliated, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is on the way out and the trauma of Goldstone is still fresh.

Those demanding a civilian commission of inquiry, similar to the one that investigated the botched Mossad assassination attempt of Hamas Leader Haled Mashal 12 years ago, have a lot going for them right now.

An independent Israeli inquiry may be enough to appease some of those clamouring for a UN investigation, but it will probably not diminish the growing demand that Israel allow ships into its port. PM Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday night that by not allowing ships through, Israel is preventing "the creation of an Iranian port in the Mediterranean" which would enable Hamas to bring a hundred times the amount of arms it currently smuggles through the tunnels under Rafah.

This is disingenuous. Mr Netanyahu reads the daily intelligence assessments and he knows that the Mossad and Military Intelligence Branch are capable of detecting and interdicting Iranian arm shipments. This would be easy to justify in any international court.

The real reasons that Israel would prefer not to end the blockade now is that it would be giving up a valuable bargaining chip in any future prisoner deal for Gilad Shalit. It would also cause major trouble in the delicate relationship with Egypt. Some politicians and a minority in the military also want to maintain the blockade to pressure the Palestinian population into rebelling against Hamas. But most analysts agree that we are not about to see another coup d'etat in Gaza any time soon.

Behind the scenes, the near-consensus in the government and IDF high command is that Israel must find a way to gradually remove the blockade, together with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. But such an outcome would have to include a prisoner deal, security arrangements and at least some degree of monitoring on the levels of arms going into the Strip.

Israel is now preparing for a tidal wave of pressure to end the blockade as soon as possible, without first putting in place alternative safeguards and without receiving any quid pro quo. So far, the only answer Israel has to these demands is more rhetoric.

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