The testimonies by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the Turkel Committee arouse considerable concern. In describing the decision-making process before the takeover of the Turkish flotilla to the Gaza Strip, the two men revealed grave flaws about their judgment and discussions on the most sensitive diplomatic and security matters.
The suspicions that arose immediately after the operation were confirmed in all their gravity in the testimonies. Netanyahu testified that a decision by the defense minister had imposed the naval blockade on Gaza at the time of Operation Cast Lead; the defense minister had apparently informed the prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert. According to Netanyahu, no discussion was held in any larger forum about the blockade and its implications. When threats about breaking through the blockade grew, the government tried to use diplomacy to thwart the flotilla, and when the diplomatic effort failed, it resorted to the bullying takeover of the ships.
According to Netanyahu, the main consideration guiding him in his decision later to open the gates of Gaza was Israel’s image in the international media. The Palestinian population’s suffering was not on his mind beyond the general statement that “there is no humanitarian crisis” in the Gaza Strip.
In the same spirit, the meeting of the forum of seven senior ministers before the takeover focused on the implications for “the media effect,” as Netanyahu said. He recalls a cursory discussion: “I received several ideas, issued a few instructions ... but we didn’t get into a discussion of the operation’s details.”
Barak presented a completely different version, to the point that it’s hard to believe that the prime minister and the defense minister took part in the same discussion. According to the defense minister, the ministers and officials went into detail, asked serious questions and expressed concern about complications: “There wasn’t a situation of people not understanding the situation.” Barak praised the government and attributed the responsibility for the hitches to the military, just as Netanyahu had attributed the responsibility to the defense minister.
The Turkel Committee has done well not to be content with the narrow mandate it received from Netanyahu and Barak and in deciding to examine the nature of their decisions. The significant contradictions between the testimonies and the attempts by the prime minister and the defense minister to pass the buck on down show that something basic is creaking at the top. The committee must thoroughly examine the issues so we can learn lessons and reduce the risk of similar mishaps in the future.
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