Turkey has issued arrest warrants for four former senior Israel Defense Forces officers and plans to indict them over the deaths of nine Turkish nationals during a botched raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza in 2010.

The officers in question are former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, former commander of the navy Eliezer Marom, and former head of air force intelligence Avishai Levi. The four are accused of giving the orders for the raid on the Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turks were killed after passengers brutally assaulted the naval commandos who boarded the ship.

According to the Turkish newspaper Sabah, the officers will be arrested if they ever set foot in Turkey.

Local experts in international law noted that Turkey could ask Interpol to issue a so-called "red notice" for the four, in which case they would be liable to be arrested any time they visited any country that is a member of Interpol.

Nick Kaufman, who currently serves as a defense attorney at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, explained that a red notice indicates an intent to indict the suspects, and requires any country that they enter to inform Turkey of their presence, thereby allowing Turkey to request the suspects' extradition.

"This could lead to an arrest and an extradition request, if an extradition agreement exists" between Turkey and the country in question, Kaufman added. "Not every country would be likely to extradite them, but this could certainly cause unpleasantness."

Prof. Robbie Sabel, a former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry who is now a lecturer in international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that a Turkish application to Interpol could result in "temporary danger and inconvenience" to the officers should they travel abroad, but would be unlikely to result in their extradition, even if such a request were to be filed in the host country's courts.

The 144-page draft indictment will soon be submitted to the district attorney for Istanbul, who must approve it and then file it in court, the Turkish newspaper said. Turkish sources confirmed the report to Haaretz, adding that Washington is applying heavy pressure on Ankara to get the Istanbul prosecutor to reject the indictment.

The indictment accuses the four officers of voluntary manslaughter, saying they intentionally gave orders to kill the passengers. Other charges include attempted voluntary manslaughter, intentional injury, incitement to assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, abduction or confiscation of maritime vessels, property damage, false arrest and maltreatment of prisoners.

The indictment was prepared after taking testimony from 600 people, including 490 passengers on the Mavi Marmara, as well as relatives of those killed, Sabah said. Even though the indictment has not yet been filed, it added, the prosecution has already decided to seek 10 life sentences for each of the four officers - the tenth being on account of a wounded passenger who has been in a coma since the raid.

Rejected overtures

Turkish sources told Haaretz that in recent weeks, Israel has been trying to improve its relations with Turkey, with several unnamed European countries serving as intermediaries. But Ankara has rejected these overtures, insisting that no rapprochement is possible without a formal apology for the flotilla raid and payment of compensation to the families of the dead.

Nevertheless, Israel's decision to return three Heron drones to Turkey is being seen in Ankara as a gesture of goodwill. The drones had been sent to Israel for repairs but, after the bilateral relationship soured, Israel delayed their return on "various pretexts," as one source put it.

Some sources speculated that Ankara might be planning to use the indictment as a means of pressuring the U.S. Congress to approve the sale of armed American Predator drones to Turkey. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has approved the sale, but Congress has been holding it up, mainly due to anger at Turkey's hostile policy toward Israel.

The botched raid on the flotilla took place almost exactly two years ago, on May 31, 2010, when naval commandos were ordered to enforce Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip by intercepting a six-ship convoy bound for Gaza. The commandos met no resistance when they boarded five of the ships. But on the Mavi Marmara they were brutally attacked with iron bars, staves, chains, slingshots and knives, a UN inquiry later concluded. The soldiers then opened fire on their attackers, killing nine passengers and wounding 20 others.

Israel later claimed that the "activists" in question were essentially mercenaries sent by IHH, the Turkey-based radical Islamist group that organized the flotilla.

The raid significantly worsened the already tense relationship between the two countries. Security ties were effectively severed, Turkey later withdrew its ambassador, and it criticizes Israel viciously in international forums, especially over the Palestinian issue. Ankara has insisted that ties cannot be restored unless Israel apologizes and pays compensation, but Jerusalem has repeatedly rejected these demands.

In September 2011, the UN inquiry published its report on the incident, which largely exculpated Israel. While finding that the soldiers used excessive force, it upheld Israel's contention that the blockade was legal and that it had the right to enforce it militarily. Turkey had disputed both contentions.

Earlier, an Israeli inquiry headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel had excoriated the raid's planners but concluded that the soldiers opened fire in self-defense, and that Turkey bore some responsibility for the incident. According to Sabah, parts of the draft indictment are aimed at refuting some of these claims.