Israel, U.S. Agree on Nature of Gaza Flotilla Probe

Final decision held up for four days by the Americans, who were dissatisfied with the original proposal for the investigative committee's composition.

Israel and the United States agreed Thursday on the nature of the Israeli investigative committee that will look into the events surrounding the takeover of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla nearly two weeks ago.


An official announcement on the committee is due to be made Friday, though the declaration could be deferred to Saturday night. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to make the announcement; he will also say who will be on the committee and discuss its powers.

Channel 2 reported last night that the committee will be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice. It appears that the Prime Minister's Office has approached former Justice Yaakov Tirkel to fill the position.

Contacts with the United States on forming the panel have been handled by the prime minister himself and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Their main contact has been U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. It was the Americans who proposed the nature of the committee - similar to the one that investigated the sinking of a South Korean ship by the North Koreans.

The forum of seven senior ministers has met to discuss the matter, but the final decision was held up until a formula was reached that was acceptable to the Americans. There have been four days of discussions with the Americans on the subject following their dissatisfaction over the nature of the committee as initially proposed and its composition.

It appears that it was the Americans who insisted that the committee be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice to give the panel greater credibility.

The panel will be a government-appointed committee but will not be considered an official government inquiry convened in accordance with the Basic Law on the Government. Nor will it be a state commission of inquiry.

In addition to the judge heading the panel, members will include jurists specializing in international law as well as two observers - one American and the other European.

The committee will have a mandate to examine whether the blockade of the Gaza Strip is in accordance with international law, whether the Israel Navy's takeover of the aid flotilla in international waters was legal and whether the use of force by Israeli troops and other aspects of the operation were legal. Netanyahu, Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi are all expected to testify before the committee.

A team of military experts appointed by Ashkenzi and headed by Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland began its own examination of the flotilla incident on Wednesday.