Barak Bombards Gaza Flotilla Inquiry With Information Broadside

Defense minister takes the stand armed to the teeth with facts, swamping bewildered panel in whirl of detail.

Even during the photo call that preceded his appearance before Israel's inquiry into the Gaza flotilla raid on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak had already succeeded in drawing the ire of the panel's chairman, Yaakov Turkel.

"The materials we requested from the Defense Ministry only arrived yesterday," complained Turkel, a retired Supreme Court judge, in full view of television cameras. "We couldn't possibility get through all the material between last night and your testimony this morning," he complained as Barak took his place on the witness stand.

Ehud Barak
Tomer Appelbaum

Turkel's remarks were only the first indication that Barak had arrived with a pre-thought strategy. Unlike Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu, who in his testimony the day before dodged tricky questions by skimping on detail, Barak bombarded the panel with names, dates and facts before launching an evasive maneuver in the form of a pompous oration on the dangers of global terror and a nuclear Iran, helpfully informing the committee that Israel was not North America, or indeed Western Europe.

Barak's testimony showed him far better prepared than Netanyahu. While the prime minister came poorly equipped with the information he need to answer the panel, Barak was armed top the teeth with minute details on every question raised during every cabinet discussion before the raid, and every similar operation preceding it.

The defense minister presented Turkel with a briefing so comprehensive that for an hour and a half – an hour longer than Netanyahu's testimony - the panel could only grimace their frustration as they failed to get a word in edgeways.

Eventually, one panel member, Reuven Merhav, managed to force a halt to the tirade. "We only got the defense ministry materials yesterday," he said. "You're talking fast and swamping us with details. I'd like to move on to questions." Barak responded with a request for another 20 minutes to complete his overview before being cross-examined.

Instead, the possibly fatigued Turkel ordered an hour-long break.