PM's Exit Strategy: Easing Naval Blockade of Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is prepared to consider easing the naval blockade of Gaza and involving international players in its enforcement.

In so doing, he is acceding to pressure from Washington, which opposes continuing the blockade in its present format and demands that Israel make it easier to send civilian goods to Gaza.

But while he is willing to have the blockade focus mainly on preventing arms smuggling to Hamas and to allow international involvement in supervising Gaza-bound cargoes, he insists on carefully scrutinizing any proposals to ensure their feasibility, rather than making a hasty decision in response to pressure stemming from Monday's botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

And so far, he has no plans to ease the land blockade.

Easing the naval blockade is part of an "exit strategy" that Washington devised in separate talks with Israel and Turkey. It will also include an investigation into the legality of the raid.

On Wednesday, as a gesture to Ankara, Israel released all the flotilla's passengers without instituting criminal proceedings against them.

Yesterday, Netanyahu held a series of discussions on whether and how to investigate the raid. He opposes any probe that would force Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers to "equip themselves with lawyers" before embarking on an operation, saying that would destroy the IDF's ability to fight. Therefore, he objects to either a state commission of inquiry or a governmental inquiry panel, or to any probe of the army's decision-making process.

However, he is willing to investigate two issues: whether it was legal to conduct such a raid in international waters, and whether Israel used excessive force. Senior Israeli officials believe the respective answers are "yes" and "no": International law permits defensive operations on the high seas, and the use of force was reasonable and proportionate. Had the soldiers not been attacked by the Mavi Marmara's passengers, no casualties would have occurred - just as none occurred on the other five ships.

On Monday, the day of the raid, Netanyahu asked U.S. President Barack Obama to veto any UN Security Council condemnation of Israel, but Obama refused. He did soften the declaration's wording, but not by as much as Israel would have liked.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last night that Washington is examining ideas for expanding the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza without undermining Israel's "legitimate security interests." She also said no decision had yet been made on whether the U.S. would participate in any probe of the raid.

Natasha Mozgovaya and Barak Ravid contributed to this report.