The Report Is Good, the Situation Is Bad

Israel longs for vision, wisdom and resolution. The Turkel committee has contributed very little in those areas.

The committee investigating the May 31 Gaza-bound flotilla published the first of two reports yesterday after seven months of work. The committee, headed by retired justice Jacob Turkel, made a dream come true for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appointed it. If it had been called the Netanyahu committee it could not have produced a better report.

It completely exonerated Israel of breaking international law in imposing the naval blockade on Gaza and in taking over the flotilla's flagship, the Mavi Marmara. During that operation, nine Turkish activists were killed. Netanyahu and his ministers, who at the time quarreled over who was responsible for the failure, can derive satisfaction in terms of "what we wanted to prove."

The Turkel report's weakness is that it's not only good, but too good. It's not too good, however, for the naval commandos who risked their lives at the behest of those who sent them on their mission, which suffered from faulty intelligence and poor operational planning. The commandos were attacked, wounded and evacuated under shameful circumstances. This included 15 minutes during which three commandos were missing and nearly kidnapped without their commanders noticing. It's not the commandos' fault that the report is good but the situation, then and now, is bad.

Turkel and his colleagues were not judges in this case, but defenders. The panel included two distinguished reinforcements from abroad whose appointment had been approved by the Israeli government. So their participation was less significant than if they had been members of an external committee. The best advocate is inherently less credible than an ostensibly objective arbiter.

Therefore the report's usefulness in terms of diplomacy and public relations will probably be negligible. It doesn't represent a "committee of investigation" but rather the "government of Israel" - the entity that is responsible for the flotilla affair. Because, after all, Netanyahu and his ministers were afraid to appoint a state commission of inquiry, whose composition would be decided by the Supreme Court.

Israel's domestic problem stems from the quality of its leadership; discussion on this point was postponed to the second half of the report. Israel's external problem is not one of international law, although an astute government would leverage its exoneration to try to reconcile with Turkey, from a position of proven innocence. Justice is necessary but it is not enough. Israel longs for vision, wisdom and resolution. The Turkel committee has contributed very little in those areas.