ANKARA/JERUSALEM (EJP)---The Israeli government responded cautiously to Monday’s reports that the Turkish high court had approved indicting four Israel Defence Force (IDF) officers it claims were responsible for the controversial flotilla incident in 2010.
The indictment pursues nine life sentences for former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel Navy V.-Adm. Eliezer Marom, former Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin and former Israel Air Force intelligence head Brig.-Gen. Avihai Levy for their roles in the raid of the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship which was struck carrying aid supplies to the Gaza Strip in May 2010, killing nine Turkish nationals in ensuing clashes.
The UN-commissioned Palmer Report of the incident in September 2011 failed to hold Israel culpable for the events, although criticised the “unacceptable” loss of life, while Israel’s own report by its Turkel Commission of February 2011 found the raid whilst “regrettable”, was “legally pursuant to the rules of international law”.
Turkey responded to the conclusions by expelling Israel’s ambassador and freezing all military cooperation with the Jewish State, as well as threatening to refer the case to the International Court of Human Justice in The Hague. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed earlier this month that Turkey’s slowness to action was a sign of its “greatness”, in an interview with Al Jazeera:
“The attack that took place in international waters did not comply with any international law. In fact, it was grounds for war. However, befitting Turkey’s greatness, we decided to act with patience”, he said.
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued a statement of restraint on Tuesday, stressing that Jerusalem had not received any official statement of the court’s decision from the Turkish government:
“If these reports are true, we are talking about an unexplainable and bad turn of events. I hope that they will regain their composure, because this behaviour serves no one’s interests”, he said.
In an interview with Israel television, Ayalon confirmed the foreign ministry’s legal department was seeking clarification of what impact the indictments might have if the soldiers concerned were to visit countries with extradition agreements with Turkey:
“They probably cannot visit Turkey, but I believe they can visit other countries. This seems more of a political step than a legal step”, he added. He continued to extrapolate on the political pressure that might ensue on Turkey to abandon the indictments in what would otherwise “set a dangerous precedent even for US Armed Forces and NATO forces”.
As Israel does not regard the soldiers as criminals, it is unlikely they will themselves stand trial in Turkey. Any attempt by Turkey to convict them in their absence would likely be extremely lengthy and, if it resulted in a conviction, any subsequent arrest warrants would not be legally binding. Nevertheless, Ayalon described it as a “grave development”.
Ashkenazi, meanwhile, said he was “certain that, at the end of the day, common sense will prevail” in Turkey. The former IDF chief of staff reacted calmly to the indictment, saying that he had chosen from the beginning to defend the soldiers involved, for Israel’s benefit, adding “if that means that I can no longer visit Turkey, that’s a price I’ll pay”.
Whilst the UN’s Palmer report did not criticise Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, the commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, Filippo Grandi, denounced such blockades on Tuesday as having “completely obliterated” Gaza’s economy.
In the wake of Turkey’s moves to sanction Israel for its enforcement of the blockades, Grandi claimed the true victims were “the common people who are being impoverished by the blockade, but also the business community, which has a greater stake in peace”.