JERUSALEM — Israel’s defense minister told an Israeli panel that Cabinet members discussed the possibility of violence during the interception of a Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza.
Ehud Barak’s testimony Tuesday contradicts testimony given the previous day by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said discussion by his seven-member inner Cabinet focused on the international perception of the May 31 interception.
Barak told the Turkel Commission investigating the flotilla incident that he took “full responsibility” on a political level for the raid in which nine Turkish nationals, including one Turkish American citizen, were killed, but added that the outcome of the operation was the responsibility of the military.
He said an outline of the operation, which included intelligence, assessment and potential outcomes, was presented to the inner Cabinet in the days before the interception. The assessment included the possibility of what Barak called “extreme scenarios,” according to reports.
Netanyahu told the committee that Israeli commandos acted in accordance with international law and that it was necessary to enforce the naval blockade of Gaza. He was the first witness to appear before the panel.
Last month the commision, which is led by former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, was given the power to subpoena witnesses and receive sworn testimony.
In statements made before the closed-door part of his testimony, Netanyahu said that by the end of the investigation “it will be clear that the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces conducted themselves in accordance with international law and that the IDF fighters who boarded the Marmara displayed a rare courage in fulfilling their mission and in defending themselves against a real threat to their lives.”
Netanyahu pointed out that two flotillas that followed the May 31 incident were intercepted without problems.
He said the government’s decision to enforce the naval blockade on Gaza was to prevent the smuggling of arms that could be used against Israel into Gaza.
Netanyahu told the commission that Israel tried to prevent the launch of the flotilla at the diplomatic and security levels for weeks, and that Israel encouraged the transfer of the goods through Israeli or Egyptian ports.
Barak was put in charge of the operation, Netanyahu told the panel, as he was in the United States for a meeting with President Obama. The prime minister said it was obvious that the “flotilla organizers were interested in clashing with the IDF.”