Netanyahu yields on Gaza blockade as well as flotilla probe
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, after responding to US pressure for establishing an independent public probe of the May 31 flotilla incident, is also quietly falling back under the international clamor to ease the sea and land siege of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip by installing international supervisory mechanisms in place of the Israeli military and navy.
Monday, the Israeli cabinet was asked to approve the commission headed by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, International Law Prof. Shabtay Rosen and ex-Technion President Ret. Maj. Gen. Amos Horev. The two foreign observers are former First Minister of Northern Ireland David Trimble, currently a UK Conservative Party life peer, and former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Armed Forces Ken Watkin.
Ret. Gen. Giora Eiland leads a separate probe ordered by the chief of staff.
Claiming that the independent inquiry "preserves the IDF's freedom of action," the prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak are concealing their near-surrender to international demands to relinquish Israeli military control of sea and overland traffic to the Gaza Strip.
debkafile's Washington sources report that the Obama administration is weighing various alternatives to Israel's military blockade such as using NATO's Operation Active Endeavour counter-terror forces, composed of US, Canadian and European vessels to which Turkish and Israeli warships would be co-opted; some other arrangement for distancing the Israeli military and Navy from freighters destined for Gaza Port, such as the hiring by the UN Security Council of private monitors from the world's biggest marine insurance company Lloyds of London to make sure that the vessels are not carrying weapons or other military cargoes.
In the 1990s, Lloyds fulfilled this function for goods bound for Saddam Hussein's Iraq then under UN sanctions. The cargoes were inspected at the Jordanian port of Aqaba before being cleared for Iraq.
In Luxemburg, European Union foreign ministers, declaring Israel's siege of Gaza is unacceptable and unproductive, decided Monday, June 14, to increase the pressure on Jerusalem to force it to accept their mechanism, which would post EU monitors at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel and in Cyprus, to inspect future aid ships to make sure they are not carrying arms.
Israel is still fighting a rearguard action to keep the IDF and its Navy in control of the traffic destined for Gaza. Their proposal for cargo inspection to take place at Ashdod port has little chance of international acceptance. Netanyahu and Barak may be pushed into consenting to examinations to take place at sea, at a Greek port or at Gaza Port.
(debkafile recalls that the European monitors posted at the Gaza crossings in 2005, as part of a US-sponsored deal between Egypt and Israel following Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip, were put to flight by Hamas gunmen shortly after they took up their positions.)
Our Middle East sources note that any of the options rammed through by the US and Europe will represent a net gain for Hamas and its sponsors, especially Iran, and downgrade Israel's ability to defend itself against an acknowledged terrorist force. Mahmud Abbas's Palestinian Authority in Ramallah will be correspondingly weakened and eventually destabilized by the strengthening of Hamas by the West.
Sunday night, June 13, The White House in Washington backed Israel's formation of a public inquiry into the flotilla incident as "an important step forward." Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Israel's panel can meet the standard of a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation."
Justice Minister Yacov Neeman said in a radio interview that, without international pressure, no inquiry would have been necessary: Israeli commandos' action in upholding the embargo on the Gaza Strip and defending themselves against terrorists aboard the Turkish flotilla were fully justified and fully in keeping with international law and standards.
debkafile's political sources note that international figures have been introduced to a panel for inquiring in Israel's military activities for the first time in its history. The White House commendation empowers the two foreign observers to query the commission's proceedings and disqualify its findings, leaving Israel holding the bag.