May 30, 2012 (TSR) – A Turkish high court on Monday unanimously ruled to indict four Israeli Defense Force (IDF) military commanders for their role in the killing on nine people onboard a Turkish ship trying to break Israel’s maritime blockade against Gaza, i.e. the controversial Flotilla incident in 2010.
The victims were pro-Palestinian activists aboard the Mavi Marmara – a ship carrying aid that was raided by Israeli troops as it was attempting to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. It was part of a six-fleet flotilla that aimed to break the blockade that Israel imposed on Gaza after Hamas took control of the coastal region. Israel had in advance warned the ships that they wouldn’t be allowed to break the siege and five of the ships were intercepted, but eight Turkish and one U.S.-Turkish protester were killed aboard the Mavi Marmara.
The indictment was raised days ahead of the second anniversary of the deadly raid, that seriously deteriorated the relations between Israel and Turkey – former allies.
The Turkish justice authorities are pursuing 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 – commanders of the country’s navy, air force, and military intelligence.
Israel says its soldiers only resorted to deadly force once they came under attack. However, the indictment accuses the officers of premeditated murder, intentional assault, and torture.
The UN-commissioned Palmer Report of the incident in September 2011 failed to hold Israel culpable for the events or “mostly exonerated Israel”, although concluded and criticized that while the blockade of Gaza was “legal”, Israel used “disproportionate force” during the raid causing 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”.
“In Israeli government circles, there was a feeling lately that this thing will go away soon as Israel and Turkey need each other in the Middle East and therefore the Turks will somehow be more flexible on this issue. And the indictment is an indication that Turkey isn’t going to let this pass,” Dror Ze’evi of the Ben- Gurion University of the Negev, told the Chinese media, Xinhua.
Turkey also unsuccessfully requested Israel’s official apology and compensation for the families of the victims. Israel maintains that its soldiers were attacked by activists using metal bars and knives, and that they responded with fire, killing nine people, “in self defense”.
Ze’evi argued that relations would not improve, “at least not until Israel finds its way to some kind of apology as Turkey wants Israel to formally apologize for the death of its nationals.”
While Israel has expressed regret, and according to recent media reports, might be willing to pay economic compensation to their families, it refuses to apology since this could lead to indictment of its soldiers in an international court.
No formal request has been made to extradite the Israelis to Turkey; the indictment only calls for the Israeli officers to be arrested if they visit Turkey.
Aviv said that it was highly unlikely that Israel would apologize, and argued that recurring demands from Turkey are actually worsening the situation.
He added that the fact that the Turkish government had decided to go ahead with the indictment despite considerable pressure shows that the issue is very important to the government in the domestic political arena.
There have been several international attempts to repair the relationship.
In last December a proposal was put forward in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would hold a secret phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, after which each side would make a separate statement to his countrymen.
The Israeli statement would be that Netanyahu only expressed regret over the deaths, however the Turkish announcement would state that Netanyahu did formally apologize.
However, the idea was quickly dismissed, since it would be impossible for either side to keep the other from discovering the difference of the statements.
Meanwhile, no other ideas have been presented, and so the strained relationship between the sides is likely to continue.