The third day of the Turkel Commission hearings regarding Israel’s handling of the flotilla incident features the testimony of IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
Ashkenazi’s testimony followed Monday’s appearance by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which he had to qualify afterwards by reassuring the public that he takes overall responsibility for what occurred, and Tuesday’s testimony of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in which he blamed the army for mis-carrying out the government’s correct decision to stop the ship.
Ashkenazi, on the other hand, took full responsibility for the army’s performance aboard the ship, and even praised the soldiers and the Navy Commander. He said the main error was in the lack of sufficient preparation for the extent of violent resistance being prepared against the forces. "If we would have known, we would have prepared a sterile area," he said, meaning that snipers would have been deployed to fire at any one who tried to approach the soldiers as they boarded the ship.
The Chief of Staff presented a detailed account of what occurred and the preparations that preceded it, including documents, photographs and even a video clip.
“The soldiers aboard the Marmari displayed courage and purity of arms,” Ashkenazi said, “and responded correctly to the dangers they faced.” He described dramatically how one soldier was shot in the stomach as he rappelled down onto the ship, and was forced to respond with pistol fire.
He emphasized the importance of stopping such ships from arriving in Hamas, recalling that the IDF stopped a ship two years ago containing an amount of rockets equivalent to 70% of those fired at Israel during the Second Lebanon War.
Gen. Ashkenazi praised the Navy Commander for his handling of an unforeseen situation.
Minister Barak said on Tuesday that there had been “not a few intelligence failures” in the preparations for the raid on the ship. When the soldiers boarded the ship, they were greeted by clubs and iron bars, and even gunshots – an onslaught for which the forces were not prepared.
Ashkenazi acknowledged that the IDF did not have many sources of information on the Turkish IHH terrorist organization, which largely organized the flotilla. “We know much more about Hamas,” he said. “Turkey is not an enemy nation, and I hope it will not become one.”He is scheduled to conclude the first part of his testimony shortly after noon, and then continue behind closed doors.