An Israeli inquiry commission defended the actions of its troops during last year's deadly raid
on a Gaza-bound flotilla sailing from Turkey.
Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turkish nationals aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31 after passengers resisted the takeover of the vessel.
Marmara back in Istanbul (Photo: AFP)
The nearly 300-page report released Sunday by the government-appointed Turkel Commission said the actions of the soldiers "were found to be legal pursuant to the rules of international law" and that they opened fire in self-defense. .
The commission cleared the soldiers of any use of unnecessary violence, stating: "It is possible to determine that the IDF soldiers acted professionally and with great presence of mind in light of the extreme violence which they hadn't expected.
"This professionalism was evident in the fact that they continued to exchange their lethal weapons for the less lethal option and visa versa in order to give a response that was appropriate to the nature of the violence directed at them."
'IHH members acted with violence towards soldiers' (Photo: AFP)
According to the commission, the soldiers were the violence caught the soldiers by surprise when they boarded the Marmara. "The decision-makers didn't have any prior knowledge of the violent reception planned by the IHH members and their inability to identify the intentions of the IHH directly affected the planning and execution of the operation."
The commission members found that incomplete intelligence gathering wasn't the only reason for the lack of preparation: "The possibility that an organized group, armed with lethal weapons was on board the Marmara and set to take active measures against attempts to board the ship wasn't taken into account."
The IDF received a great deal of praise from the Turkel committee for placing senior officers on the scene – including the navy commander. "This increased the chain of command's awareness of the developments as they happened, which helped them reach decisions efficiently, at the right time as the incident developed."
The decision to use the commandos in the operation was also praised. "The decision is compatible with the international practice which is used in naval operations, even when not considered an armed confrontation," the report stated. In addition, the commission members wrote praised the manner in which the IDF handled the transfer of the passengers to Israel, stressing the coordination between the governmental offices.
The committee also addressed the decision to stop the flotilla before it arrived in Gaza: "We insist that the governmental and military echelons... Took into consideration Israel's commitments to international law during the preparation stages and the management of the operation.
"The demand to provide a balance to these commitments was in line with Israel's general interests to prevent political de-legitimization and harm Israel's image," the committee stated.
On the decision to use force, the committee members noted that: "The IHH members acted with violence towards the IDF soldiers on the Marmara by arming themselves with various types of weapons, including iron rods, knives, axes, clubs and metal objects.
"The weapons were capable of killing and severely injuring. In addition, the violent events were evident in the way the IHH organized the joint attack on the IDF soldiers. The IHH members used firearms against the soldiers during the incident."
Meanwhile, the Turkel Commission also examined the legitimacy of the blockade on Gaza. Its conclusions reveal that the blockade is proportional and that human rights in Gaza weren't violated by Israel.
The committee stated that after examining the material it was presented with, including documents from human rights groups, it found no evidence that Israel was trying to deny Gazans from receiving foodstuffs or that Israel was trying to "destroy or weaken (Gaza's) population through starvation."
The committee noted that in their statements before the committee, human rights organizations' representatives, including those from the Doctors for Human Rights group, confirmed that during the relevant period, there was a sufficient amount of food in the Gaza Strip and that the problem was mainly an economic one, meaning, the population lacked the necessary funds to purchase food.
The Turkel Commission said the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave suffers from a 'lack of nutritional stability', not starvation, and determined that the Israeli naval blockade is legal in accordance with international law.
The commission, headed by a retired Supreme Court justice, included five Israeli members and two international observers - Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin of Canada and Lord David Trimble of Northern Ireland.
The bloodshed drew heavy international condemnation directed at Israel and forced it to ease the blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Attila Somfalvi, Aviad Glickman and AP contributed to the report