After Defense Minister Ehud Barak shifted some of the responsibility for the decision to storm a Gaza-bound Turkish ship to the IDF, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the panel investigating the raid that he "takes responsibility for the army's actions."
"The (committee's) decision to avoid summoning (Navy) commanders is correct," he said Wednesday morning, adding that he was "proud" of the soldiers who took part in the raid.
"The commandos exhibited calm, bravery and morality in accordance with IDF values," Ashkenazi told the committee.
Nine Turkish citizens on board the Mavi Marmara ship were killed in the May 31 raid.
Ashkenazi said the outcome of the raid was difficult to predict. "From the moment the operation began, it was clear that the circumstances were unprecedented," he said.
The army chief said during his testimony that the soldiers who raided the Marmara ship opened fire at the passengers because they felt their lives were in danger.
"The soldiers legitimately opened fire and shot those who they needed to shoot and not those who they didn’t need to shoot," he said.
Ashkenazi continued to say that, "The main mistake was that we thought there were 10-15 people on the (ship's) deck. We thought we could throw stun grenades, clear (the passengers) and then fast-rope soldiers onto the boat. This was the mistake. We should have used precise fire to incapacitate those preventing the soldiers from boarding the ship to reduce the risk to our soldiers. This is the main lesson for the next operation.
"The IDF is a transparently controlled organization which studies from its mistakes and is committed to examine its actions and investigate every operation. I focused mainly in investigating the Shayetet's actions on the Marmara as soon as the raid began," the army chief told the panel.
Ashkenazi said the army was not familiar with IHH, the Turkish group that organized the sail to Gaza. "We did not investigate the organization. It was not a priority because it is not defined as a terror organization and is based in Turkey, which is not an enemy state," he explained.
Addressing the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza, Ashkenazi said, "Hamas has come a long way; it carried out murderous attacks in city centers and seized Gaza in a brutal manner. Its extremist ideology rejects Israel's existence and poses a threat to the State of Israel. Thousands of rockets (fired from Gaza) led to the launching of Operation Cast Lead.
"Hamas has not abandoned the path of terror, but another, less conspicuous threat has developed alongside it," said the IDF chief.
According to him, Hamas is expanding its smuggling operation in order to obtain long-range rockets and anti-tank missiles.
"This process of strengthen would not have been possible without a policy that supports terror, particularly Iran's," Ashkenazi told the panel.
Barak blames IDF
In his testimony before the Turkel Commission on Tuesday, Barak assumed “overall responsibility” for the decision to send navy commandos to intercept the Turkish ship, but said it was the military's job to warn the government if “the mission cannot be carried out."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the panel a day earlier that the so-called forum of seven ministers met before the navy operation, but only discussed the media and public diplomacy aspects of the mission.
However, Barak said the ministers who took part in the meeting also discussed military aspects of the operation, and received an intelligence briefing.
The panel is headed by former chief justice Jacob Turkel.
Hanan Greenberg and Ari Galahar contributed to the report
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