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03 June 2010
TEL AVIV - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was correct to immediately return from North America and must now convene a national committee of inquiry into Israel's interception of a Gaza aid convoy on Monday, during which at least nine activists were killed.
There is no other fitting or proper way to clarify the circumstances of the incident, which began as an act of protest and ended with dead demonstrators and a grave international crisis.
The government failed the test of results; blaming the organizers of the flotilla for causing the deaths by ignoring Israel's orders to turn back is inadequate. Decisions taken by the responsible authorities must be probed.
Nor can Monday's bloodshed be dismissed with claims that the demonstrators attacked IDF commandos with guns and other weapons. This type of excuse shifts responsibility from the political and military decision-makers to the soldiers, who acted in the heat of combat and for fear of their lives. It may be convenient to Netanyahu and his partners in government to present the battle as a local incident that escalated – but they cannot escape responsibility for the crisis.
This time, no one can put the debacle down to inexperience. Netanayhu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, and his defense minister, Amir Peretz – both military novices – came to grief in Lebanon in 2006 with that excuse.
The acting prime minister, Moshe Yaalon, and the defense minister, Ehud Barak, are both former chiefs of staff. Between them they have near matchless experience of military planning and combat.
Netanyahu may have been their junior during his service with the elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal – but has a formidable record of handling intelligence and operations. They could, if pushed, have foreseen the consequences of Monday's action.
A committee of inquiry would have to answer several salient questions:
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The relation between Israel and Palestine.