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The Flotilla Probe
By Editorial
The Forward
June 25, 2010 (issue)

Whatever the rest of the world might have thought, the State Department gave a cautious thumbs-up to Israelís June 13 announcement of an inquiry into the deadly raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. Department spokesman Philip Crowley called the probe ďan important step forwardĒ toward the ďtransparent, impartial and credibleĒ inquiry demanded by the United Nations. We hope heís right. The raid has put the Jewish state in a dangerously isolated position. Only a credible inquiry can air the facts in a manner that addresses legitimate questions about the raid.

The initial signs have not been encouraging. The panel named by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be a judicial commission of inquiry, as defined under Israeli law, but something far less authoritative. It wonít have subpoena power. Its findings will be barred from use in any future legal proceedings. Its three members ó average age 84 ó were chosen by the prime minister rather than by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, as required in formal judicial inquiries; this will limit their independence from political interference. The naming of two international observers, though unprecedented, wonít fill the gaps.

Critically, the panelís narrow mandate wonít permit it to answer all the questions that need answering. It wonít be allowed to interview military personnel other than the army chief of staff; that means it canít provide credible answers to the burning question of who attacked first. It wonít look seriously into the government decision-making processes leading up to the fiasco. It will examine the legality of Israeli actions leading up to the shipís capture, but apparently not the underlying legality (nor the effectiveness) of the blockade that the raid sought to enforce.

Israelís military is conducting its own inquiry into the raidís operational and intelligence failures, and the state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, plans to investigate the decision-making behind the raid. But neither of these probes will have the transparency or credibility required to quell international doubts.

Dodging the hard questions, as Netanyahu apparently hopes to do, will not make them go away. It will simply harden the suspicions of skeptics who believe Israel is becoming a scofflaw state. It will alienate wavering friends and make it harder for Israelís closest friends to defend it. The Obama administrationís tepid endorsement of the arrangement is merely an acknowledgment that this was the best it could extract, caught as it is between a skeptical international community and a November midterm election.

Israelís longstanding willingness to admit mistakes and correct them is one of the glories of its democracy. Its independent judicial commissions of inquiry have set international benchmarks and won praise even from critics. Past commissions produced forthright reports on the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the Sabra and Shatila massacres during first Lebanon War of 1982, the police killings of Israeli Arabs at the outset of the second intifada in 2000 and, most recently, the second Lebanon War of 2006.

Netanyahu seems determined to end this practice. He refused to permit an independent inquiry after Operation Cast Lead, opening the door to the damning and unfair Goldstone Report. Now heís intent on a toothless inquiry into the flotilla fiasco, with consequences yet unknown. He seems to think heís upholding Israeli values. In fact, heís trampling them.

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