Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Washington Examiner/ Due Credit to Netanyahu and Israel

( Scott Payne - The Examiner).Israel and the IDF came under a fair amount of fire from a variety of different corners over the whole Gaza flotilla fiasco back in May. Many of the world’s leaders sough to condemn Israel’s actions, including UN General Secretary Ban-ki Moon, who at the time commented, “I am shocked by reports of killing of people in boats carrying supply to Gaza. I heard the ships were in international water. That is very bad.”

And while Israel has now agreed to participate with the United Nation’s investigation into the raid, its initial step in appointing an independent Israeli public commission to look into the incident was greeted with a fair amount of criticism, as well.

In the resolution calling for the commission’s formation, its purpose is defined in three points. The first two state that the examination will focus on whether Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its method of enforcing it conform with international law. The third objective is to examine “the actions taken by the organizers of the flotilla and its participants, as well as their identity.”

Nowhere does the resolution stipulate an investigation of Israel’s own actions or what occurred on the night of the raid — the very thing the international community is demanding.

The commission is also prevented from subpoenaing soldiers. The Israel Defense Forces are engaged in a separate examination, conducted by Giora Eiland, a retired major general who formerly chaired Israel’s National Security Council. When the army issues its report, the commission may request to see it. Only then, if the military report is deemed insufficient, can the commission ask for more information.

These are, of course, valid criticisim into what has become a source of significant geo-political tensions. It is essentially inarguable that the further that Israel and Turkey drift apart, the worse things become for the region.

And no doubt there will be a wealth of information that comes from the UN investigation, particularly now that Israel has consented to participating. But reading initial reports from the Israeli commission’s activities, I think that Israel is due for more credit than it has been given to date.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu testified in Jerusalem Monday before an inquiry into a deadly raid on a flotilla of aid ships headed to Gaza earlier this year.

Netanyahu was the first witness in the government-appointed commission, which is investigating the events of May 31, when Israeli soldiers boarded one of several vessels carrying aid to the Palestinian territory in international waters and killed nine Turkish activists.

Not only has the country’s Prime Minister consented to questioning by the commission, but he is the very first witness that the commission interviews. That might seem somewhat trifling at first glance, but in the perception dominated world of international political affairs, I don’t think the significance of Netanyahu’s gesture should be under estimated.

Of course, the proceedings aren’t a completely open affair.

Journalists were restricted from using recording devices during Netanyahu's testimony, but according to a CBC reporter on the scene, his message was a reiteration of Israel's position. He told the panel that Israeli authorities tried to re-route the flotilla to deliver its goods via land, and that the naval blockade was both legal and necessary.

The reporter said that, despite this being a public commission, the Israeli leader was evasive and opted to give evidence behind closed doors to a restricted audience.
Evasiveness from the country’s top elected representative and an air of over-protection towards state secrets are to be expected given the degree of scrutiny under which Israel has come for the raid. And undoubtedly skeptics will point out that Netanyahu, having appointed the commission, has little to fear in testifying in front of it.

Yet and still, consider the following thought experiment: can anyone imagine former President George W. Bush being the first to testify in a commission he formed while still in office to look into the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” sanctioned by his Administration? I mean, current President Barack Obama isn’t even willing to constitute and conduct such a commission now that Bush is almost two-years out of office.

It seems fair to me that Netanyahu and Israel are experiencing so much push back and criticism for their actions in international waters on May 31. That said, two old sayings come to mind: credit where credit is due and those in glass houses...