Israel’s flotilla interception ruled lawful

Action angered Turkey

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Israel acted lawfully but excessively when it intercepted a Turkish vessel seeking to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip last year, according to a long-awaited U.N. report on a skirmish that resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish activists and the collapse of the Israeli-Turkish alliance.

A copy of the report, which was set to be released formally on Friday, was leaked by the New York Times on Thursday, hours after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gave Israel a one-day deadline to apologize for the incident.

Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv and froze its longstanding mitary and intelligence cooperation with the Jewish state after the May 2010 incident.

Israel reluctantly agreed to an inquiry by the United Nations - a body it says has long treated it unfairly - to meet one of Turkey’s conditions for the resumption of relations.

But in back-channel negotiations in the past few months, the estranged allies could not come to terms on Turkey’s demand for an apology, with Israel claiming that its commandos used lethal force aboard the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara in self-defense.

The report sides mostly with Israel’s version of events.

“Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection,” the report says.

However, it adds that Israel’s decision to forcibly board the ship in international waters was “excessive and unreasonable.”

The Mavi Marmara was part of a six-ship flotilla seeking to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the militant group Hamas.

Turkey calls the closure illegal, but Israel says it is essential to preventing the smuggling of rockets and other arms into Gaza.

On the blockade’s legality, the report also backs Israel.

Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza,” it says. “The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”

Israel had sought to use the report, which Turkey has rejected, as leverage in its negotiations. But Turkey refused to budge from its demand for an apology.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly was willing to apologize for operational errors in the raid and to compensate the families of the dead, faced resistance from his coalition partners who thought it was Turkey that owed Israel an apology for allowing the ship to sail from a Turkish port.

The report’s release had been postponed twice to give the sides more time to negotiate. Turkey’s foreign minister told Today’s Zaman newspaper on Thursday that Turkey had rejected Israel’s request for a further six-month delay.

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About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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