- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2010

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a probe Monday into Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish-flagged ship that sought to break the country’s Gaza blockade, receiving the surprise blessing of Israel after weeks of resistance to the idea.

“Israel has nothing to hide,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “The opposite is true. It is in the national interest of the state of Israel to ensure that the factual truth of the overall flotilla events comes to light throughout the world, and this is exactly the principle that we are advancing.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry also welcomed the inquiry, calling in a statement for it to be “prompt, impartial, credible, transparent … .”

The proposed “review panel” will monitor the twin inquiries begun by Israel and Turkey in the aftermath of the May 31 incident. Former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have been named, respectively, to the chairmanship and vice chairmanship.

The panel, which also is slated to include one observer each from Israel and Turkey, will begin its work Aug. 10 and submit a progress report by mid-September, before the U.N. General Assembly convenes.

The May 31 event occurred when Israeli commandos boarded one of seven ships in the flotilla. An ensuing melee resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish nationals and injuries to several commandos.

The flotilla was a public-relations fiasco for Israel and further damaged the country’s already strained ties with Turkey, a longtime ally that lately has sought improved relations with Syria and Iran.

Ankara had made an international investigation a key demand for it to repair relations with Jerusalem.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice said in a statement Monday that the United States expects the panel will “be the primary method for the international community to review the incident, obviating the need for any overlapping international inquiries” — an apparent reference to the investigation set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which has been widely criticized for biased treatment of Israel.

In the wake of its 22-day offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip last year, Israel refused to cooperate with the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission into the conflict — led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone.

The Goldstone Report, which accused the Israel Defense Forces of systematically targeting Gaza’s civilian population, was accused by many — including leading Israeli human rights groups — of drawing wild conclusions and failing to apply the same evidentiary standards it used with reputed Israeli war crimes to Hamas practices like “human shielding.”

Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to several presidents on the Middle East conflict, said the Israeli reversal had to be seen in the context of “a new era of good feelings” between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government after months of public squabbles.

“The prime minister is much more relaxed about his relationship with the United States,” he said. “I can’t believe that the Israelis would have agreed to cooperate if they were still involved in this brouhaha with the Americans.”

Mr. Miller cautioned that the region may be experiencing “an interim phase between crises because any number of problems are still out there waiting to erupt, including another Israeli military confrontation with Hamas.”

After 18 months of relative calm on the Gaza border, with both sides abiding by a de-facto cease-fire, Israel launched air strikes Friday in response to a rocket attack earlier that day on the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

And early Monday, five rockets were fired at the southern Israeli port city of Eilat, though at least one overshot its target and hit the neighboring Jordanian city of Aqaba, killing one and wounding four.

Both Israeli and Jordanian police say the rockets appear to have been launched from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, though Egyptian officials have disputed the claim.

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