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IDF chief backs up soldiers accounts before Turkel Committee

FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010 file photo, Israel's military chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi sits before testifying in front of a state-appointed inquiry commission into the Israeli naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, in Jerusalem. The Israeli commission looking into a deadly raid on a pro-Palestinian flotilla last May has summoned Ashkenazi to testify for a second time Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010. (Getty Images / AP Photo/Gali Tibbon, Pool, File)

October 24, 2010 (KATAKAMI / JERUSALEM POST) — IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi appeared a second time in front of the Turkel Commission on Sunday to continue his testimony regarding the Mavi Marmara affair. He took great pains during his time before the committee to reiterate previous statement’s that the naval commandos who boarded the ship took extraordinary measures to minimize the violence on the ship and that the blame for the fighting that broke out on the ship rested squarely on the activists’ shoulders.

“The soldiers [upon reaching the ship] did not immediately open fire and even placed themselves at great risk. One [of the activists] tried to choke a soldier, who then threw a stun grenade to escape from the situation.”

Ashkenazi repeatedly emphasized that the soldiers acted in a measured manner and only hurt those whose behavior necessitated physical force. “There was no demonstration of peace activists [on the Mavi Marmara]. Peace activist do not know how to operate a weapon or to operate with gas masks and bulletproof vests in the middle of the night,” Ashkenazi said.

Also on Sunday, the Turkel Commission announced that it would welcomed testimony from any passenger who was on the Mavi Marmara on the night of May 31, 2010 and who has relevant information that could shed light on the incident.

In September, Ashkenazi warned that any resistance on board flotillas bound for Gaza could lead to more casualties.

Speaking at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, Ashkenazi said “this is a challenge for the IDF and for Israel.”

“If we see large ships bound for Gaza and force is used then we do not dismiss the possibility of casualties,” he said.

IDF Chief to Gaza flotilla probe: Israeli commandos fired 308 bullets aboard Mavi Marmara

Israel's chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi speaks during a large military exercise at the Shizafon Armored Corps Training Base in the Arava desert, north of the city of Eilat, southern Israel, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. (Getty Images / AP Photos/Dan Balilty)


October 24, 2010 (KATAKAMI / HAARETZ) — Ashkenazi testifies before Turkel Commission, defends IDF decision to rappel commandos onto deck of Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship where 9 activists were killed.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi once again on Sunday defended Israel’s decision to rappel Israeli commandos onto the deck of a Gaza-bound aid ship on May 31, where ensuing clashes resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish activists.

Testifying before an investigations committee probing the deadly events, Ashkenazi said that Israeli commandos had fired 308 live bullets aboard the ship to repel passengers who attacked them with lethal weapons, including a snatched Uzi machine pistol.

In a sometimes testy second round of testimony before the state-appointed inquest, the Lieutenant-General insisted the navy’s killing of nine Turks on the converted cruise ship Mavi Marmara had been unavoidable.

The Mavi Marmara was one of several boats, laden with supplies, aiming to violate Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip. Israel informed the organizers of the flotilla that the ships would not be allowed to reach the Gaza shores, and soldiers boarded all the ships to compel them to change course.

Ashkenazi told the six-member Turkel Commission on Sunday that navy commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara were equipped with riot-dispersal gear, but quickly switched to live fire to confront armed passengers because “if they had not done this, there would have been more casualties.”

Ankara, which wants compensation and an apology from Israel, has dismissed the Turkel panel as too lacking in scope.

The probe commission has solicited testimony from Mavi Marmara passengers – many of whom insist the commandos’ onslaught was unprovoked – and signaled it may probe Israel’s navy deeper.

Ashkenazi said 308 live rounds were fired by the troops. A top aide to the general told Reuters 70 of these were aimed to cause injury, while the rest were warning shots.

That appeared consistent with Turkish forensic findings that the nine dead activists were shot a total of 30 times, and there were gunshot wounds among another 24 passengers who were hurt.

“Those who are asking questions [about tactics] should propose an alternative solution,” Ashkenazi said.

Ashkenazi said passengers grabbed three Glock handguns and an Uzi machine pistol from commandos whom they overpowered. The troops had been dropped from helicopters onto the crowded ship as it ploughed through Mediterranean high seas at night.

“We have testimony of one activist running at them [commandos] and firing with a mini-Uzi, and them shooting him,” he said. “They hit those who were clearly involved in the attack on them, and not those who were not.”

Mavi Marmara activists have said any guns taken from the troops were disposed of, rather than used.

Ashkenazi said commandos had fired some 350 beanbag rounds and non-lethal paintballs, all according to “protocol.” The navy opted against rubber bullets – a mainstay of Israel’s tactics against Palestinian demonstrations on land – because of a lethal risk within the Mavi Marmara’s confines, Ahkenazi added.

Ashkenazi, who is scheduled to retire early next year, made clear that he had returned to testify in order to spare scrutiny from subordinates, including the admiral in charge of the navy.

Bristling at Turkish and other foreign fury over the Mavi Marmara raid yet wary of international war crimes suits, Israel set up the Turkel Commission to help prepare its submission for a separate probe under United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ashkenazi, a career infantryman, said the commission had received “word for word” accounts from marines, including two who were shot and wounded upon boarding.

Commission members asked Ashkenazi if lowering soldiers into a crowd on the ship’s deck was wise. He said there was no better way to stop the ship. “If we had a special trick to stop the flotilla, we would have used it. We maintain intimate cooperation with other armies, and we haven’t heard of another solution.”

Endorsing the commandos’ recollection, Ashkenazi said they were combat veterans who “know when they are being shot at.”

But he also seemed to make allowances for the haze of melee.

“I won’t take issue with a soldier who might confuse a slingshot, and the whizz its missile makes as it flies past, with a pistol, during night-time,” he said.

Admiral Michael G. Mullen to Arrive in Israel for Work Visit, 27 Jun 2010


TEL AVIV, ISRAEL – FILE FEBRUARY 15, 2010 : In this handout photo provided by the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen in a Generals Discussion with IDF Generals at the IDF HQ on February 15, 2010 in Tel Aviv, Israel.

June 27, 2010

(IDF) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Military, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, is expected to arrive today, Sunday, June 27th, 2010, for a brief professional visit to Israel. Admiral Mullen will be hosted by the Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi‏.

During the visit, Adm. Mullen will hold a private meeting with Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi, as well as a discussion with senior commanders of the General Staff, including Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz, Head of Israel Defense Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, Head of the Strategic Planning Directorate, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, Military Attaché to Washington, Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, and Commander in Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Eliezer Marum. The meetings will focus both on cooperation between the two militaries and on mutual security challenges‏.

Statement by PM Netanyahu : “No Love Boat”


June 2, 2010

[Youtube] PM Netanyahu’s Response To U.N. No Weapons To Hamas

(PRIME MINISTER’s OFFICE)   Once again, Israel faces hypocrisy and a biased rush to judgment.  I’m afraid this isn’t the first time.

Last year, Israel acted to stop Hamas from firing thousands of rockets into Israel’s towns and cities.  Hamas was firing on our civilians while hiding behind civilians.  And Israel went to unprecedented lengths to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties.  Yet it was Israel, and not Hamas, that was accused by the UN of war crimes.

Now regrettably, the same thing appears to be happening now.

But here are the facts.  Hamas is smuggling thousands of Iranian rockets, missiles and other weaponry – smuggling it into Gaza in order to fire on Israel’s cities.  These missiles can reach Ashdod and Beer Sheva – these are major Israeli cities. And I regret to say that some of them can reach now Tel Aviv, and very soon, the outskirts of Jerusalem.  From the information we have, the planned shipments include weapons that can reach farther, even farther and deeper into Israel.

Under international law, and under common sense and common decency, Israel has every right to interdict this weaponry and to inspect the ships that might be transporting them.

This is not a theoretical challenge or a theoretical threat.  We have already interdicted vessels bound for Hezbollah, and for Hamas from Iran, containing hundreds of tons of weapons.  In one ship, the Francop, we found hundreds of tons of war materiel and weapons destined for Hezbollah.  In another celebrated case, the Karine A, dozens of tons of weapons were destined for Hamas by Iran via a shipment to Gaza.  Israel simply cannot permit the free flow of weapons and war materials to Hamas from the sea.


I will go further than that.  Israel cannot permit Iran to establish a Mediterranean port a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv and from Jerusalem.  And I would go beyond that too.  I say to the responsible leaders of all the nations: The international community cannot afford an Iranian port in the Mediterranean.  Fifteen years ago I cautioned about an Iranian development that has come to pass – people now recognize that danger.  Today I warn of this impending willingness to enable Iran to establish a naval port right next to Israel, right next to Europe.  The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow.

For this and for many other reasons, we have a right to inspect cargo heading into Gaza.

And here’s our policy. It’s very simple:  Humanitarian and other goods can go in and weapons and war materiel cannot.
And we do let civilian goods into Gaza.  There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  Each week, an average of ten thousand tons of goods enter Gaza.  There’s no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of medicine.  There’s no shortage of other goods.

On this occasion too, we made several offers – offers to deliver the goods on board the flotilla to Gaza after a security inspection.  Egypt made similar offers.   And these offers were rejected time and again.


So our naval personnel had no choice but to board these vessels.  Now, on five of the vessels, our seamen were not met by any serious violence and as a result, there were no serious injuries aboard those ships.  But on the largest ship, something very different happened.

Our naval personnel, just as they landed on the ship – you can see this in the videos – the first soldier – they were met with a vicious mob. They were stabbed, they were clubbed, they were fired upon.  I talked to some of these soldiers.  One was shot in the stomach, one was shot in the knee. They were going to be killed and they had to act in self-defense.

It is very clear to us that the attackers had prepared their violent action in advance.  They were members of an extremist group that has supported international terrorist organizations and today support the terrorist organization called Hamas.  They brought with them in advance knives, steel rods, other weapons.  They chanted battle cries against the Jews.  You can hear this on the tapes that have been released.

This was not a love boat.  This was a hate boat.  These weren’t pacifists.  These weren’t peace activists.  These were violent supporters of terrorism.

I think that the evidence that the lives of the Israeli seamen were in danger is crystal clear. If you’re a fair-minded observer and you look at those videos, you know this simple truth.  But I regret to say that for many in the international community, no evidence is needed.  Israel is guilty until proven guilty.

Once again, Israel is told that it has a right to defend itself but is condemned every time it exercises that right. Now you know that a right that you cannot exercise is meaningless.  And you know that the way we exercise it – under these conditions of duress, under the rocketing of our cities, under the impending killing of our soldiers – you know that we exercise it in a way that is commensurate with any international standard.  I have spoken to leading leaders of the world, and I say the same thing today to the international community: What would you do?  How would you stop thousands of rockets that are destined to attack your cities, your civilians, your children? How would your soldiers behave under similar circumstances?  I think in your hearts, you all know the truth. 

Israel regrets the loss of life.   But we will never apologize for defending ourselves.  Israel has every right to prevent deadly weapons from entering into hostile territory.  And Israeli soldiers have every right to defend their lives and their country.

This may sound like an impossible plea, or an impossible request, or an impossible demand, but I make it anyway: Israel should not be held to a double standard.  The Jewish state has a right to defend itself just like any other state.

Thank you.