JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a panel investigating the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla incident that Israeli commandos acted in accordance with international law.
The Israeli leader also told the Turkel Commission on Monday that it was necessary to enforce the naval blockade of Gaza.
Netanyahu was the first witness to appear before the Israeli panel appointed to investigate the May 31 interception of the flotilla in which nine Turkish nationals, including one Turkish-American citizen, were killed during clashes on board the Turkish-flagged ship the Marmara.
Last month the commision, which is led by former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, was given the power to subpoena witnesses and receive sworn testimony.
In statements made before the closed-door part of his testimony, Netanyahu said that by the end of the investigation "it will be clear that the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces conducted themselves in accordance with international law and that the IDF fighters who boarded the Marmara displayed a rare courage in fulfilling their mission and in defending themselves against a real threat to their lives."
He added that "The appearance of Israel’s prime minister before this committee today is the best evidence of the high standards by which Israel’s democracy functions."
Netanyahu pointed out that two flotillas that followed the May 31 incident were intercepted without problems.
He said the government’s decision to enforce the naval blockade on Gaza was to prevent the smuggling of arms that could be used against Israel into Gaza.
Netanyahu told the commission that Israel tried to prevent the launch of the flotilla at the diplomatic and security levels for weeks, and that Israel encouraged the transfer of the goods through Israeli or Egyptian ports.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was put in charge of the operation, Netanyahu told the panel, as he was in the United States for a meeting with President Obama. The prime minister said it was obvious that the "flotilla organizers were interested with clashing with the IDF."