JERUSALEM: Israel Tuesday threatened to pull out of a UN inquiry into a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship if the panel insists on quizzing its soldiers, days after making a surprise announcement that it would cooperate with the probe committee.
Prime Minister Mr Benjamin Netanyahu had last week announced that his government would cooperate with the UN panel of enquiry into the May 31 raid that left nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists dead, saying “Israel had nothing to hide”.
However, Israeli officials said the agreement to take part in the UN probe was conditional on the panel relying on reports from Israel’s own military inquiry, not testimony from soldiers.
But, UN chief Mr Ban, in response to a question from reporters at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday, said “there was no such agreement behind the scenes.”
In the wake of Mr Ban’s rejection of the “agreement” as rumours, the PMO here said in a statement that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes it absolutely clear that Israel will not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”
“This was and remains a critical condition for Israel’s participation,” an Israeli official further asserted.
The UN chief’s remarks on Monday came ahead of the first meeting of the international inquiry committee, which includes former New Zealand prime minister Mr Geoffrey Palmer, outgoing Colombian President Mr Alvaro Uribe and representatives from Israel and Turkey.
Mr Ban also said the panel is supposed to work with the Israeli and Turkish panel of inquiries.
“And whatever is needed beyond that, they will have to discuss among themselves, in close coordination with the national government authorities, that they can take their own future steps,” he said.
The surprise development came just hours after Netanyahu testified before an Israeli panel of inquiry into the deadly raid in which he defended his army’s action accusing Turkey of deliberately seeking violent confrontation.
A separate Israeli military inquiry had found that the military intelligence had failed to predict the violent response on board the Turkish vessel and troops went in unprepared, but it reached the conclusion that the commandos had acted properly.
The Israeli opposition had on Monday accused the Prime Minister of betraying the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) by turning them into a “punching bag” during his testimony in front of the internal inquiry commission.
“Netanyahu’s testimony before the Turkel commission proves, once again, that there is no leadership,” the opposition Kadima party said in a press release.
“At the moment of truth, he put the blame on others and made the IDF a punching-bag,” the statement said.
When asked by former Supreme Court Justice mr Jacob Turkel, who is heading the five-member Israeli panel, whether or not it was the IDF which decided the means by which to halt the aid flotilla, Mr Netanyahu said, “Yes, that’s standard procedure.”
The Israeli premier added that it is the role of politicians “to determine policy” while “it is up to the military to execute it.”
“The IDF had always decided on the ways in which to enforce the blockade (on Gaza) and has done its job well,” the hawkish Israeli leader said, adding that this was the “division of labour.”
When asked by the commission how the decision on military action was received, Mr Netanyahu said that all of those involved “felt that the raid was a last resort, and the instructions were to conduct it with as little friction as possible.”
“The IDF had looked into several options, as per my instructions, but also according to the instructions of the defence minister and the chief of staff,” he said.