With the help of the United States, Israel has set up what Haaretz describes as a "public independent investigation" of its May 31st attack on the Gaza Aid Flotilla. As we all know the Natanyahu government had rejected a United Nations proposal for a truly independent investigation. That rejection was no doubt prompted by fear of a repeat of the Goldstone Report on Israel’s massive attack on Gaza in December of 2008.
Israel’s "investigation" will be known as the Tirkel Committee because it is headed by former Israeli Supreme Court justice Yaakov Tirkel. Since Natanyahu personally approved of the Israeli members of the panel nothing much is to be said about them. They are "safe" from the Israeli point of view. In addition, a deadline for the committee to finish its work was not mentioned as of the June 14 reports, so this might conveniently drag on for some time. Finally, Netanyahu and his advisors have set the mandate for the committee. Here are its goals:
1. "Examine the security aspects of the blockade of Gaza and adjust it in accordance with international law." This is a sort of half-hearted admittance that there might be a gap between Israeli behavior and the law when it comes to the blockade. However, that is all right, the committee will claim to have tweaked future engagement protocols if necessary.
2. Examine Israel’s actions to enforce the naval blockade and the May 31st flotilla action with respect to international law. This may be a little harder to finesse, however there might be an out provided by #3.
3. Examine the actions of the organizers of the Gaza flotilla and identified participants. Here is where the committee can shift the blame onto the victims.
4. Examine whether Israel’s investigation of itself regarding possible "violations of the laws of war" during the flotilla engagement "corresponds to the country’s obligations vis-a-vis international law." This point is conveniently confusing. Somehow the Israeli government must feel that self investigation is legal (if not logical) or they would never have allowed this point.
According to Netanyahu all of this is to be looked into in order to provide "credible" responses to questions raised by the international community, while at the same time "maintaining a free hand" for the IDF to do the sort of thing it has been doing in regard to Gaza.
To achieve these two aims the Israeli government has to prearrange the outcome of the committee’s investigation. The only wrinkle here was the White House insistence on two "notable" international "observers" be assigned to the panel. But not to worry, these two were pre-screened by Natanyahu as well. So who are these two "notables"?
1. David Trimble of Northern Ireland. He is former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and a past First Minister of Northern Ireland. Presently, he sits in the UK’s House of Lords. He helped negotiate a stand down of the violent civil war in Northern Ireland and for that he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He was also among a group of international leaders who met in Paris (on the very day that the Israelis were shooting up the Mavi Marmara), to establish a "friends of Israel Initiative." Trimble, who earlier advised the European Quartet to "stand firm on Hamas," joined with others in Paris to express "outrage and concern about the unprecedented delegitimation campaign against Israel, driven by enemies of the Jewish state." Trimble and his colleagues went on to explain that Israel is "part of the Western world. In fact, today Israel is a fundamental actor for the future of the West." So just how objective is this fellow likely to be? Not objective at all. And that, of course, is why he is assigned to the committee.
2. The other international "observer" is former Canadian Judge Advocate General (that country’s top military judge) Kenneth Watkin. If you go to the web site of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and look to see what they have to say about "The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects" dated July 29, 2009, guess who they are quoting in order to excuse the myriad civilian deaths in their Gaza rampage of late 2008? You guessed it, Kenneth Watkin. Here is how it goes, "As Kenneth Watkin, the Canadian Judge Advocate General, has explained, ‘Although civilians are not to be directly made the object an attack, humanitarian law accepts that they may be killed or civilian property may be damaged as a result of an attack on a military objective.’" How Watkin figures this is part of "humanitarian law" is beyond me. But then, I have always had some trouble fathoming the military mind.
Natanyahu’s government still has to give its final agreement to the committee but that seems a formality. Why shouldn’t they? The fix is in. The deal here is to create a cover story with the facade of international approval. Then, the Israelis will retreat behind it, like a shield, until they shock the world with their brutality once more. We should not have long to wait.
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