Israel's prime minister testified Monday before his country's inquiry commission into the bloodshed aboard a Turkish ship that tried to break the Gaza blockade in May, defending Israel's actions and suggesting Turkey had been seeking a confrontation.
The Israeli commission is looking into the government's decision-making leading up to the decision to send naval commandos to board the ship on May 31 and steer it to an Israeli port. The United Nations has also announced its own inquiry.
The commandos met with violent resistance on board the Mavi Marmara and opened fire, killing nine Turkish activists, including one with U.S. citizenship. The bloodshed drew an international outcry that eventually forced Israel to ease its blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Both the pro-Palestinian activists on board the vessel and the Israeli soldiers have accused each other of provoking the violence.
The protest flotilla was organized by a Turkish charity, IHH, with close ties to Turkey's Islamic governing party. Turkey's government has noticeably cooled ties with longtime ally Israel after the deadly raid.
In his testimony Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu suggested Turkey had been seeking a conflict with Israel.
Israel had tried to convince Turkey to stop the Gaza-bound flotilla before sailing, Netanyahu said, but "as we got closer to the date it became clear our diplomatic efforts would not stop it."
"Apparently the government of Turkey did not see potential friction between Turkish activists and Israel as something that goes against its interests, and definitely nothing that justified effective pressure on the IHH activists," Netanyahu told the commission.
He said the Israeli soldiers displayed "exceptional bravery in carrying out their mission and in defending themselves from genuine and lethal danger."
An Israeli military inquiry found that military intelligence had failed to predict the violent resistance on board the Turkish vessel, and troops went in unprepared, expecting only passive resistance.
"I am convinced that in the end of your investigation it will be clear that Israel and the Israel Defense Forces acted in accordance with international law," Netanyahu told the commission in his opening remarks.
The five-member commission, joined by two foreign observers, has no legal powers to punish decision makers. But its conclusions could be politically damaging if it establishes that any wrongdoing had taken place.
By Associated Press Writer Aron Heller