Turkish Court Indicts 4 Israeli Military Leaders

May 30, 2012 10:49 am 0 comments Views: 21

JERUSALEM — An Istanbul court approved indictments on Monday against four senior Israeli military figures for involvement in a deadly raid on a Turkish passenger vessel trying to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza in May 2010. In response, a senior Israeli official said the Turkish government had apparently decided to kill what was left of the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.

In the 2010 clash, soldiers opened fire after they rappelled onto the ship’s deck and were met with violent resistance. Nine pro-Palestinian activists — eight Turks and an American of Turkish descent — were killed.

Israel insisted that its soldiers had acted in self-defense. A United Nations report subsequently found that Israel’s naval blockade was legal and appropriate, but that in raiding the Turkish boat, part of an international flotilla, Israel had used “excessive and unreasonable” force.

Istanbul’s Seventh Criminal Court unanimously accepted a 144-page indictment prepared by the Istanbul prosecutor, Mehmet Akif Ekinci, Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency reported on Monday. The prosecutor is seeking life terms for the former chief of staff of the Israeli military, Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi; the former naval forces commander, Vice Adm. Eliezer Marom; the former military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin; and the former head of air force intelligence, Brig. Gen. Avishai Levy, as well as prison terms totaling up to 18,000 years for other crimes that the prosecutor says were committed during the raid, according to the report.

All four commanders have since retired from the military, an army spokeswoman confirmed.

Although Israel has expressed regret over the deaths, it has never offered the official apology that the Turkish government has demanded. From the Turkish perspective, analysts say, until an apology is forthcoming, there is no relationship left to damage.

“There is absolutely no change for the better in relations between Israel and Turkey that would be harmed from this judicial development,” said Sami Kohen, a Middle East analyst with the Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet.

That was not the view of the senior Israeli official. “Erdogan decided to launch a targeted killing of the relationship,” the official said, referring to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the tensions surrounding the issue. Israeli officials did not immediately comment publicly on the indictment because Israel had not yet received any official notification about it from Turkey.

The indictment means that the four former military figures cannot set foot in Turkey, but Israeli officials said they could still travel to other countries in safety since, so far, Turkey has not issued international warrants for their arrest.

Turkey used to be Israel’s closest regional ally and its most important friend in the Muslim world. But relations began to sour over Israel’s three-week offensive against the Hamas militant group controlling Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, which came after years of rocket fire by Gaza militants against southern Israel. Up to 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the campaign, hundreds of them civilians, and Mr. Erdogan accused Israel of attempted genocide.

Israel formally introduced a naval blockade of Gaza in early 2009, saying it was essential to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the Palestinian coastal enclave. The flotilla’s attempt to run the blockade led to the dawn raid on the Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters as it headed for Gaza.

Israel eventually rejected a deal that included a formula for an apology acceptable to both sides in return for a restoration of relations and a cessation of legal steps. Israeli officials said they grew wary of the proposed deal after Mr. Erdogan started speaking about the additional condition of lifting the blockade of Gaza.

Turkey sharply downgraded its diplomatic and military ties with Israel last September, expelling the Israeli ambassador in a display of anger.

Other Israelis said that Monday’s approval of the indictment did not necessarily signal a new low in Israeli-Turkish relations. Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, said it could also be viewed as the natural progression of a judicial process that started months ago.

“It is clear that this did not crop up just now,” Mr. Liel said, adding that the judicial steps probably began when Israel announced it would not apologize.

On the contrary, Mr. Liel said he had discerned different signals from Turkey recently. Both Mr. Liel and Israeli officials noted that private trade between Israel and Turkey — nearly $4 billion a year — had hardly been affected by the diplomatic freeze, and that it was even improving.

Get More Right To Your Inbox!