Israel’s army chief has defended Tel Aviv’s deadly attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in late May as ‘proportionate and correct.’
Speaking before an internal panel set up to probe the legality of the onslaught and Israel’s blockade of Gaza, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi on Wednesday rejected the blame apportioned to the Israeli military for using excessive force when attacking the Mavi Marmara, claiming that his troops’ use of live fire was legitimate.
Ashkenazi also praised his commandos for showing calm and morality during the May 31 attack on the Turkish flagship, which left nine civilian activists dead and many others wounded.
While the activists onboard the aid ships say Israeli commandos opened fire upon boarding the Mavi Marmara, Ashkenazi repeated the army’s version of the attack and claimed his commandos used live fire only after a soldier was shot at by one of the activists.
"The soldiers legitimately opened fire and shot those who they needed to shoot and not those who they didn’t need to shoot after underestimating the strength of resistance," Ashkenazi told the commission headed by retired Israeli judge Yaakov Tirkel and joined by two international observers.
Ashkenazi’s claim that the flotilla activists initiated the attack comes as no guns were found aboard the ship.
Israel’s army chief also rejected Turkish charges that some of the victims had been shot "execution-style" at point-blank, saying that shots had been fired at close range as part of a life and death struggle.
Turkish post-mortem examinations have revealed that a total of 30 bullets were found in the bodies of the nine dead activists. One of the activists had been shot four times in the head.
Ashkenazi, who has taken responsibility for the military’s actions, is the only military officer scheduled to appear before the inquiry. He was the third senior figure to address Israel’s self-ordered Tirkel commission after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The commission is neither allowed to quiz the soldiers involved in the May attack, nor to question their decision-making process.