JERUSALEM, Israel - In the first of two reports released on Sunday, the Turkel Commission concluded that Israel acted within the boundaries of international law when it stopped the Turkish-owned flagship planning to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip on May 31, 2010.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established the commission two weeks after the incident. During the seven-month investigation, nearly all of the commission's hearings were open to the public and its findings posted in English and Hebrew on its website.
The commission concluded that Israeli Navy commandos acted legally in defending themselves against the IHH activists wielding knives, hatchets, chains and metal clubs, "the crucial factor leading to the deterioration of the situation." During the confrontation, nine Turkish activists were killed.
"Overall, the IDF personnel acted professionally in the face of extensive and unanticipated violence," the report stated. "This included continuing to switch back and forth between less lethal and lethal weapons to address the nature of the violence directed at them," the commission concluded.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak welcomed the commission's findings.
"I hope that all those who rushed to judgment against Israel and against its soldiers will read these reports and learn the truth about what happened," Netanyahu said. "The truth is that our soldiers were defending our country and defending their very lives," he said. "This is not only their right; it is their duty. The State of Israel stands behind them and thanks them for their courage," he said.
Barak said "the report proves Israel is a law-abiding State that is able to examine itself and respects the international norms and rules."
The commission's two foreign observers - Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lord William David Trimble and former Canadian judge advocate general, Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Kenneth Watkin - said they had full access to all aspects of the investigation.
"We are glad the commission made ongoing efforts to hear both sides. We have no doubt the commission was independent," they said in a statement.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesman's Office said it will implement "all operational and legal aspects and appropriate findings," noting the IDF had conducted its own "comprehensive operational investigations" in addition an investigation and report by Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland.
In addition to the Turkel Commission's reports, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published detailed testimony from IDF officers and soldiers on the confrontation aboard the Mavi Marmara. Click here to read the full report.
Not unexpectedly, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan rejected the committee's conclusions. Erdogan has repeatedly demanded Israel issue a public apology and provide remuneration for families of the activists who were killed.
The Turkish committee investigating the incident - which conducted a three-week inquiry behind closed doors and never made its findings public - said it was "surprised, appalled and dismayed" at the Turkel Commission's findings.
Erdogan, who backed IHH involvement in the blockade-busting flotilla, cut off diplomatic ties with Israel afterward. Click here to read "Turkey, the Global Muslim Brotherhood and the Gaza Flotilla," published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
"In my judgment there is no value or credibility to this report," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara, Turkey's State news agency reported.
Many analysts have noted increasing deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations since Erdogan became prime minister in 2003.
While strengthening ties with Iran, Syria, Pakistan and terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, he has increasingly distanced himself from Israel, the U.S. and other Western allies.
Some analysts have suggested Erdogan's anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric is aimed at improving his standing in the Arab and Islamic world.