JERUSALEM, Israel -- The Turkish government indicted four Israeli army officers on bizarre charges stemming from an incident two years ago that drew international attention.
On the second anniversary of the confrontation aboard the Turkish flagship Mavi Mamara, a high military court in Istanbul upheld indictments against four senior IDF (Israel Defense Forces) officers charged with "inciting to kill monstrously and by torturing."
On May 31, 2010, an estimated 40 pro-Palestinian activists attacked Israeli navy commandoes attempting to board the flagship (leading a flotilla to break Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip) after its captain refused to change course and sail to Ashdod. The Israeli blockade aims to prevent Hamas and other groups from smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip.
The soldiers, who planned to use only paintball guns if needed, were in the end forced to defend themselves against activists armed with knives, metal pipes, chains and stun grenades. Videotaped footage confirmed the Israelis had been brutally attacked. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the confrontation.
Turkish State Prosecutor Mehmet Akif Ekinci issued indictments against former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, former Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, former head of air force intelligence Brig.-Gen. Avishai Levy, and former Israel Navy Commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Elizer Marom.
The indictments call for multiple life sentences, equaling a whopping 18,000 years, which Ekinci says are based on "thorough investigation."
In the two years since the failed attempt to breach the naval blockade, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used the incident to justify souring diplomatic and military ties with its former close ally.
In September 2011, the U.N.'s Palmer Commission investigating the incident confirmed that the blockade is legal under international law.
The decision angered Erdogan who expelled Israel's ambassador and continued to demand an apology and retribution for the activists' families. He threatened to send another flotilla escorted by gunships and called the intervention "grounds for war."
"It is a cause for war but we decided to act in line with Turkey's grandeur and show patience," Erdogan said in an interview with al-Jazeera.
The court's decision to back the indictments is the latest evidence that the present Turkish government doesn't intend to normalize relations with Israel.
But former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi hopes "common sense will prevail."
"[Turkey] is an important country, which together with Israel, has a joint interest in maintaining stability in the Middle East," Ashkenazi said. "I am certain common sense will prevail in the end."