JERUSALEM — Israel plans to set up an investigative team to look into the legality of the naval blockade on Gaza and of a deadly raid on a flotilla which sought to break it, a minister said on Tuesday.
"The committee that will be formed will examine two questions: Is the naval blockade in line with international law, and is the raid we conducted against the flotilla also in line with international law?" minister without portfolio Benny Begin told public radio.
Begin insisted that "the blockade is not only justified but also vital, as the Hamas leaders who control the Gaza Strip, as well as some of the flotilla's passengers, are no saints."
Israel's restricted cabinet late on Monday decided in principle to create the team, but the decision still needs to be ratified by the full government.
Israel is coordinating with Washington in the hope of winning US support for a team made up of Israeli jurists and former diplomats as well as two foreign observers, according to media reports.
This would fall far short of the independent, international investigation which several world leaders have called for in the wake of the May 31 commando raid in which nine Turkish citizens were killed in the eastern Mediterranean.
The mass-selling Yediot Aharonot's front page headline of "Commission light" reflected the opinion of much of the Israeli media.
The Israeli government on Monday easily defeated no-confidence motions over its raid on Gaza-bound activist aid ships but faced more calls for a probe of the deadly commando operation.
A motion by the main opposition party Kadima, which objected to the handling of the raid, was defeated 59-25 while another two brought by Arab parties opposed to the Gaza blockade both went down 81-8.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak defended last week's raid when special forces stormed the flotilla in international waters, killing nine Turks aboard one of the six ships.
He told MPs, however, that Israel would undertake an internal "examination" of events and of whether the blockade and its implementation were in keeping with international law.
"We will draw conclusions on both the political front and the security level," Barak said, while stressing that the blockade was essential to keep weaponry out of Hamas's hands.
The Israeli army announced late Monday that it had charged a team featuring generals in the reserves with examining and learning from the operation.
The team would have to submit its conclusions by July 4, it said in a statement.
Barak acknowledged the violence on the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara "was not the result we wanted" but stressed that Israel needed to take extraordinary measures to protect itself.
"This is not Canada and not Finland," he said during the parliamentary debate, pointing out that Israel faces threats from the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza, from Hezbollah in Lebanon and from Iran.
But US Vice President Joe Biden said Washington was eyeing "new ways" to deal with the blockade, which has been in the spotlight since last week's pre-dawn naval raid.
And Ankara, furious over the deaths of the Turks -- one of whom also holds US citizenship -- vowed that normalisation of ties would be out of the question unless Israel accepts an international inquiry.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul that if Israel continues to reject calls for such a probe "it would mean that there are certain facts they want to hide."
But Israel insisted it was capable of holding itself to account. "We have no plans to put the soldiers through questioning, either in English or in Hebrew," Barak said.