By Ray Fleming

IN early June, two days after the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla incident, the UN Security Council called for “a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation conforming to international standards” into the Israeli assault on the ship and the killing of nine civilians. Yesterday UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced the establishment of a four-person investigative panel; the chairman is former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, the deputy chairman is the outgoing Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, and Israel and Turkey will each name a member shortly.

This is the first time that Israel has agreed to an international inquiry into an event involving its Defence Forces and prime minister Netanyahu deserves credit for agreeing to this. He said yesterday, “Israel has nothing to hide.” An Israeli internal military inquiry recently concluded that although the operation was justified there were aspects of it that called for criticism. Mark Regev, the Israel spokesman, said: “Ultimately we are sure the facts are on our side.” Will a Turkish spokesman feel it is necessary to say something similar?

Mr Ban was vague about the panel's terms of reference even though it will begin work next week. On the basis of positions already taken it is unlikely that Israel and Turkey will find much agreement; a panel of four independent members with Israel and Turkey as witnesses would have been more likely to produce the “impartial” report called for by the Security Council.