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Commandoes against Demonstrators? Israel Shoots Itself in the Leg–Again

May 31st, 2010by Haim Watzman · 20 Comments · Politics and Policy

Haim Watzman

Why send a crack naval commando unit to quell a political demonstration? We don’t know all the facts yet, but on the face of it Israel has again overreacted and, in doing so, gotten itself into a situation much worse than it would have been in had it not responded to this pr gimmick at all.

The IDF’s Shayetet 13 is a legendary unit staffed with tough, sharp fighters. They undergo tough training and operate under the harshest of conditions. But they do not learn how to disperse demonstrations or engage in diplomacy. If the so-called Gaza rescue mission boats were carrying heavy arms and torpedoes, the commandos would have been the men for the job. But if the boats were carrying food, medicine, and several dozen deluded liberals, then the decision to send in the commandos is totally incomprehensible.

Israel has a right to protect its territorial waters. Not responding to the boats at all would have been problematic, and could have been seen as a precedent under which Israel gave up its right to supervise shipping to Gaza. And given that arms are shipped to the repressive Hamas regime by sea , Israel cannot allow free access to Gaza.

But this was not a case that required the application of the full force of the IDF’s best units. More creative and calmer responses could have done the job without running the risk of a public relations disaster. Unless it turns out that the ships were actually carrying munitions, we’ve come out of this in the worst possible way. Dead protesters, wounded commandos who will not be fit to take part in much more important operations, and an international outcry that will actually increase the chances that Israel’s hands will be tied against future shipments to Hamas.

Why are we so stupid?

Added after the press conference:

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi says that the commandos responded as their training demanded to life-threatening attacks on them. But the problem is not their response–once their lives were endangered they had no choice but to return fire–but why they were allowed to get into such a situation in the first place. Ashkenazi also made a telling admission–that the riot-control equipment the soldiers were armed with turned out to be insufficient. Which raises the question of whether, had they been better equipped, they would not have had to shoot.

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20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Woody // May 31, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    You’re not stupid, you’re already making excuses and qualifying condemnations. Like Barak is doing on TV right now.

  • 2 Suzanne // May 31, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    The whole damn situation is a mess right from the get-go. To analyze this properly you have to keep going back to endless first causes. The blockade itself is counterproductive and a futile stop-gap for increasing seething anger at the siege of Gaza, the Gaza War, Israel’s entire occupation.

    It’s possible to think seriously that Israeli’s in power are looking to foment even more anger to perhaps cause another intafada to excuse Israeli avoidance of compromise in an end to the conflict. ( I don’t think this government wants an end to the conflict/ a peace agreement- they are stalling for time with empty talk and phony to minimal to meaningless moves).

    “Why are we so stupid?” Indeed. And why are Israeli’s so out of control, expecting to be forgiven automatically or eventually by the international community?

    Set up a fair minded international commission that offers a report that asks for an Israeli investigation. Offer a UN Resolution that condemns and that this time the US does NOT oppose, and then watch Israel’s leaders (and their supporters) complain that Israel is being “delegitimized”.

    You and I can think of at least a couple of ways this could have been handled with more “sechel” and wisdom.

    How about asking to board the ships to conduct an inspection on board once they reached the blockaded waters?

    How about allowing a wider selection of humnitarian goods into Gaza? Part of the problem too is that it seems that the embargo of goods is extremely strict, inhumane.

  • 3 Eamonn // May 31, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    There’s also that previous boats heading to Gaza surrendered without fuss and this may have led to the IDF thinking that the same would happen here. The commandos don’t seem to have been aware that they were landing on a boat that had a fair number of people yearning for martyrdom aboard. So, poor intelligence and planning. What equipment could have taken that would have made any difference?

    And this,

    http://bit.ly/ddjuKo

  • 4 Aaron // May 31, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    The official version is that the Israeli soldiers were ambushed by armed men (not “deluded liberals”) immediately after boarding. If that’s true, then training in “dispersing demonstrations” and “diplomacy” wouldn’t have helped much.

    Israel had no choice but to take control of the ships. “Diplomacy” would mean an extended standoff: extended media coverage making Israel look worse and worse by the minute. Diplomacy is fine for a conventional war, but in this case the goal of the protesters is to make Israel look bad and attract world attention. Diplomacy itself furthers their goal by stretching out media coverage.

    I’m not so sure that Israel’s actions were so stupid. Propaganda-wise, the best tactic was to get the actual confrontation over with. Now it’s time to display the confiscated weapons (assuming the reports are true) and to publicize the names and pictures of the killed protesters (assuming they were Muslim, as reported).

  • 5 David // May 31, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Aaron:

    “Publicize the names and pictures of the killed protesters (assuming they were Muslim, as reported).”

    I’m trying to understand your reasoning here in a way that doesn’t make it sound ugly and racist. You _appear_ to be implying that killing Muslims is something to be proud of, killing non-Muslims is not. Is that really what you are saying? Or is it simply that you are relying on the racism of the audience to whom Israel would be addressing this “display”? If so, I think you are assuming a much narrower audience than you should be – not only (of course) would Muslim viewers be more rather than less outraged by the deaths of Muslims, but Israel would appear as a colonial oppressor to a much larger number of people in the Western world.

    I also see from neither you nor Haim an acknowledgement of the problem that the attack on the ships took place in international waters. Israel had no legal authority to seek to commandeer the vessels in such a location, and if they sought to do so, the people on the vessels had every right to resist. You cannot plead “self-defence” if you initiate an illegal attack and then kill people who resist in the course of it.

  • 6 aliyah06 // May 31, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    1. David is wrong. You can plead self-defense if the other individual initiates deadly force (knife, handgun, metal poles, clubs).

    2. Haim is right–Israel has a right to defend itself and that defense includes embargoing a hostile forward military base armed by the Iranian axis and which refuses to recognize the right of this state to exist, and promulgates genocide. There is ample precedent. The west has embargoed both Iraq and Iran and continuously boards ships, carries out inspections and seizures in the international waters of the Persian Gulf; the US surrounded Cuba when it tried to be Russia’s forward military base and used the Navy to patrol and stop ships in international waters around Cuba.

    3. Using commandos WAS stupid–we should follow the example of those more “civilized” nations of the west, the US and UK, who simply order the ship (or airplane) to stop, and when it doesn’t, they destroy it.

    Since the Palestinian Amen Chorus that posts here doesn’t seem to “get it” allow me to put it in simple one-syllable words. The Palestinians are at war with Israel and have been since 1948. Gaza’s alliance with Iran and incessant missile attacks, Hezbollah’s daily threats, Iran’s promised nuclear genocide and Syria’s saber-rattling are all part of a piece, and they are not interested in peace — they are interested in winning their endless war, which they started. Since we are not leaving, that means they have to kill us. Vicious agitprop like this only strengthens the fascist irredentist elements of these warmongers, and you who would applaud their agitprop and condemn Israeli self-defense are complicit in our deaths.

  • 7 Suzanne // May 31, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Rabbi- Gershom and Haim are not the only decent Israeli’s. I would not advocate leaving the ship anymore than we should have left the USA during the Bush years. That’s giving in. Gershom and Haim and others show a different Israeli face-I feel bad for them as I have felt bad myself having to answer for Bush when we were abroad.

  • 8 Clif // May 31, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    aliyah, things have changed.

    When Israel was established, there were quite a few people in the world who said “Can’t the Jews just have one little bit of land to call their own?!” The embers of the Holocaust were still smoldering and the British blockade that kept homeless Jews from landing in Palestine was an awful demonstration of power used against the helpless. So the situation was going from nothing to something.

    Step forward to today. Israel is an established state with borders. But now it is Israel that is the power, it is Israel that has taken and taken and taken even more from a people who, though they are indigenous, have not only been dispossessed but are still being dispossessed on almost a daily basis. It is Israel that is dictating what will and will not happen to a people who have nothing that Israel does not allow them to have.

    The future is entirely on the side of the Palestinians due to what Israel has done since 1967. I hope the Palestinians have learned that fighting, which they are as entitled to do as were the Native-Americans, the terrorists of the 19th century, is just as counterproductive now as it was then. Through armed resistance, the Palestinians shoot themselves in the foot. This flotilla is exactly the right method as are any and all peaceful means of demonstrating the horror of Palestinian life in the occupied territories that can be laid at the feet of Israel.

    During Operation Cast Lead, I saw a video of an orthodox Jew in New York City dancing with glee and shouting “Jews kick ass!” as Merkavas had their way in residential areas. I knew at that point that the Palestinians have a future and that as surely as Israel has deprived them of so much, they will have justice on their side IF they can resist the urge to fight. They are, just as were the Jews prior to the establishment of Israel, going from nothing to something.

    The irony of a regional superpower claiming it will be driven into the sea even as it takes from the helpless is not now and has not been for some time even faintly credible. The flotilla helps to point this out. I hope that nobody was foolish enough to stash arms on any of the boats as that would be only an extension of practices that have proven futile.

    Here in the U.S. I am doing all I can to exert pressure on Israel through boycotts, reduced funding, etc. to oppose the odious, unjust, illegal occupation. I am ashamed to say that I did nothing in this regard for so many many years during which I ignorantly allowed injustice to occur while those with an agenda told me a bedtime story and I slept.

  • 9 Aaron // May 31, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    David, the answer is that I’m “relying on the racism of the audience”, which I take to be “middle America” and “anti-Muslim” Europeans. It’s bad for Israel no matter what, but it’s less bad if the person killed is named Mohammed than Cindy Lou. If Israel can portray them as violent Muslims (which they were), then that’s better than killing all-American human rights activists.

  • 10 fiddler // May 31, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    So, aliyah, can I break into your house, or your private yacht out in the Mediterranean, and if you have the chutzpah to resist and defend your home with anything but your bare hands, can I shoot you and then claim “self-defence”?
    Is that what the law says in Israel?

  • 11 Gregory Pollock // May 31, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    There are no exclusive sides here, even in the boarding of a ship by what amounts to overwhelming superior force. Israelis feel hatred, as do those on the ship; Israelis feel wronged, un-understood, as do those on the ship and their supporters elsewhere. As long as we demarcate these events into wrong and right, Jew and Muslim, State and Stateless, how can not the events continue unendingly? Perhaps that is all we know to do.

    As long as these ships had no munitions (and I do not thing Israel will lie about what they find), this convoy was, at bottom, a plea, a rather pathetic plea given the mass of Gazans, to lift the economic and social state of those excluded from the promise of improvement. To say these must remove the yoke of Hamas is to ask Warsaw Jews to renounce their faith and ethnicity; it will not happen. The very demand makes Hamas as important as your labels, whoever you are.

    Israel will never disappear; nor should it. To push Israel out in fantasy is to once again replicate ancient humanity. All of you have a gift in this: a plea for life has been quashed; how it has been quashed is your lever. Does Israel want to be this? Overwhelming power brings its own handicaps. Find a way to use that.

    Barring no munitions, I for one will not enjoy war from my den.

  • 12 Michael // May 31, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    Aside from pointless quibbles about the tactical wisdom of the interception, this is an unmitigated political disaster — a potential turning point — for Israel. Just as Netanyahu is about to come to the U.S. to reverse the deterioration in relations, this act of high-seas piracy happens and Israel finds itself even more isolated and friendless in the world. If there’s a country whose political leadership is more tone-deaf than Israel’s, I’m not aware of it (since the retirement of George Bush, at least).

    Will Israel simply retreat further behind its military/nuclear shield and continue to believe that it can act with impunity? Those of us who are friends of the Israeli people will lament this day for a long time to come.

  • 13 Yoram Ettinger // May 31, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Tell me who are your supporters/organizers and I’ll tell who you are!

    Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center sheds light on the nature of Turkey’s IHH, the chief organizer of the flotilla to Gaza (http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e105.htm):

    1. The radical Islamic, anti-Western IHH – the chief supporter of the flotilla to Gaza – poses as a humanitarian relief fund (Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation), while supporting Hamas and several Jihadist organizations in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Algeria, Chechnya, etc..

    2. The IHH initiated a number of “humanitarian aid” convoys to anti-US Islamic terrorists in Iraq’s Fallujah Triangle.

    3. According to the Danish Institute for international Studies, IHH is connected to Al Qaeda and global Islamic terrorism. The Istanbul office of IHH was raided, and IHH activists were arrested, by the Turkish security services. Explosives, IED (Improvised Explosive Device) manuals, weapons and Afghanistan-oriented documents were confiscated during the raid.

    4. According to a French intelligence report, Bulent Yildirim, the president of IHH, recruited “Jihad warriors” and transferred money, firearms and explosives to Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists in various countries. Yildirim made telephone calls to European “shelter apartments,” which were used by Islamic terrorists, including Abu el-Ma’ali, known as “Junior Ben-Laden.” IHH produced documents, which facilitated air travel by Islamic terrorists, posing as relief workers. IHH was connected to Ahmed Ressam, an Islamic terrorist, who attempting to smuggle 1320 pounds of explosives and plant them at the Los Angeles International Airport.

    5. Bulent Yildirim embraced the world view of the Muslim Brotherhood (the mentor of Hamas in Gaza) and has been a systematic supporter of – and collaborator with – Hamas. He has transferred significant amount of money to Hamas and its “charitable societies” and has promoted – during major Hamas events in Turkey – armed struggle against the Jewish State.

    THE CONTEXT OF THE “GAZA FLOTILLA”:

    1. Gaza is a bastion of Iran and Syria-supported Hamas terrorism, launching thousands of missiles at Israel, kidnapping Israel’s Gilad Shalit and smuggling into Gaza terrorists, more precise and longer range missiles, explosives and other lethal elements. Efforts have been made to minimize such smuggling via Sinai and from the Mediterranean.

    2. Israel’s aim of cooperation was demonstrated by Jerusalem’s offer to allow the “Gaza Flotilla” to reach its destination (in spite of the daily flow to Gaza – via Israel – of food, oil, cement and multitude of products) following a thorough examination of its content.

    3. The “Gaza Flotilla” aim of confrontation was demonstrated by its rejection of Jerusalem’s offer and by the handguns, knives, screwdrivers, iron pipes and a gun employed by terrorists on board. Confrontation has been the goal of the “Gaza Flotilla,” as evidenced by the campaign of anti-Israel incitement carried out by its personnel and sponsors.

    4. The Israeli soldiers were prepared for a peaceful-takeover in face of (erroneously-assumed) civil disobedience. Therefore, they were equipped with paintball guns as the primary weapon and handguns as an emergency weapon, to be used only if facing death. They resorted to handguns in response to an attempted lynch by the scores of terrorists, who assaulted the soldiers with iron pipes, knives, screwdrivers and a gun. Handguns were snatched from soldiers, by the lynching mob, and were directed at the soldiers. Five boats were taken over peacefully and one (with 600 passengers) became an arena of confrontation between Israeli soldiers and terrorists. Israeli restraint minimized fatalities among terrorists.

    5. The responsibility for the fatalities and casualties lies at the doorstep of the IHH, other supporters of the “Gaza Flotilla,” the UN and multitude of governments, which could – but would not – stop the Flotilla.

    6. Would NATO allow a “humanitarian aid” convoy, organized by the radical Islamic anti-Western IHH, to travel unchecked to a Taliban stronghold?! Would Germany, Italy or France allow such a convoy to reach “Baader Meinhoff”, “Red Brigade” or “Action Direct” terrorist strongholds?

    7. The “Gaza Flotilla” highlights the role of the Jewish State as the outpost of Western democracies in face of Islamic terrorist offensive. De-legitimizing and weakening Israel – the role model of counter terrorism – would be a tailwind for Islamic terrorists – the role model of international terrorism – facilitating their assault on the Free World. It’s not a clash over Gaza; it’s a clash of civilizations!

  • 14 Suzanne // Jun 1, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Rabbi Tony-

    Perhaps with you, yes.

  • 15 Gene // Jun 1, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Sink the Damn Ships!

  • 16 John Sterns // Jun 1, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Not exactly the “Raid on Entebbe”, is it?

    Either way it looks bad – excessive, inappropriate force if these are humanitarians, or a clumsy, ill-prepared operation if these are terrorists.

    I wonder how Barak would have felt if he were sent on such an operation during his commando days …

  • 17 Y. Ben-David // Jun 2, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Just to put my 2 cents in….I agree with Haim that the ships had to be stopped, perhaps there were mistakes made in how it was done, but I am not in a position to second-guess anyone. It was a difficult operation. If anything should have been done differently it was that Israel, who seems absolutely terrified to call Turkey to order on anything, should have made it clear that they, as a country, should have done everything in their power to prevent the flotilla from sailing. It was a grossly unfriendly act against Israel. Turkey thinks it can conduct a cold war against Israel and yet still get Israelis to visit there, spend lots of money and even to continue to buy weapons from Israel (!), including a massive refurbishing of their fleet of battle tanks! They are absolutely disgusting.

  • 18 Mary Ann Baker // Jun 3, 2010 at 5:08 am

    Pure twattle. Israel has every right to defend its borders and that includes inspecting shipping. NO other nation on earth is expected to bend over for their enemies like you guys seem to expect them to do.

  • 19 Suzanne // Jun 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Aliyah06-

    “Vicious agitprop like this only strengthens the fascist irredentist elements of these warmongers, and you who would applaud their agitprop and condemn Israeli self-defense are complicit in our deaths.”

    Who is doing MOST of the dying here?

    I see more and more ISRAELI propagandists at work from the highest levels, and THEIR leanings towards fascism.

    I see a reluctance to compromise for peace.

    I see an Arab peace Initiative renewed and still no response from Israel.

    I see continued seemingly uncontrollable IRREDENTIST Israeli land grabbing.

    Israel is no warmonger?

    Israel is an exception, not to be judged in the same way that everyone else is judged.

  • 20 Yasar // Jan 14, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Re: Y. Ben David

    Do not flatter yourself … Turkey, the first muslim country to recognize Israel, need not have a single Israeli tourist the misguided electorate who keeps selecting War Criminals for their leadership!

    With or witout ‘a single Israeli tourist’ Turkey still boasts the 6th ranked tourism destination.

    Soon enough Israelis will run out of places where they may vacation outside of their toy state as NOBODY on earth will care to have them as visitors!

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