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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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