Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How Israel Should Have Handled The Free Gaza Flotilla

If I had been in charge of the Israeli response to the recent, ill-fated 'Free Gaza' Flotilla, I would have handled it much differently. As it happens, Israeli soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the flotilla, and all hell broke loose when they were violently attacked. The actual violence is not Israel's big problem. Rather, it's their own failed public relations and the fact that so much of the world is eager to condemn them without even a fair hearing. What would you have done? Let's say you're a high-ranking security person in Israel's government. Three ships are heading toward your country, which is surrounded on all sides by hostile nations and has hundreds of thousands of terrorists inside its borders. The organizers of the ships are known to be sympathetic toward the terrorists, but they claim that they're only bringing "relief" materials to them: Medical supplies, toilet paper, and other items. They make it known that they will put to port in the portion of your country that is controlled by terrorists sworn to destroy you, but all you ask of the ships is that they dock elsewhere first so that you can inspect them to be certain they are not carrying weapons the your enemies. You stand firm and insist that your country be able to inspect any ship, as allowed under international law, that comes into your territory. Does that sound unreasonable? It doesn't, if you happen to be reasonable. If, however, you are an islamist muslim who hates Israel, it might irritate you. Unless, however, you're an enemy of Israel and you want to bait them into an international incident. How to do that? You load three ships with some faithful crew who are in on the plot, bring a few hundred useful idiot passengers on board, and defy the reasonable requests of the Israelis to inspect your ships. Oh, and you have a bunch of items that are "not weapons" stacked on the decks of the ships that actually could be used for mayhem. Items such as axes, long knives, steel pipes. No guns, of course, because guns would be too incriminating. Remember, your objective is to force Israel into an embarassing and "violent" encounter with "peaceful" relief workers. Israel's response was weak, and also stupid. Sure, hind sight is 20/20, but I'm amazed that Israel did not do what I'm about to say I would have done. I would have surrounded the flotilla with my naval forces and prevented them from proceeding until they allowed us to board the ships one by one and be searched. In a crucial difference from what Israel did, I would have done this in broad daylight, not at night, and made sure that the international press was present. I would have have my media people make it known that the ships were violating international law by refusing inspection. I would have kept the flotilla sitting where we stopped them, at sea, for weeks or months if necessary, providing them with food and water and medical supplies until such time that they allowed our forces to board them and peacefully inspect them. If no weapons or contraban was found, they would be allowed to proceed. If, during this standoff, any of the ships fired on our forces, we would respond with deadly fire. Instead, Israel walked into trap with its eyes wide open. The night vision videos released by the IDF are difficult to see because color and detail are washed out. The IDF videos are open to criticism of doctoring and editing. Had the international press been present, embedded if you will, it would be much more difficult for the critics of Israel to condemn video from, say, BBC or CNN or AFP. Israel might get another chance, but I fear they will blow that as well. A June 1 report in The Jerusalem Post quotes a "top Navy commander" as saying that "Israel will use more aggressive force in the future to prevent ships from breaking the sea blockade on the Gaza Strip." Did they learn nothing in the past 48 hours? They were baited into appearing violent once, and now some idiot Navy commander promises "more aggressive force?" I agree that aggressive force, if warranted, should be applied. But Israel must remember that, fairly or unfairly, they are judged differently than other nations. They must take extra care to avoid the appearance of using violence wantonly, and only the most convincing evidence will hold their critics at bay. (No pun intended.) Update, June 3: Ironically, Hamas has since refused to allow trucks filled with "aid" items from the ships into Gaza. “Hamas has refused to allow those trucks to go in,” a senior official from the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told The Jerusalem Post, “and if the aid is so urgent, my question is, why are they not allowing it into Gaza?” (JawaReport) RELATED: Video Shows Passengers Attacking Israeli Soldiers‎ WCBS-TV Israel Transfers Mavi Marmara Cargo to Gaza‎ Arutz Sheva Israeli Boarding of Blockade Busting Ship Was Legal Fort Liberty Helsinki Principles on the Law of Maritime Neutrality Peace activists acted more like provocateurs Calgary Herald