Sunday 6 June 2010

The Flotilla Fiasco

The events surrounding the fiasco of the so-called Gaza Flotilla over the past few days have captured headlines around the world. I join with all those who have expressed their regrets and condolences to the families of those who died in the incident. It is never good when people die unnecessarily, even if they are people who are enemies and have come to our land with the intention of destabilising our country and threatening our citizens.

I refer to the incident as a fiasco, not because I believe that the Israeli navy did the wrong thing by confronting the ships and preventing them from entering Gaza. On the contrary, I fully support the efforts made by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), and the navy in particular, to enforce the blockade on Gaza. The fiasco that I refer to is the violence that was initiated by some of the activists on board one of the flotilla ships, the Marvi Marmara, and the decision by IDF commanders to continue to drop commando troops onto the ship despite the fact that it was obvious that they were being launched into the middle of a lynch mob.

The Gaza blockade was implemented after the end of the Gaza War in 2009 with the objective of preventing weapons and military hardware from being brought into the Gaza Strip. This was in response to the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza which were an attempt to endanger citizens of Israel. Although the blockade has not succeeded in completely halting the hostilities from Gaza, there can be no doubt that the rocket attacks have been significantly reduced in recent times. If a government is not taking every possible step to secure the safety of its citizens in their homes, the government is not fulfilling its obligations to those citizens. It is for this reason that the Israeli government has no choice but to implement a blockade on Gaza to protect the citizens of Israel.

The Gaza flotilla was a classic situation of lose-lose for Israel. From a public relations perspective, the outcome for Israel was always going to be negative, regardless of whether the ships landed on the Gaza shore or not. Hamas was well aware of this situation when they predicted that the situation would be a victory for them, whatever the outcome. The flotilla organisers came with the specific intention of confronting and embarrassing Israel and the IDF, and they succeeded in capturing the attention of the foreign media who were all on hand to report on the confrontation with the Israeli authorities when it took place. The images broadcast around the world were those which are the most sought after by terror organisations - those of "innocent" civilians fighting uniformed soldiers of an organised army. The truth is that that the "innocent" civilians are frequently not so innocent, and are simply members of a terror army who dress in civilian clothing and use civilian homes as bases for their attacks in an attempt to trick the public into giving them their sympathy. The Gaza flotilla was no different, with strong evidence of a civilian army having been on the ships. The extent of the preparation for a violent clash, the number of arms found on the ship and the violent response received by the Israeli boarding party all indicate the presence of a paramilitary force that came searching for a fight. There are also strong indications of Iranian involvement in terms of funding and supply of arms on the ships.

Despite Israel's meticulous preparations for the arrival of the flotilla, there was a failing on the part of the IDF. The extent of the violence that awaited the IDF soldiers became clear from an early stage. The tactic of dropping soldiers onto the decks from rappel lines, one at a time, seems to have been fatally flawed, and placed the individual soldiers into a position where they had no choice but to open fire to save their own lives. The boarding party was well trained to take over command of a naval vessel, but seems to have been poorly trained in controlling large crowds. On this occasion, the crowd control skills were badly needed, and sorely lacking. I don't feel that the crowd reaction was easy to predict ahead of time, so it is tough to suggest that the IDF should have known that these skills would have been required. The only criticism that I feel can validly be directed at the IDF forces, is the fact that they continued to allow soldiers to drop onto the deck when it became clear that the lives of the soldiers would be endangered by doing so. Some quick reactions and change of tactics may have changed the outcome of the incident.

Prime minister Netanyahu came onto TV following the incident to justify the IDF's actions in preventing the flotilla from entering Gaza. He also emphasized that the same action would be taken in the future, if there are further attempts to break the Gaza blockade. On this issue, Israel seems to be fairly isolated in the international community with a great deal of pressure being exerted on Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza. Naturally, it is easy for the international community to make such a call when it is not their citizens who would be endangered by such a move. The truth, however, is that opening Gaza would also allow Iran to establish more of a foothold in the territory, thereby bringing many European countries into firing range and risking the safety of their citizens. It is not clear that European countries realise this, or take the increasing threat posed by Iran and its cowboy president seriously. While this situation persists, Israel may be forced to act alone and fly in the face of international opinion. This would not be the first time that Israel will act against the opinion of the world, but it does not make it easier each time we are forced to behave in this way.

The critical reaction of the world seems to be in sharp contrast to the reaction to Iran's behaviour in recent years. It seems to be OK for the president of a country like Iran to stand up on every opportunity, and in every international forum and call for the destruction and the end of Israel. The muted responses to these actions, and to the increasing nuclear threat posed by a loose cannon like Iran seem to show significant bias, especially when compared to the treatment meted out to Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident.

All the while that Hamas continues to pose a military threat to Israel, the Gaza blockade should remain in place. Every action on the part of Hamas to reduce the threat to Israel and its citizens will undoubtedly be met with an easing of the Israeli blockade on the strip. Although it is clear that the situation in Gaza is not good, the desperation is called into question in light of the fact that Hamas decided to return all the goods that were brought in by the Gaza flotilla, and which were shipped to the Gaza Strip from Ashdod by Israel.

The arrival of the Rachel Corrie off the coast of Gaza on Saturday was a real lesson in what could have been with the Gaza flotilla, instead of the unnecessary violence and loss of life. The peace activists on board the ship made their protest against the Gaza blockade clear, and illustrated their point. When it came time, however, for the Israeli navy to take action, there was no resistance and no violence. The ship, together with its cargo, was peacefully routed into Ashdod harbour where the passengers and the cargo will be taken care of. This sent a message of real peaceful demonstration, honest intention to help the citizens of Gaza, and not an attempt to look for a confrontation with the IDF or the creation of martyrs.

Despite some recognition of the global Islamic threat by the international community, it seems as though the full extent of this threat is still not understood. Because of this, Israel is frequently forced to stand alone in confronting the Islamic threat that attempts to destroy her. The Gaza flotilla is a classic example of this. It is astonishing that the international community can be tricked into believing that the activists on board were all civilian, peace-loving humanitarians. The tactic by the terrorists to present themselves as civilians while fighting like an army is already well-known. It is now time for the international community to recognise it for what it is.

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