Israel Seeks to Justify Response to Flotilla

Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip has been challenged in the same way, and a couple of times, ships even got through.
Israel Seeks to Justify Response to Flotilla
Last week as a small flotilla of ships approached Gaza, it seemed that Israel was headed for just another tangle with international activists. Several times in the past five years, Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip has been challenged in the same way, and a couple of times, ships even got through.

The Israeli government’s public relations stance has always been that the blockade exists for the protection of Israeli citizens. The terrorist organization Hamas runs Gaza, and free movement of goods by sea would potentially allow for a steady flow of weapons from the outside world to Hamas.

As it is, elements in Gaza represent a threat to Israeli security. In May alone, 50 Kassam rockets were fired from Gaza into Israeli territory. On Tuesday morning, according to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), two militants tried to enter Israel through tunnels from Gaza. They were killed.

Thus the security threat from Gaza is very real. Add to that the enemies Israel has in other countries—Turkey, Iran, and Syria, to name a few. It is not unfeasible that a flotilla of ships carrying tons of cargo could also be carrying weapons intended for Hamas.

The coordinating organizations behind the most recent flotilla, which had people from many countries aboard its six ships, stated openly in advance of their arrival that their goal was not to deliver aid. Their goal was to provoke a response, and their ultimate goal was to break Israel’s naval blockade.

The stated intention of the flotilla organizers has been repeated again and again by Israeli officials since the tragic death of the nine people aboard the biggest ship, the Mavi Marmara. That’s because it was made clear again and again by the organizers themselves.

Yes, they had aid aboard two of the ships. But they also had knives, clubs, Molotov cocktails, heavy slingshots, and other metal stabbing objects. Whether a limited number of the people aboard the ships had prepared for violence or whether the intention to use violence was widely shared among the people in the flotilla is unknown. 

What is known is that the flotilla was warned again and again and offered an alternative way to deliver the aid. By the flotilla coordinators’ own admission, they advanced on international waters toward the Gaza Strip despite repeated warnings from the Israeli Navy to stop.

The cache of weapons aboard the most-populated ship and repeated warnings from the Israelis, raise questions about what kind of response they were prepared to provoke. Clearly, they were prepared for violence, but after seeing video and hearing an eyewitness account of the attack on Israeli soldiers, it seems the preparation was offensive, not defensive.

The Israeli government has done little to mitigate the fact that nine people are now dead as a result of Israel’s boarding the ships. The government has not claimed responsibility for the deaths but has only expressed regret at the loss of life. However, the regrets are laced with a kind of offensive maneuvering that seeks to stop critics before an accusatory word can be uttered.

Despite its efforts to assuage criticism, Israel is facing condemnation from the international community. Immediately after the revelations of the deaths, the official stance of the IDF almost came across as belligerent. With dozens of members of the international press sitting on their doorstep at the Port of Ashdod while the six ships were brought in, government officials continued to parrot the same statements: They had weapons. We were attacked. They are not activists.

All reasoning over why the violence occurred in the first place is relevant. But there doesn’t seem to be an equal level of contrition over the loss of life. In fact, the IDF manipulated members of the international media into attending a “press briefing” on the naval base at the Port of Ashdod on Monday evening when the Marmara was coming into port. We were loaded onto a bus with blacked-out windows for a trip that took one hour going, and five minutes coming back.

The press briefing was nothing more than the account of one of the Israeli commandos who was aboard the Marmara. He spoke from a prepared statement, in halting English, and did not take questions. In fact, IDF spokespeople stood before members of the international press and refused to give a briefing or offer a statement after the arrival of all the ships, nor did they take any questions.

On the eve of a violent day that claimed nine lives, the IDF essentially refused to offer one word of regret over what had happened to fellow human beings. This, more than any other public relations stance it could or should have taken, is the one it might regret the most.