Tel Aviv-Israel Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his senior ministers have attempted to blame army commanders for “the bungled raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla,” according to the UK’s Daily Telegraph. The AP reported that “Israel’s bloody, bungled takeover of a Gaza-bound Turkish aid vessel is complicating US-led Mideast peace efforts.” And according to Reuters, “Israeli military admits errors in bungled boarding.”
But was the raid really bungled? Did the Israeli military command and Netanyahu government have no clear strategy going in? Or was the violence they meted out against the flotilla activists deliberate and methodically planned?
Statements by senior Israeli military commanders made in the Hebrew media days before the massacre revealed that the raid was planned over a week in advance by the Israeli military and was personally approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. The elite Israeli commando unit known as Unit 13 was tasked with carrying out the mission and its role was known by the Israeli public well before the raid took place. Details of the plan show that the use of deadly force was authorized and calculated. The massacre of activists should not have been unexpected.
On May 28, three days before the raid, top Israeli military officials revealed details of their strategy to Maariv, Israel’s most widely circulated paper. The caption of the Maariv article reflected the military command’s plan to use force: “On the way to violence; one of the boats is on its way.”
Here is a translation of relevant portions of the article:
Maariv, 5/28/10 P. 4
Title: Head to Head in the Heart of the Sea
Caption: On the way to violence; one of the boats is on its way.”
Subhead: The sea encounter that will occur at the end of the weekend is already planned detail by detail. From the moment that the ships will pass the “red line” on their way to Gaza, the fighters of Unit 13 will take control and transfer 800 passengers from their boats back to where they came from. And special arrest units were set up.
From the body of article: This operation was approved by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak and will be led by the commander of the Navy, Lieutenant Colonel Eliezer Maron, who is nicknamed “Cheney.” If the people aboard the boats will not agree to turn around, the operation will transfer to the stage of force. “We are afraid that there will be a terror attack by the boats,” said a high ranking officer. “If terrorists have gotten on the boats or if there is an intention to use hot weapons against our forces, we will use full seriousness and caution. We want to avoid using force but as soon as there will be danger to the life of our forces we will be forced to use live fire as a last resort.
After our fighters take over the boats, OKETZ unit dogs and forces of the IHLM unit corps of engineers will inspect them looking for sabotage materials and fighting tools.
So the Israeli military broadcast its plan for violence, inciting the Israeli public and the soldiers of Unit 13 with fevered visions of a kill-or-be-killed encounter with a group of Arab “terrorists.” The stated conditions for using live fire were arbitrary and poorly defined, giving the commandos little direction and lots of leeway to kill — at the very least the plan demanded force in some form.
After the initial violent stages, the plan called for the gathering of the activists’ “fighting tools,” an acknowledgment by the Israeli military that the activists might try to repel its commandos once they forced their way on the ships. The plan to search for “sabotage materials” also foreshadowed the IDF’s post-raid propaganda campaign.
An alternative plan that would have been likely to avert violence could have been set into motion. The Israeli Navy could have done what it had in the past and hijacked the aid ships without boarding them, then towed them to shore. However, the Rambo-style plan concocted by Netanyahu, his top aides and the Naval commander with the unfortunate nickname of “Cheney” made the killing of activists likely, if not inevitable.
Why didn’t Israel’s leaders choose to deal with the flotilla in a more judicious fashion? Were they that stupid, or just crazy? From the details of the plan it appears that Netanyahu and his cohorts had envisioned Entebbe Part Deux, a daring anti-terror raid that would lift the sinking morale of the Israeli public while intimidating Iran and the Arab world. Though Israel may be more isolated than ever as a result of the massacre, the Netanyahu administration is reaping considerable political benefits at home.
The day after the massacre, spontaneous celebrations broke out in Ashdod, Tel Aviv, and throughout the country, bringing together right-wing elements with everyday Israelis. Over a thousand Israelis gathered tonight outside the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv to rally against the Turkish government and express their support for the raid. Multiple demonstrators including one man who has lived in Israel for 60 years told me, “What Turkey [the sponsor of the Mavi Marmara boat] has done is great. I have never seen this country more united in my entire life. We are all standing together now.” (Video coming soon).
Israeli newscasters are routinely using the term “mechabel,” or terrorist, to refer to the flotilla activists, while the violence that broke out on the deck of the Mavi Marmara is called “the lynch.” (Nevermind that zero commandos were hung and nine activists were killed, including an American citizen who was shot in the head four times.) No evidence is required to support claims in the Israeli media. The public desperately wants to believe that its government is right, so much so that Israel’s media is not even making a token effort to challenge the increasingly hysterical press releases disseminated by the IDF press office every few hours.
Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian-Israeli member of the Knesset who was on the Mavi Marmara, was physically accosted in the Knesset by fellow legislators for attempting to relate her experience aboard the flotilla. MK Miri Regev of Likud called her a “traitor,” while Yoel Hasson of Kadima, a supposedly centrist party, denounced Zoabi as a “terrorist.” An Israeli Facebook group devoted to inciting Zoabi’s assassination has gathered 600 members in just a day and a half. In the meantime, Israel’s Interior Minster Eli Yishai is “looking into” means of stripping Zoabi of her citizenship.
This Friday, anti-occupation activists expect to encounter intense violence from the Israeli Army and Border Police at the weekly demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah and Nebi Salah. “In this atmosphere, you can expect with pretty reasonable certainty that the soldiers will go crazy,” a veteran of the Sheikh Jarrah protest movement told me.
With two more ships on their way towards Gaza with aid for the besieged civilian population, the Israeli military and Netanyahu administration are not wasting time in hatching a new strategy to stop them. Once again, the plan calls for violence and possibly more death. “Next time we’ll use more force,” a top Naval commander told the Jerusalem Post. “We will have to come prepared in the future as if it was a war.”