The Gaza Flotilla: A Perspective from Closer at Home

On the myriad of Web sites I read about the Gaza Flotilla, one had a poll: Should the Israel Defense Forces have boarded the Mavi Marmara the way that they did?

My answer is a resounding “No!” but for a reason very different than what has been talked about in most conversations.

I write as an Israeli.

From what I know, the blockade is legal given that Hamas-controlled Gaza is at war with Israel, launching rockets in an ongoing conflict. Egypt is enforcing the blockade as well as Israel and there are many precedents of countries boarding ships in international waters to enforce such blockades. For me, while there may be a question if the blockade is in Israel’s best interests, it is certainly legal and it was within Israel’s rights to board the ship.

The question for me is not if it was legal or illegal.

In my mind there is also no question if those on board the Mavi Marmara had peaceful intentions. It takes little research to learn that the IHH and Free Gaza movements are connected to terrorist organizations. That does not make those on board terrorists, but I wouldn’t call them unsympathetic to Hamas. There is a reason that Cyprus denied port to the vessel.

While the consequences of the media blitz against Israel and world condemnation as a result of the IDF’s actions are biased and damaging, this is not my primary consideration when saying that the Israel Defense Forces should not have boarded the Mavi Marmara the way that they did. Turkey under whose flag the Mavi Marmara sailed, bombs Kurds, Hamas executes Fatah activists in Gaza in cold blood, North Korea kills Chinese civilians on its border and sinks a South Korean ship – none of these resulted in world condemnation on the scale Israel experienced. However, while most of this was unavoidable had the Israeli cabinet made a different decision, the reaction of the international community can not be the primary concern of a country defending its citizens from physical danger. Israel’s mandate, like any government, is to protect its citizens.

It is for this reason that I was upset by the exchange between the IDF and the passengers of the Mavi Marmara – our soldiers, our sons, were unnecessarily put in harm’s way. Israel unjustly endangered the lives of its citizens. Be they soldiers or civilians, I find this unjustifiable.

While it has been reported that Israeli intelligence knew that there were no heavy arms on board, the commandos, their officers and the government which sent them should hope for the best and prepare for the worst. It boggles my mind how an elite Israeli commando unit boarded the ship one-by-one, were beaten and taken captive apparently unprepared for physical resistance.

Israel is a very close community, and while I do not know anyone who was on the ship, I do know people who know some of the commandos. Israel is a citizenry army. These are our friends, our fathers and our sons. These are the citizens which the government and IDF are sworn to protect.

I do not think it is worth risking my son’s life to enforce the naval blockade on Gaza under all conditions. The suggestion was made to let the Mavi Marmara pass, knowing that while those on board were not completely innocent, they were not terrorists nor were they carrying any heavy arms. Other creative solutions could have been found. However, the cabinet made the decision to confront those on the boat by boarding it. This government does not compromise.

Such black-and-white thinking means that the government is incapable of creative solutions. Enforcing policies at all costs inevitably results in confrontation. This was a minor conflict with one boat, but the Iranian Red Crescent is planning on more flotillas and there is no reason to think that this will not continue. Is this government willing to put us all at risk to enforce this policy? Even if sending the flotilla was just a publicity stunt, how did we allow ourselves to get sucked into it given that the decision-makers had advanced notice? Where are the strategic thinkers? What scenarios are they playing out?

There is a second issue here as well: How did an elite unit not know how to commandeer a ship without allowing lethal weapons to be taken from them? How did our crack Israeli commandos and strategic planners allow our sons to be put in such danger that they were at risk and felt no choice but to kill nine people?

Make no mistake; our boys were hurt and put into harm’s way. They walked right on board and into hostilities. Initially, the first three commandos who rappelled down ropes to the ship’s upper deck were captured and taken to the lower deck. There is a standing order since the capture of Gilad Shalit not to let Israeli soldiers be captured even at the risk of their own life. The rest of the commandos opened fire and took control of the upper deck. The three captured soldiers were beaten and injured. One soldier had an ear cut off. It was literally literally hanging by a piece of soft tissue upon his arrival to the hospital and has been surgically reattached. His leg was injured by gunfire and also required surgery and he still has a long road to a full recovery.

This is not the way it had to be. There was a policy decision made on the cabinet level to board the ship. Surely there must be alternatives to the IDF boarding the ship ill-prepared for armed resistance.

This is what I just do not understand and I hold the Israeli government responsible for their decision and its poor implementation.

My fear is that this government’s attitude not just on this issue, but on a multitude of other complex problems, will lead us into a much larger conflict instead of seeking creative solutions to benefit its citizens.

I expect policy-makers to seek peace and not war and to treat each child of Israel as a valuable asset. When my children are drafted into the IDF I expect the government and military officers to plan for the worst and to give them the best training possible. This did not happen with the flotilla. We have seen repeated incidents of poor Israeli policy, strategy and implementation that has cost Israeli lives.

That week, while the flotilla was boarded and the world was concerned with Gaza, our military and political leaders where busying themselves with this avoidable affair diverting their attention and the attention of the world from other issues: Turkey and Islamic extremism grew closer; the nuclear threat of Iran looms over us and the chemical weapons from Hizbollah warheads face us from the north. I obviously do not want such weapons coming from Gaza as well. However, each play must be considered, planned and implemented thoughtfully and not at all costs. Policy and its implementation should not be black and white especially when lives are at stake. We must weigh the risks against the potential damage and examine all alternatives. What was the tremendous threat in this particular instance that justified endangering the lives of our boys? Was there no alternative than sending 15 commandos one-by-one onto the deck of a hostile ship? As I was thinking about those who planned and implemented this fiasco, my family received new gas masks and my concerns came much closer to home.

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