The Flotilla And Seichel

Isabel Kershner at NYT:

Israel’s deadly naval commando raid Monday morning on a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza is generating widespread international condemnation and diplomatic repercussions far beyond the waters where the confrontation occurred.

Several European nations summoned their Israeli envoys to explain Israel’s actions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his plans for meeting with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday, an Israeli government official confirmed. Mr. Netanyahu, who is visiting Canada, planned to return home Monday to deal with fallout from the raid, the official said.

The criticism offered a propaganda coup to Israel’s foes, particularly Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in Gaza, and damaged Israel’s ties to Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners and the unofficial sponsor of the Gaza-bound convoy. Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling the raid “state terrorism,” cut short a visit to Latin America to return home.

The Israeli Defense Forces said more than 10 people were killed when naval personnel boarding the six ships in the aid convoy met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” The naval forces then “employed riot dispersal means, including live fire,” the military said in a statement.

Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus, rejected the military’s version.

“That is a lie,” she said, adding that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.”

“We never thought there would be any violence,” she said.

At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the operation, some from gunfire, according to the military. Television footage from the flotilla before communications were cut showed what appeared to be commandos sliding down ropes from helicopters onto one of the vessels in the flotilla, while Israeli high-speed naval vessels surrounded the convoy.

A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, had apparently opened fire “as evident by the empty pistol magazines.”

The warships first intercepted the convoy of cargo and passenger boats shortly before midnight on Sunday, according to activists on one vessel. Israel had vowed not to let the flotilla reach the shores of Gaza.

Named the Freedom Flotilla and led by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi, the convoy was the most ambitious attempt yet to break Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza.

About 600 passengers were said to be aboard the vessels, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Steve Benen:

There are, not surprisingly, competing versions of exactly what transpired, and Israeli officials not only defended the existing blockade policy, but said Israeli forces faced resistance on the ships. Every claim has a counter-claim, of course, and those condemning the violent raid this morning insist Israeli forces attacked peaceful civilians, including a flotilla carrying a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and 85-year-old Holocaust survivor.

Either way, as the AP noted, the pre-dawn violence has “set off worldwide condemnation and a diplomatic crisis.”

This much is clearly true. The ship was unofficially sponsored by Turkey, which has long been a key Israeli ally in the regional, and which recalled its ambassador to Israel this morning in the wake of the incident. The United Nations, among others, is demanding a detailed Israeli explanation.

The White House issued a written statement, noting that the United States “deeply regrets” the loss of life and injuries, and was gathering information to understand exactly what transpired in this “tragedy.”

Scott Lucas at Enduring America:

1605 GMT: Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that NATO’s spokesman James Appathurai had stated that the organisation would be gathered extraordinarily, at the request of Turkey.

NATO issued a very short statement earlier today: “NATO is deeply concerned about the loss of life in this incident. We look forward to a further establishment of the facts of what has happened.”

1600 GMT: IDF said Defne Y, the 5th ship in Gaza flotilla, cleared of its crew – Mavi Marmara currently being brought into Ashdod Port.

1555 GMT: Al Jazeera English correspondent Sherine Tadros reports, “We’re hearing 14 activists have agreed to be deported and on way home;50 taken to prison in southern Israel resisting deportation.”

1550 GMT: Pictures of wounded activists were released. Plastic handcuffs during the transport of heavily wounded ones are noteworthy.

Gaza Flotilla Attack: Israel Line “We Are Sorry but It Was a Life-Threatening Situation!”
Gaza Flotilla Video: Questions from Last Report Before Israeli Attack
Gaza Video: “If You’re Watching This, The Flotilla Has Been Attacked”

1548 GMT: The United Nations Security Council will meet on Monday afternoon for an emergency session that will start at 1 P.M., New York time.

1545 GMT: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Chile: “This is a state terrorism.”

1515 GMT: While on his way to Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “This is clearly a piracy. Israel must apologize and answer. According to unconfirmed information, we have around 50 wounded and 10 martyries. No country is above the international law.”

Meanwhile, tens of thousands people are protesting in front of Israel’s Consulate General in Istanbul.

1500 GMT: Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning Israel:

Israel has once again clearly demonstrated that it does not value human lives and peaceful initiatives through targeting innocent civilians. We strongly condemn these inhuman acts of Israel. This grave incident which took place in high seas in gross violation of international law might cause irreversible consequences in our relations.

Besides the initiatives being conducted by our Embassy in Tel Aviv, this unacceptable incident is being strongly protested and explanation is demanded from Israeli Ambassador in Ankara, who has been invited to our Ministry.

Whatsoever the motives might be, such actions against civilians who are involved only in peaceful activities cannot be accepted. Israel will have to bear the consequences of these actions which constitute a violation of international law.

May God bestow His mercy upon those who lost their lives. We wish to express our condolences to the bereaved families of the deceased, and swift recovery to the wounded.

1440 GMT: Israel’s Portrayal. Amidst the rush of Israeli depictions of the attack — with the continuing use of the word “lynching”, now from the commandos who carried out the assault — this story stands out from a “Ron Ben Yishai” in YNet:

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapon.

1435 GMT: Washington’s Reaction. The US statement, given by White House spokesman Bill Burton, is far more restrained than the UN denunciation of Israel (1330 GMT) and even Britain’s expression of concern (1035 GMT). Burton said the Obama administration “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” and officials are “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.

Ron Ben-Yishai at Ynet:

Our Navy commandoes fell right into the hands of the Gaza mission members. A few minutes before the takeover attempt aboard the Marmara got underway, the operation commander was told that 20 people were waiting on the deck where a helicopter was to deploy the first team of the elite Flotilla 13 unit. The original plan was to disembark on the top deck, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop.

Officials estimated that passengers will show slight resistance, and possibly minor violence; for that reason, the operation’s commander decided to bring the helicopter directly above the top deck. The first rope that soldiers used in order to descend down to the ship was wrested away by activists, most of them Turks, and tied to an antenna with the hopes of bringing the chopper down. However, Flotilla 13 fighters decided to carry on.

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.

One soldier who came to the aid of a comrade was captured by the rioters and sustained severe blows. The commandoes were equipped with handguns but were told they should only use them in the face of life-threatening situations. When they came down from the chopper, they kept on shouting to each other “don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” even though they sustained numerous blows.

‘I saw the tip of a rifle’

The Navy commandoes were prepared to mostly encounter political activists seeking to hold a protest, rather than trained street fighters. The soldiers were told they were to verbally convince activists who offer resistance to give up, and only then use paintballs. They were permitted to use their handguns only under extreme circumstances.

The forces hurled stun grenades, yet the rioters on the top deck, whose number swelled up to 30 by that time, kept on beating up about 30 commandoes who kept gliding their way one by one from the helicopter. At one point, the attackers nabbed one commando, wrested away his handgun, and threw him down from the top deck to the lower deck, 30 feet below. The soldier sustained a serious head wound and lost his consciousness. Only after this injury did Flotilla 13 troops ask for permission to use live fire. The commander approved it: You can go ahead and fire. The soldiers pulled out their handguns and started shooting at the rioters’ legs, a move that ultimately neutralized them. Meanwhile, the rioters started to fire back at the commandoes. “I saw the tip of a rifle sticking out of the stairwell,” one commando said. “He fired at us and we fired back. We didn’t see if we hit him. We looked for him later but couldn’t find him.” Two soldiers sustained gunshot wounds to their knee and stomach after rioters apparently fired at them using guns wrested away from troops.

The planned rush towards the vessel’s bridge became impossible, even when a second chopper was brought in with another crew of soldiers. “Throw stun grenades,” shouted Flotilla 13’s commander who monitored the operation. The Navy chief was not too far, on board a speedboat belonging to Flotilla 13, along with forces who attempted to climb into the back of the ship

David Bernstein:

I have my doubts about the wisdom of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and there was obviously an operational/intelligence failure that led to Israel’s naval commandos having to open fire to defend themselves, giving the other side a propaganda victory. But it does appear that the physical violence started from the other side, which to begin with had the rather unhumanitarian mission of aiding Hamas, and, to the extent there were sincere humanitarian/peace activists involved, allowed themselves to get hijacked by violent Islamic extremists who manned one of the ships.

Net result of the “peace/humanitarian” mission: dead activists, wounded Israeli soldiers, no more humanitarian aid to Gaza than if Israel’s offer to transfer the aid to Gaza from Ashdod had been accepted, and a likely breakdown in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that were about to start. Congratulations.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

This crisis — and it is a crisis — is the fairly predictable outcome of the years of neglect of the Gaza situation by the Bush and Obama administrations.  Bush turned a blind eye during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008, and then the Obama team chose to focus on renewing peace talks between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority while continuing to boycott Hamas.  The U.S. only sporadically and weakly paid attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the strategic absurdity and moral obtuseness of the Israeli blockade, or the political implications of the ongoing Hamas-Fatah divide.   Now, on the eve of Obama’s scheduled meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas — the fruits of the “honey offensive” towards Israel — can they be surprised that Gaza is blowing up in their face?

The Israeli assault on the flotilla has galvanized Arab and international media attention (to say nothing of my Twitter feed).   Arab and Turkish publics appear to be truly outraged, as do the Turkish, Arab and many European governments.   The issue is evidently headed to the Security Council.  It is difficult to fathom how the Israeli government could have thought that this was a good way to respond to a long-developing public relations challenge, but its actions will certainly fuel its evolving international legitimacy crisis.  We’ll be keeping track of the story as it develops.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

The incident is being portrayed in the Arab press as an unprovoked attack by the soldiers. As usual, the flaw in this theory is that if the soldiers had set out to massacre the activists, they would have done a better job of it. Violence occurred on only one of the six ships, because only on that ship was it instigated by the pro-Palestinian activists. But that won’t stop the incident from triggering another round of world-wide Israel-bashing.

Jim Sleeper at Talking Points Memo:

The government has let the flotilla “drive Israel into a sea of stupidity,” writes Gideon Levy, a senior columnist for Haaretz the country’s most prominent liberal daily.

“We were determined to avoid an honest look at the first Gaza war. Now, in international waters and having opened fire on an international group of humanitarian aid workers and activists, we are fighting and losing the second,” writes Bradley Burston, a senior editor at Haaretz. “We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel’s Vietnam.”

Burston would know: A Los Angeles native and Berkeley graduate, he moved to Israel in the 1970s with some young Americans I knew to settle in Kibbutz Gezer, a progressive outpost between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If you can recall that in those Vietnam War/Nixon years Israel seemed a lot more noble and just to many of us than the U.S. did, you’ll understand why Burston served in the Israel Defense Forces as a combat medic and studied medicine in Be’er Sheva for two years.

But Burston must also know that his scathing Vietnam analogy has its limits: The U.S. could have walked away from Vietnam with no dangerous consequences. In Gaza, by comparison, the influence of Iran and other powers make the Israeli situation a little more… existential. Israelis also don’t have Americans’ history of conquering a whole continent and not having to care about it. Their history, too, is more… existential.

But precisely for those reasons, Haaretz reports, Israeli security forces are now on high alert, bracing for protests closer to home, maybe even for a third intifada if it turns out that one of the Palestinian activists on board the flotilla was killed. That only underscores the government’s stupidity.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

There is a word in Yiddish, seichel, which means wisdom, but it also means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance. Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a Yiddishe kop, a “Jewish head,” is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way — blunt force, for instance — often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions.

I don’t know yet exactly what happened at sea when a group of Israeli commandos boarded a ship packed with not-exactly-Gandhi-like anti-Israel protesters. I learned from the Second Intifada (specifically, the story of the non-massacre at Jenin) not to rush to judgment without a full set of facts (yes, I know what you are thinking: So why have a blog?). I’m trying to figure out this story for myself. But I will say this: What I know already makes me worried for the future of Israel, a worry I feel in a deeper way than I think I have ever felt before. The Jewish people have survived this long in part because of the vision of their leaders, men and women who were able to intuit what was possible and what was impossible. Where is this vision today? Israel may face, in the coming year, a threat to its existence the likes of which it has not experienced before: A theologically-motivated regional superpower with a nuclear arsenal. It faces another existential threat as well, from forces arguing that Israel’s morally disastrous settlement policy fatally undermines the very idea of a Jewish state. Is Israel ready to deploy seichel in these battles, rather than mere force?

UPDATE: Lots and lots of posts on this one. Just a handful, a sprinkling here.

Leslie Gelb, Reza Aslan and Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast

Max Boot at WSJ

Jonathan Schanzer at The Weekly Standard

Mona Charen at National Review

Megan McArdle

Daniel Drezner

Jim Henley

UPDATE #2: Elliott Abrams at The Weekly Standard

Marty Peretz at TNR

Daniel Larison (one of many posts) responding to Henley

UPDATE #3:  Leon Wieseltier at TNR

Robert Farley and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Heather Hurlburt and Eli Lake at Bloggingheads

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Flotilla And Seichel

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

  2. Eliyahoo WilliamDwek

    The country of Britain: has condemned Israel’s actions – as “barbaric.” Together with the UN and other European countries.

    Let us just remember who the barbarians truly are.

    It was Britain: that went out of its way to sink the ships of escaping refugees from WW2. That is how barbaric the British are. Where was the “Humanitarian Aid” of the British then?

    And it was Churchill – who refused all the pleas of Menachem Begin, the Head of the Irgun – to stop the barbaric killing of the refugees on all the boats which the British sank.

    Churchill was no hero of WW2, as he is made out to be. He showed his true colours as a barbarian more savage than the Germans.

    Churchill could have prevented the murder of millions of Jews by Hitler. Instead, he waited for the Germans to quietly “finish the job.” The European countries and the UN are in no position to talk about “Humanitarian Aid”. Their actions in WW2 show them to be savages, and less than sub-human – especially the British.

  3. Pingback: What We’ve Built This Weekend « Around The Sphere

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