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The-ship-to-Gaza events – the Fall-outs

By Dr. Magnus Norell, Infosphere AB

On Monday morning, May 31, the most recent convoy organized by the “Free Gaza” movement came to a violent end. With scores of dead and wounded, when Israeli naval commandos took over the largest ship in the convoy, the repercussions of this deadly event will be felt in the coming months, and on several levels.

 For Israel, the damage the failed operation has caused the country can hardly be overestimated. Whatever the case – and regardless of whether the violence was instigated by some of the crew/activists (which, it turned out, was clearly the case) the world is already regarding this as an excessive use of force. Turkey – whose Islamist government supported the flotilla and made it possible – have recalled its ambassador to Israel and world-wide condemnation of Israel has been pouring out.

 It seems clear that the operation was not properly thought through, even though the IDF had indications that this time, the organizers were clearly aiming for a confrontation. The basic assumption of the IDF was that the activists were looking for a clash, and perhaps even a little bloodshed, which would be captured by the media. The naval commandos (elite troops from the Shayetet 13 naval commando unit), who were tasked with commanding the ships and escort them to Ashdod, however, were clearly not prepared to be met by the violence they encountered when bordering the ships. The troops were told they’d encounter resistance, but more of the passive non-violent kind, not the deadly kind they actually met. The troops were equipped with pain-ball rifles (used for crowd-control) and hand-guns that they were only to use in life-threatening situations, but that was not anticipated. Using bats, knives, sling-shots and in the end, rifles, (according to Israeli navy sources) the activists were clearly anticipating a clash with the soldiers.

 But being forced to use deadly violence in an operation intended to be conducted with a minimum of violence, and at a convoy trumpeted by some of the European activists to be nothing but a completely non-aggressive and peaceful demonstration with humanitarian aims, is a sure sign that not enough preparation had gone into the missions planning. This is also shown by the fact that Israel high-lighted the set-up of a detention center in Ashdod in preparation for the activists, and bent over backwards to say that any humanitarian goods could be entered into Gaza through regulated crossings after inspection.  Furthermore, the fact that the operation took place in international waters will raise even more questions as to the very free interpretation of the legality and free use of the sea that Israel used when confronting the convoy.

 The flotilla was not expected to alter in any substantial way the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. It was mostly a battle of public relations meant to strike a blow at Israel. It’s hard to see if anything short of letting the flotilla through to Gaza, could have avoided the bloodshed that ensued. But that fact alone should have played a much bigger role in the planning of the operation than it did. Avoiding civilian causalities, especially fatal ones, were part of the officially stated Israeli policy and the fact that the operation became such a disaster, says a lot about the failures in the planning process. The domestic Israeli fall-out will definitely lead to some tough internal investigations as how this could have happened. As a result, an independent Israeli committee of inquiry is sure to be formed in the not-so-distant future.

 For the activists, the whole affair can, and will, be used differently depending on who is doing the analysis. It seems obvious that some of the Europeans actually didn’t know too well anything about the main organizer – the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) – and never intended to forcefully resist the Israelis, should it come to a clash. There is no reason not to believe the many activists who sincerely went on the mission to help alleviate a situation deemed dire from a purely humanitarian perspective.

 As for the IHH, however, it is closely connected with Hamas and has long history of advocating armed struggle, including terrorism, towards Israel. Furthermore, the organization has close ties with other militant Islamic organizations including al-Qaida. The current President of IHH, Bulent Yildrim was already in the 1990’s involved in recruiting members and sending them to war-zones such as Bosnia, to gain combat experience. It also has a history of fighting the Turkish government and several of its leaders and activist members have been arrested for illegal arms-procurement and bomb-making material purchased from Turkish terror-groups. That criminal investigation, however, was axed by the Erdogan-government. Most damning for the IHH, perhaps, was a testimony, to a US court in 2003, by the French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere that the IHH played a "central role" in the attempted al-Qaida Millenium bomb plot targeting Los Angeles International Airport, among other areas of the world. Bruguiere added that the IHH was a so-called "cover-up" NGO which had served to recruit activists and forge documents, as well as traffic weapons for the terrorists involved in the terror attack attempt. None of this, obviously, should be taken as excuses for the Israeli responsibility in causing the deaths of some of the participants in the convoy.

 Regardless of whether they knew about IHH or not, among the participants in the convoy, the overall feeling must surely be one of having their pre-conceived views of Israel as an aggressor confirmed. The fact that the military operation went so disastrously wrong is reason enough for the political heat to be concentrated on Israel for a long time. And another immediate effect will be heightened pressure on Israel (and perhaps Egypt) to lift, or at the very least, ease the blockade. The EU, who has demanded this for some time, will have a top-level meeting shortly when that very issue is sure to come up. Even sanctions against Israel can not be ruled out. Taking military action against a civilian convoy – regardless of justification – can hardly be condoned by the EU.

 The country most immediately standing to gain from this whole affair is Turkey. It has re-confirmed its ability to stand firm behind the Palestinians (as opposed to other, Arab, countries whose rhetoric don’t match their actions) and made it possible to enhance its standing as a bulwark against Israeli aggression and excessive use of force. Following on the heels of the nuclear deal with Iran, Turkey is clearly gearing up for a larger role in the region.

It is highly un-likely that the facts about the real intentions and actions of the IHH will stand in the way of this. On the contrary; the continuous radicalization and of the Erdogan-administration goes some way in explaining the Turkish leniency towards the IHH and the about-face with which the present Turkish government is viewing an organization that has used deadly violence to combat former Turkish administrations.

For the US, this couldn’t have come at a worse time. With Turkey on the Security Council and the vote on new sanctions coming up, the ruckus with Turkey over the nuclear deal is already causing the Obama-administration a headache. A more nuanced official US response is to be expected in time, but right now, this can only draw attention away for what in Washington is regarded as the main issue in the Middle East; the Iranian nuclear topic.

This brings us over to another “winner” in this sad event; the Islamists in Hamas (and other militant organizations among the Palestinians) and Hizb’allah and their backers in Iran. For Hamas this is God-sent, turning away the attention on their troubles in Gaza and for Iran and Hizb’allah, helping their case in portraying Israel as the aggressive bully in the neighborhood. Another causality of this is, of course, the PA. It is very unlikely that President Abbas and his Premier, Fayyad, will be able to withstand domestic pressure and will feel forced to cancel the ongoing indirect peace-talks with Israel. So, in the end, a true and real causality of all this is the Palestinian community, whose situation triggered the string of events that led to new dead and wounded in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


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