A maybe-not-so-old joke tells of a party of explorers of several different nationalities captured by cannibals in some remote jungle. The cannibal chief offers each a last wish before being eaten, and each responds in a noble-but-feckless manner befitting his nationality. The last captive, an Israeli, asks, oddly enough, for the chief to punch him in the stomach. The chief, nonplussed, complies, whereupon the Israeli doubles over, pulls a pistol from under his pant leg, shoots the chief, and in the ensuing confusion, leads the party to safety in the surrounding jungle. "Why didn't you shoot him sooner?", asks one. "What?", he replies, "and be branded an evil Zionist aggressor?"
I'm reminded of this joke when reading about the recent "Gaza flotilla incident", in which Israeli naval forces boarded a boat attempting to run Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, only to be set upon by dozens of "peace activists" wielding knives, iron bars and other weapons. The consensus so far among pro-Israel commentators (of the reaction from the usual anti-Israel suspects, the less said the better) seems to be that (1) this episode was a public relations fiasco, and (2) the Israeli Navy was derelict in not using overwhelming force to subdue the thugs aboard the boat without offering any opportunity for effective resistance.
This consensus strikes me as utterly wrongheaded. Given the level of preparation and dedication displayed by the "activists" aboard the Mavi Marmara, casualties were simply inevitable. If the figures being bandied about (10-15 killed, dozens injured) are accurate, then the fighting must have continued despite casualties having been taken. And if the knife-and-bat-wielders were willing to take casualties and go on fighting, then the Israelis would simply have had no choice but to inflict them in the course of taking control of the ship, no matter how overpowering their numbers. The spectacle of Hamas and its allies waving the bloody shirts of killed or injured "peace activists" was thus a foregone conclusion, once the Israelis had made the decision not to allow the ship to run the blockade.
On the other hand, if overwhelming force had been used to suppress the resistance, several Israeli commandos would have avoided injury--but there also would have been no footage of "peace activists" stabbing and beating Israeli soldiers. If the main point of the exercise was to win the propaganda war, then the Israeli Navy's (probably inadvertent) decision to let a few of its commandos get badly roughed up was quite possibly the best option available. Like the Israeli in the joke, they're harder to brand as Zionist aggressors now that they've taken a figurative fist to the stomach.
The most important test, though, is yet to come: the disposition of the boats. Having been used in a violent attack on Israeli military personnel, they should be treated as captured enemy materiel, and confiscated. This would be by far the most effective measure the Israeli government could take against the would-be blockade-busters. Fanatical "activists", after all, are a dime a dozen. But large boats are really expensive, and even Hamas' backers can't afford to keep supplying them--and losing them--indefinitely.