Monday, May 31, 2010

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.


Anonymous said...

You may be right, but here's another perspective:

Dan Simon said...

Well, yes, it's another perspective--albeit a stupid one. (Frankly, I'd expect nothing better from Gwynne Dyer.)

Dyer gets several things glaringly, massively wrong:

- There were, in fact, weapons on the Mavi Marmara, including stun grenades and night-vision goggles--not to mention a large cache of hand-to-hand combat gear. So much for the Cypriots having supposedly "certified that they are not carrying weapons or other dangerous cargo"...

- Israeli intelligence clearly had no idea what was being put on that boat, or they would never have allowed naval commandos to be dropped onto it one at a time, so lightly armed. (The Israeli press is full of analyses castigating the IDF's intelligence services for failing to detect the planned ambush.) Hence Dyer's assumption that the Israelis knew/believed there to be no arms aboard is nonsense.

- The deep pockets (most likely Iranian) bankrolling these flotillas have sent plenty of boats before, and have plenty of resources to send more. The long pauses between past blockade-running attempts are simply a result of each previous one being a failure. Once the Israelis established a precedent of allowing such boats through, they'd be sure to come thick, fast and full-to-bursting with heavy weapons.

- Based on past experience--and lacking intelligence about the planned ambush--any Israeli military analyst would have concluded that the likelihood of serious violence was tiny. And in fact, apart from the single boat on which the ambush was planned, the commandeering of the flotilla proceeded without incident.

- The "armed rabble", as Dyer calls the IDF forces commandeering the boats, held its fire for forty minutes while being beaten ruthlessly by a stick-and-knife-wielding mob--in order to minimize civilian casualties. I doubt many militaries in the world could boast of anything even approaching such discipline. (I'm guessing that Dyer hadn't even seen any of the video of the incident when he penned his "analysis". Otherwise, he'd have felt compelled to say something about the glaring mismatch between his own portrayal of the event and the video record.)

Now, it's possible that Dyer isn't an ignorant buffoon at all, but rather a sophisticated propagandist deliberately misrepresenting facts in order to further his preferred narrative. But based on my previous (admittedly limited) exposure to his writings, the "ignorant buffoon" explanation seems far more likely.