The emerging reality on the ground in Israel regarding the nature of the Gaza flotilla, and the story being told around the world, are so utterly different that they could be taking place on two separate planets. As the days pass in Israel and more information is uncovered, the popular international narrative of brutal Israeli soldiers casually slaughtering tens of innocent peace activists bearing humanitarian aid drifts further and further from reality.
Details unfolded Wednesday regarding the background of those who attacked the commando squad, which was stunned by the violent ferocity of the presumed “humanitarians” aboard the Mavi Marmara. The most revealing source of information has been, interestingly, the Turkish media, which reported that the casualties of the clash had openly aspired to martyrdom. Being killed by an Israeli soldier was apparently the goal of the exercise. According to Ynet:
Media reports in Ankara on Wednesday revealed that three out of the four Turkish citizens that were killed during the raid declared their wishes to become shahids (martyrs). Another Dutch report claimed a Dutch activist who was arrested by the IDF is suspected of being a senior Hamas operative.
The new information disturbs the Israeli public — not because it sees its military as having behaved immorally, but because it seems that its political and military leadership were unforgivably duped and manipulated. They played directly into the hands of their enemies, whose humanitarian mission turned out to be a true Trojan Horse.
To be clear, the story of the Mavi Marmara is not the story of the entire flotilla. From international reports, one would think the flotilla was comprised of that single ship. But there were six.
The five other ships in the “Freedom Flotilla” were boarded and escorted to Ashdod, the passengers were disembarked, and the humanitarian aid was transferred over the border into Gaza. This was apparently not newsworthy.
As we know, the Mavi Marmara was another story altogether. Revealed in cabinet briefings and reported in Israel Today on Wednesday: the large boat contained between 50-100 passengers who had apparently been recruited and put on the boat by the IHH organization — which financed and organized the flotilla — with orders to violently attack the IDF soldiers expected to board.
“They came ready for battle. They came to kill and planned violence against the soldiers ahead of time” a military official told the cabinet.
These men were organized and well-trained, with a clear chain of command — there were leaders, deputies, and footsoldiers, divided up into specific groups, located in pre-designated locations on the top deck of the boat waiting for the soldiers to board.
They were fully equipped for battle. A search of the ship found weaponry — knives, axes, metal poles — as well as protective gear, bulletproof vests, masks, and night vision goggles. When they were apprehended, none of them carried any form of identification, and most of them had thousands of dollars in their pockets.
The story of the battle on board the boat became clearer as the soldiers were debriefed by the IDF and spoke to the media from their hospital beds — without being identified by name — in Israel Today.
According to plan, the soldiers had lowered themselves down by two ropes from a helicopter. The first two soldiers were immediately attacked and their pistols stolen before they could fire. The pistols were later recovered in the hands of two of the dead casualties of the fight, with their magazines empty.
Soon the “activists” tied one of the ropes to a flagpole on the ship. Fearing that the tethering of the helicopter to the ship would cause the helicopter to crash, one of the soldiers cut the rope. This slowed the flow of reinforcements onto the boat, as the following soldiers could only come down one-by-one on a single rope. In addition to the battering with knives and axes, stun grenades and a Molotov cocktail were thrown.
The soldiers told of the experience of standing surrounded by tens of attackers with knives and axes. According to Sergeant “A”:
Hundreds of angry people were laying in wait for us with weapons. They were attacking and hitting us with axes and knives and pipes. I saw one of my soldiers surrounded by tens of people hitting him non-stop. While we were prepared for violent resistance, we had not anticipated it on this scale. The clear goal of the activists on the ship was to kill us. Most of them were coming at us with knives and axes in their hands.
Sergeant “R” recounted:
Tens of them surrounded us with knives and axes. One of them approached me with his knife drawn, and after I understood that my life was in danger I drew my weapon and I fired once. To my surprise, at least 20 people dropped on me and threw me from the deck.
I stood up and felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I saw that a knife was stuck in my lower abdomen and I pulled it out. I then managed to get myself to one of the lower decks of the boat, where there were already a group of solders who were in control of that part of the ship and the passengers.
The soldiers interviewed by the newspaper said they were upset by the criticism of the operation — less so by the international attacks than the domestic critics:
It has been very hard for us to listen to the criticism being thrown for the past few days. People are sitting in air-conditioned studios and act like they understand what went on. They think they invented the wheel. Anyone who said we could have behaved other than how we did is simply wrong.
According to Ynet, the violent combatants are believed to be Turkish, Yemenite, and possibly Indonesian, and are believed to have been recruited and paid for their efforts by IHH — the organization that organized and funded the flotilla. Their interrogation has been made difficult by their refusal to identify themselves, but the media reports say there is reason to believe some have ties to global jihad groups like al-Qaeda.
One senior official admitted that the IDF soldiers who embarked on their mission had possessed too little information on what awaited them, saying that “everything should be done in order to gather all the factual data and prove that the humanitarian sail had a semi-military body with a completely different goal.”
Another told Fox News that the IDF operation had “bad equipment, bad tactics, and bad intelligence.”
One certainly could add to the list “bad public relations.” Perhaps Israel’s biggest failure has been to tell its side of the story properly to the world.
As the story of the assault on the soldiers comes into sharper focus, so do the missed opportunities of the early morning hours in Europe and then the U.S. immediately following the operation — the time when the world was seeing only the bloody pictures circulated by the flotilla.
For those key hours, all Israel was offering to the international media were verbal explanations and justifications. It offered no video evidence of its account, which it possessed. Why in the world, angrily asks David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post, did it wait so long to release this crucial footage? Whoever was responsible for “sitting on” the footage of soldiers being attacked and beaten should lose his job, he declared:
Even allowing generous time for processing and editing the material, the footage could have been flashing across TV screens worldwide by our breakfast time, before news of the entire incident was even beginning to permeate. Would it have completely transformed the way the incident was reported and understood? No. Would it have greatly helped Israel’s case? Unquestionably.
Horovitz offered a challenge to the country’s prime minister: it is Netanyahu’s responsibility, he says, to apply the lesson of the the media failure of the Gaza flotilla and make necessary changes that could save Israel from such blunders in the future:
Will it spark the long overdue strategic overhaul of Israel’s conduct on the “second battlefield?” Will it finally prompt the prime minister to establish a single, effective, properly resourced hierarchy to coordinate the way Israel presents and explains its challenges in the media, legal, and diplomatic forums? As a former ambassador to the UN and a highly polished media performer, he of all people should understand what’s at stake. Surprise us, Mr. Netanyahu.