Why IDF’s ‘Marmara’ mission was a flop and why it couldn’t win

Posted: June 2, 2010 by Jonathan Boyko in Activists, Anti-Israel, Gaza, Hamas, Human Rights, IDF, International, Israel, Palestinians, Press and Media, Terrorism
Tags: , , , ,

There are no supermen in the Israeli Defense Forces. These are regular men, well-trained and well-prepared, for the situations they were taught to deal with. It seems ‘Flotilla 13’ troops acted appropriately when in danger of life, although we are yet to get all the information on what happened aboard the ship. Few things are clear, though:

  • Despite claims by the radicals inhabiting the boat that IDF troops fired shots before touching down on the boat, none of them could produce evidence of such, despite Al-Jazeera’s journalists’ presence on board, recording throughout the night.
  • It is clear soldiers could not have shot their weapons as soon as they touched the top decks, as they were immediately grabbed, beaten, had their weapons stolen and some thrown overboard – despite claims to contrary by the radical Left-wing activists on board.
  • ‘Peace activists’ were armed by pipes, rods, chains, knives, ready to attack the incoming troops. Injuries sustained by the ‘Flotilla 13’ troops – and by some of the attackers – point to extensive use of sharp attack objects.

As the international community attacks Israel over the nine fatalities on board the Mavi Marmara, no one seems to ask if any of the deaths occurred due to Turks’ use of IDF’s firearms. Two ‘F13’ soldiers were wounded by gunshots from handguns taken off the soldiers by the rioters, yet each firearms contains at the very least six bullets. It is possible some of the shots taken at the servicemen hit the rioters.

 

ISRAEL COULD NOT have won the ordeal. Consider the situation: militarily-speaking, there are few ways to stop six ships at sea, besides using infantry in a takeover. You can ram them, you can shoot them, you can block their way and let them ram you. In any of those cases, the protesters and the press would accuse Israel of interfering with a humanitarian mission.

The IDF could attempt a takeover in Gaza’s blockaded territorial waters. The move would be unnecessary, as Israel did have the right to act in international waters in this instance, but would silence a few critics. The option, however, would put the IDF in further danger, within reach of Hamas’ anti-ship and anti-aircraft weapons, as well as small boats with armed Hamas fighters onboard. Such a blockade-imposing mission could turn into an armed confrontation with many more casualties to both sides. This would turn out to be much worse a nightmare than what Israel already has on its hands.

Then Israel could allow the ships into Gaza. The move – while sparing immediate negative press – would be hailed as a victory for the radical flotilla organizers, as well as their Hamas patrons. Feeling their victory, notorious Free Gaza movement would organize additional blockade-busting flotillas – many more, with many more ships and activists on board. This would allow Hamas and its supporters to smuggle dozens of tons of weaponry, such as rockets, mortars and other ammunition. For Israel, blocking such stream of weapons among dozens of ships would be all but impossible. Future raids could include armed firefights with Hamas men on such vessels, resulting in severe losses.

So Israel couldn’t win. Whatever path the Jewish state would take, critics would find a way to severely criticize it. Taking above scenarios into consideration, IDF’s command decided to go for a proven tactic, used last year – board the ships with ‘Flotilla 13’ fighters, equipped with pacifying, non-lethal arms.

The decision was made to lower the soldiers off helicopters onto the ships as an intimidation technique – soldiers rappelling off helicopters would keep potential rioters away, went the logic.

The plan was presented to the political echelon, which approved it. And this is where it went wrong.

The commanders on the ground had nowhere to hurry – with 70 more miles to go to reach Gaza, the officers had hours to gather intelligence and reconsider the situation. Helicopters approaching Mavi Marmara noticed dozens of civilians on the top deck and had the opportunity to bug out and return later – or stay and gather intelligence. Snipers could be located on the helicopters and the rubber boats, to observe the ships using night vision and thermal equipment. Those would notice the ‘peace activists’ preparing gas masks, vests, metal rods, chains, knives and other assault equipment.

On one hand, the IDF commanders on the ground – or water – desired to keep the element of surprise. The helicopters delivering troops were not turned back when it was revealed top deck is not free, as to not give up the element of surprise and aggressiveness. The soldiers did not deploy tear gas and stun grenades prior to landing, as to not anger the protesters. However, the IDF forgot the main feature of such a tactic – surprise itself. Hostile elements cannot be taken by surprise if they see IDF boats cruising alongside for long minutes – if not hours. If the IDF command wanted to make the assault a surprise – the helicopters should have appeared out of the black, with no prior notice. Only then would the soldiers stand a chance, have the opportunity to regroup, work methodically and clear the boat of hostiles. Yet, the high-ranking officers were too cocky to imagine soldiers’ lives could be in jeopardy. Whoever sat at that planning table, and on the other side of the screens forgot the army spirit and brought disgrace upon his uniform.

After the fact, it is easy to point out the mistakes. At the time, the command did what it thought was right, and it seems soldiers did no wrong while defending their lives. Yet, as grave mistakes were made, here are some future tips for the ‘cocky officers’ planning further takeovers of such vessels:

  • Do not assume. Assumptions is what will cost you a battle and a war.
  • If you want to surprise – do so. If you want a surprise attack – come out of the blue, fast, and finish the mission in record time. Speed is essential.
  • Every person could carry a knife on his belt and a metal rod in his hand. In order to ensure safe deployment of soldiers in highly-populated areas, it is essential to deploy smoke or CS gas in order to prevent direct attack on the soldiers.
  • Sending soldiers poor-equipped would bring disaster. Each soldiers must have stun grenades, CS grenades or Stinger grenades on his body to deploy those in case of danger.
  • Armed units should be on stand-by within three minutes of arrival to the scene. It is enough time to get quick, yet far enough to keep the soldiers from using lethal force unnecessary.
  • Snipers are essential during intelligence-gathering phase and operational phase. Two snipers in a small rubber boat located at a distance of under a mile could provide necessary observation and should intervene in extreme cases of use of lethal force against the troops.
  • It is about time soldiers deployed would carry an on-helmet or an on-weapon cameras. Feeds from those could be received directly by the command, giving it a full picture. Those could also be used to fight off media-lynching of the troops.
  • Having IDF cameramen is crucial: each helicopter delivering troops should have an IDF cameraman joining in. Another option: mount cameras on the bottom of the deploying aircraft, allowing recording of the deployment process.

There is little left to say about the failed operation. The soldiers fought brave, facing mob doing their best to murder them. Yet, they were the casualty of poor planning, poor intelligence and poor execution. While the decision to block the flotilla was a correct one, the approval process lacked on every step of the way – military and political. One thing is clear: with another ship – Rachel Corrie – soon to arrive in the region, the IDF would have to rethink its tactics. Let’s hope they will make the correct decisions this time.

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Comments
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by andrew_allison, Jonathan M. Boyko. Jonathan M. Boyko said: Blogging: Why IDF’s ‘Marmara’ mission was a flop and why it couldn’t win http://goo.gl/R6Ja #Israel #Gaza #Flotilla #Palestine […]

  2. Wouter says:

    Thanx this makes perfect sense

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