They stepped out onto the deck and sat in a neat line. The captain escorted several men and told them to join the group. The boats were very close now. People on the deck felt calm, however, despite their adversaries’ olive-green uniforms and military gear. They knew that as long as they kept their hands to themselves, they will be spared any abuse.

Thus, passengers of infamous vessel Rachel Corrie offered no violent resistance to the IDF soldiers and – according to military sources – cooperated with the boarding troops. Soon enough, the soldiers – now in control of the boat – brought Corrie to the Ashdod port, where passengers, as well as the cargo, were offloaded. Israeli officials even praised the activists, hailing their non-violent protest. Sadly, the cargo will have to wait, as Hamas government bars entry of ‘Freedom Flotilla’s goods into the Gaza Strip – a curious occurrence in itself, as Hamas claims people literally die on Gaza streets. Where is the empathy?

The empathy is left down in the sea, with the propaganda. Hamas isn’t the only movement which denies Gazans’ access to aid – so is Free Gaza, the movement that allegedly champions Palestinian cause and risks own lives (or, should I say, lives of others) to promote radical agenda, as illustrated by IDF’s most recent audio clip. In it, Israeli Navy officers attempt to resolve Rachel Corrie standoff peacefully, without the need to border the ship. Moreover, the Israeli Defense Force offers transfer of the goods into Gaza by an independent NGOs – not the army – yet, Free Gaza activists decline the offer. I guess it’s better for the aid to rot at the border.

Expectedly, Free Gaza crowd receives support from some of the most radical elements around the world – from Hamas to Turkey to Iran. Some reports went as far as claim Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan might himself visit Gaza to personally break the blockade – a circus we’d all love to see (the report was later dismissed by Turkish officials). Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered (no political play here, of course) the Revolutionary Guards to escort future ‘Freedom Flotilla’ convoys – a spectacular view no doubt. Iran’s tactic at sea, you might remember from its recent exercises, is use of multiple very small rocket boats to swarm and attack its target. It is likely those could be easily destroyed by the Israeli Air Force.

Israeli authorities say they’ve uncovered terrorist support for the flotilla, as some ‘peace activists’ arrested on board Mavi Marmara were directly involved with terror activities, such as funding or training terror groups. And last – but not least – German Jewish group just announced they would support Free Gaza by organizing a ‘blockade-busting’ flotilla of their own. Well, ‘flotilla’ is too tough a word – scheduled for July, activists have a single boat, filled with 12 to 16 persons.

 

'Flotilla 13' soldier held at knifepoint by 'Mavi Marmara' crew Far from politics, various sources released more information about the mess on board Mavi Marmara. First reports by Israeli sites claimed several IDF soldiers were kidnapped by Marmara crew after being beaten by ‘peace activists’. While at first critics doubted such allegations, later in the day Turkish newspaper released pictures of injured IDF soldiers, held at knifepoint by the ‘Freedom Flotilla’. The pictures further enraged Israelis and shifted somewhat opinion in the international press towards Israel’s point of view. The intent of Turkish Hurriyet was to humiliate the injured soldiers, headlining the article “Tears of a Commando”.

On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to diminish the conflict between Israel and Turkey, by diverting attention from sail’s organizers to the extremists themselves. In a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu claimed the few dozen activists who attacked the IDF soldiers on board Mavi Marmara organized and boarded the ship separately from the IHH and Free Gaza activists, thus exploiting the sail for own purposes. Turkish behavior, however, seems to counter those claims.

 

Despite fiery speeches and unequivocal support of local media, Turkey faced harsh criticism from some famed quarters around the world. The New York Times’ editorial, for example, snubbed Thanksgiving country’s government for going radical, saying that while extremist rhetoric might score few points for Erdogan among his people, he will find it much harder to convert his coarse language into reality:

Mr. Erdogan may find it hard to walk things back when he needs to — and he will.

(Ynet)

Erdogan, however, might already be in trouble, according to some experts, who say Erdogan’s passionate rhetoric is the result of predictions his party will lose upcoming elections next year. The analysts say Erdogan sees support for his Islamic Movement diminish, thus he attempts to restore some faith in his policies and influence the vox populi.

Erdogan and Free Gaza movement find themselves in deeper trouble, as their claims of ‘illegal blockade’ and ‘illegal raid in international waters’ is being crushed to pieces by legal experts around the world. In an interview to BBC, Douglas Guilfoyle, a maritime lawyer and a lecturer at University College London, claimed that while the issue is complex and requires thorough investigation, Israel’s actions might be within parameters set by the international law. In a Reuters Q&A, several experts claim that Israel is allowed to board vessels declaring they are about to breach an imposed blockade – even if it means boarding the ships in international waters. Moreover, Reuters says Israel’s interception of Gaza-bound ships could be applied globally, as long as ship’s declared goal is to breach Israeli-imposed blockade. The only areas where Israel cannot uphold its blockade is waters of a neutral, third-party state.

Most importantly, Turkish violence, vile allegations and demands enraged the Israelis – from IDF supporters to satirists. Several demonstrations in support of the IDF were held in Israel throughout past few days. While handful radical Left-wing activists – supported by Israeli Palestinians – marched through Tel Aviv, calling upon the government to lift blockade on Gaza, most Israelis offered explicit support for the troops and the government. With feelings of persecution rising among Israeli Jewish population, Benjamin Netanyahu managed to keep nation’s spirit strong.

Some pro-Israel NGOs and blogs take on the job to counter anti-Israel claims and press. In one post, Little Green Footballs – a blog that revealed a ‘doctored’ photo in Reuters’ report during Second Lebanon War, again encountered dubious practice by the wire service, where picture released to subscribers excluded a knife held by an ‘activist’. A slew of others stood up for Israel, such as Elder of Ziyon, CAMERA, News That Matters, Augean Stables, and many others. These blogs identified and collected much information on legal issues, as well as inaccuracies reported by Free Gaza and the likes.

To contribute to national pride, a satirical group Latmah released a video clip, based on famous song ‘We are the World’. The Israeli version – named ‘We Con the World’, has already seen over 1,100,000 views – and still rising. The video – posted four days after first report on the incident by Al Jazeera English – still surpassed the latter by 400,000 views. Turkish expressions of outrage over the clip produced no damage to its popularity.

On the other side of the activist aisle, some Israeli students set off to organize own flotilla into Turkish territory, with supplies to nations oppressed by Erdogan’s radical regime – the Armenians and the Kurds. The organizers are yet to set a date for the humanitarian mission, but claim their goal is to set sail by the end of the week.

IDF's 'Flotilla 13' soldier attacked and dragged by the IHH Mere two days after Israeli Defense Forces boarded the ‘Freedom Flotilla’, where they were beaten, stabbed, clubbed and shot at, Turkish ‘Palestinian rights group’ IHH thanked Israel for the ‘publicity’:

"We thank Israel for its raid," said Omar Faruk, a member of the organization’s directorate. "We’ve become famous."

(Ynet)

I believe this quote precisely point to the insanity of the ‘activists’, who hail a victory in propaganda battle, over mourning their loss.

On the flip side, however, Israel has much to thank IHH for. As few times before, IHH’s attempt to murder IDF troops on board Mavi Marmara brought all Israelis together in their vehement support for the IDF and their country, save for Israeli Palestinians and most radical Left wingers.

I spoke to a woman today, who in the past shared with me she voted for the extremist MERETZ party. This faction is advocating conceding as much as possible to the Palestinians. Her stance, however, surprised me:

“I am Left wing and everything, but I understand we have to defend our country.”

Hers is an expression of feeling familiar to many Israelis today. With the international community viciously attacking the Jewish state and relentlessly denying it any opportunity to effectively defend itself, the Israelis feel at the brink. Many – amongst themselves – restore memories of the World War II, where peoples of Europe were slaughtered, and powerful nations stood on the sidelines.

But with fear comes strength. As during the 2008-9 operation Cast Lead, the 1982 Peace of Galilee and 1967 Six Days War, Israelis feel protective of their country and of their nation. Unlike any other people, for thousands of years Jews were the homeless person, deprived of own home. Today, more Israelis than ever stand on guard to defend homeland. And that is the greatest gift no one but the IHH – and the likes – could give the Jewish nation.

'Free Gaza' activists on board 'Rachel Corrie'. Peaceful or more attempted murder? As was predicted by some – me included, although it isn’t tough a prediction to make – the crew of ‘Rachel Corrie’ – an Irish vessel bound for Israel late, refused Israel’s offer to dock in Israeli port of Ashdod, to have its cargo examined and then transferred to Gaza. Not unlike the crews of six ships led by IHH’s Mavi Marmara – who suggested Israeli Navy soldiers should go back to Auschwitz – ‘Rachel Corrie’ told the IDF and Irish government it would proceed to Gaza:

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs announced Friday that it had reached an agreement with the Israeli government on the ‘Rachel Corrie’, by which it would dock at Ashdod and submit the aid it was carrying to inspection, but that the ship’s crew had refused.

According to the agreement reached between the two states, the Rachel Corrie would dock at Ashdod port, where its cargo would be inspected under the supervision of UN officials.

Then the supplies, which reportedly include 550 tons of cement, would be transported to Gaza through the Erez crossing. Two crew members would accompany the transport until that point.

(Ynet)

THE ACTIVISTS ON board ‘Rachel Corrie’ said their intentions were ‘peaceful’ and said they would not resist IDF troops boarding their vessel. Hm, that reminds me of those Free Gaza activists on the six boats ‘Flotilla 13’ boarded recently – didn’t they say they were peaceful as well? And then proceeded to do this:

That looks like some real peaceful activism to me, up close and personal…

Anyway, the Israeli authorities warned the ‘Corrie’ – again – saying they were not interested in confrontation. While one could understand the move – Israel does not want to look harsh – it is likely to spark even more resentment among the ‘peaceful activists’, whose objective – among others – is to murder or injure Israelis. Seeing signs of weakness, Free Gaza crew would continue to push forward, with estimated arrival time being Saturday.

From previous statements by Free Gaza organizers, it is clear the objective is to break the blockade, not necessarily deliver the aid. And hey – Hamas are in no hurry to receive the aid themselves, as recently it was reported they declared Gaza would not permit entry of Free Gaza aid as long as group’s activists are held in Israel. If everything Free Gaza says is indeed true and people are starving on Gazan streets, what is Hamas doing, allowing its people to simply die out? I mean – what about the lack of food, lack of medicine? How cruel is that?

Well, not everything’s as simple as it looks. Danish reporter Steffen Jensen visited Gaza on Tuesday (June 1st, 2010) and discovered that while Gaza has some problems – grave problems indeed – there are no dying people on the streets, no Africa-like, hungered children. What a surprise that is…

 

Update 05062010 0727GMT: You can follow live updates on the ‘Rachel Corrie’ from IDF’s Twitter reporting. Most recently, the vessel ignored IDF’s second request to dock at Ashdod port.

Hamas' murder of hundreds does not worry me. Erdogan

In the past decade, the Thanksgiving country made an effort to join the European Union. For Turkey, such accession would mean additional boost for the economy, better relations with mostly prosperous Europe and an opportunity to further its influence into Europe. The European Union, in its turn, would acquire further influence in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, as well as opening own markets to 71 million consumers. The EU required Turkey to comply with quite a few conditions to join, such as enacting liberal market policies and improving Turkey’s competition policies.

Well, today it all went down the drain, when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan aligned his country with Hamas, stating that the latter was not a terror group, but in fact a democratically-elected movement:

Speaking at a ceremony in Konya, the prime minister announced that Hamas was not a terror organization. "They won an election. You always speak of democracy, but you will not let Hamas rule. What kind of democracy is that?" he asked.

"Hamas’s resistance fighters were meant to defend their land. They won an election. I’ve told American officials before that I do not consider Hamas a terror organization, and I still don’t. They are defending their land," he was quoted by Turkish media as saying.

(Ynet)

UNSURPRISINGLY, ERDOGAN FAILED to tell his people that after Hamas indeed won elections (garnering about 40% of the vote), it proceeded to round up its opposition – Mahmoud Abbas-led Fatah faction – execute and expel them from Gaza. At the time evil Israelis opened the checkpoints to allow thousands of Fatah members and their families to run to the West Bank. After forcibly exterminating its opposition – which led to an immense rift between the two groups – Hamas progressed to imposing a strict Islamist regime in the Gaza Strip, under which music, alcohol and public express of affection is barred and punishable by jail.

Moreover, ‘democratic’ friends of Erdogan still execute people on the streets for ‘collaboration’ with Israel – a sentence where the accused has no lawyer or a right to defend self – closes NGOs and steals large sums of money from Gaza’s banks, using unpublished ‘court orders’ as pretense.

So well done, Mr. President. You have officially aligned yourself with murderers and genocidal maniacs. What does that say about your ‘Freedom Flotilla’?

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.

You are probably familiar with the notorious Free Gaza organization – a group stating it’s goal of breaking blockade of Gaza by Egypt and Israel. In a most recent media stunt, the group gathered six ships and decided to sail towards Gaza. Despite several warnings by the Israeli authorities that  the ships would not be allowed to reach Gaza, organizers declared they will continue their mission to provide certain supplies to Gaza and the Hamas and – more importantly – to break the blockade, calling it a ‘‘blockade busting’ flotilla’. Last year, Free Gaza attempted to break blockade as well, though result was different. That time, Free Gaza claimed they were carrying close to 5,000 tons of supplies for Gazans. IDF soldiers, who successfully boarded the ships with little resistance, discovered just above 60 tons of equipment.

Another player is the IHH – İnsani Yardım Vakfı or The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief – was the main Turkish organizer of the operation. While Free Gaza people are mostly radical Left-wing activists, IHH is a different deal. According to reports by both Israeli intelligence and the CIA, the group has close ties to terror groups, including Hamas and the global jihad in general and Al-Qaeda in particular.

With Netanyahu willing to stop blockade-busters, the IDF prepared a plan, according to which Israeli Navy Forces will reach the flotilla in advance, surround it, board the vessels and bring those, together with the activists, to Israel. As Israeli Navy ships closed in on the offending vessels, IDF officers contacted the ships over the radio, saying flotilla’s entry into Gaza waters will be prevented. The IDF also told the Free Gaza activists their supplies would be transferred to Gaza, except those officially banned by Israel.
 
Free Gaza declined and declared they would keep on pressing forward, which was not surprising. From video clips in Arab media, it was clear the ‘peace activists’ were quite worked up and ready to fight, chanting anti-Semitic slogans.
 
IDF plan was simple: to avoid casualties, the soldiers would be sent aboard the ships armed with paintball rifles and a handgun as a backup in extreme cases. With Navy officers expecting little resistance, the soldiers were supposed to use the paint guns to mark rioters or cause some pain by shooting non-compliant protesters. What happened, however, was much different – and much more dangerous.
 
 

First reports about the takeover came from Qatar’s Al-Jazeera, notorious anti-Israeli network, who had reporters on the Turkish ship. The images shown by the network show Israeli rubber boats sailing side-by-side with the flotilla, soldiers on the ready.

First ship to be tackled was the Mavi Marmara. The intervention force arrived by Black Hawk helicopters, their mission being descending to the top deck by ropes, taking control of the upper decks and moving to lower ones. Officers on board the helicopters noticed about 20 protesters on the top deck, but decided to go ahead with the mission – again, expecting little resistance. First blurry images, however, portrayed situation different: images released by news channels show IDF soldiers descending and immediately being attacked by the protesters. First soldier to descend was attacked by five rioters, his paintball gun and handgun taken by the the rioting mob, which was subsequently used to shoot at IDF troops inside the ship.
 
 
Careful examination of first video images received also shows IDF soldier being stabbed by one of the ‘peace activists’.
 

In the meanwhile, reports of casualties mounted. First reports reported two fatalities and nearly 30 injuries. Throughout the day, numbers climbed, currently reaching between 12 and 19 fatalities and over 50 injuries – all of those from Mavi Marmara. Other ships showed passive resistance and were safely escorted into Israeli waters. Some reports said IDF was taking the boats into Haifa’s harbor – reports that subsequently were proven to be false.

In the meanwhile, rioters grabbed one of the ropes used by the troops and tied it to an antennae of the ship, in an apparent attempt to either stall or bring down the IAF helicopter. The plan failed, however, and more IDF troops descended on the deck. According to soldiers’ testimonies, each of the fifteen soldiers landing was grabbed by the ‘peace activists’ and severely beaten. Video, released by the IDF, shows troops landing and being attacked by the protesters. The video shows soldiers attempting to regroup and being attacked by Molotov cocktails as well as stun grenades.
 

At clip’s end, the Operations Officer is heard giving the order to use live fire.

Another clip released by the IDF shows what exactly happened to descending troops, them being assaulted and beaten in an attempt to murder the troops. One soldier is seen thrown to one of the lower decks, between 20 and 30 feet (6 to 10 meters) below. The protesters then go on to grab more soldiers and hit them with metal rods.

The final result, as of 20:00GMT, is 9 rioters dead and 7 IDF soldiers suffering injuries, ranging from light to moderate wounds. Close to 600 activists were taken off the boats, some of them already sent to their countries of origin. In total, Israeli hospitals treated 42 injured, 11 in serious condition, including two soldiers.

 
While during the raid some propagandists attempted to claim Israeli Palestinian leader Raed Salah – well-known for his fiery anti-Israel speeches, calling for violence – was injured in the riot, however, the rumor eventually proved to be not true.
 
 
Politicians and ‘Human Rights Activists’ around the world hurried to blame Israel for the loss of life. The United Nations, France, Sweden, European Union and others hurried to release condemnation of Israel, before any images of the fighting and assault of the soldiers were released. Turkey recalled its envoy from Israel.
 

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose regime murdered dozens of people after recent elections, called Israel ‘inhumane’.

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