Monday, May 31, 2010

The Marmara Incident - Preliminary Notes

Everyone involved in this blog probably had the same initial reaction of disbelief, shock and sadness when they heard about the deaths (so far, 9 confirmed) that resulted from Monday morning's IDF raid on the Marmara. Now that more information has become available, however, this incident has become somewhat less unfathomable to me.

It is now clear that the IDF troops who boarded the Marmara encountered very violent and determined resistance that caught them completely off-guard. News reports indicate that they were not armed with lethal rifles (only paint ball rifles??) and that they carried hand guns as a last resort. Looking at the way in which they boarded the ship, it's almost certain that the boarding commandos did not expect to use their weapons and did not expect to engage in truly violent confrontations. As a result, as they touched down on the deck of the ship, they were overpowered and separated from each other. The most definitive video clip, shown only by Israeli media so far, to my knowledge, shows soldiers being bludgeoned and one of them being tossed over the deck. On Ynet, that video clip provided by the IDF spokesperson is followed up with testimony from a soldier with a broken arm who recounts how he and his comrades landed on deck the Marmara with their paint ball rifles strapped on their backs, not in their hands, and how the activists started beating them to a pulp with metal clubs. The soldier goes on to describe how his paint ball rifle was destroyed, and how he tried to reach for his handgun but found out that his arm was broken. Throughout this, he saw other soldiers down on the ground, still receiving beatings. The Ynet-supplied video stops there. I have yet to see video evidence that shows what happened next, but my assumption is that a few soldiers opened fire at that point.

Comments by ministers and senior officers to the Israeli press reveal that they had no idea that this scenario - definitely the worst case scenario - was more than a remote possibility. Previous incidents of this sort were resolved with minimal violence, resulting either in the granting of passage to the Gaza Strip in one case or in vessels being towed to Israel.

Clearly, there was an intelligence failure in this particular case. The decision to use naval commandos also seems quite ludicrous in hindsight. This was a policing operation on the high seas that should have been handled by units with crowd control experience.

Some readers of this post may disagree with the blockade of the Gaza Strip and with the rationale behind the boarding, but I am quite convinced that few will dispute that it seems highly likely, based on the evidence we've seen so far, that the IDF soldiers involved in the raid resorted to lethal force as a last-resort measure and in self-defence. Whether they should have been sent on this kind of a mission is the bigger question.

Note: The IDF video footage is now available on the BBC News website.

The IDF spokesperson's YouTube channel now has a clip up from the naval commandos' radio communications in which a soldier reports hearing live fire from the activists "down below".


Amos said...

Earlier today I saw the front page of Today's Zaman English edition here in Berkeley (this paper and several other English-language editions of newspapers such as Ha'aretz, Gulf News, and others are displayed in front of the entrance to the undergraduate library). Every item on it was somehow related to the "Israeli massacre." Just now, I found the following incredible article on the paper's web site:

Similarities between PKK, Israel attacks raise suspicions
The common characteristics of an assault carried out by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and an Israeli attack on a humanitarian aid convoy in international waters have raised suspicions over whether the two incidents are related.

Amos said...

You can see near the end of the clip that one of the last men to rappel onto the ship manages to aim a gun (maybe only a paintball rifle) at the attackers, but it's not clear.