Friday, June 04, 2010

Details from Shayetet 13 Operation on Marmara

The Jerusalem Post has an exclusive interview with S. who took part in the operation, who is described as "the 15th and last Shayetet 13 commando to rappel onto the ship." His description paints a totally different picture of the events than we have received in most of the international media until now. From the perspective of the soldier, the melee on the Marmara was an organized ambush carried out by trained fighters who used the cover of the flotilla to attempt to capture or kill Israeli soldiers.

Quotations from the article:

The attackers had already seized two pistols from the commandos, and fired repeatedly at them. Facing more than a dozen of the mercenaries, and convinced their lives were in danger, he and his colleagues opened fire, he said. S. singlehandedly killed six men. His colleagues killed another three.

Based on preliminary results of its investigation into the navy’s takeover of the Mavi Marmara, which ended with nine dead passengers and more than 30 wounded, the IDF said on Thursday that the commandos were attacked by a well-trained group of mercenaries, most of whom were found without IDs but with thousands of dollars in their pockets.

The group was well trained and was split into a number of squads of about 20 mercenaries each distributed throughout the upper deck, the IDF said. All of the mercenaries wore gas masks and ceramic bulletproof vests and were armed with either bats, slingshots, metal bars, knives or stun grenades.

The IDF’s understanding is that the mercenaries mainly chose dual-purpose items of this sort rather than guns, since opening fire would have made it blatantly clear that they were terrorists and not so-called peace activists.
T. said he realized the group they were facing was well-trained and likely ex-military after the commandos threw a number of stun grenades and fired warning shots before rappelling down onto the deck. “They didn’t even flinch,” he said. “Regular people would move.”

Each squad of the “mercenaries” was equipped with a Motorola communication device, the IDF said, so they could pass information to one another. Assessments in the defense establishment are that members of the group were affiliated with international global jihad elements and had undergone training in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.


J. said...

This is truly a Rashomon-like incident. The Jerusalem Post article is really explosive. This is the very first testimony that indicates that soldiers were actually shot. Why was that information only revealed now? There are two possibilities: a) It's incorrect information - if it is, then it would be very foolish to make such a claim, since the truth would eventually come out; b) The Israeli government wants to move on and to be free to try to repair its relationship with Turkey, rather than being constrained by public sentiment.

In any case, there would have to be more corroborating info to confirm this version of events and to convince audiences abroad.

The "mercenary" label should be dropped. It seems much more likely that the people who fought the soldiers were part of the hard core of this movement not some group of "hired guns". I'm surprised, though, by the ages of this hard core group. Based on the Turkish newspaper Zaman's report about the victims, which lists the ages, it's clear that all nine of those killed were Turkish citizens, with an average and median age of about 41.

The soldier cited in the article supports his view that they were trained ex-military with reference to the fact that the stun grenades had no impact on them. I've never been exposed to a stun grenade, so I don't know what my or another average person's reaction would be. What can definitely be confirmed is that these people were undeterred by the stun grenades tossed on board. One of the videos shows them ducking for a second and then continued trying to prevent the soldiers from boarding. Maybe the fact that there was already a lot of noise from the chopper and from them being at sea limited the shock effect of the stun grenade?

The New York Times (June 4, 2010) article by Sabrine Tavernise and Ethan Bronner has an equally plausible account of what happened, albeit one that is less detailed and based more on the testimony of the passengers:

"On the morning of the raid, confusion ruled. The first soldiers who rappelled down the ropes appeared disoriented and frightened, Dr. Coskun, the Turkish witness, said, slipping a bit on the dewy deck and calling out in English, which Dr. Coskun said few Turks understood.

Of the two ropes that were dropped simultaneously from the helicopter, one was grabbed by men on board the boat and tied to an antenna, Israeli officials said. The pilot released it to avoid being tethered to the boat, and the commandos then slid down only one rope, slowing the incursion and leaving them vulnerable.

Some of the activists, hearing the pop of the plastic bullets and the sound bomb, believed they were being shot, according to witnesses, including some wounded now in an Ankara hospital.

It was a small group of aggressive activists on the upper deck who overwhelmed the first soldiers, wrenching away their weapons and, according to Dr. Coskun and video images supplied by the Israeli military, beating them with wooden poles and metal rods that they had ripped or sawed off the side of the boat."

J. said...

Again, I have to emphasize this, I'm really surprised that the information about the activists seizing the guns and actually shooting them at the soldiers has only come out now. All the initial reports, including ones based on testimony from soldiers, said that they heard gunshots or thought they heard gunshots, but there was nothing this explicit about guns actually being pointed at soldiers.

Whatever happened, the bottom line is clear: the activists endangered themselves when they seized the weapons of several soldiers. Even if they did not use them, the possibility that they could potentially do so would have been enough to compel the soldiers to move to the use of firearms and it would have greatly increased their perception of the activists as a lethal threat.

Noah K said...

Very cogent analysis, fellas. Amos, as you know, I knew a mercenary. I mean, really, these guys are supposed to be like Blackwater or something? C'mon now, those aren't "mercenaries." Though have to see "murderous mercenaries" does have the bonus of alliteration.

J. said...

Hi Noah,

It would be good to have some massive collaborative analytical effort to try to reconstruct what exactly happened by collating different testimonies. Of course, everyone's got an interest in spinning this in their own way and no one had a perfect overview of all the events. But this kind of analysis could help establish a reasonably accurate narrative that still highlights major areas of disagreement as well as obvious misinformation.

Noah K said...

I totally agree. It's interesting to try and think of how the information collecting process has actually worked in practice. You have people talking to the press, of course. But what about internal interrogations? I wonder how the IDF treated this in the immediate wake of the event. Who debriefed these people? Their own commanders? Or, because of the immense diplomatic sensitivity of all this, were they subjected to questioning by other military or by civilian investigators? There may also be psychological and institutional factors at play there that would cloud memories...Also, wouldn't these soldiers have been asked to keep quiet for now? Did someone authorize "S." to speak to the J-Post? What's the deal with that? Did he break protocol there? That's assuming it's not, as J. wondered, a strategic release of information (the veracity of which is of course subject to all this question!).

J. said...

I'm sure all of the interviews by different soldiers with the press were authorized.

On another note, Haaretz ran an article today about several photos in Hurriyet which really document the extent of the violence the activists used against the soldiers. It's ridiculous to relate to the activists as innocent victims.