Richard Kemp arrived here the day after the raid on the Mavi Marmara that left nine people dead. While he was critical of the handling of the incident, in particular intelligence gathering prior to the raid, he said he had in no way revised his position regarding the efforts made by IDF soldiers to avoid civilian casualties and that the blame for the death toll lay with the “activists” who attacked the soldiers.

“I think there were clearly errors made in what the IDF did in boarding that ship,” Kemp said. “The main error seems to me to have been a failure of intelligence in having a prior understanding of what it was facing. Arguably, had it known better what kind of resistance it might face, it could have approached the ship in a different way. The real people responsible for what happened though are those people who attacked the soldiers who came on board.

“Intelligence is a notoriously hard thing to get right, but it was a flaw not to have recognized the nature of the people the IDF was confronting, but I suppose the publicity surrounding those ships was all to do with people in pursuit of peace and aiding the people of Gaza. It was not unreasonable not to expect them to behave in the way they did. But having said that, a military force that has the reputation and the sophistication of Israel’s should not be surprised in that way.”


Asked whether once on board and facing those circumstances, the commandos had no choice but to shoot to kill or whether they should have responded differently, Kemp said: “I think one has to wait for more detailed facts to come out, but the rules of engagement, the laws of armed conflict, to an extent apply in that situation the same as they would apply anywhere. The Israeli soldiers were under obligation to use minimum force, but we’ve all seen the footage that’s been released of what happened and they appear to have been subject to a very vicious and violent attack.

“When you’re in that situation, by the look of it outnumbered by a group of people wielding iron bars and, according to Israeli reports, knives and possibly having taken weapons from soldiers, it’s very hard when you’re facing a situation which is effectively close combat to decide unless you were actually there what the rights and wrongs were. But for a soldier to be put in that situation is regrettable.”

Kemp also suggested that the IDF needed to do more to improve its capabilities on the media front.

“I think that the IDF’s media operation has improved quite a lot, but it’s up against a real problem. It’s up against a sophisticated Hamas media operation and propaganda from many, many parts of the world who are opposed to Israel, so it’s got to up its game even further. It might even do things like embedding reporters into the military units while they carry out operations, which some of the Western armies do to good effect. It’s something Israel should consider.

“I think in the case that we’re talking about here it would have clearly not been possible to have had reporters actually accompanying troops boarding a ship, but in general terms, I think the IDF should gear more toward including media, trying to tell its story more effectively.”

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