As the details emerge, there is little doubt that our efforts to keep the flotilla seeking to break the embargo on Gaza from succeeding have become an immense public relations disaster. Israel is being depicted as barbaric aggressors while Hamas and its fellow travelers are portrayed as valiant champions of human rights.
I have little doubt that when all the facts are assembled, this debacle will not reflect adversely on the IDF. However, the surprise ambush does imply a breakdown in our intelligence. After all, only one day before the confrontation, a female participant of the flotilla interviewed by Al Jazeera expressly predicted that the outcome would be “one of two happy endings: either martyrdom or reaching Gaza.”
The other principal failure was the government’s unpreparedness in presenting its case to the world in a timely and effective manner. The authorities did manage to convey that the flotilla rejected Israel’s offer to enable the transfer of the goods supposedly dispatched on humanitarian grounds to Gaza following inspection at the Ashdod port. But despite being aware months in advance that a major international information campaign would be required after the event, the government was once again unprepared. And when it did address the foreign media, it was in a totally unprofessional manner.
Israel faced a no-win situation. It was entitled by international law to deny entry to a flotilla of boats seeking to breach a military embargo against an Iranian-backed terrorist entity which proudly boasts of its determination to destroy it. Hamas is indisputably a terrorist group whose evil charter explicitly calls on the faithful to continue killing Jews until none survive. It is the ultimate hypocrisy for democratic countries to challenge Israel’s action. Could one conceive of American or European forces permitting convoys of unchecked “humanitarian aid” to be transferred to Taliban strongholds?
However, it was only after the world media had been inundated with hair-raising stories about alleged Israeli atrocities, by which time most nations had already condemned Israel, that interviews with IDF soldiers depicting the events started to emerge and enabled Israeli journalists to begin presenting the case for Israel.
It then became clear that all the casualties occurred on one boat, and that rather than the Gandhi-style idealistic pacifists portrayed in the media, Islamists under the control of IHH – a Turkish pro-terrorist group closely linked to Hamas – had ambushed, violently attacked and attempted to kill soldiers who had been led to believe they were dealing with nonviolent political activists. It was unquestionably a lynch atmosphere, with participants shrieking Islamic battle cries and expressing a willingness to martyr themselves in order to kill Jews.
IDF soldiers were shot with live ammunition, stabbed with knives, beaten with iron clubs and thrown off the boats. There is no question that they faced a life-threatening situation and had no other choice than to use weapons in self-defense. It is thus grotesque to relate to “proportionality” in the context of soldiers being beaten by a wild mob employing iron bars.
This was alluded to in the early media statements by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Regrettably, these press conferences were ineffectively presented and predominantly broadcast in Hebrew. This surely should have been an occasion for Israel’s most articulate spokesmen to marshal the true facts and convey them in an effective manner.
WE LOST the opportunity of conveying the case for Israel at the outset,
when first impressions are critical. In the immediate aftermath of the
interception of the flotilla, all coverage and testimony, including
video feeds, were almost exclusively orchestrated by Hamas, Turkey, Al
Jazeera and other hostile elements. It took almost 14 hours after the
event before footage of the brutal behavior of the thugs who confronted
our soldiers was released by the IDF. By then, it was too late. The
earlier images had become embedded in the sound bites of all
international media. Other than Fox TV
in the US,
the crucial raw depiction of the thuggish behavior against the soldiers
was largely ignored.
It was also regrettable that no reference was made to the fact that the
embargo against Hamas was also being implemented by Egypt, no friend of
Israel, which is not keen about enabling weapons to flow from Gaza to
their own Muslim Brotherhood terrorist factions.
This is not the first time we face disastrous repercussions because of
a delay in marshalling the facts. Again and again, we expose the lies
to the world far too late, and only after the horse has already bolted.
We should have learned the lessons from the devastating fallout
following our failures to respond in a timely manner to the false
claims of massacres in Jenin during Defensive Shield or the fabricated
Muhammad al-Dura blood libel which ignited the second intifada.
On this occasion, we may well have promoted the objective of those seeking to legitimize Hamas.
Although there have been calls for an independent inquiry, the footage
released by the IDF speaks for itself. However, we
need an inquiry or commission to explain why our
government continues to mishandle the crucial war of ideas. We need to
know why more funds are not being set aside for this war, and why we
are not using talented Israelis with skills to promote our case.
It is true that that even if the facts were crystal clear, we would
still be condemned by most of the world. One only needs to contrast the
international outcry against Israel with the recent muted response of
the international community to the unprovoked North Korean submarine
sinking of a South Korean frigate.
But we must, at the very least, make sure our case is clearly presented
so that those who apply double standards against us are shamed and
exposed. This can only be possible if we provide the tools to enable
objective, fair-minded people to appreciate that we are confronting
barbaric and determined enemies who represent the ultimate antithesis
of what one would expect among those purporting to campaign on behalf
of human rights.
We face today yet another major effort by our enemies to delegitimize
us. It is a time for unity, and full credit should be extended to
opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Kadima, who have set aside politics
to display solidarity with the state. Hopefully that will be extended
to the formation of a unity government which the majority of the nation
would welcome during these trying days when we again find ourselves,
realizing the words of Balaam in the Torah, “a people who dwelleth