Let the Turks rage

By
June 3, 2010 02:55

We should take the initiative and establish an investigative committee.




Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

There is a good chance that the violent takeover of the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships that made up the flotilla that was headed for Gaza on Monday morning, will become an historic milestone in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, events such as these take on new dimensions, transforming them into turning points in this dispute.

No one expected, to the best of my knowledge, that stopping a convoy of supposed peace activists would end in bloodshed. But in the Middle East, the unexpected becomes the expected. As such, another flotilla headed for Gaza, the likes of which have been intercepted in the past, became yet another confrontation between us and the Palestinians who were reinforced with representatives from other countries.

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AT THE moment, there are more questions marks that available answers. It is clear that we were right to prevent the convoy from reaching Gaza. There is a blockade in place as part of a policy meant to isolate the Strip since Hamas’s violent takeover in 2007, its refusal to return captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit and the endless barrage of rockets that was launched at the Negev prior to Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009. These are important reasons to cite and to remember, especially at these times.

Nonetheless, the events beg the question: Was a takeover of the convoy the only way to respond or could we have intercepted the ships at an earlier stage and turned them away without the use of force?

It’s a question that awaits detailed reports from the commandos who participated in the operation.

Other questions arise from the fact that the IDF acted on the high seas and not near any shores. It’s clear that for operational purposes, the element of surprise was needed and the cover of night was suitable. But the event raises important legal questions on matters of acting in non-territorial waters, especially in a world that increasingly relies on international law.

Even more questions arise from the coordination (or lack thereof) between the political establishment and the IDF. What was the level of involvement, not just on whether or not to let the ships through, but on the operational planning of the mission itself, so that consequences could be taken into account?

The IDF does not normally involve other parties in such plans and that is understandable, but the encounter between civilians and civilian ships and military forces requires a more coordinated approach between the various parties.

AS EXPECTED, the brunt of the criticism is turned toward hasbara. For some reason, we think that it can solve everything. It cannot.

In its new format, hasbara is in effect public diplomacy composed of political, defense and legal efforts to explain Israel’s position.

Hasbara must be examined in context and not just in itself. In this field, Israel has come a long way since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. After several state comptroller reports and findings of various investigative commissions were published, Israel then prepared an outline for national hasbara. The main objective was to coordinate hasbara efforts with all the players involved. Such a project requires the provision of finances and adequate manpower so that the system can respond to any event – security, political or any other – on a national scale.

In this particular incident, the hasbara effort came into play hours after the first photos and videos from the battle at sea were already making the rounds across news channels and papers, capturing headlines.

The original plan to prevent the leakage of information was only partially successful. In the end, Al Jazeera and Turkish TV news channels were reporting freely and airing footage from the scene.

In principle, it is better to present a complete picture where possible, as illustrated with the press conference hosted by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and the navy commander. But the first hours in such an incident are critical and determine the fate of the media campaign. It would have been better to release a statement detailing the initial events from the get-go, and reveal the rest gradually.

TO STOP the mounting international criticism and the pressure for an investigation, I suggest that Israel take the initiative and establish a committee headed by former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak and others with such high standing and reputation and give it a mandate to look into the decisions and operational procedures leading up the confrontation, and the subsequent government response. Instead of just yielding to international pressure, we must adopt this plan of action if we want to push back.

As for the Turks, we should let them yell and scream and make themselves dizzy. We don’t have to respond to every terrible utterance. We need to swallow the criticism, take a deep breath and let them play the public game. Any direct confrontation with them will end with severed ties. And we have much to lose if that happens. This isn’t just about diplomacy; our relations with Turkey run deeper and there are significant economic and security matters to consider. Adding fuel to an already raging fire is not a good idea. We can always express our displeasure sometime in the future by lowering the Turkish ambassador’s chair by five centimeters more than initially done.

We should also understand that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has no choice but to make a fuss to please the people of his country. This is an internal political issue that we must let play out and perhaps consider that although many say that the organizers got what they wanted, this fiasco can also be regarded as a failure. After all, nine people are dead and the blockade on Gaza is firmly in place. This may not be as big a success as many are making it out to be.

This time we need to be smart, not just right.

The writer is a Kadima MK and a former IDF spokesman.


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