Syrian protesters approach the Israeli border 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
On Monday, senior IDF commanders from throughout the military, led by Chief of
General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, convened at the Central Command’s Lachish
training base near Kiryat Gat.
As reported in The Jerusalem Post last
week, the officers were there for a seminar aimed at preparing them for the
expected demonstrations that will break out in the West Bank and along Israel’s
borders following the Palestinians’ expected unilateral declaration of statehood
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On the other side of the country, in the North, commandos
from the Navy’s Flotilla 13
– better known as the Shayetet
– were making final
preparations to stop a flotilla of ships planning to sail to the Gaza Strip and
break Israel’s sea blockade over the Hamas-controlled territory this
This is the IDF in the middle of 2011. Yes, Iran is still a threat
and Hezbollah is stockpiling missiles, but this summer the focus is on stopping
flotillas and learning how to prevent so-called “peaceful” marches from getting
out of control.
If IDF predictions are right, then this flotilla will be
a watered-down version of last year’s attempt to break the sea blockade on the
First, Turkey’s IHH organization – presumed to be the more
radical player and which was behind the Mavi Marmara
– has pulled out of the
flotilla, while citing more pressing humanitarian concerns, like Syria. Instead
of the 15 ships it had planned, it now appears that the flotilla will include 10
at the most.
Second, the IDF is better prepared this time
Navy commandos have developed new techniques on how to fast-rope
down onto the ships’ upper decks quickly. They also have new equipment such as
water cannons, attack dogs from Oketz
and riot-control specialists from the
Prisons Service’s elite Masada Unit.
The other major challenge is the way
Israel will handle the media side of the flotilla. It seems the government has
yet to formulate a clear strategy or policy.
On Sunday, the head of the
Government Press Office announced that Israel would confiscate the equipment of
journalists who join the flotilla and then ban them from the country for up to 10 years. But on Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu overturned that
If Netanyahu changed the policy so quickly, why did the GPO
make such an announcement to begin with? One can only hope that the government’s
remaining involvement in stopping the flotilla will be clearer and more
In the meantime, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
appear to be more concerned with the State Comptroller’s report on last year’s
flotilla due to be published in the coming months.
According to various
media reports, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss plans to criticize the
government – and specifically Netanyahu and Barak – for failing to properly
prepare for the flotilla by convening the cabinet, debating the issue and
agreeing on strategy.
The cabinet meetings held Sunday night and Monday
morning were likely (at least partially) aimed at showing that this time around
the government is more involved, and on top of things.
In the coming
days, the flotilla operation will probably come to an end – hopefully, this time
without casualties on either side.
September, however, continues to loom
on the horizon – and without any diplomatic breakthrough, the flotilla at sea
will soon be replaced by mass marches on the ground.