Goliath and his paintball gun

Military planners of flotilla raid given a mission impossible; stop ship from reaching Gaza in way that would look OK on CNN.

By LARRY DERFNER
August 11, 2010 22:39
3 minute read.
Turkel Committee August 10, 2010.

Turkel Committee. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)

How could we have screwed up so badly? This is what no one understands about the navy commandos’ May 31 raid on the Mavi Marmara, and this is what our leaders are twisting themselves into knots this week trying to explain to the Turkel Commission.

The basic conundrum is this: Since we knew the Turkish ship was sponsored by radical Islamists, and that many of these types were aboard and threatening resistance unto death if Israel tried to stop them getting to Gaza, why did the first commandos board the ship armed only with paintball guns? Why did they slide down ropes from the helicopter into the club-swinging arms of the mob? Given who the leaders on the Mavi Marmara were and what they were saying, why did the commandos make that first engagement as if they were dealing with Peace Now demonstrators?

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What they should have done, the consensus now holds, is gone in heavily armed, made a big show of strength, and then the Islamists would have backed off and our men wouldn’t have had to kill nine of them and turn the world against Israel again.

That’s what was missing in the plan: Guns that shoot bullets, not paintballs. Also, something safer for boarding the ship than those ropes. Wonder why the Israel Navy didn’t think of that. Hope the Turkel Commission can find out.

My guess, though, is that the Israel Navy did consider the option of arming those first commandos with real guns, and having them make a more imposing entrance than the one they made. I know some Israelis think the whole IDF has gone kumbaya on us, but still, I’m reasonably sure that in preparing for the raid, our military leaders were aware that trouble might be waiting on deck, and that it might be a good idea for those first commandos to go in equipped to defend themselves.

In the end, though, it was decided to send them in to face Peace Now demonstrators. Whatever some Israelis may think, the heads of the IDF, the Navy and the Shayetet 13 commandos are not from Chelm, nor from Neve Shalom. Also, this was no emergency operation for them – they knew who was sailing to Gaza, and they had weeks to plan.

SO WHY, given all this, did those first commandos go onto the boat like lambs to the slaughter?

The only plausible explanation I can come up with is that the military planners were given a mission impossible, so they closed their eyes to all those inconvenient facts, did the best they could and hoped for a miracle.

The mission impossible that I think was given the military planners, either explicitly or implicitly, was this: They not only had to stop the ship from getting to Gaza, they also had to do it in a way that would look alright on CNN. There were cameras all over the Mavi Marmara, the whole world was watching, and we didn’t want them seeing a swarm of Israeli soldiers on a fleet of warships pointing heavy weapons at people trying to bring wheelchairs to Gaza. That would be a political disaster. No, Israel had to be seen coming in peace. Look, everybody – these guns are just paintball!

That might work against believers in passive resistance, but not against people bent on martyrdom. There was no nice way to stop the Mavi Marmara, but the Navy had to try because that was the only way Israel could avoid an embarrassing political defeat to Hamas in this episode. The Navy failed, predictably, and Israel ended up looking like the evil corporation in Avatar, while the fighting Islamists looked like the movie’s underdog, doomed natives.

And who is to blame for that? Whoever thinks we can look innocent while blockading 1.5 million Gazans is to blame. Whoever thinks we can rule the Palestinians without resistance is to blame. Whoever thinks the world doesn’t see that David has become Goliath is to blame.

It would be a lot quicker and easier determining who isn’t responsible for the flotilla fiasco than deciding who is. The members of the Turkel Commission have been given a mission impossible, but then I’m sure that they, too, are doing the best they can.


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