Analysis: A season of flotillas and marches

If IDF predictions are right, then this flotilla will be a watered-down version of last year’s attempt.

Syrian protesters approach the Israeli border 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
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 in September.
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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 week.
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 Gaza Strip.
Click for full Jpost coverage
Click for full Jpost coverage
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 around.
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 decision.
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 effective.
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.