An alternate plan

In the Turkish flotilla incident, ‘There didn’t have to be fatalities,’ says Almog.

Mavi Marmara 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Mavi Marmara 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
How would Ze’ev Almog have dealt with the Mavi Marmara last May if he were still in command of Israel’s navy commandos?
Almog, today 75, offered no public criticism of the navy’s handling of the Turkish flotilla affair at the time. But asked last week in a telephone interview whether he would have done things differently, he readily acknowledged that he would have.
“The navy accomplished its mission of stopping the boats from reaching Gaza, but there are all kinds of ways to fulfill a mission,” he said.
Almog’s solution: To have two ships come alongside the Turkish vessel, one on each side, and to call through loudspeakers on all personnel on the deck to assemble at the stern.
Should there be militants who refused, powerful water hoses would be turned on them.
Once the main part of the deck was clear, the commandos could board into a sterile area from which they could begin to confront the militants in non-lethal fashion.
What in fact happened was that commandos rappelling down from a helicopter were deposited into the midst of a group of militants waiting for them with metal staves and other implements. The commandos had paintball rifles strapped over their shoulders for intimidation purposes and pistols that were not visible.
Wearing asbestos gloves to prevent burns as they slid down the rope, they could not reach for the pistols. In any case, the militants pounced on the first ones sliding down even before they reached the deck. The first commando down was stabbed in the stomach and thrown over the railing onto the deck below.
Others were smashed with the staves. Only then did the commandos who followed begin shooting.
Should the commanders of the operation be faulted for not having a Plan B, or C and D for that matter? “You should always have alternative back-ups,” said Almog. “I always did.”
In the attack on Green Island, for example, the swim to the island by the frogmen should normally have taken only 50 minutes, but Almog allotted up to two and a half hours in the event they encountered unexpected currents, which is what happened.
“There didn’t have to be fatalities,” he said of the Mavi Marmara episode. “But no one asked me.”