Bloodshed at sea, and a wave of global anger -

Bloodshed at sea, and a wave of global anger

Israel’s flotilla strike may mark the end of its relationship with Turkey


Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Shortly before dawn Monday morning, journalist Paul McGeough, aboard a flotilla of ships carrying aid intended for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, noticed his Internet satellite link had been jammed. He was able, however, to reach the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper by satellite phone and describe what he saw. “We see two Zodiacs moving in,” he said. “The searchlight on the Turkish passenger ferry scans the water. Now there are five of them astern of us. There are white wakes on black water. Searchlights from one of the cargo ships and from the Turkish ferry are picking up the Zodiacs now—radars spinning on them, armed troops.”

McGeough’s call ended here, and what happened next is disputed. Organizers of the flotilla say Israeli commandos came aboard shooting. Israel says its soldiers were attacked as they rappelled from helicopters onto the deck of the Turkish-flagged lead vessel, the Mavi Marmara. Video footage released by Israel supports this claim. It shows Israeli commandos set upon and beaten by activists wielding rods and chairs. One soldier is thrown off the upper deck. Another yells: “Look out! He’s got a knife. Behind you!” A second video shows activists throwing what appear to be Molotov cocktails.

Israel has not released footage of its soldiers opening fire, although this presumably exists. That it has not been shown raises questions about exactly what happened next. At least nine activists were killed, and more injured. Israeli soldiers were also wounded in the melee, including two seriously.

The confrontation is a disaster for Israel on several fronts. Tactically, Israel blundered into a trap. Israel claims the violence was pre-meditated, and given the weapons that were found on board, this seems a fair assessment. But Israel should have known this in advance. Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish IHH Islamist charity that chartered the Mavi Marmara, told Turkish television crews on the ship, “We will definitely resist, and we will not allow the Israelis to enter here.” Al-Jazeera reported activists singing songs recalling an ancient Muslim military victory over Jews in the Arabian Peninsula and warning that the “army of Muhammad” will return. Plus, the aid convoy was a well-publicized affair. It’s reasonable to expect that Israeli intelligence knew, or should have known, who was on the ship and how they would react to Israel’s attempt to board it.

Why, then, did Israel—a country with more experience dealing with rioters than most others—deploy an elite unit of naval commandos well trained in the use of lethal force but not in crowd control? Why were so few of them landed at once that they were initially overwhelmed and at risk of being lynched? Why, given the likelihood of a violent confrontation, was the ship boarded at all? It could have been disabled and left adrift with no loss of life. Even letting the aid convoy through to Gaza would have been less risky. No one seriously believed it carried rockets.

These are the questions stoking anger in Israel today. But it’s too late to answer them. The damage has been done. Israel is more isolated globally than it has been in years. And its relationship with Turkey—its most important ally next to the United States—is broken, possibly beyond repair.

Ties between the two nations were strong for decades, nurtured by their shared status as democracies, and as minorities in a region dominated by Arabs. These bonds frayed following Israel’s 2008-2009 war in Gaza, and Turkey’s moves to strengthen relations with Israel’s enemies, Syria and Iran. But the alliance’s foundation remained. “They see eye to eye on many things in a region that is dominated by autocracy and kingdoms,” Turkish journalist Barcin Yinanc told Maclean’s in April.

This foundation may now be shattered. Israel attacked a Turkish boat in international waters. Among the dead are Turkish civilians. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the assault “state terror” and a “bloody massacre.” He’s recalled the Turkish ambassador to Israel and cancelled upcoming joint military exercises.

Meanwhile Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza and is the ostensible target of the Israeli blockade, is strengthened. It can portray its supporters as martyrs, while its secular rivals in Fatah, who govern the West Bank, pursue negotiations with a newly demonized Israel. Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, predicted before all this took place that even if the aid convoy never reached Gaza, Gaza would have won. To the extent that Gaza is Hamas, he was right.

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Bloodshed at sea, and a wave of global anger

  1. Michael, what weapons were found on board? I haven't heard of anything with the exception of make-shift weapons.

      • Got a source that isn't IDF produced? They're hardly unbiased in this affair either.

        • Yes, that's right, the IDF faked the video.
          If video of the crew using weaponry won't convince you, and video of the finds after the raid won't convince you, nothing will. Why am I not surprised.

          • Oh I'm quite aware they used weaponry.. make-shift weaponry as I said before.

            The things in the youtube video you presented were obviously rounded up and put out for display. Can you say where they were rounded up from? I'm just saying the IDF has significant motivation to lie here, so a reliable source might be useful.

            Or did you breathlessly believe every word from Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf as well?

          • Thwim, please explain to us reports that about fifty of the Mavi Marmara passengers
            refused to identifiy themselves and were carrying no identification with them whatsoever.

            Wake up! This was a planned media operation trying to get militants into Gaza.
            This was a win-win situation for Recep, Mahmoud and the rest of the Islamists.

            I say the next boats should be warned SUNK if they enter Israeli
            soverein waters despite warnings that a lawfull blocade is in effect.

  2. "Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish IHH Islamist charity that chartered the Mavi Marmara, told Turkish television crews on the ship, “We will definitely resist, and we will not allow the Israelis to enter here.” Al-Jazeera reported activists singing songs recalling an ancient Muslim military victory over Jews in the Arabian Peninsula and warning that the “army of Muhammad” will return. "

    Not exactly sure how you can classify that as a "charity". And blaming Israel beacuse they should have known the flotilla would be violent, is no more useful than blaming the flotilla for failing to acknowledge breaking a well documented blockade could end in violence.

    mistakes on both sides forsure, but need for balance in the assesment.

  3. When are we going to understand, that israel is practising appartheid any way it can, including blockades with ever changing lists of what is allowed and what is not, dependinding on the moment. Illegally expanding its boarders and allowing settlement in territories that are against international laws. What blessed right do they have to blockaid
    the Gaza or continue settlements in the west bank. I feel America should stop foreign aid to Israel until they stop destroying and taking over land they do not own. Kind of reminds me of Hitler's approach to his european neighbors.

    • What a laugh this is! The issue is a lot more complicated that your suburban socialist experience has taught you. Palestine actually was never a country, Israel was actually made a nation through a vote by the UN. They have every right to block Gaza, it's called national sovereignty, when ships are trucking in weapons material to be shot at your own citizens.

      Continue to watch the growth of anti-semitism. No, I do not believe that anti-Israel = anti-semitism, but it's becoming a bigger grey area. How did Iran sending in supplies to Gaza become the oppressed victimized class in this situation. How about the calls to the Israeli army via radio from the flotilla, "shut up, go back to Auschwitz."

      • It does not matter whether Palestine was ever a country. There were Arabs living there (Muslims, Christians and Jews) and Israel had no right to expel anyone. Israel is in violation of the UN Resolution that created it. Blocking Gaza is not "national sovereignty" as you state. Israel does not have legal sovereighty over Gaza or the West Bank. Its occupation of the WB and siege of Gaza are illegal as are its ongoing thefts of land and its wall.

        There is no peace process. Israel has been engaging in "peace" talks for decades but has not negotiated in good faith. Peace can only be made when the strong actually recognize the rights and humanity of the conquered.

  4. Stand strong Israel.

    • It's amazing how when facts are presented, all that the anti-Israelis and Muslims do is give you thumbs down, but do not offer any counter arguments. Probably because there are none.

    • Explain the Israeli commandos boarding the ship in international waters please.

      • That's how you defend a blockade. If they had boarded it in Turkish waters the outcry would have been twice as bad. And if they waited until it reached Gaza waters it may have been too late.

        If your problem is with naval blockades in general, take it up with JFK (Cuba), the Allies (WWII), or Abe Lincoln (Civil War). Of course, I think they all just tried to sink any boats that came too close, rather than board them.

    • The initial Israel propaganda was that the commandoes were attacked. As activists are being released it is becoming increasingly clear that they came down shooting. In any case it does not matter whether the activists on the Mava Marmara were armed or not and whether they attacked first or not. Israel attacked and aid ship in international waters. This mad dog rabid country is going down.

  5. This writer recently drew attention to Israeli dissatisfaction with Turkey. Perhaps Israel should have demonstrated more loyalty to Turkey rather than allow doubts to creep in. An diplomatic apology by Israel to Turkey would be smart, and allowing the Turkish/Iran flottilla to reach Gaza unboarded, rather arranging a joint Turkish/Hamas/Israeli inspection on the shore.

    • Do you understand what a naval blockade of a belligerent enemy territory means? The superior navy gets to call the shots over who gets through, or not. Running through such a blockade without permission produces less than total annihilation? Israel was displaying incredible restraint, because the last thing it needed was any martyrs.

      Where does that leave Israel? You know, the strong horse? I figure we must have long passed the point that, if you're gonna be pilloried no matter what you do, and you are increasingly aware that your friends are rather of the fair-weather variety, you may as well go and run completely over your enemy yourself. No prisoners. Mop up the close neighborhood while the strike force takes out a nuke plant or two a ways over there in Iran. Time's a-wasting. That this has not yet happened is, again, evidence of remarkable (and potentially suicidal) restraint.

  6. Well there you have it. The world wide left sees nothing wrong with the arming of Hamas or Hezbollah. The world wide left is prepared to overlook racist statements by the likes of Helen Thomas who said, "that Israel should "get the hell out of Palestine," and that the Jewish people should go home to "Poland, Germany … and America and everywhere else."

    Of course, after the end of WWII many Polish Jews returned to Poland and what do you think happened? Thousands of them were slaughtered by the liberated Poles.

    The Jews will never gain support from the public especially the world wide left.

    • Decent Jews and Jewish HR groups who stand up for human rights do absolutely have the support of the left. There are many: Gush Shalom, Norman Finkelstein, Jewish Voices for Peace, Rabbis for HR, B'tselem, Judge Goldstone, Uri Avenery, Independent Jewish Voices, Arik Asherman, Jeff Halper, Susan Suranski, Peter Falk…….

  7. If Michael Petrou had any integrity he would have reported that Turkey elected an Islamist government in 2002 and it has been steadily moving away from the West since then. Remember the refusal to allow US access to Iraq from the north in 2003?

    The Turkish government's endorsement of the flotilla was itself an obvious provocation. I do not understand how a western journalist can take Erdogan's over the top terminology excoriating Israel at face value.

    • You make some good points about Turkey and this current issue Brad. I still think Israel could have handled this very differently.

  8. Brad Brzezinski you basically took the words right out of my mouth. In addition to what you said, Turkey is in talks with RUSSIA (one of the most untrustworthy governments) and IRAN (headed by a madman) regarding the nuclear development. I don't think Turkey can be considered as neutral towards Israel's existence.

  9. With the people on the ship being shot at point blank range in the BACK OF THE HEAD it is hard to argue self-defence.

    And they attacked the boat illegally so blaming people for fighting them is absurd.

  10. nuke isreal it should never have been created in the first place

    • Great solution, Hitler would be proud.

  11. Turkey is a changed country. It has consciously decided to become a great power in the Middle East/Asia Minor again. In so doing, it has changed directions in foreign and national security policy. So be it.

    Turkey has been a parasite to the West since the end of World War II. It exported its surplus, unemployable population to Western Europe for the hard currency Turks would send home to their families. They extracted a price from Nato allies for every agreement made in the North Atlantic Alliance.

    Turkey isn't a Western nation. It never was a Western nation. It isn't a reliable ally. It never was a reliable ally. And now that Turks in Turkey are daily becoming more radicalized, what does that mean for the radicalization of the Turkish diaspora?

  12. There is plenty of video showing Israelis being beaten with heavy metal poles as they land on ship. The Turkish flotilla activists grabbed the individual soldiers as they came down from the helicopters. The sight of the soldiers being beaten with these metal poles shows that some of the Turkish flotila group were violent beyond description.