Much has been discussed since the May 31 incident on the Mavi Marmara and the situation in Gaza. The world jumped all over the response by Israel Defense Forces (IDF), including President Nicolas Sarkozy saying the following day that the IDF acted in a disproportionate manner. I am still unclear on how so many people can come to a conclusion without seeing all the facts. In the aftermath, I believe that we will continue to see this scenario played out more and more.
Israel is surrounded by forces wishing to do it harm, so not all its decisions done in the moment will be perfect. What is clear is that Israel took the bait of those who wanted to provoke an incident for propaganda purposes. The stop and seizure of the vessel Rachel Corrie on June 5, along with other vessels since the blockade was instituted, shows Israel knows how to conduct these types of operations. If the activists on the Marmara wanted to bring more attention to the situation in Gaza, they have won. Now, there is information that Iran and other countries are planning to support more vessels to try to provoke a response from Israel.
IDF did have decent intelligence that told them that the Marmara had passengers onboard who intended to attack if IDF commandos who would try to stop it. Unfortunately, the intelligence did not provide better information on number of would be attackers or the types of weapons the activists had. Again, the intelligence business is incredibly difficult. Pundits love to play Monday morning quarterback too. I am sure most of the negative responses were already “in the can” ready for release when the time was right. Talk about rapid response.
IDF who boarded the Marmara had gone through extensive training. One would have to when you think you have to repel from a hovering helicopter onto a ship below that is bouncing on the high seas of the Mediterranean Sea, not to mention moving forward is a difficult task. Our Navy SEALs conduct similar training, so we are talking about very brave individuals. Furthermore, the added peril and adrenaline of seeing ones colleagues being attacked once landing onboard the ship.
The commandos did their job in a very demanding environment. Reports from some onboard relayed stories of overwhelming violence and even violence before the forces were onboard. From the video released by both IDF and Al Jazeera the evidence does not add up to gunfire being shot at from above. The crowds attacking the commandos on the ship converge on the sailors. If the activists were indeed taking fire, believe me, they would run for cover.
However, Israeli leadership took a gamble on putting their commandos into harm’s way as they did. Not to mention, they have now given their opponents a new window of opportunity. Israel did have the right to conduct the search to protect its citizens from further attacks. There are several nations who conduct similar types of stops in international waters. The argument that international waters are sacred ground is false. Boardings in international waters are confronting modern day piracy, which has taken over as a major source of funding for terrorist groups like al-Shabaab. Our own Navy conducts boardings in international waters to stop illegal drugs and banned materials from entering our country.
Turkey plays a key role in the Middle East and the Obama administration understands this. Yet, Turkey’s recent trend of aligning with Iran and Syria is troubling. Their support for terrorist groups who boarded the Mamara, like the Muslim Brotherhood, should make world leaders think twice before criticizing Israel. Turkey is a contributing member to the fight in Afghanistan along with other North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations. If they want to play a bigger role on the global stage, they should weigh the consequences of partnering with zealots like President Ahmadinejad in Iran.
Iran and other rogue regimes are crying foul and will continue to re-supply Hamas and Hezbollah. This is not a time to cave in to populist rhetoric and abandon our allies. Until Hamas, which rules Gaza politically, can sit down to negotiate a peace settlement and respect the sovereignty of Israel, then the blockade should be maintained. Terrorist organizations are seeing the playbook of Hamas and understanding that they too should step in to participate in the political process. Democracies should be allowed to vote in whatever leaders it wishes, as long as the political process is fair. Hopefully, open democracies would vote out leaders spewing evil rhetoric like Hamas.
Sergio Rodriguera Jr. is an IT Security Consultant and a former counter terrorism Advisor at the Department of Treasury. He served as a Defense Fellow at the Pentagon from 2007 to 2009. Recently, he was Deputy Officer in Charge of the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell and was at ISAF HQ from July 2009 to April 2010.