The Legality of Interdicting the Turkish Flotilla
Since the announcement of the interdiction of the flotilla of aid headed for Gaza from Turkey and the attendant loss of life, I have wondered whether the widespread declamations that the Israelis’ actions were clear violations of international law and, consequently, those on the boats were fully justified in defending themselves were right or not. Galrahn of Information Dissemination, a blog on maritime strategy and strategic communications, has weighed in:
Under international law, the consensus of the maritime attorney’s I have spoken to is that the boarding operation by Israel was legal. The coast of Gaza has been under maritime blockade by Israel, a blockade that was well known – indeed running the maritime blockade for political purposes was the specific intent of the protesters. It is why the press had been reporting all week that the situation was likely leading towards a confrontation. Is anyone surprised that Israel had an established maritime blockade and enforced that maritime blockade? I’m certainly not, Israel made clear all week that the flotilla would not be allowed to pass.
The maritime blockade is a result of the war between Israel and Hamas. Ones political position on that ongoing war is completely irrelevant to the reality that the maritime blockade was established. Knowledge of the maritime blockade by the protesters is also not in debate, and neither is knowledge the flotilla intended to violate the blockade – they made this clear themselves in the press. Once the flotilla made it clear in the press they intended to run the maritime blockade, according to international law, and even US law, the flotilla was considered to be in breach by attempting to violate the blockade.
It was at that point the IDF had legal authority – under international maritime law governing maritime blockades during wartime – to board the vessels and prevent the vessels from running the blockade. Yes, this action may legally be taken in international waters if those waters are recognized as part of the area under the maritime blockade. It is important to note that the action took place within the zone that was publicly known to be part of the maritime blockade of Gaza, and part of that zone is in international waters.
I don’t claim that Galrahn’s statements are dispositive. He does have excellent contacts and, consequently, what he says in this area should carry some weight.
I still don’t know whether the Israelis’ actions were legal or not. However, Galrahn’s comments support my view that it’s not an open and shut case.
Let me be very clear: I think the Israelis’ interdicting the flotilla at all was a tactical and strategic error. Moreover, as observed by my friend Mark Safranski, it demonstrates that Israel does not understand fourth generation warfare, a deficit they may come to regret.
One more thing. I think the White House is to be commended for its statement on the affair. The dual emphases on regret for the loss of life and the need for more information before reaching a conclusion were IMO pitch-perfect. Credit where credit is due.