Up To Fifteen Dead In Israeli Confrontation With Gaza-Bound Flotilla

What some are describing as an “aid flotilla” made the mistake of trying to run the Israeli naval blockage of Gaza, and things did not end well:

JERUSALEM — The Israeli Navy raided a flotilla carrying thousands of tons of supplies for Gaza in international waters on Monday morning, killing at least 10 people, according to the Israeli military and activists traveling with the flotilla. Some Israeli media reports put the death toll higher.

The incident drew widespread international condemnation, with Israeli envoys summoned to explain their country’s actions in several European countries.

The criticism offered a propaganda coup to Israel’s foes, particularly the Hamas group that holds sway in Gaza, and damaged its ties to Turkey, one of its most important Muslim partners and the unofficial sponsor of the Gaza-bound convoy. Ankara recalled its ambassador to Israel and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cut short a visit to Latin America to return.

The killings also coincided with preparations for a planned visit to Washington on Tuesday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli Defense Forces said more than 10 people were killed when naval personnel boarding the six ships in the aid convoy met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” The naval forces then “employed riot dispersal means, including live fire,” the military said in a statement.

“That is a lie,” said Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, speaking by telephone from Cyprus. She said it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.”

“We never thought there would be any violence,” she said.

At least four Israeli soldiers were injured in the operation, some from gunfire, according to the military.

A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, had apparently opened fire “as evident by the empty pistol magazines.”

In The Jerusalem Post, the Israeli Defense Minister places the blame for the debacle on the flotilla organizers:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a press conference on Monday that while he was sorry for lives lost, the organizers of the Gaza-bound protest flotilla were solely responsible for the outcome of the fatal IDF raid earlier in the day. Fifteen activists were killed and dozens wounded in the violent clashes.

Barak said that the soldiers tried to disperse the activists aboard the ship peacefully but were forced to open fire to protect themselves.

(…)

Speaking at a Jerusalem press conference on Monday morning. “It was a premeditated and outrageous provocation” and its organizers had ties to global Jihad, al Qaida and Hamas, said Ayalon.

“Their intent was violent, their methods were violent and their results were unfortunately violent,” Ayalon said.

“Israel regrets the loss of life and did everything it could to avoid this outcome,” Ayalon stressed, adding that Israel had offered to transport the humanitarian cargo on board the ship to Gaza.

“The organizers on the ship did not heed the calls of our forces this morning to peacefully follow them and bring a peaceful closure to this event,” said Ayalon, iterating that the successful arrival of the flotilla in Gaza would have created “a corridor of arms smuggling.”

As will all things involving Israel, though, it’s not entirely clear that the truth really matters to either side. Everyone will have their own reflexive reaction, and in much of the Middle East that means protests:

Reports of the activists’ deaths prompted demonstrations in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Israel increased the presence of police and military across the country in anticipation of possible riots. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days mourning. A committee representing the Arab Israeli community declared a general strike for Tuesday.

(…)

Turkey, which dispatched the Mavi Marmara ship carrying the activists and aid, strongly condemned Israel, warning of deep consequences to relations and summoning Israel’s ambassador in Ankara. Demonstrators also protested outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul.

“We strongly condemn this inhumane act of Israel. This intervention which took place in open seas and which was a clear violation of international law may lead to irreparable damage to relations, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Turkish flags flew high above Gaza’s port on Monday alongside posters with photos of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The involvement of Turkey, which is, remember, a NATO ally, is interesting if only because of other signs we’ve seen lately of a change in the rhetoric coming out of Istanbul and what may be a drift away from the secularism that the nation has practiced since it’s founding. What that means for the future is unclear.

As for this incident, it is indeed tragic regardless of what the cause but, as with everything that happens in the Middle East, it’s likely to be blown out of proportion by both sides.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, World Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s terribly, terribly sad. However, it does provide an illustration that Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s assertion is now provably wrong. You’ll get a very different impression of what happened depending on which news outlet you get your information from. Now everybody has their own facts.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    I noticed that you neglected to mention that an attack on a civilian ship in international waters is a violation of international law, both customary and under treaties that Turkey, the United States, and Israel are all a party to. Even if those on board did fire, they were within every right to under the law.

    My question is, will the Administration condemn Israel for its illegal actions?

    My answer is, no.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    Did anyone ever see this aid flotilla situation ending without a violent confrontation?

  4. Alex – Apparently self defense is now considered an attack.

    Dr. Schuler – Everyone doesn’t have their own facts, merely their own censors, editors and interpretations. The facts are what they are even if we never know all of them.

  5. Pug says:

    Apparently self defense is now considered an attack.

    Commandos boarding a ship in international waters is now considered self defense?

  6. mattt says:

    The commandos fired in “self defense?” How is that armed troops rapelling to the deck of a ship underway in international waters, with the stated intent of taking control, doesn’t constitute an aggressive act?

  7. Jim Henley says:

    Should get interesting when Turkey invokes Article 5 of the NATO charter.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    Peace activists looking for a confrontation. Well, they got it and like the nimrods they are they failed to understand the consequences. Their intention was to run the blockade so I don’t see what the Israelis did as unprovoked. They expected to take control of the ship and send it away but were attacked and fought back. You mess with the bull you get the horns. This is real life not some feel good movie.

  9. JKB says:

    I wouldn’t put to much on the “international waters” claim. There are many factors the allow boarding of vessels attempting to enter a port state. They could have had permission from the flag state (Turkey). They could have established authority by the formal nature of the blockade to stop and board all vessels under international law. International waters only means that no specific nation has control over that area as a matter of geography.

    Sadly, this incident was inevitable. A ship of fools infiltrated by a few bad actors, who incite the fools and spark the aggressive action.

  10. norris hall says:

    The Gaza flotilla was a big publicity stunt by the organizers. They really weren’t concerned about the materials that they were bringing in. It was all a publicity stunt. If they really wanted to get relief supplies in they could have used the land route specifically for that purpose.

    That having been said, I couldn’t believe it when I woke up this morning and read the headlines.
    That standoff between the Israeli navy and a flotilla of ships carrying civilians and relief supplies to Gaza actually ended in a shootout and 10-15 civilian were dead

    Never would I have guessed it would have ended this way.

    I figured that the Israelis would end the standoff by ramming the boats, shooting bullets into their hulls, or disabling their rudder.
    Standoff ended.

    But shoot at civilians….No.. I wouldn’t have even considered that to be an option.

    The Israeli government says they were attacked. But when the score is
    15-20 civilians dead and 0 military dead, you don’t have to be there to realize it was a massacre.

    So maybe if they discover that the boats were carrying supplies of rockets, guns, explosives etc. it would help to justify the attack.
    But if all they find is wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement, it’s going to be a PR nightmare for Israel.

    Whoever came up with this response needs to be fired and put behind bars. Israel needs to apologize to the victims families. Then it needs to say it will conduct a thorough investigation and make reparations.

    The flotilla organizers staged a publicity stunt to draw worldwide attention and sympathy…and the Israeli’s foolishly obliged them by playing right into their hands.

    Stupid..Stupid…Stupid

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Alex:

    The way I read the UNCLOS Israel may have some wiggle room and the law might not be quite as clear as you’re suggesting. Under Article 110 Section 2, the Israelis had a right to ascertain the right of the vessels involved to fly the flags under which they operated. If those on the ships refused to allow the Israelis to do so, the Israelis had a right to board. Once they had boarded if they met with forcible resistance they then had the right to defend themselves.

    All of that notwithstanding I think the Israelis were wrong and I think that this:

    The flotilla organizers staged a publicity stunt to draw worldwide attention and sympathy…and the Israeli’s foolishly obliged them by playing right into their hands.

    is about right.

  12. James says:

    What I find interesting is that in the Uttermost West, a “publicity stunt” falls under the heading of protected speech. Invading a ship in international waters? Not so much.

    Peace will not be hand until children give up their entitlements to grains of sand, and adults rise up to reclaim their inalienable rights, none of which include forcibly removing those with whom they do not agree.

  13. Tlaloc says:

    Isn’t there a term for those who used armed force to attempt to illegal sieze a vessel in international waters?

    Israel has openly stated that the goal of the comandos was to sieze control of the ship, so arguments about a right to determine that the ship could fly the Turkish flag are a pointless after the fact search for justification. They were there to take the vessel in violation of law. Naturally conservatives who loudly demanded that SOmali pirates be subject to immediate execution will want the same for…

    oh.

    Funny how the conservative reaction to piracy seems to be entirely dependent on the skin color of said pirates.

  14. steve says:

    Where are the arms that the Israelis should have found on the ships?

    Dave- In international waters? Anyone can board any ship anywhere to see if they have the right to fly their flags? Sounds chaotic.

    Steve

  15. Dave Schuler says:

    That’s what the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea says, Steve. I gave the article and section.

  16. Alex Knapp says:

    @Dave Schuler,

    Doug’s article cited above describes the incident as occurring in International Waters. Additionally, the ship was flying both a white flag and the Turkish flag, and there’s no indication that anyone from the Israeli helicopters hailed the boat to ascertain its right to fly the Turkish flag.

  17. steve says:

    “(a) the ship is engaged in piracy;

    (b) the ship is engaged in the slave trade;

    (c) the ship is engaged in unauthorized broadcasting and the flag State of the warship has jurisdiction under article 109;

    (d) the ship is without nationality; or

    (e) though flying a foreign flag or refusing to show its flag, the ship is, in reality, of the same nationality as the warship.

    2. In the cases provided for in paragraph 1, the warship may proceed to verify the ship’s right to fly its flag. To this end, it may send a boat under the command of an officer to the suspected ship. If suspicion remains after the documents have been checked, it may proceed to a further examination on board the ship, which must be carried out with all possible consideration.”

    Only d could possibly apply, and it was flying a Turkish flag. It should then, as I read it, asked to see the ship’s documents to support that flag. This does not seem to support a dawn commando raid. I would also assume that they could try the obvious, ask Turkey. I believe Israel owns radios and cell phones. (What kind of Special Forces were these guys? The reports claim there were 30 commandos vs 30 who attacked them. They should have wiped the floor with them.)

    Steve