Raid of Folly

Less than 24 hours have passed since the fiasco of the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla. It is way too early to draw any conclusive lessons from this sad turn of events, but I venture to make the following observations:

  1. The botched raid on the Mavi Marmara ship by the Navy Seals was not due to any fault on the part of the soldiers. The mission they were given to carry out was doomed before it started.
  2. The blame lies squarely in the court of the politicians, specifically Barak and Netanyahu. They had weeks to prepare for this event and deal with it wisely. Instead, they played right into the hands of Hamas, giving the terror activists what they wanted. Actually, more than they ever hoped to achieve.
  3. Several tactical questions must be asked about the decision by Barak and Netanyahu to conduct this raid:
    • Why raid the ships in international waters, thus weakening Israel’s legal footing? Why not wait until they entered territorial waters?
    • Was it essential to raid the ships? Wouldn’t it have been simpler to disable them and then tow them to the shore? Israel disabled a similar PLO ship back in 1988, with no need for a raid.
    • If the raid was deemed essential, then why send in a few commandos dangling from a helicopter and armed with paint guns (!) and pistols onto a ship loaded with Hamas supporters? Did they expect the soldiers to be greeted with flowers?

Claiming the soldiers acted in “self defense” if of course correct. Once on board the ship and confronted with the threat of lynching and death, the soldiers had no choice but to defend themselves. But, in the words of an old road safety campaign, it is better to be wise than to be correct. There are situations into which a wise person does not enter, even if he is in the right.

Israel should have handled this entire episode differently. The US imposed a naval blockade on Cuba in 1962 without a single shot being fired. Surely Israel could have stopped the “Gaza flotilla” in its tracks without this loss of life. Sending commandos in with paint guns is not a show of force; it is a sign of weakness and indecision.

Borrowing from Barbara Tuchman, this can only be described as a “raid of folly”. Israel may have won a tactical battle (I write “may” because it is not clear yet that the ships had any terrorists or arms on board). But, as the current debate in the UN shows, the cost of this Pyrrhic victory is the real prospect of Israel now being forced to lift the siege on Gaza. This will  have security implications far worse than any public relations flotilla reaching the shores of Gaza.

Folly indeed.

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