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Israeli Counter-Terror Operation At Sea

Defense Minister Ehud Barak:'The Flotilla's Organizers Were Really Trying To Establish A Sea Corridor For Arms & Explosives To Hamas In Gaza'

Admiral Eli Merom: 'Israeli Naval Commandos Were Ordered Not To Use Force Unless Necessary But Had To Fight For Their Lives On One Of The Ships'

In Light Of Situation, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu Cancels Meeting With U.S. President Barack Obama & Returns Home From Canada

 In the early hours of the day, Israeli naval commandos slid down ropes from hovering helicopters onto the six ships that were trying to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip. The flotilla's organizers had repeatedly ordered the flotilla to steer a course for the Israeli port of Ashdod and unload their humanitarian aid there to be checked for explosives and weapons before they were sent on to Gaza. On at least one of the ships, the soldiers were met with fierce resistance causing casualties. IsraCast analyst David Essing is of the view that while rockets continue to be launched from Gaza into Israel, Israel's message is that such ships will not pass.

 'Israeli naval commandos had to fight for their lives when they boarded the Turkish vessel Marama!' That was how Israeli Admiral Eli Merom described the violence. Seven IDF soldiers were injured two by gunfire, another was stabbed others were attacked by iron bars, clubs and fire bombs. In his words: 'The soldiers had no choice but to fight back'. Ten of the passengers were killed and thirty-one others were injured. Most of the violence broke out on the Turkish ship Marmama with 600 passengers on board. There were no casualties on other vessels where there was little if any violence by the passengers. And the naval commander added that if not for the soldiers acting with restraint, the casualties would have been much higher. He stressed that the Israel Navy did not open fire to stop the flotilla. Instead the commandos were reservists who had even been conditioned mentally to act with restraint but with determination in preventing the boats from breaking Israel's siege of Gaza.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak described the flotilla as a premeditated terror provocation. He said there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel had repeatedly offered the flotilla's organizers' to unload their cargoes in the Israeli port of Ashdod. There they would be checked for explosives and weapons and then transferred to Gaza. On the contrary, the organizers had repeatedly declared that their purpose was to break the siege, something that would have opened a 'corridor for smuggling terrorists and weapons into Gaza'. After the flotilla refused repeated Israeli calls to change course and in accordance with international law, the order was given for the naval commandos to slide down ropes from hovering helicopters on to the moving vessels. This was executed one soldier at a time and is a tricky operation at night. Moreover, with the soldiers not an easy operation one at a time exposing the soldiers to no little danger. Even then they were under orders not to use force unless they came under attack. And Barak added, no sovereign state would tolerate such a situation indicating that Israel will also prevent any such attempts in the future. While Barak regretted the casualties he stressed this was not a clash of Israel's making and the organizers bear full responsibility. He called on Arab leaders and the international community to calm the situation and lend support to the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Peace activist on the 'Marmara'

Was the Israeli sea operation legal from the point of international law? Dr. Robie Segal, a former legal counsel at Israel's Foreign Ministry has no doubt that it was. Sabel explained that Israel is in a state of conflict with Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip. It is legal to impose a blockade in international waters as was the case. The Israeli naval boats were careful not to carry out the operation inside the territorial waters of Cyprus. The flotilla was ordered to steer clear of Gaza and the Israeli forces had not opened fire on the flotilla and its operation was permissible when the organizers refused to give way.

Turkey which supplied the ships is up in arms. Prime Minister Erdouan, called short a trip to South America and has flown back to Ankara promising an appropriate response. The Turkish Chief of Staff also broke off a visit to Egypt and flew home. As usual, a torrent of condemnation has fallen on Israel for her latest counter-terror operation. However, how does it compare with the 'collateral damage' inflicted by the NATO forces in Afghanistan or the U.S. and her allies in Iraq?

Some other questions: How would Turkey have acted if Greece or some international critics of Turkey's illegal occupation of Turkish Cyprus had organized a similar flotilla to sail for Turkish Cyprus? The Turks, in keeping with their record would probably have simply blown the vessels out of the water. Or what if a similar convoy tried to supply the Kurdish region of Turkey, that seeks autonomy from Turkish rule? And what if a known supporter of terror organizations had also organized a convoy to the Taliban in Afghanistan? Would the US and her NATO allies use force to prevent it?

Humanitarian aid transfered by Israel to the Gaza Strip

Time after time, the Israeli Navy has intercepted Hamas attempts to secretly smuggle in arms and fighters by sea. This time, the strategy was to do it openly and set a precedent under the flag of humanitarian aid. Israel's critics and outright enemies will milk the casualties for all their worth. The Palestinians have declared three days of mourning, there will be a rush for condemnation in the UN Security Council, the EU will also get into the act, foreign ministries will be chastising Israel for standing up to terrorism. And what of the Kassam rockets that are still launched routinely from Gaza at Israeli towns and villages, or the four years of incarceration of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, probably in some underground hole and in total violation of all his human rights? What was Israel to do? Simply let the flotilla sail unchecked into Gaza, with or without a cargo of rockets in the ships' holds? One thing is certain above all else - once such a precedent was set the explosives and weapons would flow in as they have from the underground tunnels that even Egypt has seen fit to block with an underground network of pylons. And that is why Israel's opposition leader Tzipi Livni of Kadima, a sharp critic of the government, has thrown her support firmly behind the IDF naval operation.

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who has been constantly updated during his trip to Ottawa, decided the seriousness of the situation required him to cancel a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House on June 1st.

David Essing

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