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'Rachel Corrie' Sailed For Ashdod

Israeli Naval Commandos Board Rachel Corrie Forcing Her Her To Change Course From Gaza To Israeli Port Of Ashdod

Israeli Spokesman Said There Was No Resistance By Passengers & No Casualties On Either Side

Israeli Official: 'Israel Will Continue To Stop Any Ships Sailing For Gaza No Matter Who Is On Deck'

'Rachel Corrie'

 Israeli naval commandos have boarded the Irish ship Rachel Corrie and forced the vessel to change course from Gaza to the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod. This time there was no resistance by any of the fifteen passengers and the Israeli military spokesman said there were no casualties. The ship did not carry any weapons or explosives but tons of cement may not be allowed to be sent on to Gaza. IsraCast Assessment: The Rachel Corrie incident indicates that violence on the Turkish ship Marmara was triggered by passengers and not Israeli commandos. Israel will not lift the sea blockade that prevents more rockets from reaching Gaza where they will be launched into Israel at Israeli civilians.

 At Saturday noon, Israeli naval commandos boarded the Rachel Corrie, another ship trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. However, this time none of the passengers resisted and their were no injuries on either side. The commandos approached the Rachel Corrie in boats, boarding the vessel from the sea. The fifteen passengers, from Ireland and Malaysia, will be expelled from Israel as soon as possible via Ben Gurion Airport. An initial check of the Rachel Corrie did not uncover any weapons or explosives, but tons of cement. Israel bans cement because Hamas uses it for building bunkers. Jerusalem has now offered to let the Rachel Corrie cement to be transferred to Gaza, if an international authority will guarantee that it used for true humanitarian purposes. Israel has promised that all non-strategic material will be sent on to Gaza after the cargo is checked at Ashdod port. However, Hamas has declared it will not accept the 'crucial' supplies from Tuesday's 'Freedom Flotilla' that are now being checked. The Rachel Corrie has turned into a test case. After nine violent passengers on the Marmara were shot to death by the Israeli commandos, Israel has been the target of an international firestorm of criticism. However, Israeli legal experts have contended that international law empowers Israel to impose a maritime blockage of Gaza from where Palestinians have launched thousands of rockets and mortar bombs at Israeli civilians. On one day this week alone, four rockets were launched.

An Israeli diplomatic official has praised the attitude of the Irish government that does not spare its criticism of Israel. Ireland had advised the passengers on the Rachel Corrie to accept Israel's offer to sail to Ashdod, but they refused. The Israeli official said Ireland had not inflamed the tense situation with incitement against the Jewish state, but had tried to resolve the crisis by moderate proposals. Another Israeli official told Israel Radio there was no violence by passengers on the Rachel Corrie because they were all sincere peace activists - this had not been the case when scores of men on the Marmara had attacked Israeli naval commandos with 'cold weapons' - knives, crow bars and clubs forcing the soldiers to fight back. The official added that Israel was determined to prevent more rockets and weapons reaching Gaza by sea, no matter 'who sits on the deck of the vessel'. This was an apparent reference to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdouan, who has reportedly warned he will join the next Turkish ship headed for Gaza to break Israel's sea blockade. Whether this is simply more of Erdouan's bluster remains to be seen. However, there is no question that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are both breathing a sigh of relief that the Rachel Corrie episode has ended peacefully. It illustrates that the Israeli naval commandos had not been trigger happy when commandeering the Marmara, whose passengers deliberately sparked the violence. For example, 'Shut up and go back to Auschwitz'- that was the reaction of a 'peace activist' on board the Marmara to the Israeli naval officer, who ordered the 'Freedom Flotilla' to change course from Gaza. Another reply was 'Remember 9/11!'

'We will stop the Rachel Corrie and every other ship that tries to reach Gaza without being searched, as long as state of war continues with Hamas' - that was the message from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman hours before the boarding of the vessel and after Prime Minister Netanyahu met with his key cabinet ministers. Interviewed on Channel One TV, Lieberman also rejected criticism inside Israel over how the Marmara mission was executed. Although there is nearly a wall to wall consensus on the need to prevent more rockets and weapons being smuggled into Gaza, the political leadership has been hauled over the coals in the media. However, Lieberman contended there was no alternative; the 'Freedom Flotilla' had been prevented from sailing to Gaza and all the Israeli soldiers returned alive, although some had been wounded. Lieberman declared the organizers of the flotilla (the Turks) bore responsibility for the casualties on the Marmara. There were scores of mercenaries and terrorists on board who had attacked the Israeli soldiers, who were carrying out their mission as ordered by Israel's political leadership. The blockade was perfectly legal under international law. Moreover, the nine men who were killed in the violent clash with the soldiers were either known members of terror organizations or paid mercenaries. Some had up to $10,000 stashed on their bodies - money they were apparently paid only after they had gone aboard the Marmara.

According to the Israeli daily Maariv, IDF Chief Of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi said:' I don't know how to stop a big ship like the Marmara any other way than boarding her'. Earlier this week, a senior Israeli naval officer said that to mechanically disable such a large ship at sea could have been tricky and possibly put the passengers in danger. Gen. Ashkenazi said:' I have two stabbed soldiers, another was shot and another had his head smashed with a crow bar. They also tried to kidnap a soldier apparently to exchange him for our agreement to let them sail to Gaza, where they would claim a great victory over Israel. It is out of the question to let this happen and we didn't. This was my responsibility'. What does Gen. Ashkenazi think of an investigation into the incident that is now being exploited world-wide by Israel's critics? He replied:"Let them come and investigate. Every professional and fair forum will see immediately who was right and who was wrong. I'm not afraid of any enquiry, our soldiers fought like lions after they were set upon by organized thugs with knives, crow bars and clubs'.

Although some of the passengers in the 'Freedom Flotilla' were genuine humanitarian activists as well parliamentarians and public figures from several countries, the organizers in Turkey had plotted something altogether different than a humanitarian mission. Their goal was to trigger an uproar that would challenge Israel's legitimacy and with a little luck to break the siege of Gaza. And Gen. Ashkenazi added that they planned the violence on the Marmara knowing there would casualties and they were right. It was infuriating to see that they emerged as shining knights of human rights who combat the forces of darkness. The Chief of Staff concluded: 'We are a state and not a door mat. I'm sure that in many parts of the world we are praised privately for our determination, but the problem is that in public they are bashing Israel'

Weapons found on the 'Karin A' ship

As for the international criticism, Foreign Minister Lieberman noted that 'states tend to have interests rather than friends'. There were fifty-seven Muslim states in the UN, a united bloc against Israel. Moreover, other countries took the Muslim factor into account when lobbying for place in the Security Council or in other UN bodies. In addition, the Arabs control some 70% of the world's oil production. One ray of light has been the comment by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had told PBS TV that Israel had an absolute right to search vessels sailing to Gaza. In Biden's words Israel had said: "If you divert slightly north you can unload it and we'll get the stuff into Gaza, so what's the big deal here? It's legitimate for Israel to say:' I don't know what's on that ship. These guys are dropping 3,000 rockets on my people'".

In Israel, the naval commandos have been praised from President Shimon Peres on down for their conduct during the Marmara operation that was supposed to have come off without any casualties on either side. The fact is that the naval commandos, comparable to the U.S. Navy Seals and the British Royal Marines, have repeatedly intercepted ships trying to smuggle rockets and weapons into Gaza. There is seldom any resistance when the commandos sweep in from the air or sea and commandeer the vessels, often confiscating huge quantities of weapons. The 'Freedom Flotilla' was purportedly comprised of peace activists, parliamentarians from different countries, women and children including a baby. So what went wrong, why was there no violence on the other five ships of the flotilla while nine of the 'passengers' were killed on the Marmara? First of all, the Israeli intelligence assessment did not know of the organized violence being planned by scores of men on the 600 passenger Mamara. The commando commander has said that he and his men were taken by surprise when they slid down the 'fast ropes' from a hovering helicopter. Instead of being met with non-violent peace activists, they were attacked by scores of attackers wielding knives, crow bars and clubs. In at least two case, they grabbed the hand guns dangling in pouches from the legs of the descending commandos and then opened fire on the Israelis. The commandos later said: 'Those peace activists immediately cocked the revolvers and opened fire at us, they were obviously well trained and knew what they were doing'. Two of the dead 'passengers' shot by commandos had the handguns in their possession and all the bullets in the magazines had been fired at the Israeli soldiers. After the internal debriefing after the operation, Gen. Ashkenazi said all the attackers who were shot to death during the melee deserved to be.

The picture that emerges looks something like this. The flotilla was organized by the Turkish organization IHH, that supports terror organizations linked to the World Jihad, a movement that foments Islamist violence around the globe. Turkish Prime Minister Erdouan, who is now forging an alliance with Iran and Syria, was said to have been directly involved with the provocation to discredit Israel, possibly break Israel's blockade of Gaza and increase his popularity in the Muslim world.

Humanitarian aid continues being transferred to Gaza

The Israeli game plan: Reservists were selected for this sensitive operation that involved 600 'passengers' on one ship alone. The older soldiers would be cooler and better suited to handling what was more of a policing action than an all-out military mission for crack combat troops. It can be assumed they were conditioned psychologically possibly along these lines: 'Look this Freedom Flotilla is an outright provocation with the goal of breaking the blockade or force us into a bloody clash so they can claim a propaganda victory. So we must not fall into their trap by reacting to verbal insults or spitting as has been the case in some earlier incidents. Keep your cool and do not be provoked. Therefore, your orders are not to open fire unless receiving clear permission to do so after you land on the ship. Remember there are also legitimate peace activists on the ships. You are being issued with paint-ball guns that may help to deter any resistance rather than live ammunition'.

Well, the result was that when all Hell broke loose on the Marmara, it was only after a full seven minutes into the fray, when the outnumbered commandos were literally slugging it out with the attackers, that the Israeli commander gave permission to open fire with live ammunition in life threatening situations. At this stage the commandos were literally 'fighting for their lives'. By sliding down, one by one, on the 'fast ropes' from the choppers, the commandos were at their most vulnerable. So were the choppers hovering over the deck. Some military experts think it was fortuitous that some commandos were not killed or even a chopper shot down from its 'sitting duck' position over scores of hostile enemies. All this is considered to be the result of faulty intelligence. Video confiscated on the Marmara revealed that many of the men, mainly Turks and Palestinians, were organized into resistance teams armed with 'cold weapons'. Apparently, due to their record of past success on such missions, the Israeli planners of the operation thought the commandos would simply drop suddenly from the sky and take control without a shot being fired. In fact, it did do the trick on the five other ships in the flotilla, but not on the Marmara. It was there that the organizers of 'Flotilla Freedom' set their trap for the Israelis. In military matters, past success can sometimes be a prescription for future failure. First of all, nearly all missions by the naval commandos are super secret and the target is always taken by the surprise. This of course was not the case with the Marmara, the whole world knew that Israel could not permit a flotilla of ships to sail to Gaza without being searched. Nor had the naval commandos ever had to cope with the sheer mass of 600 passengers, many of who had prepared for a fight. There is no evidence that the Israeli planners had prepared a 'worse case scenario' in case the naval commandos were attacked after the soldiers had fired their harmless paint-balls. Later, one officer said: 'We were taken by surprise and had not been prepared for such ferocious violence. But we kept our cool, regrouped and took control of the ship while sustaining some casualties'.

The conclusion is that Israel fell into a carefully planned trap that forced the naval commandos to open fire with live ammunition under dire circumstances. Nine terrorists were killed giving Israel's enemies' the propaganda victory they had sought.

Defense Minister Barak has taken most of the political flak. It is odd that Barak, who lead many daring commando raids during his IDF career, and is known to be a meticulous planner, appears to have misjudged the complexity of this operation. One of his Labor party colleagues, Daniel Ben Simon has actually called on Barak to resign, not that this is likely to happen. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also lost some of his credibility with the Israeli public.

PS: The intense international criticism of Israel's sea blockade of Gaza has stunned many Israelis. The Jewish state was being hauled over the coals for blocking what would turn into a massive flow of more rockets and weapons to Hamas. The tactic of the maritime blockade is sanctioned by international law and has often been imposed by other democracies such as the U.S. and Britain in the past. Would anyone in his right mind agree to the supply of arms to al Qaeda by ship. Obviously, the Marmara and Rachel Corrie incidents were attempts to break the blockade and set a precedent. If Israel had capitulated the 'Freedom Flotilla' would have eventually lead to an armada of vessels delivering rockets and weapons from Iran to her surrogate Hamas that today rules Gaza. So how was it that the Palestinians, Turkey and their supporters created a perception of the Palestinians now holding the moral high ground and Israel was placed in the dock. (As for the humanitarian aspect, fifteen tons of products are sent through land crossing from Israel to Gaza every week.)

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of Kadima supports the blockade saying it's only a matter of common sense to prevent an arms buildup of Hamas in Gaza. (By not acting, Israel has in fact acquiesced in Hezbollah's huge buildup of 45,000 rockets from Iran and Syria). However, Livni contends that Netanyahu has failed to do enough to advance the peace process with those Palestinians on the West Bank who are ready to negotiate with Israel. The opposition leader argues that a viable peace process with the Palestinians also ' lends room for maneuver when military steps are needewd to cope with terrorist Hamas. For some time now, Defense Minister Barak of Labor has also urged Netanyahu to present a new peace initiative and to bring Centrist Kadima into the government if the far Right partners threaten to bolt the coalition. These week's dramatic events off the coast of Gaza are likely to increase calls for a broader National Unity Government but will they nudge the Prime minister to steer a new political course?

David Essing

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