Understanding Israel’s response to the flotilla

Making Israel look bad doesn’t help the Palestinians

The organisers of the “Freedom Flotilla”—a convoy of ships that intended to bust the Israeli blockade of Gaza—presented the Israeli government with a stark choice: stop the convoy and lose the global PR battle, or permit it and lose that and a whole lot more. In the event, it is not surprising that Israel chose the first option—and just lose the PR battle.

Was Israel’s reaction—its forces killed 10 activists and injured several more—disproportionate? That’s a difficult judgement to make. After all, what is a proportionate response to deter non-state actors from violating its authority without any fear of consequences? If, instead of a ‘flotilla’, some state’s navy had attempted to violate the blockade, it would well have been interpreted as an act of war. Why should non-state actors be treated differently? The Israeli government was justified in preventing non-state actors from challenging its authority.

But could Israel’s reaction have been less forceful? Could the Israelis have turned the ships back without using lethal force? Perhaps yes. If you go by the official Israeli version of events, that is exactly what they say they first attempted. They used lethal force only when the activists on the ship put up a fight. The flotilla’s floaters might deny this and argue that they didn’t expect violence. This is disingenuous. It is also unbelievable. They should have foreseen such a scenario before putting civilian activists in harm’s way. It is unclear if there were unambiguous rules of engagement, communicated to the activists and to the Israeli authorities. In the event, the organisers cannot escape their part of the responsibility for the unfortunate casualties.

For their part, the organisers of the convoy won the global PR battle. To what end, though? It’s not as if the Palestinian case needs to be made to the world’s governments (even if it has to be made for another generation of television audiences). The solution to the age-old Israel-Palestinian conflict involves compromises that both sides have to make, which the rest of the world can then support. Actions by outsiders that encourage both sides to compromise are helpful. Actions that attempt to paint one side of the conflict as the villain are not. Infuriating the Israeli government might allow the flotilla’s organisers to score political points and make the Israeli government look bad in front of the world’s television audiences. But it is unlikely to make it any easier for the Israeli government to make the difficult compromises necessary to move towards a solution.

As Yaakov Katz, a commentator in the Jerusalem Post concludes:

Let’s not fool ourselves. Even if Israel allowed these ships and all such ships to dock in Gaza City’s harbor, it would still be accused of laying siege to the Palestinians in the Strip since, albeit along with Egypt, it controls the land crossings.

In the end, after all, the flotilla is just another chapter in an international campaign to chip away at Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself. [Jerusalem Post]


[1] See Galrahn’s post at Information Dissemination for a discussion on the legality of Israel’s actions.

[2] Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard university, explains why Israel’s actions were lawful but unwise.

38 thoughts on “Understanding Israel’s response to the flotilla”

  1. agree with the assessment, derz tweet at 2 am ET tht Israelis will intercept d org Flotilla ship, n Israel stormed it at 4 ET. Its India who allows even state actors like Pakistan to enter into its territory, Israel is not known to give such a kinda discounts. Seems Its more larger conspiracy on the part of Muslim world in general and Turkey in particular. Had it been humanitarian aid ship, why it was diverted ashdod? The Question need to be asked to the org authorities and Turkey.

  2. Sir, your entire argument is based on Israel protecting its “authority.” (Interesting choice of word, by the way). The killings took place in international waters, not in Israeli waters. There was no violation of Israel’s territorial “authority” whatsoever. It is illegal, criminal to kill people — unarmed people — in international waters.

    Another interesting choice of words: The activists were “violent.” They were unarmed, in international waters, and did NOT shoot at Israeli troops.

    I do like your comments about Israel losing the global PR battle, though. Despite my points above, I am glad I read your post here. Thanks.

  3. It lost more than PR battle, it lost a diplomatic one too. Greece called off joint-military exercise,summoned Israeli ambassador.Its 6 decades diplomatic relationship with Turkey is probably damaged for ever. When was the last time denouncement of an Israeli operation has been so unequivocal and universal. The reality is, IDF attacked ships sailing under Turkish flags, in international water and was carrying 500 people of different nationalities, and several European politicians.
    Palestinians strategy is an unusual one….

  4. You’re right, Israel is yours, everyone else is a terrorist, everyone is scary and wants you dead, they’re making evil combines to make you leave “your” houses, they’re making media say that you’re the bad, that you kill almost 34 palestenian everyday. Of course they’re wrong!

    So, enough of bullshits, I really understand that you ppl think soooo tightly that you’re the ones that are in danger, since it’s what you hear and say since you’re 3 years old, of course you Believe that you are the chosen ones and that there is somewhere a paper or a contract that made you “owners” of the earth you think you live on!

    But for god’s sake, don’t try to find excuses to what has been done! And please, don’t ALWAYS enter words like “terrorists” “anti-semite” “hate” “self-defense”, cuz this will just MAKE YOU FALL DEEPER in believeing the lies you’re told.

    In every israeli forum i go on, the only “true” reference is from what the “official israeli version” tells, but ppl wake up!!! the official israeli version is ALWAYS a LIE!

    It’s always meant to cover someone, or to make ppl believe in the bullshits they tell!!! Please, I know this is hard, but try to get off your minds what you have been told for 20, 30 or even 50 years of your life, do your own research, try to open a little window of your mind to self judgement, don’t rely on what we tell you, GO AND SEE what’s going on, Open some books, watch the videos old Jerusalem jewish inhabitants made on internet because they were prohibited to israeli and usa medias!!!! Please, leave a place in your heart to understanding and reason, and don’t waste your time in sayin: “Yes it’s terrorists doing” “No doubt we defended ourselves”, defended from WHAT?

    God bless you all, I certainly know that he can forgive you, since you definetly don’t know the truth at all, the very truth that makes your dead and you neighbour’s dead hate and kill each other

  5. Good piece. Although its rationality is difficult to swallow in the backdrop of all those images of Israeli atrocities on Palestinians that we’ve been fed with, throughout our lives, quite generously. But still, your dispassionate analysis makes me turn (half0heartedly, I confess) towards rationality and logic. Many thanks!

  6. Having said that, I’d still request for your take, as it is going to be educative for me, on UNGA Res 194, UNSC Res 242, UNS 446, UNGA 3236, UNSC 1397. Also, UNGA Res 181 on the 1947 Partition Plan of Palestine and creation of state of Israel; Internaltional Humanitarian Law (The Geneva COnvention) viz a viz 150 years of international designated protection of civilians during wartime and Israel’s explicit violations alongside countless other UN resolutions against Israel from 1955 to 1992.

    Please excuse if my query seems tilted to one side of the conflict, as it is not deliberate, it is my 37 years of living in a society which has told me every moment that Israel is villain. But kindly don’t disregard these Resolutions just because they favor the other side!

    Your objective positions are always educative, many thanks once again!

    Marvi Sirmed

  7. Marvi,

    Nothing I say here implies that we should stop caring about the Palestinians. I do not think even many ordinary Israelis make such an argument.

    The point is that it is a political dispute and needs a political settlement, and such a settlement will have to be struck both sides making compromises. That is why I argue that the actions of third parties must be tested against the simple test—does it encourage both sides to compromise, or not? If it does, it helps the Palestinians. If not, it doesn’t. Because as long as the dispute remains unresolved, it is the Palestinians who are disproportionately affected.

  8. Israel has not lost the PR battle! This is the kind of violent exercise that generates a groundswell in circles that celebrate the concept of war in the name of ‘policy analysis’.

    Think-tanks across the United States that take a pro-Israel position speak a language very similar to the language of this post.

    At some stage, we need to to stop rationalizing violence and war and start correcting the way Israel gets way apartheid.

  9. Hi

    No offense, but maybe India, and the US, should wait and see?

    Right now, it is a dispute between Israel and Turkey, and I don’t see any advantage for either India or the US in getting involved.

    I must say that if Israel’s policy requires it to attack ships in international waters, maybe Israel should change its policy? There is a long established tradition that attacking ships in international waters is an act of war. If the Turks respond to this event by signing an alliance with Syria, sending troops to Syria, arming Hezbollah, etc, the Israelis could end up regretting this.

    In any event, the Pakistanis are probably going to get excited about this. Unless Israel asks for India’s support, there is no reason for India to worsen its already difficult and complicated relationship with Pakistan by supporting Israel.

    So yes,Nitin, I agree that there is a strategic case for Israel’s action. That said, strategy isn’t everything.


  10. @Raymond Turney
    Well, we always shud condemn Israel in public..that drama should continue as long as there is enough oil&gas in Middle-East.But,Israel is India’s true friend and that should not be held hostage to pettiness of Palestinians or Arabs.
    The peace flotilla is a cheap gimmick and was violent in everyway..
    (see youtube video of Israeli commandoes getting beaten up by “peace” activists) and yes strategy is everything..
    Israel should hav sunk vessel or disabled the engine of the boat using any number of resources at its disposal than boarding the ship which this jehadist-left loonies were anyway expecting..

  11. The flotilla-wallas weren’t planning to dock in ‘international waters’, were they? If ‘international waters’ is what all the fuss is about, perhaps the Israelis were unwise in not waiting till the boats entered their waters before taking the activists out.

  12. well written piece.

    but i feel Israel will be better off toning down its gung ho,trigger happy image.

    that image, indeed, its their hard as nails approach is what got them their piece of land called Israel and their subsequent no nonsense manner is what helped them help preserve it. hey have fought enough battles for the same.

    but enough.
    now you got to move on.
    think long term.soften your attitude. you got what you wanted.
    and only foolhardy bearded fanatic mullahs dream of your demise…which is never going to happen.

    so talk the right talk and you might get better results.
    think of the future. you cant keep fighting.not in today’s world.

  13. I salute the israeli politicians for showing resolve and standing for something.
    In opposition to our ministers — headed by the PM, who crawl when asked to bend.
    Even in front of maoists.

  14. Maybe I don’t understand the long term strategies that much but in a really long time I am really feeling that this action by Israel was really uncalled for. If you can stop, attack & kill people on the international waters, what is stopping International Navies from doing the same of the coast of Somalia.

    After all, the pirates are a big threat to everyone.

    The IDF reasoning that the people on the boat attacked them is akin to a thief saying that he shot the house-owner in self defence when the house owner attacked him when he was going about doing his business (i.e., stealing). Pretty sloppy.

  15. Nitin,

    This is a perfect example of passive aggression, I am sure Gandhiji would be proud, if fact had he been alivetoday, he would be in that ship.

    I have a question, the ship had several high profile ppl, why would such ppl want to get involved in it?


  16. @Bala
    Well, Jews will certainly appreciate Mr.Gandhis advise to Jews during Holocaust.Why not Palestinians & Arabs heed Gandhi’s suicidal-masochistic advise for a change. STFU

  17. Good analysis, though wrong on the PR battle point. Israel stands no chance of winning a PR battle among governments given Arab oil wealth. But among ordinary people of the world the tide is turning. A sympathetic audience for Israel is increasing in size. The growing frustration with Islamic terrorism could be the reason for this development. On youtube, facebook and various other internet forums you can see that there is less faith in the versions put out by flotilla supporters and the left and hamas, and more for official IDF statements/videos.

  18. agree with the post. This flotilla is a PR support for the Hamas terrorists. Israel better lose the PR war than let its military be challenged by non-state actors.

    also I wonder how Turkey gets away with so much a cocky foreign/defense policy?

    1. Turkey, denies armenian genocide
    2. occupies cyprus
    3. violently suppresses kurds whose provinces Turkey had taken by force in the 1930s
    4. and now sends ships to threaten a violation of Israeli seas.

    and to think that this country wants to be part of EU!

  19. It is a difficult situation in the middle east. But neither Hamas nor IDF really want to see a resolution to this dispute.

    The reasons for economic blockade by Israel and Eygpt are essentially release of captured Israeli soldiers and stoppage of rocket attacks and a strategic goal to punish Gaza for electing Hamas (which is a stupid goal as according to Israel even Arafat was a terrorist). The capture of Israeli soldier is driven to release captured Palestinians and obtaining concessions from Israel. If we dig further, this loop of tit for tat goes on and on. Who broke ceasefires, who is attacking civilians, who used disproportionate force, who is grabbing land etc

    By the way, would economic blockade be considered an ‘act of war’?

  20. I’ve long been a strong supporter of Israel, but blindly supporting every action — even of allies — is counterproductive and credibility damaging. What happened yesterday is horrendous. Protest is a human right, brutality in response is not a policy option open to civilized states.

    Sorry, but those who can’t see the blunder in yesterday’s action are enablers of Israel’s strategic mind-cramp which makes it think that force is a good option in all circumstances. Of course, it isn’t — and, frankly, as more flotillas should now be fully expected, yesterday’s actions have effectively ended the embargo. So, who came out ahead?

    Best regards

  21. @dark lord
    “According to Israel Arafat was also a terrorist”..

    Yes he was a terrorist..and…?

  22. During the most critical phase of the Kargil War – an SOS was sent to the Israelis for gun locating radars. Israelis supplied the weapons in record time, no questions asked and with no hassles. This gun saved the life of thousands of Indian soldiers in that conflict.

  23. When people talk about Israel, its always either you hate the country or you love the country. There is nothing in between. I love Israel.
    What Israel does is what it has to do for its survival. They don’t care two hoots about getting a “good name” in international media.
    In few days from now, we can see for ourselves how EU will be split and would not want to condemn Israel’s action unequivocally. We can also see Russia and USA vetoing any UN sanction against Israel.

  24. To the editor: You guys need to add the sharing tools for facebook, twitter etc. I find your articles very high quality but their international exposure is very limited. Social networking can boost it a lot. Keep up the good work.

  25. Anti-Isrealis fought their battle better this time round. Next time it will be the Isrealis who will take the podium. Isrealis may have walked into a trap this time but times do change.

    It really surprises me, how a competition that should have been decided by a pragmatic negotiation and understanding of a common future, is now being trivalised to the level of opinion.

  26. @kannan

    If Afafat (aka Fateh at the time) is a terrorist and Hamas is a terrorist org., who will Israel negotiate with?

  27. @Dark Lord,
    Arafat is a terrorist. Some nobel committee member even resigned in 94 calling him a terrorist. I was expecting his nobel will be stripped before he dies. Unfortunately it did not happen.

    Who will Israel negotiate with you ask ?

    Negotiation does not always mean sitting around a table and talking endlessly. Thats a kind of negotiation for people who talk with their mouth.

  28. If you go by the official Israeli version of events,…

    Big if. Not that I know better in this case, but there is a distinct tilt on The Acorn towards the Israeli position.

    Why would you quote someone on the Jerusalem Post who invokes the bogeyman of an ‘international campaign’, conveniently ignoring the powers that prop up Israel? So much for objectivity.

    Btw, isn’t peaceful protest, if that is what it was, a way of asking for a political settlement? Or is it a political settlement only when ‘state actors’ are involved?

  29. @Nanda Kishore,

    Why are the so called “peace activists” attacking IDF soldiers who came for inspecting.

    It only shows that the “peace activists” did’nt come in peace after all. They preplanned their attack and played out a drama to international media.

  30. @sankar, I didn’t vouch for the motives of the people on the ‘peace flotilla’. I don’t think I am going to take at face value what the Israel government says – or any govt. in such a situation, for that matter, that is all. You have already drawn conclusions, and so be it.

    And by the way, I wonder what the honourable Nobel committee member had to say about Kissinger having graced the hallowed prize. One man’s terrorist is another man’s statesman?

  31. @Sankar: If I were an activist on a ship carrying aid in international waters and a bunch of soldiers with guns suddenly dropped down on my ship from the sky, I doubt I would receive them a bouquet of white roses. Especially when the said soldiers have a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later.

    Anyway, an Irish ship with a rather old Nobel Peace laureate on board is heading for Gaza now. We’ll see whether the good soldiers give them some flowers.

    And the Palestinian people were a bunch of forgotten and kicked out nobodies living in slums until Arafat came along and gave them some pride and a national identity. That process culminated in the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza today. One reason why I suspect so many people hate the guy so much. I note that Nelson Mandela used to be called a terrorist by the same crowd until he won the battles and the war and became politically legit. Now the same people call him an ‘elder statesman’. Some standards.

    I also suggest visiting Israel sometime to see the great ‘quality of life’ that is being maintained by its ‘care two hoots fight for survival’. Every single one of my Israeli friends who is still left there has a second passport and an exit strategy. Might be a bit of an eye opener getting away from that keyboard Israel ‘love in’.

  32. Nitin, your post (comments like those of Balaji and Sankar) unfortunately is a very naive interpretation of events and the situation.

    Perhaps you need a little more reading (from the other angle, eh?).

    What is the blockade: 1 2

    Here is an alternate view of events from one of the reporters on the flotilla: “Commando’s came in with guns blazing”

    And some more analysis of seige mentality:

    which quotes Peter Beinart (a pro-Israel but very balanced writer) link

    And do read Peter’s note in New York Book Review:


    Note: This comment has been edited. Avoid posting raw URLs. If you want to post links, at least enclose them in proper HTML. Read the caveat where it says just this! — Ed

  33. You can’t expect any politically correct hypocrite to agree with your piece. Israel is what every nation wants to be, and couldn’t be. Should Israel be another India – a nation that watches in complicit silence its citizens being butchered and slaughtered in hundreds with sickening regularity, that comes out with the worn-out rhetoric of condemnation of ‘dastardly acts’. And then wait for the next attack. A nation should be able to defend its citizens and should be demonstrably so. An attack on World Trade centre and America flies down thousands of miles to strike at the terrorist concentration in Afghanistan. A botched attempt to blow up Times Square and Pakistan is roughed up and told in uncertain terms that it is a legitimate target next time around. And we beg Pakistan to be merciful and refrain next time around and equate them as victims of terror like us. We are helpless even with a mountain of incontrovertible evidence.

    We are caught in a Nehruvian time warp – empty rhetoric, moral high ground, willing victimhood. We can never understand the logic of a nation that has to defend itself from deep-seated hatred down the centuries and one that has proved itself to be capable of doing that. As Ram Jethmalani famously pointed out long back, there was never a Palestinian NATION that has to be reconquered. Palestinians , pioneers of modern terrorism, are known as Jews of Arab land and are unwanted in many Muslim countries. Israel respects and discharges efficiently its right and protect its citizens. We can’t emulate them, but will certainly denigrate them for not being mute victims as we are.

  34. Nitin, it certainly doesn’t take 2-days to make up your mind about a post that points to references that present a point of view that radically departs from your viewpoint. Frankly, none of the ones I pointed to are what one would call “fringe” or “conspiracy theorist” type (well at least none of them subscribe to the “Elders of Zion” BS).

    What is it that is bugging you? Too many links, strange email address (it just happens to be my spam-catcher email address), or a viewpoint that is very different?

    Shoot me an email if you want and perhaps I will redraft my post to this blog’s standards.


    Nitin’s reply: I don’t see any point filling the comments section with several links to articles by others. If you have a point to make, you can make it directly here. It’ll make the comments section a useless place if people start posting bibliographies and counter-bibiliographies.

    As for shooting you an email, you don’t even comment with a real name (and I presume, a real email ID)!

  35. praising Israel terrorist state is insult to Mahatma Gandhi because he stated in Harijan book on 26 October 1938

    Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.

    what is happening to Israel today is KARMA or wrong doing in past. if any secular Indian parsing terror state of Israel is a inhuman and cannot be Indian because our father of nation told the truth Mahatma Gandhi called it inhuman.

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