Posts Tagged ‘Flotilla attack’
NATO called Tuesday for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation” into Monday’s Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that ended with the deaths of nine activists.
Representatives of the alliance’s 28 nations met on Tuesday to discuss the incident. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen demanded the immediate release of the detained civilians and ships held by Israel.
Turkey called the emergency meeting, but its representative did not demand that the alliance take collective action against Israel, said a diplomat who attended the talks.
This is important because Turkey could have tried to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, this is because as mentioned in this interpretation of maritime law, “to attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.”
NATO’s calls for an impartial investigation follow the UN Security Council’s calls for one earlier in the day.
It should be noted that Turkey also threatened yesterday to send more boats but under the escort of the Turkish Navy. If Turkey were to actually make good on this particular threat then we the stakes would be raised dramatically. Israel would either have to face an embarrassing backdown on their blockade or attack Turkish ships, which would precipitate a full-scale war and an invocation of NATO Article 5. If such a thing were to actually eventuate, NATO, of course, would not participate in an Israeli-Turkish war but its refusal to do so would also deal the organisation a death blow.
There’s a great little analysis of a potential war between Israel and Turkey over on Newshoggers, but, as the writer Dave Anderson himself concludes, such a war makes no sense for anyone right now. Moreover, I’m sure that Obama will talk Turkey out of doing anything even remotely provocative, given how desperately his administration is still trying to grasp at the straws of indirect peace talks.
There are some very interesting thoughts on Turkish-Israeli relations here:
But this attack really puts the Turkish generals in a box. They had been the faction largely driving the Entente. And now the AKP can continue to implement its soft-shoe version of Islamism in Turkey–as the secularists don’t have an ultimate trump card in the military. This has long been a project of the AKP, to chip away at the strength of the generals.
Turkey will probably draw closer to Syria–after all it doesn’t need Israel to pressure Syria to kick out the Kurds as it did back in the late 90s. This benefits Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. I’d also say much of this is largely a consequence of our invasion of Iraq, too.
So, in this action Israel has done the following: put America and NATO in a very difficult place. It’s emboldened the Islamists in Turkey and weakened the generals in Ankara. It has also forced Turkey closer to Syria.
Quite the strategic win for the Israeli strategic genius, ain’t it?
The author makes a very good point. Turkish-Israeli relations have been pretty messed up since Cast Lead and this is pretty much going to destroy them altogether for a long time. Apart from personal ideology, Erdogan will be under far too much domestic pressure to even consider any positive moves towards Israel. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Israel should beware. Turkey is not to be trifled with.
Bonus: MV Rachel Corrie, an Irish ship, is heading towards Gaza. The Irish Foreign Minister has requested that Israel allow it through the blockade. Israel has said that it will also intercept it. Will it also be raided? Presumably the occupants of the ship, five Irish and five Malaysian nationals are prepared for such an eventuality. Let’s hope there is no violence but watch closely what Israel does. Will it again pre-empt the ships arrival by raiding it in international waters? Will it send commandos again? And will an attack on an Irish vessel precipitate a broadening of the already extensive diplomatic crisis?
For anyone not yet up to speed, a flotilla of vessels carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza with the aim of lifting the blockade imposed by Israel was intercepted and attacked by Israeli commandos yesterday which resulted in 9-19 deaths (depending on which reports you believe, Israel still has not released an official list of names of those killed). To get up to speed on developments yesterday check out my first and second posts.
More news has come today, kicking off with a marathon UN Security Council meeting called by Turkey with the aim of eliciting an official response from the Council. The bulk of the meeting went on behind closed doors but reportedly it constituted mostly a back-and-forth between the Turkish and American representatives, the latter refusing to allow the Security Council to officially single out Israel for condemnation.
Turkey proposed a statement that would condemn Israel for violating international law, demand a United Nations investigation and demand that Israel prosecute those responsible for the raid and pay compensation to the victims. It also called for the end of the blockade.
The Obama administration refused to endorse a statement that singled out Israel, and proposed a broader condemnation of the violence that would include the assault of the Israeli commandos as they landed on the deck of the ship. [NYT]
Reportedly the Israeli army will be transferring the humanitarian aid found on the boat to Gaza.
Here’s a very interesting piece of news from the excellently-run Al Jazeera English liveblog:
11:37am: His wording is far from conclusive, but the Jerusalem Post seems to think Israel’s deputy defence minister, Manan Vilna’i, hinted that Israel sabotaged some of the ships in the Gaza flotilla.
When asked during an Israel Radio interview whether it might not have been possible to stop the ships in a more sophisticated manner, Vilna’i responded, “Every possibility was considered. The fact is that there were ten less ships in the flotilla than were originally planned.”
Hosni Mubarak has opened the Rafah border and, according to this Arabic source, there are no restrictions on who is allowed to enter and exit. Would be interesting to see some reports on traffic there. Also, the EU and Russia have released a joint statement condemning Israel’s use of force and calling for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. (Hat-tip: AJE liveblog again on both).
The MV Rachel Corrie, another ship that was supposed to be part of the original flotilla but the departure of which was delayed due to mechanical malfunction has reportedly set off for Gaza and is due to arrive within 48 hours. In a response that can now only be viewed as ominous, the Israeli Navy has stated that it is ‘ready’ to receive her. The ship is a joint Irish/Malaysian vessel.
As far as the mainstream media’s reporting has been, I would like to direct you to WashPo’s fairly extreme piece by Scott Wilson on the Free Gaza Movement. What the hell kind of lead paragraph is this:
Once viewed only as a political nuisance by Israel’s government, the group behind the Gaza aid flotilla has grown since its inception four years ago into a broad international movement that now includes Islamist organizations that Israeli intelligence agencies say pose a security threat to the Jewish state.
Clearly WashPo has missed the memo. Most of the mainstream media is treating this event with a lot more caution. I normally consider the FP a fairly reliable weathervane. I certainly wouldn’t consider it a liberal newspaper and yet it has included condemnation of the attack from Stephen Walt, Mark Lynch and its own editor-in-chief Blake Hounsell, all essentially calling for the blockade to be lifted.
So if the mainstream is not exactly lining up behind Israel, what does that mean for the defenders of this monstrosity. I direct you to the following tweet by Middle East expert (though she can’t see it from her house) Sarah Palin:
Assume u WON’T get straight scoop on Israeli flotilla incident via mainstream media;PLEASE read Krauthammer,Horowitz,et al 2learn other side
Palin has long been a shrill critic of her perceived unfair treatment at the hands of the supposedly pro-liberal mainstream, but what this shows is the increasing radicalisation of the pro-Israel-at-all-costs lobby and the increasingly ridiculous sounding hasbara that is being thrown up to defend the atrocities committed by the State. Witness this tweet from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:
Participants on the armada of hate had ties with global Jihad and Al Qaeda and used live weapons against our troops
Apparently tying any Muslim you don’t like to al Qaeda and ‘global Jihad’ hasn’t really worked since the whole thing about how Saddam Hussein didn’t quite have anything to do with 9/11, but clearly Mr. Ayalon and his Islamophobic friends missed that memo. I also like how the activists on the Turkish-flagged vessel used “live weapons” (as opposed to, presumably, dead weapons) against “our troops” (ie. elite commandos who stormed their boat in international waters). Wow? It doesn’t take an undergraduate degree to sort the BS out of that one.
Speaking of the legality of the raid, I’m going to paste this in its entirety, thanks to Mondoweiss and Craig Murray, ex UK Ambassador and one time Foreign Office specialist on maritime law:
“A word on the legal position, which is very plain. To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.
Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody’s territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.
There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.
Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.
Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.
In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.
Meanwhile, Blake Hounsell for FP:
It already has the makings of a huge international fracas that will make the Goldstone Report look like small potatoes by comparison.
There’s a huge unwillingness on the Israeli right to face reality — that Israel is fast losing friends and allies in the world, and that this government in Jerusalem has only accelerated the shift. It’s not hard to imagine boycott campaigns gaining momentum, damaging the Israeli economy and isolating the country diplomatically, especially in Europe.
While I’m still skeptical of how much damage exactly boycott campaigns will actually have and whether the ‘friends and allies’ are actually going to be lost (all I’m seeing so far are spirited statements, as usual), I think that Hounsell makes a good general point: the tide does appear to be turning, as evidenced by how increasingly shrill and crazy Israel’s defenders currently sound.
I’m going link some great pieces by Stephen Walt and Arabist at the bottom of this post to save me having to essentially paste them in its entirety (especially Arabist, his post was that good) but here are my thoughts.
If we are to accept the Israeli narrative of events – that the activists on the Flotilla attacked Israeli troops with sticks, knives and deckchairs, thus provoking them to respond and unfortunately kill some of them – as the truth, the argument still has massive, gaping holes.
First of all, the boat was in international waters and Israel had no legal right to storm the boat with commandos, some of the best soldiers in an army considered already to be one of the best in the world. Since the boat was raided by soldiers, the occupants of the boat surely had the right to defend their vessel. The fact that they supposedly did so with a ragtag assortment of improvised weapons and were shot at with automatic weapons as a means of self-defense makes about as much sense as napalming a mosquito. This is pretty much the antithesis of proportionality and anyone who buys this is clearly deluded. Moreover, “the most moral army in the world” and certainly one of its best would surely have been able to manage a situation involving sticks and knives a little better than in such a way that resulted in at least 9 fatalities. Oh yeah, shal I remid you again? Commandos vs. Civilians. Proportional? No. This. Does. Not. Hold. Water.
Also, to those pundits that suggest that Israel’s main mistake was to board the boat in international waters and not in “Israeli territorial waters” appear to be missing the point. The boat was headed for Gaza, not Israel. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 (and still claims political kudos for doing so). Yes, Gaza is not recognised a state but that doesn’t make Israel’s siege of Gaza legal, nor does it just hand jurisdiction over Gaza’s territorial waters to Israel as a sort of parting gift. It is obviously not that clear cut.
Oh yeah, and the blockade. Need I remind you people how cruel and barbaric it is? No I don’t, because Stephen Walt will (if Glenn Greenwald didn’t in the post I linked last time). One final note to those supposedly hyper-realist defenders of Israel’s rights as a state: stop glorifying the State. There is no good reason why I, as an Australian (or any self-respecting national of any other country), should take Israel’s security any more seriously than the security of the people of Gaza. Right now, the biggest threat to their ‘security’ is not Hamas (as is often claimed by the Zionist lobby) but an Israeli blockade that is causing death by starvation and lack of medical attention, that is robbing the Gazans of the right to rebuild their shattered economy destroyed by air raids and Operation Cast Lead, and that is conducting a crude campaign of national humiliation and collective punishment. Oh, but the activists on the boat constituted a ‘threat to Israeli security’. Time to wake up.
And here’s that piece of gold by Arabist, read it.
First of all, if you haven’t already, check out my previous post on this with the preliminary round-up of events.
I’m not going to continue posting the repeated commentary from the leaders of the international community because they all mostly repeat the same thing ad naseum. For those interested, there is a good roundup in this AFP story and the Al Jazeera & Guardian liveblogs will keep you abreast. Maan has a handy list of the nine (and counting) countries that have summoned Israeli ambassadors for an explanation.
Relevant news is coming thick & fast and it’s difficult to keep up with all of it so I will attempt to post what I think is most important.
Steve Hynd pointed his Twitter followers to UNSC Resolution 1860 that called for a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and also called for humanitarian aid, something that Israel has not been able to adequately provide. All reports from Israeli spokesmen that aid is being delivered on a daily basis are basically nothing but propaganda, aid is being delivered but it’s estimated to be 1/4 of what Gazans actually need to survive.
Speaking of the UN Security Council, Reuters is reporting that a meeting is being convened to discuss the issue.
It is being reported that the French equivalent of AIPAC, Le Crif, has condemned the Israeli attack (French) on the flotilla. I’m not sure how stridently pro-Israel-at-all-costs these people are but that strikes me as interesting. Also, Netanyahu has reportedly cancelled his scheduled visit to the US to begin indirect proximity talks and is flying back to Israel immediately to deal with the fall out.
For those interested in what the US has to say about this, first comments are non-commital as expected:
“The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” a White House spokesman said. [AFP]
Over in Britain, much is being made of Nick Clegg’s previously fairly public opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The question is, will Clegg be gagged by his coalition partners? Reports of protests at 10 Downing Street are already coming. David Milliband, without directly condemning Israel over the Gaza blockade, has voiced his opposition in not so many words.
India’s The Hindu, one of the few newspapers covering this in any detail in India, reports that Syria and Lebanon released a joint statement warning that Israel’s attack on the flotilla could be considered an act of war.
One thing that has been interesting to me throughout this debacle is the reaction of the much-maligned mainstream media. Criticisms over timeliness of reports and their wording notwithstanding, I’ll be looking at some of the personal tweets of celebrity journalists to gauge what’s considered legitimate feeling in the MSM camp. One example, Nick Kristof who has almost 1,000,000 followers on Twitter had this to say:
I didn’t RT early reports of Israeli military assault on #Gaza flotilla, ’cause I thought “Israel wldn’t be that stupid.”
From the Israeli side, most of the claims have been that the activists on board tried to ‘lynch’ and ‘stab’ the commandos who boarded the ship. Haaretz has a piece here. Here’s a quote from the IDF’s website:
During the boarding of the Marmara ship, demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. According to reports, two weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.
As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces first employed riot dispersal means, followed by live fire.
According to initial reports, these events resulted in over ten deaths among the demonstrators and numerous injuries. In addition, five naval personnel were injured, some from gunfire and some from various other weapons. Two of the soldiers were seriously wounded and the remainder sustained moderate injuries. All of the injured parties, Israelis and foreigners, are currently being evacuated by helicopter to hospitals in Israel.
It is not clear yet how much of this is hasbara, propaganda and the like and how threatening the people on board were but Glenn Greenwald has an excellent sum-up of the situation at Salon.com. Here are some choice quotes which I will leave you with:
The flotilla attacked by Israel last night was carrying materials such as cement, water purifiers, and other building materials, much of which Israel refuses to let pass into Gaza. At the end of 2009, a U.N. report found that “insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory,” and also “blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings.”
It hardly seemed possible for Israel — after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade — to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes. But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that. If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it’s hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.
Marc Lynch has some sobering words about the attitude towards Gaza by successive US administrations:
This crisis — and it is a crisis — is the fairly predictable outcome of the years of neglect of the Gaza situation by the Bush and Obama administrations. Bush turned a blind eye during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008, and then the Obama team chose to focus on renewing peace talks between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority while continuing to boycott Hamas. The U.S. only sporadically and weakly paid attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the strategic absurdity and moral obtuseness of the Israeli blockade, or the political implications of the ongoing Hamas-Fatah divide. Now, on the eve of Obama’s scheduled meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas — the fruits of the “honey offensive” towards Israel — can they be surprised that Gaza is blowing up in their face?
One thing I like about both these pieces is that they maintain the focus on Gaza, Cast Lead and the crippling blockade. If it’s one thing I want you to take away from all this: do not forget to place these events in context. Israel has successively tightened the noose around an impoverished, humiliated and starving population begging for humanitarian aid. This alone constitutes a crime against humanity if there ever was one. The events on the Freedom Flotilla may be another nail in Israel’s coffin when it comes to Global PR but they should rightly point to what caused the boats to set sail in the first place: Israel’s barbaric blockade and the international community’s constant blind eye. Remember these things so that those that died on that boat didn’t die in vain.
A random choice from some of the generic reports in the mainstream media right now for background:
Israeli naval forces stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters before dawn on Monday, killing up to 19 pro-Palestinian activists, most of them reportedly Turkish nationals.
The bloody ending to the high-profile mission to deliver supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip plunged Israel into a diplomatic crisis on the eve of talks between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [The Age]
While most of those dead may well have been Turkish nationals, the flotilla was actually full of people from all over the world, including MPs, NGO representatives and even a Member of Israel’s Knesset. According to AJE the passengers also include people from Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Norway, Palestine, Serbia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
There was a good dealing of complaining on twitter that the mainstream media was ignoring the flotilla while it was still on its way but once the blood started to flow they jumped right on it. It is now making front-page news almost everywhere. Al Jazeera English, once again leading the charge when it comes to reporting about Palestine, has a great live-blog here.
Allegations have been flowing thick and fast about what exactly happened on those boats. According to FreeGaza.org’s blog:
Under darkness of night, Israeli commandoes dropped from a helicopter onto the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, and began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck.
Here is the Israeli version from JPost:
International activists aboard the ships opened fire on IDF soldiers who boarded the ships to prevent them from breaking the Israeli-imposed sea blockade, the IDF said Monday.
According to the IDF, the international activists “prepared a lynch” for the soldiers who boarded the ships at about 2 a.m. Monday morning after calling on them to stop, or follow them to the Ashdod Port several hours earlier.According to the IDF, the international activists “prepared a lynch” for the soldiers who boarded the ships at about 2 a.m. Monday morning after calling on them to stop, or follow them to the Ashdod Port several hours earlier.
The Israeli army also issued a statement on the attack, claiming that the activists on board the ship were armed.
During the intercept of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.
As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire. [Hat-tip AJE]
Before I talk about the diplomatic aftermath I would like to first of all throw in my opinion on this, though it’s probably self-evident and those of you that follow this blog will already know it. Israel deserves nothing but condemnation in the strongest possible terms for what it has done here. There was absolutely no good reason for it. At this stage, I do not believe that the activists on the boats were really armed. I believe that they may have tried to defend the ship from being boarded, but consider that it was in international waters at the time, I don’t see what’s illegitimate about that. Boarding a ship in international waters may well constitute an act of piracy thus making self-defense perfectly reasonable.
In any case, pitting a bunch of activists armed only with “knives and sticks” (as reported by someone on Twitter) against Israel’s highly trained commandoes with automatic weapons and missile-laden gunboats seems pretty disproportionate to me. One thing I don’t understand is how there could have been such a comprehensive failure on the part of the IDF to subdue the activists peacefully. Surely one of the most well-trained armies in the world is capable of non-lethal means of arrest?
Some people are claiming that Israel had the right to respond to ‘non-state actors’ breaching its ‘legal blockade’ and violating its ‘authority’. I’ve even heard talk of ‘territorial waters’ (lost that link but whatever). My response to this is that it sounds incredibly weak. My knowledge of international law is hazy but I don’t understand how this blockade is legal in the first place, people in Gaza are clearly starving and it has been condemned left right and center. If state actors are too crippled by realpolitik to do anything about it then kudos to ‘non-state actors’ for taking up the mantle. Moreover, Israel formally disengaged from Gaza as an (illegal) occupying force in 2005. Are they not then Gazan territorial waters that the Israelis are illegally occupying with their blockade? Clearly my knowledge here is hazy so if anyone wants to correct me with links to international statute, please do so.
So to the fallout. I’m not going to provide links on all these because I want to get this post up quickly and a lot has happened in the past few hours. Take my word for it or google it and if you can’t find a source for anything I’ve posted then let me know.
The Turks are pretty angry, there have been reports of 10,000 marching in Istanbul, the Turkish word for Israel was trending way before the #flotilla hashtag hit the top 10 (though there have been allegations that Twitter was blocking the hashtag, this sounds flimsy to me but if it were true it would be a pretty big deal), and this is going to be a major diplomatic incident between the Governments. The Turkish ambassador has reportedly been recalled.
Arab-wise, the Arab League issued condemnation of Israel. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Emir of Qatar was the first to condemn the attack. Lebanon’s PM Saad Hariri called the attack “dangerous and crazy”. The PA’s Saeb Erekat called the attack “a war crime”. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Israel’s charge d’affairs and the Egyptians have summoned the ambassador. Moqtada al-Sadr has called for a large anti-Israel demonstration in Baghdad.
Greece has cancelled joint-military exercises with Israel over the attack. Ban Ki Moon has ordered a full investigation and explanation from Israel. There have been plenty of strong words reportedly issuing forth from the EU. Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have recalled ambassadors from Israel.
But this is all just the beginning. Forgive me if I’ve missed any key countries up there and I am still waiting to hear on the official positions of many others such as the US, UK, Russia and Australia. I don’t know where all this talk is going to end up, so far we have seen the usual from the international community: condemnations, some strongly worded and some mild, recalls of ambassadors and the like. This is nothing new. We saw this after the al-Mabhouh assassination.
Whether this will be a watershed moment in the way the world views Israel, only time will tell. If the reaction on Twitter is anything to go by (the first time I’ve seen anything Palestine-related trend first) then hopefully the world may be waking up to the realities of what’s happening in Palestine.
PS. Apart from the AJE liveblog mentioned above, the Guardian also has a pretty comprehensive one here.
UPDATE: Check out Updates in a fresh post here.