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Flotilla Military Probe Outcome/ Gaza revisited

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Update from AIJAC

July 14, 2010
Number 07/10 #04


This Update features a look at the details that have been released from Israel's military investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident on May 30 (obviously, the major state inquiry led by Justice Turkel is still under way, as is an investigation by Israel's Controller-General.) It also includes some additional examinations of the situation in Gaza more than a month after the flotilla incident.


First up is a news report summarising the announced findings of the IDF military inquiry led by retired General Giora Eiland. It lists the key findings of the inquiry included the identification of a number of Israeli mistakes, such as a failure to gain adequate intelligence about the organisers of the flotilla, the lack of a "plan B" for action once it became clear that violent resistance was likely and inadequate coordination between security agencies. However, the inquiry also reportedly confirms that the demonstrators on the flotilla fired first, that a bullet taken from the knee of one wounded IDF soldier definitely did not come from any Israeli gun, and that the IDF had no other means to stop the Mavi Marmara from running the Gaza blockade other than to board it. For all the details about what was found, CLICK HERE. More on Eiland's report is here, while commenting on his findings are Barry Rubin and Amos Harel of Haaretz, who is critical of the report's failure to assign more specific blame for the errors.

Next, Washington Institute scholar David Pollack argues that the political benefits to Hamas of the flotilla affair are smaller than many people anticipated. He says Hamas has in fact not gained any additional international recognition, that Egypt has maintained its containment of Hamas, that Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks remain deadlocked, and while it is still too early to tell, the easing of the blockade on civilian goods into Gaza may not necessarily bring Hamas many political benefits. He goes on to optimistically note that conditions for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking do not seem to have been negatively affected by the whole flotilla affair. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE. Also, Barry Rubin had some more analysis on Egypt's approach to Gaza over the past month.

Finally, noted Israeli columnist Ben-Dror Yemini points out something about the aid convoys to Gaza - in many cases, the countries sponsoring the supposed humanitarian relief efforts score significantly lower in key measures of quality of life than Gaza does. For instance, he notes that Turkey, the key flotilla sponsor, has both lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than Gaza does, and the same applies to Iran, which tried to send another "aid" flotilla. Moreover, he notes the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon, also considering a flotilla, is worse than that of Gazans in various ways -including more severe restrictions on construction and rebuilding. For this important attempt to put Gaza's situation in regional context, CLICK HERE.

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IDF probe: Army didn't have ‘Plan B’

By YAAKOV KATZ 

Jerusalem Post, 07/12/2010 17:03

A series of operational and intelligence mistakes led to the botched raid in late May aboard the Mavi Marmara Turkish passenger ship that was trying to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip, according to an internal military probe.

The report was released for publication on Monday, as a Libyan-backed vessel was en route to the Gaza Strip, in another effort to break the blockade imposed by Israel. The vessel was expected to reach Israel’s territorial waters by Tuesday or Wednesday.

As expected, the report refrained from issuing personal recommendations against IDF officers, although it did refer to a number of mistakes that were made by the most senior levels in the army.

In the raid by commandos from the navy’s Flotilla 13 – known as the Shayetet – nine Turkish men were killed and 10 commandos were wounded.

On Monday, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, who headed the probe, presented a 100-page report to the IDF General Staff in which he listed a number of “mistakes” that had been made in the planning stage of the operation.

In a briefing to reporters, Eiland, a former head of the IDF’s Planning Division and the National Security Council, said that he did not find any negligence in the planning and implementation of the operation. He also made it clear that there was a difference between “operational failures” and “operational mistakes” and that he had only found mistakes, not failures.

“There were mistakes, also on the high military levels, but happily, they were not the result of negligence,” Eiland said.

'Navy should have prepared a Plan B'

He slammed the navy for not preparing a backup plan – or “Plan B,” as he called it – for the operation, saying the navy should have reconsidered rappelling commandos onto the Mavi Marmara’s upper deck after noticing from sea and air that there were several dozen activists on board prepared to resist violently.

Eiland said that once the navy ships had sailed alongside the Mavi Marmara and seen the preparations on board for conflict, the top navy command should have reconsidered its options and possibly even delayed the boarding of the ship.

“Once they saw that there were dozens of people on the deck, the rappelling of commandos down to the upper deck could still have been avoided,” the report concluded, adding that the navy should have, as a result, prepared a “Plan B” for how to take command of the ship. He said that the IDF should have established an operational “red team” to test the navy’s plan for boarding the ships.

'Slug dislodged from soldier's knee didn't come from Navy gun'

Eiland’s probe also found that shots were initially fired at the boarding commandos from weapons that the passengers had brought with them. The slug that was dislodged from the knee of one of the soldiers was of a different caliber than that used by the navy.

He also detailed the events that led to the seizing of three commandos, who were thrown from the upper to the lower deck and were only recovered about 40 minutes later, after they were spotted standing wounded on the ship’s bow and surrounded by a number of activists.

Other commandos opened fire from above and scared off the passengers, enabling two of the wounded to jump into the water. The third, who was severely wounded, was then rescued by commandos who jumped down to the bow from the upper deck.

According to Eiland, the navy did not have technology that would have enabled it to stop the ship ahead of the operation without putting soldiers on board its upper deck to take control of the bridge.

“Such an option did not exist,” Eiland concluded in his report.

In the course of their work, members of Eiland’s panel met with a number of officials who offered ideas on how the navy could have stopped the ship without boarding it. According to the committee, it is possible to develop such a capability, but it would take approximately two years.

Since the raid, the navy has met with a number of companies and is pursuing technology that could be used to stop a ship in the future.

'MI should have designated IHH as a target'

Another mistake Eiland found was that Military Intelligence had not designated Turkey or the Islamist organization IHH, which organized the flotilla, as a target for intelligence-gathering. He said that this had been justified up until this year, since Turkey had been friendly to Israel and the IHH was like a dozen other radical Islamic organizations that provided financial support to Hamas.

Eiland said, however, that in the beginning of 2010 MI and Israel’s other intelligence agencies should have designated Turkey and IHH as intelligence targets due to the deterioration in ties between the countries. The Israeli intelligence community should have understood that it was dealing with an organization that was supported by the ruling political party in Turkey, and prepared accordingly.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said he had ordered the army’s Operations Directorate to adopt the panel’s recommendations.

“This type of specialist investigation is part of the foundations of the organizational structure of the IDF as a controlled, transparent body that is able to learn lessons. The aim is to always improve in order to cope with all the challenges we face,” Ashkenazi said.

The IDF chief expressed his appreciation for the Shayetet, which he said had demonstrated unique capabilities in taking control of ships.

“We continue to send our soldiers every day into the air, land and the sea to conduct operations that pose a greater risk than that of the raid in question,” Ashkenazi said.

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Hamas at Sea: Blockade-Busting Backfires

By David Pollock

PolicyWatch
#1675

June 30, 2010

One month after the Turkish flotilla incident, the Israeli-Palestinian peace camp has so far managed to thwart the opposing agenda of Hamas and its supporters. This article surveys the incident's political and practical consequences, revealing the grounds for such an unexpected and -- for the parties in the Middle East peace process -- fortunate finding.

No New International Recognition of Hamas

The initial aftermath of the May 31 flotilla interception witnessed a few abortive signals that Hamas might gain greater global acceptance. One Russian statement suggested negotiations with Hamas, disregarding the longstanding Quartet conditions to which Moscow is a party. A few former U.S. diplomats made similar appeals, and some Hamas spokesmen responded by seeming to welcome such dialogue. These tentative overtures proved fruitless, however.

According to one U.S. official, various Hamas leaders appeared willing to play the political game, but not enough to make a difference. As Hamas representative Ahmed Bahr told Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm on June 20, the group wants a deal "that gives Palestinians their dignity back, which rules out the Quartet conditions and those stipulated by the U.S." Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan put it (perhaps unintentionally) well in a June 28 interview, claiming that he had personally convinced Hamas to adjust its rejectionist posture "to a certain extent" -- in other words, not far enough.

As a result, Hamas has no more international legitimacy today than it did before the flotilla episode. Symptomatic of this is the statement issued by the G-8 countries, including Russia, in closing their Canadian summit this past weekend. The section on the peace process makes no mention of Hamas at all. Instead, it reaffirms the goal of Israel and a Palestinian state "living side by side in peace and security," welcomes Israel's decision to investigate the flotilla incident and adopt "a new policy" toward Gaza, balances "the needs of Gaza's population" with "the legitimate security concerns of Israel," and urges "the strengthening of Palestinian Authority institutions" -- all at the expense, at least implicitly, of Hamas. And on Monday, speaking in Jerusalem, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov noted that Moscow would continue to "engage" with Hamas but did not call for the group's inclusion in any other diplomatic discussions.

Egypt Maintains Political and Practical Containment
Cairo remains very uncomfortable with Hamas on its border, yet ineffective so far in supporting any alternative arrangement. Its desultory attempt to dilute Hamas power in Gaza by mediating a new unity agreement with Fatah has failed. For a brief moment after the flotilla incident, Turkey seemed poised to assume the mediator's role, this time with a pro-Hamas tilt. Within a couple weeks, however, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were able to deflect this impulse, partly by mobilizing an informal Arab consensus against it.

Ironically, the capstone of this containment effort was Arab League secretary-general Amr Mousa's unprecedented June 13 visit to Hamas-ruled Gaza. While there, he repeatedly called on Hamas to sign the Egyptian reconciliation plan it had rejected last October. Yet, as Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman explained on June 26, Hamas leaders "insist on rejecting the Egyptian paper, because they do not want the legitimate Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza."

Over the past few days, the exchange of public insults between Cairo and Hamas has grown ever more shrill and categorical. On June 28, the semi-official Egyptian daily al-Akhbar called Hamas a "suspicious secessionist movement," sarcastically thanking it for enabling Cairo to escape the "quagmire" of Palestinian unity negotiations.

On the ground, security and political factors make Egypt loath to open its border with Gaza more than a crack. Remarkably, on the very same day of the flotilla incident, Palestinians killed an Egyptian soldier in a shootout over the new underground steel wall Cairo is constructing to block smuggling tunnels. Work on the barrier continues intermittently today. Moreover, Egyptian officials have surely noted recent developments in Israel, where three cabinet ministers have called for even greater disengagement from the process of supplying Gaza with water, fuel, electricity, and other imports. Any further Egyptian opening risks playing into that gambit, forcing Cairo to assume more responsibility for Gaza while potentially strengthening Hamas and exposing Egypt to its influence.

Consequently, the renewed opening of Rafah, Gaza's lone border crossing with Egypt, is more rhetorical than real. On June 29, for example, Egypt prevented a Jordanian aid convoy from entering the territory -- the latest in a years-long line of such measures. And the Egyptian establishment publicly blames Hamas intransigence for this predicament. As leading commentator Abdel Moneim Said Aly wrote in al-Ahram last week, "Contrary to common accusations leveled at Egypt, Hamas is second after Israel in upholding the siege on Gaza."

Effects of Easing the Embargo
Publicly and privately, Israeli and U.S. officials have offered mixed assessments of how adjustments to the embargo would affect Hamas. One U.S. observer noted that if reconstruction proceeds, around 40,000 more Gazan children would attend schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) rather than Hamas. New UNRWA commissioner Filippo Grandi hinted at the difference this might make -- without mentioning Hamas, he called UNRWA "a vehicle" for promoting "the fundamental values...of tolerance for diversity, peaceful coexistence, non-violence, respect for human rights and human dignity of everyone without distinction."

Another Western diplomat asserted privately that the blockade had unwittingly "helped Hamas but not Gazans"; in his view, easing the embargo would probably help reverse that situation. Even so, he cautioned, Hamas was already trying to bring new nongovernmental projects under its supervision. On June 28, the UNRWA director for Gaza condemned a "cowardly and despicable" attack by Islamist extremists on one of his organization's summer camps. Looking ahead, then, the key is not so much the quantity of additional resources provided to Gaza, but control over their local distribution.

Fatah-Hamas Rivalry Intensifies

Two things are clear regarding the post-flotilla twist in the internal Palestinian dispute: it is not just a media war, and neither side is about to give up. Both Hamas and Fatah continue to lob heated charges of betrayal. On June 24, senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar declared that there is "no need to launch rockets from Gaza as these must be launched from the West Bank -- but [PA president Mahmoud Abbas] won't let this happen." The same day, Fatah's Nabil Shaath bluntly claimed that "Hamas was responsible for the current deadlock."

As for public approval ratings, Hamas registered no gains in the one published Palestinian poll taken since the flotilla incident (June 10-13), while Fatah still led 45 percent to 25 percent, the same spread as in March. This leaves a large remainder of "undecided" Palestinians, however, and Fatah showed little confidence in its popular appeal when it canceled local elections scheduled for this summer.

On the ground, the PA continues to arrest and harass Hamas operatives in the West Bank. Hamas has done the same to Fatah operatives, in addition to raiding a Gaza bank branch to confiscate funds from an account frozen by the PA. The two sides are also embroiled in a payment dispute that has shut down Gaza's only power plant. "It's a Palestinian problem," said the UNRWA's Gaza director, "made by Palestinians, and causing Palestinian suffering."

In this climate, any talk of Palestinian reconciliation takes a back seat to recriminations. The front page of al-Hayat al-Jadidah, the semi-official PA daily, reinforces this fact. Over the past two days, stories about unity discussions have been strictly at an unofficial level; the one official comment was from a Fatah Central Committee member blaming Hamas for spoiling Egypt's mediation efforts.

Conclusion

For once, a Hamas website has it exactly right: on June 24, the Palestinian Information Center predicted that "there will be no radical political changes after the attack on the Freedom Flotilla." Indeed, continued patience and steadfastness on the part of the United States, Egypt, PA, Israel, and others can help the people of Gaza without enriching, entrenching, or emboldening their Hamas rulers. This is hardly a sufficient condition for real progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace, but it is a necessary condition.

David Pollock is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on the political dynamics of Middle Eastern countries.

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The humanitarian show

By BEN-DROR YEMINI

Jerusalem Post, 11/07/2010   

Maybe Turkey, Lebanon and Iran need their own flotillas.
 
Additional humanitarian aid flotillas from Lebanon, Iran, Libya and the West may be en route to the Gaza Strip as we speak. But it seem that the plight of the Turks, Iranians and the Palestinians in Lebanon is far worse. Here are the facts.

Turkey was the most prominent country in the recent Gaza-bound flotilla. The Mavi Marmara with members of the IHH, an organization affiliated with global jihad, sailed from that country. Lebanon is dispatching a ship that is due to arrive perhaps in the coming days. Even Iran, that bastion of humanitarian justice, is joining the party. Thus, it is worth checking what is happening in these compassionate countries, which are showing such noteworthy generosity in dispatching humanitarian aid to an “oppressed” population.

Infant mortality is one of the most important indicators in gauging a humanitarian situation. And according to the data, Turkey is in worse shape than Gaza.

Infant mortality in Gaza is 17.71 per thousand; in Turkey it is 24.84. The Gaza Strip is in a much better situation than the global average, which is 44 infants per 1,000 births. It is also better than most of the Arab countries and several South American countries, and is certainly better than Africa.

Life expectancy is another important indicator. And here, life expectancy in Turkey is 72.23, whereas in the Gaza Strip it is 73.68, much higher than the global average of 66.12. In comparison, life expectancy is 63.36 in Yemen, 52.52 in Sudan and 50 in Somalia. These countries are crying out for international attention, for aid, for any rescue ship. But none come.

Regarding population growth, the Gaza Strip is ranked sixth, with a growth rate of 3.29 percent per annum. This may not be an indicator for quality of life, but it seems that the high rate of growth, along with the high life expectancy and the low infant mortality rate, attests to one thing: There is no hunger, no humanitarian crisis and tales of 1,001 nights from 1,001 human rights organizations.

Even by other indicators, such as personal computer use or Internet access, the situation in the Gaza Strip is much better than that of most of the world. To complete the picture, it should be noted that two years ago, a British politician claimed that life expectancy in Glasgow East was much lower than that in the Gaza Strip.

The claim caused an uproar. Britain’s Channel 4 carried out a scrupulous check and issued its “verdict”: Indeed, life expectancy in Glasgow is lower than that in the Gaza Strip.

Thus, it is a little strange that humanitarian aid comes from people whose situation is much worse. It could be that there is a need for additional ships. But the direction should be reversed. It is Turkey that needs the help.

The Gaza Strip which should join the aid delegation for the benefit of the poor Turks.

ONE OF the bans imposed by Israel is on building materials.

Experience has shown that materials that reach the Gaza Strip do not serve the residents but Hamas’s military goals. Thus, no sane country, and let us hope that Israel is one of them, would supply an enemy organization with materials from which the bunkers for the struggle against it would be built.

Here as well, a reminder is needed. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live in neighboring Lebanon.

They live in refugee camps, under various restrictions that could fill a chapter on Arab apartheid against the Palestinians. One of the most severe restrictions is a ban on construction. This ban is enforced even in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, bombed by the Lebanese army in 2007. The extensive damage caused 27,000 of the camp’s 30,000 inhabitants to become refugees again.

They paid a heavy price for the fact that a mere 450 men were members of the rebel group Fatah al-Islam.

The struggle against radical Islam, which tried to establish itself in the camp, was used as a pretext for the vast devastation that was inflicted. It is interesting to note how the world encouraged Lebanon’s heavy-handed in this situations, while Israel is always asked to knuckle under. There are donations for reconstruction and there is also agreement for reconstruction projects but the Lebanese government is making things difficult.

LET US not forget Iran. According to every possible indicator, the situation there is worse. Infant mortality, for example, is 34.66 per 1,000 births. Life expectancy is 71.43 – less than the Gaza Strip and Turkey. With the imposition of Shari’a law in the Hamas Strip, as in Iran, and when stoning women becomes the norm, one may assume that the residents of the Strip will deteriorate to Iranian levels. It was only last week that news came from Iran of a 43-year-old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi e Ashtiani, in danger of being put to death by stoning, following a sham trial for adultery. But in the meantime, it is preferable for aid to go from Gaza to Iran. Let us hope that Egypt will allow passage through the Suez Canal.

MOST INHABITANTS on this planet are worse off than the residents of the Gaza Strip. American aid per capita to the Gaza Strip is 7.5 times higher than aid per capita to Haiti. By any possible indicator, economic or medical, the residents of the Gaza Strip are incomparably better off those of Haiti. Gazans are also better off, by every possible indicator, than the Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps. But we have not seen demonstrations in solidarity with those suffering in Lebanon; and no aid flotillas either.

What is true is that it is thanks to Israel that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are better off than most of their brethren in the neighboring countries. Because of the “brutal” occupation, life expectancy in the Gaza Strip rose from 48 in 1967 to 66 in 1993 and, as we have shown, life expectancy continues to rise.

But please, let us not confuse a “human rights activist” on the aid flotilla with the facts. They do not send aid flotillas to Iran, Lebanon or Turkey, and certainly not to Darfur in the Sudan. The humanitarian distress does not interest them. It is the anti-Israel obsession that interests them. This is not to say that they cannot be presented with the facts. They want to embarrass Israel. But the basic facts are likely to embarrass them.

Nons of the above aims to make the case that there is no true distress in Gaza. There certainly is, even if according to objective data, it is worse in Turkey, Iran and Lebanon. Israel has an interest in bettering the situation in Gaza. Israel disengaged in 2005 so that Gazans might develop an independent life.

But the Hamas takeover has led to a situation in which instead of developing and producing, the only development is on the Kassam rocket front. The blockade was imposed because the Hamas regime refuses to acknowledge previous agreements, recognize Israel or enter into the path of peace and reconciliation. The regime in Gaza has instead chosen Iran and global jihad. And despite this, everything could change in a day – if Hamas would only decide to accept the Quartet’s conditions. The keys are in its hands.

The writer is a columnist at Maariv, where a longer version of this article first appeared.

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