If Israel truly had wanted to “massacre” the Hamas sympathizers and fellow travellers aboard a six-ship Gaza-bound flotilla, the operation would not have been complicated. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would have used the trusty North Korean solution: Torpedo the ships and watch them sink to the bottom of the sea.
Even Israel arguably would have been within its rights to seize and destroy a ship being sent toward Gazan waters in defiance of an embargo, especially after giving abundant warnings to the leaders of the largely Turkish-based Free Gaza Movement, which had sent the flotilla, that they would not be permitted to sail to Hamas-controlled territory.
But that’s not how Israel operates. Instead, it sent commandos to seize control of the ships and bring them safely to Israeli waters. Israeli officials had even prepared air-conditioned accommodations for the activists, and had made arrangements to deliver legitimate aid supplies to Gaza.
According to the IDF, not all of the activists on board the ships were the pacifists they claimed to be. Though the Free Gaza leaders said they would not resist Israeli enforcement of the embargo, some of them fought the Israeli boarding parties with iron clubs – as confirmed by video that has been made available to the media. More seriously, it is claimed that at least one of the activists took two handguns from the Israelis and fired at the soldiers. In the melee, at least 10 activists were believed to have been killed, and several Israeli commandos wounded.
“They beat us up with metal sticks and knives,” one Israeli commando told the Los Angeles Times. “There was live fire at some point against us…. They were shooting at us from below deck.” Based on the same source, the Times also reported that “activists tossed some of the soldiers from the top deck to the lower deck and the soldiers jumped in the water to save themselves. Activists grabbed some soldiers and tried to hold them hostage, stripping them of their helmets and equipment.”
If this narrative stands up, then every drop of blood spilled on Monday morning rests on the hands of those activists who initiated the deadly exchange. When you attack Israeli soldiers – or at any soldiers – with lethal force, they will respond in kind.
As for the events that unfolded after the deadly exchange commenced, we don’t know how much of the ensuing bloodshed was avoidable. Like all civilized nations, Israel likes to conduct its anti-terrorist operations in a measured, deliberate fashion. But that’s difficult in the close confines of a crowded ship, where combat takes place at the range of a few metres – especially, in the case of the Free Gaza flotilla, which was populated by a diverse mob spanning the gamut from naive Jewish grandmothers to full-fledged Islamist radicals.
For most of the world, of course, these facts won’t matter: Like the bogus Jenin massacre, this episode will be used as just another stick to beat the Jewish state – even by those same pundits and activists who can’t be roused to say a single word when genuine “massacres” unfold in other parts of the world, such as the slaughter of more than 90 members of the Ahmadi sect in Pakistan. On sea, as on land, this is the double-standard that Israel always must battle when it acts to defend itself against terrorists and their media-savvy enablers.