FT—Israel condemned after flotilla attack

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Israel faced furious international condemnation on Monday after naval commandos attacked a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, killing at least nine pro-Palestinian activists and wounding many more.

Three of the boats were flying the Turkish flag and several of the passengers killed are believed to have been Turkish citizens. The Turkish government recalled its ambassador from Israel and gave warning that relations between the two countries had suffered irreparable damage.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, accused Israel of “inhuman state terror” and said: “Turkey will not remain silent in response.”

“In the name of the Turkish people and of our government, we strongly condemn [these attacks],” Bulent Arinc, deputy prime minister, said in a televised news conference, calling the raids “inhuman” and a “stain on the history of humanity”.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign Relations* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIsrael

37 Comments
Posted May 31, 2010 at 4:04 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. David Fischler wrote:

Maybe Turkey should consider not facilitating the actions of a terrorist connected organization (the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation) if it doesn’t want its citizens put in harm’s way. Of course, those same citizens came armed and spoiling for a fight, so maybe the Turkish government itself should take some responsibility for what was a completely avoidable confrontation.

May 31, 4:59 pm | [comment link]
2. Br. Michael wrote:

Nevertheless this is serious.  Can anyone say nuclear war in the Middle East?

May 31, 6:20 pm | [comment link]
3. Jill Woodliff wrote:

A prayer can be found here
Torre Bissell’s testimony on the impact of the Holy Spirit on prayer and Bible reading, which includes a powerful account of praying for the peace of Jerusalem, can be found here.

May 31, 6:35 pm | [comment link]
4. Ad Orientem wrote:

Several questions I think worth asking…
1. Were these vessels within Israel’s recognized territorial waters?  If so, then it would seem Turkey has little grounds for complaint.  You can’t go and enter another country’s waters without leave and expect to be treated as anything other than an uninvited guest. If not then Israel would need to explain by what authority it boarded vessels under a foreign flag outside of its waters.
2. Were the vessels or their passengers armed?  Were they carrying weapons to the Palestinians?  If so Israel may have had some justification for its actions, even in international waters.  If not, then Israel may have committed a serious breach of international law.
3. Was the Turkish government aware of the activities of this “flotilla?”  If so were the intentions of the ships and their passengers communicated in advance to Israel?  Did Turkey have detailed knowledge of the cargo on these vessels?
4. To what extent did Israel issue warnings to these vessels prior to attacking them?  And what authority under international law was cited for their actions?

May 31, 6:47 pm | [comment link]
5. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

#4 Ad Orientem
As far as I understand it, the convoy was outside Israeli territorial waters but Israel relies on the right to enforce a blockade under international law, to board and search ships which appear intent on running the blockade.  There is certainly a case in theory that the action was lawful as the ships were apparently intent on going to Gaza, which is currently under Israeli control and blockade.
However this relies on two things:
1. That Israel has legitimate control over Gaza in international law, and related to that
2. That the blockade is lawful under international law.
The last two questions may be harder for Israel to establish.

The vessel which was boarded was apparently Turkish.  I am surprised that it carried valid insurance for the voyage it was undertaking going into such an unstable area on a voyage apparently intended to provoke a situation of conflict.  But who really knows what the Turks were up to.  Perhaps it had something to do with beating Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest where by the way the UK managed to become first last this year I also note, not that I watched it!

May 31, 7:16 pm | [comment link]
6. Branford wrote:

One perspective on it here:

Word filtered out last night that there had been casualties, including some deaths, on the pointless, Turkey-backed flotilla attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The “peace activists” had been warned that they must divert to Ashdod where the supplies they intended to deliver would be searched for weapons and then trucked to Gaza.

They refused, choosing to make a political statement rather than deliver much-needed food and medical supplies to Gaza. They got their wish. The IDF released this video (embedded below) of the so-called peace activists attacking IDF soldiers as they board one of the ships. They attacked with guns, knives, and improvised weapons.

The flotilla is now under IDF control and headed for Ashdod. The peace activists got their PR message, at the pointless cost of nine lives. The Gazans will eventually get their supplies anyay. The Israeli blockade will continue. And the Israelis will get another scolding from the “international community.”

Later: About this whole “international waters” bit that the activists are bleating about, it doesn’t make a difference where the ships were seized.

Even assuming that the activists are correct and that the ships were taken in international waters, there’s no “safe” spot for blockade runners. Israel has no duty to wait until its own waters are breached, not when the blockade runners have announced their intentions and set sail.

Israel gave the activists every opportunity to turn aside, both before they assembled and after the made a run for the blockade. The activists aren’t bothering to pretend that they were planning to do anything other than challenge the Israeli blockade. They can hardly complain when the Israelis take them at their word.

I haven’t been keeping up with this so I don’t know the accuracy, but I guess I’m just inclined to give the Israelis a little more credit than other side, since Israel is not calling for the annihilation of any particular country or people.

May 31, 8:01 pm | [comment link]
7. AnglicanFirst wrote:

This Muslim flotilla sailing directly to Gaza was a direct and explicit act of provocation. 

Those nations supporting the actions of this ‘flotilla’ are co-conspirators and criminal enablers. 

Turkey, apparently one of the provocateurs, now has some real fundementalist weirdos at it natiuonal helm who have been taking radical steps to silence ‘adult leadership’ in that country.  Leadership that would never have permitted Turkey’s involvement in this provocation.

If the intent of the ‘flotilla’ was to deliver only supplies and persons to Gaza and to NOT provoke a confrontation with Israeli security forces, then Israel’s offer to permit the ‘flotilla’ to disembark its human and material cargo at an Israeli port/have it inspected and then be permitted to peacefully proceed to Gaza with that cargo, then the ‘flotilla’s’ decision to flout that Israeli offer can clearly be seen as an act of suspicious/hostile intent confirming Israel’s suspician that those in the ‘flotilla’ were ‘up to no good.’

Also, a current news report indicates that the Israeli’s put their commandos who boarded the main ship of the ‘flotilla’ at serious risk by ‘sending them in’ with only side arms and weapons used for crowd control.  According to the news report, the Israeli’s were met by terrorist fanatics who violently assaulted them.

Finally, the United States Coast Guard and Navy regularly board and often seize ships, cargo and crew, in international waters, when they suspect those manning those ships to be acting in a manner detrimental to U.S. law and interests.

And remember please, that the Israelis are also being faced by Syrian assistyed/led/directed Muslim fanatics in Lebanon who are aquiring advanced tactical ballistic missiles capable of bombarding the total extent of Israel with high explosive warheads weighing almost 1000 lbs.

May 31, 8:04 pm | [comment link]
8. Branford wrote:

Two articles with lots of info (thanks to Powerline) - Melanie Phillips writing for the Spectator:

. . . Gaza’s markets are full of produce, thousands of tons of supplies are travelling into Gaza every week through the Israeli-controlled border crossings, and there is no starvation or humanitarian crisis. It was always obvious that the flotilla was not the humanitarian exercise it was said to be. Here is footage of the IDF offering to dock the Marmara—the main flotilla ship—at Ashdod and transfer its supplies and being told ‘Negative, negative, our destination is Gaza’.

And now we can see that the real purpose of this invasion—backed by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a radical Islamic organization outlawed by Israel in 2008 for allegedly serving as a major component in Hamas’s global fund-raising machine—was to incite a violent uprising in the Middle East and across the Islamic world. As I write, reports are coming in of Arab rioting in Jerusalem. . .
And this flotilla was but the latest jihadi attack, deploying the Islamists’ signature strategy of violence and media manipulation. Here from MEMRI (via Just Journalism) is a clip showing the hysteria against Israel being whipped up on board before the ships set sail, with the chanting of intifada songs about ‘Khaybar’ – the iconic slaughter of Jews by Muslims in the 7th century which is used as a rallying cry to kill the Jews today—and threats of ‘martyrdom’. This was not merely a propaganda stunt, but a terrorist attack. . .

And William Jacobson on his blog, Legal Insurrection:

. . . The flotilla was organized by the Islamist government in Turkey to aid Hamas with the goal of opening up shipping channels for Turkey’s new friend, Iran, to ship more and better weapons as it is doing to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran is busy turning Lebanon and Syria into one large missile launching pad against Israel, and a southern base in Gaza will complete the encirclement of Israel for the coming crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.

The Europeans on the ships were cover, and the placement of an 18-month old child on these ships was the utmost cynical use of a human shield.

If getting humanitarian supplies to Gaza really was the goal, this flotilla was not necessary. The supplies would have been off-loaded in Eqypt or Israel and then shipped in by land after being checked for hidden weapons.

And that is the rub, only sea-based shipping would provide Iran with the mechanism for almost unlimited armament of Hamas. There is a limit to the quantity and size of missiles and other armaments which can be smuggled through tunnels from Egypt. That is why the sea blockade must be broken for Iran to get what it wants. . .

I’m afraid America’s perceived lack of support for Israel is enabling these types of events.

May 31, 8:14 pm | [comment link]
9. Jill Woodliff wrote:

The media portrayed Netanyahu’s visit to the White House as a snub.  There are widespread rumors that the US revoked Israeli aircraft landing rights throughout the Middle East, leaving Israeli planes unable to refuel; I don’t know if they are true.  Earlier this week, members of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty singled out Israel for nuclear disarmament without mentioning Iran’s nuclear build-up. This represents a change in US policy.

May 31, 9:19 pm | [comment link]
10. TomRightmyer wrote:

I agree with Bradford’s analysis of the consequences of the American position.  The Obama administration attempt to pressure Israel has encouraged the Muslim fanatics. The situation is complicated and all parties are both guilty of errors of judgment and doing their best to maintain their own interests. Intransigence abounds. (Reminds me of the present situation of American Anglicanism.)

May 31, 9:21 pm | [comment link]
11. John Wilkins wrote:

I don’t think Israel cares, really, about international law.  Remember the USS liberty.  I don’t think, in fact, Israel is recognized to have control over the Gaza coast.  But they take what they want. 

I’m amused by the idea that aid workers could really handle Israeli Commandos.  This was a warning.  Aid workers who want to break the blockade will be killed. 

I will say that this is great news for Muslim militants.  They will blame the US, and get even more recruits.  Obama will be revealed as an Israeli stooge.  Jordan and Egypt will have to deal with angry populations eager for their governments to do something. 

Israel cares very little about what happens about the US, or the consequences of their actions for us.  That is, of course, their right.

May 31, 11:22 pm | [comment link]
12. A Senior Priest wrote:

How to take care of problematic things like this flotilla delicately? Any advice?

June 1, 12:05 am | [comment link]
13. Christopher Johnson wrote:

From all I’ve heard, John, “international law” states that Israel thought that ship might have been carrying guns to Hamas, it had every right to search that ship even if it was in international waters.  This country’s done the same thing in blockade situations.  As far as handing a PR victory to the Moslems, I would like to think Israel doesn’t care anymore.  To leftists, Israel takes a PR hit every single time it wakes up in the morning not wiped off the map.

June 1, 12:11 am | [comment link]
14. Ad Orientem wrote:

Re #13
Christopher
“Blockade” is a term that has very definite elements required to meet the test of international law.  As a general rule sovereign nations may only blockade other sovereign states with whom they are at war.  As far as I am aware international law does not recognize any right to blockade civilians outside of a state of war.  Blockades are under international law considered a de jure casus belli. 

An unlawful blockade may be considered as either a war crime or in certain conditions a crime against humanity.  Some have also argued it could be seen as an act of piracy though I think that is a stretch that would not fly in most courts.

Given that Israel is not formally at war with the inhabitants of Gaza and that as far as I am aware no nation (with the possible exception of the United States) recognizes this blockade as lawful, this calls into serious question the legality of Israel’s actions.  And no, the United States has not gone around “blockading” other countries.  The last time we did anything even remotely like this was in 1962 and the Kennedy Administration went to great lengths to call their actions vis a vis Cuba a “quarantine” knowing full well the legal implications of a blockade.  Even so it very nearly caused World War III.

All of which is a moot point.  As John Wilkins pointed out in his rather pointed but accurate comment, Israel’s observance of international law is a very much a matter of “if it’s convenient.”

The Liberty incident is of course merely the most glaring example with respect the United States (Israel’s AMEN chorus really hates having that little unpleasantness mentioned).  We tend to ignore those violations of international law that don’t adversely effect us or better still, hurt someone we don’t happen to like.

One thing is clear though.  Under international law a vessel on the high seas in international waters is an extension of the territorial sovereignty of the country whose flag they fly.  If you board another country’s ship in international waters you had better have you legal ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed.  Unless of course you are Israel.  In which case you can just tell them to go pack sand if they don’t like it.

June 1, 12:35 am | [comment link]
15. azusa wrote:

The aim was not to bring material help (what are 600 people doing on board?) but to create an incident, which it succeeded in doing, though the Islamists probably didn’t expect the deaths. The Israelis should just have blown the rudders off the Marmara. The other five ships stopped. Why didn’t this one? Because they were spoiling for a fight. They radioed their intention to the Israelis to enter Gaza port, over which Israel claims authority.

June 1, 1:59 am | [comment link]
16. Umbridge wrote:

When has God’s eternal plan ever been hindered by international law?

June 1, 2:02 am | [comment link]
17. robroy wrote:

“Given that Israel is not formally at war with the inhabitants of Gaza and that as far as I am aware no nation (with the possible exception of the United States) recognizes this blockade as lawful, this calls into serious question the legality of Israel’s actions.”

From Wikipedia: “As of January 2009, over 8,600 rockets had been launched, leading to 28 deaths and several hundred injuries,[1][2] as well as widespread psychological trauma and disruption of daily life.[3]”

War against “the inhabitants of Gaza”? Maybe not. War against Hamas? That is too obvious to deny.

June 1, 5:50 am | [comment link]
18. William P. Sulik wrote:

“Israel’s observance of international law is a very much a matter of “if it’s convenient.””

Can you show me a nation for which that’s not true?  Remember the Gulf of Tonkin?  France’s sinking of the Rainbow Warrior?  The Armenian Massacre by Turkey? 

Personally, I think Israel handled this with kid gloves - they should have sunk the damn think like it was the USS Liberty.

June 1, 6:50 am | [comment link]
19. Terry Tee wrote:

You know, sometimes there is an angry, bitter tone in some of the comments on this site, and it is demonstrated in several postings above. 
Regarding the incident, the radio this morning reported from Israel that the whole debacle is widely regarded there as a botched job, even if Israelis are as usual closing ranks.  I think it would be fair to say that there were two kinds of people on board:  (1)  some spoiling for a fight and hoping the make propaganda out of it.  And (2) genuine non-violence peace activists, some of whom again according to reports are appalled at the violence that has resulted.  Regarding the blockade, last night I saw Dr Mahmoud Barghouti a Palestinian legislator giving a figure of 131 people from Gaza who had died after being refused entry to Israel for treatment at hospitals there which is not available in Gaza itself. Finally, pace Melanie Philips, but the Israelis themselves are quite clear that the blockade is total when it comes to building products such as cement, bricks and window frames.  As part of putting pressure on Gaza they are refusing to allow reconstruction of those buildings destroyed by their own bombing.  The biggest casualty is the decoupling of the Israeli-Turkish friendship.  Before you rejoice at this, remember that the two countries have regularly conducted joint military manoeuvres and were scheduled to do so again soon.  Hamas must be cackling with glee.

June 1, 7:55 am | [comment link]
20. John Wilkins wrote:

Terry, you make wise points. 

I suppose that part issue is what is actually on the boats.  And unfortunately, much of the aid can be used… by terrorists.  Like food or building supplies.  Food can feed terrorists.  Concrete can build tunnels.  Thus, no Gazans should have either. 

Christopher takes a Manichean view of the situation.  Although it’s easy to get hyperbolic, some of us actually oppose both the practices of Hamas and the bunker mentality of some Israelis.  It does seem that Israel thinks like North Korea:  the world is always out to get it.  Perhaps expectations will create reality.

But what is certain is that Gazans are living in utter misery. 
There is, of course, little incentive for a Gazan to actually support peace, as even its peacemakers get killed. 

But mainly what this will do is make our diplomatic inroads in the Muslim world, as we try to find allies who will support us finding terrorists, that much more difficult.

June 1, 8:26 am | [comment link]
21. Philip Snyder wrote:

“Peace activists” (sic) do not carry weapons and they do not attack when boarded by a naval vessal conducting a blockade.  The Palestinians have only the terrorists among them to blame when it comes to the deprivations that Israel allows.  Palestinian terrorists have used ambulances to transport bombs and bombers.  They have used women and children to do the same.
Israel is in the position that no matter what it does, the world will hate it, so why not act in its best interests?

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

June 1, 9:00 am | [comment link]
22. Terry Tee wrote:

Philip, if you read what I have written, you will see that I make the point that there were more than peace activists involved, and that genuine peace activists would not have reacted that way. Regarding your other points, you ought to remember the old saying:  Truth is the first casualty of war. Remember that so far we have only the Israeli side of affairs, and they have maintained a complete news blackout.  We have not heard the voices of those who were on board the vessels, one of which, by the way, was named after an American:  Rachel Corrie.

June 1, 9:09 am | [comment link]
23. AnglicanFirst wrote:

Israel is at war, whether people want to admit to that fact or not.

Warfare has taken new forms and those wanting war are continually and situationally ‘morphing’ their war activities. 

What was once called insurgency/counter-insurgency (COIN) and then low intensity conflict (LIC) is now being called irregular warfare (IR).  But, they all represent a means of fighting against nation-states in a manner that nullifies many of the advantages/defensive capabilities possessed by nation-states. 

The Muslim fundamentalists (MF) do not think in term of a nation-state world, they think in terms of Muslim caliphate that will rule the whole world in accordance with their interpretation of their Koran.

Warfare conducted by these fundamentalists cannot be defined on nation-state terms.  Nation-states are still important pawns on the game board, but in the eyes of the MF war makers, they are just that, pawns.  Pawns to be manipulated, weakened, stymied and drained of their opposition to the fundamentalist activities/goals.

This non-nation-state form of war has existed for a long time, but until recent times, the armed forces of nation-states, when committed to victory over the long-term, have been able to defeat or seriously disable those waging this form of warfare.

So, what happened in the seas off Gaza?  Israel did what it felt that it had to do.  They apparently were aware of the propaganda victory that the Muslim fundamentalists might gain from an Israeli act of self-defense, but they did what they felt that they had to do.

The fundamentalists clearly planned to create an incident if their ship was boarded and they did just that.

However, one thing should now be clear to the fundamentalists.  That is, Israel will not permit the possibility of the introduction of ship-borne weaponry or trained fundamentalist fighters into Gaza.

And those non-partisan nations/persons now criticizing Israel, should slow down, take a deep breath and then take a deep and clear look at the obviously warlike fundamentalist actions being taken by both non-nation-state fundamentalists and nation-states that are aimed at destroying the State of Israel and its people.

June 1, 10:31 am | [comment link]
24. NoVA Scout wrote:

This is a great medium for exchanging thoughts and ideas It’s shortcoming is that one sometimes phrases things ambiguously or means something ironically, and other readers misinterpret what we’ve said.  I hope, for these reasons, that No. 18 was not commending the Israelis for their attack on the Liberty, and that this is just another one of those things where there is an unintended ambiguity in the comment. 

As to this incident, those who have noted that this has created a propaganda victory for enemies of Israel and difficulties for Israel’s friends (or friend, as may more accurately be the case) are of course correct. Boarding a ship full of peace activists on the high seas with armed men and then killing a few (whatever the provocation - one could reasonably anticipate that there would be resistance) is not going to play well.  The senselessness of this is that Israel has become totally programmable by those who wish it ill.  There were probably 100 shrewder approaches to this “provocation” - one of which was doing nothing - that would have worked much better to advance Israel’s interests.

June 2, 5:44 am | [comment link]
25. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

#24
If a crowd were to set on US soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq, to stab and beat them over the head with hammers and steel bars, to grab their guns and fire at them, and to throw them overboard how would you recommend that they behave unprovocatively?  It seems to me that this was a routine operation that went very wrong when the Israeli troops were attacked out of the blue.  Apparently 5 other vessels had been dealt with without incident, it was only this one where the activists ran amok.

It seems to me that the organisers of these voyages are to blame for not vetting and keeping control of their ‘passengers’.

June 2, 6:12 am | [comment link]
26. NoVA Scout wrote:

No. 25: I guess I am still trying to get a grip on why it was in Israel’s interests to stage an armed boarding of an ally’s merchant vessel (a formal military ally of the United States and Great Britain, while we’re at it) on the high seas.  While your point may be that the US entered Iraq and Afghanistan electively, and once there with armed force, one can expect soldiers to defend their lives, I was focussing more on why the armed force was exercised in the first place.  Whether the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions were equivalent exercises to the MARMARA boarding, and, if so, whether any of these actions were the highest wisdom or statecraft,  is another topic that I am not really prepared to tackle in this thread.

June 2, 8:01 am | [comment link]
27. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

#26 NoVA Scout
Thanks - taking things from the position of the state concerned, it has imposed a blockade upon its coast, including that of the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.  This is ostensibly to prevent the import of arms and missiles from Iran and Syria, but extends to building materials which it claims are used to build and shore up tunnels under the wall for terrorist purposes.  In relation to medical and humanitarian aid, the state says that it is prepared to permit aid to enter the occupied territories provided that it is inspected prior to being sent in by road.    No goods, humanitarian or otherwise are permitted to go in by sea, in particular because of the perceived risks of weapons being smuggled in as well.

Now whether one agrees with that or not, that is the position at the moment and all shipping is aware of it, friend and foe alike.    Where vessels try to run the blockade as these vessels apparently intended to, then the state has the right to board and redirect those vessels as has happened apparently in the past and did with 5 vessels of the convoy peaceably.  The aid element of the cargo was apparently small in the extreme and less than would normally go in by road, so aid does not seem to have been the point of this convoy.

Now if you don’t agree with that and think that either the blockade is illegal or that the blockade does not apply to humanitarian aid, the answer is to take the matter up diplomatically, and in particular with the United Nations, not to just ignore it.  In that light, if these Turkish vessels were running the blockade with the agreement of the Turkish government, then that seems a very strange way for an ally to behave.  Indeed it is surprising that Turkey would agree to and permit a vessel to go to Israel knowing that it would then be placed on the Damascus blacklist run by the Arab League.

As for armed force, it looks as if the initial boarding party landed amidships carrying paint guns and light sidearms, not anticipating that there would be resistance.  When attacked more people with heavier weapons boarded, particularly at the stern.

I am afraid as far as I can see the blame for the way things went rests squarely with the activists aboard the Marmara, although there seems little doubt that the Israeli troops may have panicked under attack, which is regrettable.    It looks as if the result was engineered deliberately by the activists aboard.  The Turkish government and many of the people who went to sea in the Marmara appear to have been naive in the extreme about who they were sailing with and what their intentions were.

Bottom line - it is unwise to attack soldiers and then complain if you experience violence in response.  None of that excuses the loss of life, and it would have been preferable if the troops had used rubber bullets or fired over the heads of the activists.

June 2, 11:15 am | [comment link]
28. Ad Orientem wrote:

Re #24
PageMaster,
Your analogy is way off the mark.  These soldiers that you seem to feel were the victims were invading Turkish sovereign territory at the time they were “attacked.”  Those vessels were in international waters and the passengers and crew were under the protection of the Turkish flag.  The passengers and crew were well within their rights to resist this unlawful attack.

You may debate the wisdom of their actions.  But they were certainly not acting illegally.  On the contrary, the more I have read on this “incident” the more it is becoming clear that Israel’s actions constitute a gross violation of international law and a violation of Turkish sovereignty.

Israel has a long and rather unfortunate record of “might makes right.”  They need to be held to account for this incident.  People died because of their illegal actions.

June 2, 12:58 pm | [comment link]
29. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

#28 Ad Orientem
There are quite a few blockades and restrictions going on in the world today.  Ships do in fact fly the flag of their country of registration, but they are not ‘sovereign territory’.  When within another country or its territorial waters they are subject to the laws and authority of that country.  In no way do they have sovereign immunity.  When in international waters they are subject to international law, and that includes the laws on blockades.  The US and UK do indeed board vessels in international and foreign waters in support of for example narcotics, weapons, and piracy policy.  It is a complex area, but my understanding is that even in international waters a country may board a vessel which either is or has signalled its intent to enter a blockaded area.

As far as I can see this is what happened.

Now whether the blockade is lawful or whether the vessel was intending to run the blockade is a different question.

FWIW I do not have much truck with those who wish to assert that “might makes right” or to take hot-headed action on either side, but as far as I read it Israel does have an argument that it is entitled to police its blockade even in international waters, although given the nature of any sort of conflict, the legality of any blockade will be subject to dispute.  Is it not the case that during the American Civil War the North similarly blockaded the South?

I still think that this provocative attempt to run the Israeli blockade is not the way to do things however right the issues are - that is what diplomacy and the UN are for.  We do not want to see civilians placed in the way of the military, anywhere and there are elements of this whole episode which are reminiscent of the use of human shields which I deplore.  I would not be surprised if there were some very hardline and ruthless people behind this blockade-running so called “aid convoy”.

June 2, 1:32 pm | [comment link]
30. NoVA Scout wrote:

Friend Pageantmaster:  So if there’s a US-flag ship in New York harbour (or even on the high seas) with a bunch of naive, high-minded Jewish peace activists who are convinced that Israel is compromising its future security by measures that enhance Hamas’s strength in Gaza, IDF would be justified in sending in commandos and,  if they encountered resistance, killing a half dozen or so, the US should not be outraged?

Look, this is just stupid stuff.  Israel fed its enemies a victory and put the United States and Turkey in a horrendous situation.  Israel’s sensitivities are totally understandable.  Their stupidities are inexcusable.  Especially when they compromise the United States, which has done so much to support Israel.

June 4, 8:52 pm | [comment link]
31. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

#30 Thanks NoVA Scout
“if there’s a US-flag ship in New York harbour”
I think the point here is that irrespective of the flag of the vessel, a ship in New York Harbour is within the United States, and an attack on it would be seen as an act of war.  Mind you countries do engage in extra territorial policing in this way.  The United States regularly does so.  A classic case is the Libyan bombings of chemical plants.  Israel undertook a similar action in Entebbe.  It is not for me to criticise in either of these cases.

“(or even on the high seas)”
I don’t see that Jewish peace activists being on a US ship in international waters is grounds for boarding the vessel.  The fact that people are on a ship who disagree with you is not recognised as a ground for a state taking action in international waters.  That said, there might be grounds for such operations if there are additional reasons, for example to capture war criminals or drugs barons in transit, or if the vessel were carrying weapons or slaves in breach of arms embargoes or anti-slaving measures, but that is not relevant to the Gaza blockade issue.

I think the point about the boarding of the Mav Marmara is that even in international waters, it is permissible under international law for a state to board and redirect foreign vessels in support of a blockade.    You can certainly argue whether the blockade is lawful, but the basic principle of law applies in the first instance.

You can also argue whether the force used was disproportionate, but when your troops are attacked [even with knives and steel bars rather than guns] this would be harder to establish if the troops’ lives were at risk, as they clearly were.

If Israel has a right to enforce a blockade, then under international law, it has the right to board vessels.  It has boarded a Turkish vessel and may yet board an Irish one the “Rachel Corrie” which has said it will run the blockade.  If the right to enforce the blockade is there, as it appears to be under international law, then there is the right to board using appropriate force if necessary.  If there is armed resistance, then the bar on what appropriate force is is also raised, rather than there being one level of force applicable in all situations, as is the case for example in domestic policing.  The question is, having established a right to board, what is the appropriate level of force which is reasonable in the circumstances, and what is reasonable does vary in the particular circumstances of the particular boarding.

None of that is to say that the use of live rounds was either necessary or appropriate in the Turkish case, but certainly the level of what reasonable force is was increased by the level of attacks made by activists aboard the vessel.

June 5, 5:27 am | [comment link]
32. NoVA Scout wrote:

It’s not clear to me that the blockade is legal under international law, but I don’t have a killer app definitive answer to the question.  Israel (quite erroneously, as is their wont in recent times) decided that an effective way to undermine Hamas’s election victory in Gaza was to make the population pay a heavy price in privation and restriction by imposing this blockade.  I do not dispute that Israel has a right to use military force to keep out weapons that are being used against it and its citizens, but the “blockade” has a significant political element.  My major complaint about this incident, however,  is that it was unnecessary, avoidable, and injurious to Israel, as has been their settlement policy.  Knowing that the United States is loathe to formally criticise Israel in disputes with its neighbors, Israel has shown almost no inhibition about putting itself in a corner and dragging the US in there with it. The damage to both countries is incalculable and has led to many deaths for each.

June 5, 6:55 am | [comment link]
33. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

#32 Hello NoVA Scout

It’s not clear to me that the blockade is legal under international law, but I don’t have a killer app definitive answer to the question.

A very good point, and in many instances blockades can be open to question, particularly if they are unilateral.  In this case part of that question goes back to the history of the area.  As I understand it the whole area was originally part of the Turkish Empire, but following the First World War the area was parcelled out under mandate to Britain in the case of what was at that time called ‘Palestine’ which subsequently became Israel, and France I think in the case of Lebanon.  The new kingdom of Transjordan eventually took what is termed the West Bank. 

Israel is on strong ground for exercising control including legal control over areas which were within the original borders of Israel, but in the case of the West Bank that is occupied territory of Jordan.  I am not certain of the position in Gaza but it is probably similar.

The occupied territories are in a sense ‘unfinished business’ and the doubt which surrounds their status also affects any blockade which includes them.  There are a number of relevant United Nations resolutions about them.

I think though that any blockade will be contentious and the legality will be questioned.  Close to home you may remember that the Northern blockade of the Confederacy was not broadly recognised internationally to be legal.

However the means of sorting these issues remains through diplomacy and negotiation internationally and through the various initiatives by the US, European Union and United Nations, not through provocative blockade-running.  I suspect that all of the issues related to Israel and Palestine are a package and will be sorted out together rather than piecemeal as the blockade runners and their sympathisers are trying to do.  As such they constitute yet another partizan part of the conflict rather than part of a peaceful solution.

Israel (quite erroneously, as is their wont in recent times) decided that an effective way to undermine Hamas’s election victory in Gaza was to make the population pay a heavy price in privation and restriction by imposing this blockade.

Well Israel says that they imposed the blockade to stop missiles from Syria and Iran reaching Hamas; certainly the choking off of supplies of missiles subsequent to the blockade is something Israel points to as showing that they are right.  It is also worth remembering that Egypt also operates a partial blockade of the same area as Israel.  Israel says that it permits humanitarian and medical aid in.  However I agree with you that the sanctions imposed by Israel appear to extend into the punitive.

My major complaint about this incident, however,  is that it was unnecessary, avoidable, and injurious to Israel, as has been their settlement policy.

The settlement policy has been condemned by the United Nations and in part stopped by Israel.  I think the problem is though that the negotiations aimed at sorting the issue out were scuppered, in part through attacks from the Occupied Territories.  Israel argues that the blockade is necessary to stop the OT’s being used as a launchpad for attacks on its people.  Moreover that it is necessary to stop Hamas/Iran from having sea access to the Mediterranean.

Knowing that the United States is loathe to formally criticise Israel in disputes with its neighbors, Israel has shown almost no inhibition about putting itself in a corner and dragging the US in there with it.

Europeans like me find the Israel right or wrong attitude in the US and its government strange but I have come to understand that much of this comes from the Dispensationalist outlook of so many of the religious right in the US.  The US is the main backer of Israel and is in a position to rein in its excesses, but I understand that there are enormous internal political liabilities for any President willing to do so, although perhaps less than there were in the past.

Part of the angst being shown in Israel is that they are no longer just getting the rubber stamp for whatever they do from the US any more.

The damage to both countries is incalculable and has led to many deaths for each.

The whole thing is a tragedy.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

June 5, 8:16 am | [comment link]
34. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

It looks like Israel has now also boarded the Irish vessel “Rachel Corrie”.

June 5, 8:55 am | [comment link]
35. Branford wrote:

Pageantmaster - While you are correct that the Dispenstionalist outlook plays a part in the U.S. support of Israel, that is only part of it. For many Americans, they see a Europe that has consistently and for centuries practiced anti-semitism, a Europe that refuses to recognize that Israel, as faulty as she is, has the only working representative government in the Middle East, a Europe that even now seemingly would have no problem if Israel disappeared off the map. Yes, the U.S. has had her share of anti-semitism, but nowhere near what Europe had and continues to have. For many of us, it’s a question of fair play - to allow the Jewish people to have their own land in order to guarantee their safety, since so much of the rest of the world would take that safety from them. And some of us feel that because the current administration has shown that they will not necessarily support Israel, the Israeli government feels that it must take more extreme measures to ensure its survival.
An article on the raid from the New York Times:

. . . The crack of an Israeli sound grenade and a hail of rubber bullets from above were supposed to disperse activists, but instead set them in motion. And when three Israeli commandos slid down ropes out of helicopters to take over the ship, a crowd set upon them.

“They ran at them without pause or hesitation,” Dr. Coskun recalled.

One soldier was stabbed and two were beaten. From that moment on, the attempted takeover turned into an armed assault, with angry Israeli commandos opening fire. Within an hour, the commandos had taken control of the ship, and nine Turks, including one who also had American citizenship, were dead.

Dozens of interviews in Israel and Turkey suggest that Israel’s decision to stop the flotilla at all costs collided with the intention of a small group of Islamic activists from Turkey, turning a raid on a ship of protesters in international waters into a bloodbath — and a major international event. . .

It was a small group of aggressive activists on the upper deck who overwhelmed the first soldiers, wrenching away their weapons and, according to Dr. Coskun and video images supplied by the Israeli military, beating them with wooden poles and metal rods that they had ripped or sawed off the side of the boat. . .

June 5, 1:21 pm | [comment link]
36. Branford wrote:

And from Powerline, more on the EU reaction:

. . . As is often the case these days, France led the clownish rush to judgment. French MEP Nicole Kiil-Nielsen called the expedition towards Gaza a “flotilla of peace” and added, “I hope that the death of these pacifists, these activists, will lead us to say this time: ‘That’s enough! It has to stop! ...Let us put an end to the impunity of Israel!’”

Finally, [Israeli Ambassador to the EU Ran] Curiel was able to show video images of Kill-Nielsen’s “pacifists” in action. But far from causing Europe’s solons to rethink their position, the introduction of real evidence served only (in Rosenthal’s words) to “prompt[] unrest in the chamber and objections from deputies.”

Again it was a French MEP, Eva Joly, who led the charge. She stated that there is “no guarantee that the images that were shown are in any way authentic.” Perhaps not, at that moment. But the images were better evidence of what had occurred than anything Joly, or the other Israel bashers, could point to.

It is difficult to view the tape of the EU parliamentary session and not conclude that the EU is no friend of Israel, but rather sides reflexively with Israel’s enemies. The Israelis should tune it out, if they have not done so already.

This event also undercuts the view of those who claim that Israel’s failure to release video of the incident more quickly was a significant factor in the PR battle. The reaction to this incident was based almost entirely on ideology. Those who condemned Israel were not interested in the evidence, and no evidence was likely to change the reaction appreciably.

June 5, 1:33 pm | [comment link]
37. Terry Tee wrote:

Looks like this thread is among the undead.

Dear Branford:  What you have written shows a dynamic that is worryingly like antisemitism.  Let me explain.  One characteristic of antisemitism is that a whole range of negative characteristics is projected on the the Jews.  Of course, the Jews are like you and me:  ordinary human beings, a motley crew.  But these negatives are projected on to them.  Have another look at your talk of a mysterious entity called Europe.  In your description of it as unthinking, knee-jerking, hostile, and inhumanly uncaring - in fact, lacking any compassion whatever - we have a classic case of projection.

June 5, 3:44 pm | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.




Next entry (above): Young. British. Female. Muslim.

Previous entry (below): Troops in Afghanistan, Iraq mark Memorial Day

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)