Flotilla | what to make of the IDF “hit list” story?

Posted: June 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Other flotilla related news from Israel: army declares all recordable media was confiscated from journalists on ships “for security reasons”; Defense Minister Barak losing key supporter in his party

On the hours following the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla, there were rumors of an Israeli “hit list” that has fallen from the pocket of one of the soldiers.

The Turkish TV even had some pictures of the list:

Later on, we learned that the passengers who attacked the ship were able to take three IDF soldiers (apparently an officer and two commandos) as prisoners and held them for 15 to 30 minutes. It seemed that the list was taken from these soldiers.

On the Iara Lee footage you can see one of the passengers showing the list to the camera (44:18 min), saying that:

“We got pictures of challenger 2 [apparently a code for ship name]… it came from the Israelis. Different ships and who’s on them, who to concentrate on… they have pictures of who they wanted.”

The last page shown on this film (45:22 min) – actually it’s the first page in Hebrew, which is read from right to left – reads “List of Passengers and Ships.”

The head of the Turkish organization IHH, Bulent Yildirim, whose name was on the list, referred to it as a “hit list”, claiming the IDF’s intention was to kill the 16 people listed on it. Another one of the names is that of Palestinian-Israeli leader Sheikh Raad Saleh, who was rumored to have been killed on the hours following the attack. As it turned out, one of the casualties looked very much like Saleh, and that, together with his name on the IDF list, caused the confusion.

I don’t think this was a hit list. Killing the passengers on the ships, with so many witnesses around, seems like an absurd idea – and the way things unfolded shows it very well. It would have been much easier to get to these people anywhere else in the world.

To me the list looks more like a standard intelligence document with name of suspects needed for arrest/questioning. The IDF calls them Bingo Lists. I think the army wanted to put its hands on these people, or even just inform the soldiers who they are, so that they take some care when dealing with them. In the days following the deportation of the passengers, there were reports in the Israeli press from unnamed army sources, who ere extremely upset that some of the people on the Mavi Marmara were released. We can assume that they meant the people on the Bingo List.

Still, the list tells us something very important: that the IDF knew who was on the ships – and that it even considered some of the passengers as hostile, possibly even terrorists. So how can we explain the IDF’s claim that the soldiers were surprised by the attack on the first soldiers that landed on the upper deck?

One rumor I heard is that the army simply blew it. They came to arrest people, but the whole operation was poorly planned and executed. According to this theory – and it’s no more than a theory – the whole “surprise” narrative was born to cover for Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and especially navy commander Eliezer Marom, who personally supervised the operation from one of the Israeli ships. If the Israeli public knew the whole story, the theory goes, it would have been their neck on the line.

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There are more testimonies of misuse of credit cards that were confiscated by the IDF from the flotilla’s passengers. The IDF also continues to use the videos it confiscated form the journalists and passengers for its own propoganda purposes.

Some 60 journalists were arrested by Israel following the raid on the ships, and all their recordable media confiscated by the army. I contacted IDF spokesperson asking for official comment on these matters for an article I published in Ha-Ir magazine this weekend (Hebrew scan here). The response I got was that the confiscation was done “for security reasons”.

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Defense Minister Ehud Barak will be going to Washington next week. Barak is the administration’s favorite guy in the government, and the White House is counting on him to force Netanyahu into concessions. This strategy has failed so far, and even Barak’s few remaining allies in his party are giving up hope on him.

Labor party strongman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was quoted today saying that if the government doesn’t come up with its own peace initiative “in the next few weeks”, he would join the fraction calling for the party to leave the government. Ben-Eliezer was Barak’s most important supporter in his party, but relations between the two cooled after Ben-Eliezer supported an international probe into the raid on the flotilla.

It seems that Netanyahu’s government is beginning to feel some real pressure, and currently Barak is its weakest link.


Death at Sea | the attack on the Gaza flotilla (live blogging)

Posted: May 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, war | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments »

2:50 AM: finally, going to sleep. I will post at least another media round up in the morning.

2:05 AM: the finger pointing begins. Ynet quotes [Hebrew] unnamed government ministers claiming the army guaranteed them that taking over the ships would end with no casualties. One senior cabinet minister said: “we didn’t understand how explosive this story is.”

Senior IDF official was quoted saying the all scenarios were presented to the cabinet before PM Netanyahu left for north America. “the responsibility lies with the political level.”

0:30 AM: MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) who was on board the Mavi Marmara, is interrogated at the Ashdod police station. Sheikh Raed Saleh is also interrogated.

Earlier this evening, some 500 people demonstrated in front of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv, protesting the Turkish involvement in organizing the flotilla and Ankara’s recent hostility towards Israel. the demonstration received extensive coverage in the Israeli media.

11:42 PM: Weapons found by IDF on Mavi Marmara: knifes and sticks (IDF spokesperson picture here).

11:05 PM: It seems that the government and the army got their message through, at least here in Israel. The last two graphic videos released clearly showed the soldiers being attacked, and are going to have an enormous effect on the Jewish public, as such images always do.

These images will be used by Israel in its PR counter attack in the US and Europe, and might have some effect there as well, though people will surly wonder what reaction the army expected when he sent commando unit on a civilian ship in international water.

As the last passengers of the Mavi Marmara leave the ship, the day’s drama comes to an end, but the diplomatic and political game only begins. There are reports of another ship – the Rachel Corrie, heading from Irland – on its way to Gaza; Israel haven’t released the names and nationality of the passengers killed in the attack; the Security Council is meeting. Questions might be raised even in Israel, once the initial shock passes. More important, we have yet to hear testimonies – and we might even get some new pictures and videos – from the passengers of the Mavi Marmara, something that is bound to have an effect on public opinion, in Israel and outside.

I will follow events here in the next few days, focusing as always on the Israeli angle. I will also try to add some of my own analysis, something I didn’t find the time to do today.

10:18 PM: Dozens of Ultra-Orthodox demonstrated in Jerusalem in protest of the Israeli attack on the flotilla [link in Hebrew]. They carried signs reading  “Zionist ד= pirates”.

9:48 PM: Evening analysis round-up:

Dan Ephron (Newsweek): Israeli Attack highlights failure of Gaza blockade.

Jo Klein (Time): This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government.

Andrew Sullivan (Atlantic): The disproportionate use of force, the loss of life, the horrifying impact of the blockade of Gaza in the first place: it makes Israel look like a callous, deranged bully, incapable of accepting any narrative that it cannot control and responding instinctively with disproportionate violence.

Adrian Blomfield (Telegraph): Under the stewardship of Benjamin Netanyahu, its abrasive prime minister, Israel has developed an extraordinary knack for inopportune timing.

Gideon Rachman (financial Times): “three particular angles for the Israelis to worry about. First, that there will be some sort of new intifada. Second, the continued deterioration in their relationship with Turkey. Third, their fraying ties with the Obama administration” [I don't agree. there won't be Intifada over this. the major problem is Europe and world public opinion, not US].

Yossi Melman (Haaretz): the government acted in such a tragic and stupid way, it’s hard to even understand it [Hebrew].

9:40 PM final casualties report from IDF spokesperson: 9 civilians killed, 7 soldiers injured, out of which four soldiers were moderately wounded, and three lightly wounded. The number of injured civilians wasn’t reported.

9:10 PM: estimated 2,000 people at tel Aviv protest in front of defense department.

8:55 PM: 7th eye (Israeli media watchdog organization): Yedioth Ahronoth daily knew but wouldn’t publish vast IDF top brass opposition to the raid on the flotilla [Hebrew].

8:50 PM: IDF posted another very graphic video in which the activists are shown attacking the soldiers landing to the Mavi Marmara. Passengers’ video supposedly show IDF shooting on board Mavi Marmara even after the ship raised a white flag.

8:40 PM: The Maramra docked in Ashdod, and the passengers are being detained by Israeli authorities. So far, there were no violent clashes. According to reports in Israel, the activists will be deported soon.

In New York, the UN  security council began its discussion.

6:45 PM: The Mavi Marmara is about to enter the Israeli post of Ashdod, while some demonstrations take place in Israel: a few hundreds are protesting the attack on the flotilla in the Arab town Um El-Fahem. Small protests are scheduled for 7.00 in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There were also pro-IDF protests in Ashdod and in Haifa.

6:15 PM: Opinion and analysis round-up: there is a growing gap between what’s the talking heads are saying in Israel rigth now – focusing on the threat to the soldiers lifes and the insuffianct force that was sent to take control over the Mavi Marmara – to what’s going on in the world, where this is viewed as a brutal attack on civilians on international water, or as Moshe Yaroni puts it, Israel’s Kent State.

David Horvitz (Jerusalem Post’s editor): A race to contain the damage: The “humanitarian aid” flotilla was clearly a perniciously well-conceived initiative, for which Israel prepared inadequately.

Blake Hounshell (Foreign Policy): It’s not hard to imagine boycott campaigns gaining momentum, damaging the Israeli economy and isolating the country diplomatically, especially in Europe.

MJ Rosenberg (Huffington Post): Israel is in trouble. At the present rate, the remarkable accomplishment that is Israel will be lost because the right (i.e, Netanyahu, AIPAC, etc) prefers the settlements, smashing Gaza and building in Arab East Jerusalem to Israel itself.

Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy): It is difficult to fathom how the Israeli government could have thought that this was a good way to respond to a long-developing public relations challenge, but its actions will certainly fuel its evolving international legitimacy crisis.

Avi Trengo (Ynet): When Israel conveys a sense of weakness is it any wonder that a mob would charge at a commando and attempt to lynch him?

Richard Spencer (Telegraph): Whether on land or now at sea, there is a terrible symmetry to Israel’s engagement with the Palestinians and those who support them.

Rafi mann (Seventh Eye): The Palestinian Exodus [Hebrew].

5.00 PM: IDF completed search of Mavi Marmara, no weapons discovered except for the two pistols that were taken from the soldiers (channel 10).

4:57 PM: IDF spokesperson: 9 activists killed on Mavi Marmara, 7 soldiers injured. Ynet: 31 activist injured.

4:55 PM: It’s Official: PM Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his trip to Washington and will not meet president Obama, but rather return home to handle the crisis. It was speculated that part of the reason is the will to avoid the scheduled press conference with the president, in which the President will be forced to condemn the attack in the presence of the Israeli PM.

4:35 PM: IDF releases video and report of the events:

4:15 PM: CRIF, the representative council of the organized Jewish community in France, declared the events “not good news for peace,” and expressed its regret on the death of civilians.

4:00 PM: Israeli media framing the incident as one in which the soldiers were the victims of an organized, surprise attack (the fact that it was the IDF soldiers who boarded the ships on international waters is hardly mentioned). There are more and more descriptions on channel 1 and 2 of the knifes and bats that were used against the soldiers.

The IDF just started releasing videos of the demonstrators rushing to the soldiers as they board the ship. According to most pundits, the mistake the IDF did was not applying enough force, and boarding the ship with a small force, not fully armed.

This is Ron Ben-Yishay, Ynet’s military correspondent, that was on one of the Israeli navi ships:

Our Navy commandoes fell right into the hands of the Gaza mission members. A few minutes before the takeover attempt aboard the Marmara got underway, the operation commander was told that 20 people were waiting on the deck where a helicopter was to deploy the first team of the elite Flotilla 13 unit. The original plan was to disembark on the top deck, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop.

(…)

Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.

However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons.

3:10 PM: Two of the smaller ships arrived at the Ashdod post. The Marmara, – the main ship on which the fight occurred – is not expected to arrive before 7PM. Israeli press speculates on possible danger to soldiers and Israeli civilians from the protesters on the ships. Riot police and anti terror units are on their way to Ashdod. Early reports claim that 16 protesters were arrested.

3:00 PM: Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Channel 10:

“As time passes, it becomes clear we found weapons in the ships. The events move now to the diplomatic front. All our messages were passed to the Foreign Media.

“Regarding relation with Turkey: we did not initiate any confrontation; we hope there won’t be damage to relations. This wasn’t a peace flotilla, it wasn’t a humanitarian flotilla. IDF spokesmen will publish material that will prove that there were terrorist personal and arms on the ships. This is our message to the world.”

2:50 PM: Channel 10: soldiers boarded the main ship with paintball guns and were immediately in danger for their life. they had no choice but to move to live ammunition.

2:40 PM: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Navi Commander Eliezer Marom held a press conference in which they gave the first Israeli official explanation to the day’s events. Barak declared that the flotilla organizers are to blame for the casualties.

“The soldiers were attacked after arriving at one of the ships. Some were injured by serious physical violence on the part of the protestors.

“In light of the life-threatening situation, the soldiers were forced to use crowd dispersal means and firearms,” said Barak, adding that some of the casualties were killed by firearms. According to Barak, 10 soldiers were injured in the incident, some from firearms and some from cold arms.

“The IHH organization, which was behind these unruly ship, is a violent and radical organization acting under the cover of humanitarian activity.”

2:30 PM: Israel Ch1 military reporter: Islamic leader Raed Salah “alive and well” – reports of him injured and in surgery are a case of mistaken id.

2:15 PM: commentary round up:

Bradley Burston (Haaretz): We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege, which is itself becoming Israel’s Vietnam.

Aluf Ben (Haaretz): Netanyahu should stop US trip, come home and form an official commission of inquiry. excuses that activists were armed won’t work [Hebrew].

Ian Black (Guardian): Israel’s bloody interception of the Gaza flotilla looks like a disastrous own goal… this was a gift to Israel’s worst enemies.

Amos Harel (Haaretz): If rumors are confirmed that Muslim leader Raed Salah is among casualties of Israel’s raid on a Gaza aid convoy, the country’s Arab population could explode.

Glenn Greenwald (Salon): If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt as possible, how could it do a better job?

Shmuel Rosner (Jerusalem Post):  PR – as important as it might be – is not all in life (…) If force had to be used as to prevent the flotilla from going into Gaza – if there was no way around it – than PR becomes a secondary issue and will have to be dealt with later.

1:50 PM: CH 10 TV defense correspondent Alon Ben David at Ashdod: Rioting expected to continue at port. Some passengers still locked in cabins. Channel 10 site: Arabs from Haifa among casualties.

1:40 PM: Israeli Foreign Office warned Israelis from trips to Turkey. Those already here are advised to stay in hotels. Turkey canceled three planned military maneuvers with IDF. Greece also canceled its planned maneuver with Israeli air force.

1:30 PM: Turkish ambassador leaving for Ankara.

12:30: Deputiy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon accuses Flotilla organizers of having ties to Hamas and AL-Qaeda. Regarding the attack, the Foreign Ministry web site stated that:

According to reports from sea, on board the flotilla that was seeking to break the maritime closure on the Gaza Strip, IDF forces apprehended two violent activists holding pistols. The violent activists took these pistols from IDF forces and apparently opened fire on the soldiers as evident by the empty pistol magazines.

As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire.

12:10: Leftwing protests scheduled for 6 Pm in Jerusalem; 7 Pm in Tel Aviv (in front of the Defense Ministry on Kaplan st.); 7 Pm in Haifa. Some protesters are on their way right now to Ashdod and Haifa ports, to which the flotilla boats are headed.

12:00 AM: Ynet: two soldiers badly injured during the attack on the ships. 7 civilians in Israeli hospitals.

11:40 AM: Haaretz: Raad Saleh injured, not dead, hospitalized in Tel Hashomer (Tel Aviv). UPDATE: ynet reports that according to army sources, Salah is on one of the boats, only slightly injured.

video: MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad) calling for help in English and Hebrew from the attacked ship.

Ynet: 15 died on Ships.

10:50 AM: We woke up to the news of the violent takeover of the flotilla by IDF soldiers, and to the rumors that Sheikh Raad Salah, the Israeli-Palestinian Muslim leader, is among the 10 casualties. Regardless of one’s political views and what comes out of this incident, these are horrible news. It seems that the government really blew it this time. Violence looks almost inevitable, and who knows what will follow.

After a few hours of silence, Army and government spokesmen started commenting on the affair, declaring that the people on the boats “tried to lynch the soldiers“. But the spins won’t work here. Even without knowing what really happened, so much is clear: when you keep more than a million under siege for years – even if you make sure they don’t starve to death, as Israelis constantly remind us they do – some people are bound to try and break this siege. And when they do, if you send the commando at them in the middle of the night – and on international water! – there will be consequences, and there might be casualties.

I will keep updating this post as news come.

This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government