Flotilla Dissents

A reader writes:

You misrepresent what the protesters did as "self-defense".  Self-defense occurs where there is imminent danger to life or bodily safety.  When the Israeli Navy approached, it informed the boat that their destination was blockaded (as they already knew, obviously), and that they would be permitted to dock at Ashdod and that their aid supplies could then be transferred to Gaza.  The ship refused.  What followed was pretty standard protocol in a blockade - a ship that tries to run the blockade and refuses to be redirected voluntarily is then stopped (boarded, or disabled and towed, or threatened with a shot across the bow until it complies).  The obvious intent of the commandos was to redirect ship to the port, not to inflict bodily harm.  The fact that they descended one by one reinforces this fact, as well the fact that there was no violence on any of the five other vessels.  So the premise of self-defense is specious, whatever one thinks of the blockade.

I do not believe, and have not written, that Israel intended this slaughter. I do think that disabling the vessel would have been far smarter, and the decision to assault it was reckless. I also think that if you believe that the blockade is illegal (and that's a perfectly legitimate position), and that you are attempting to break it, and you are then assaulted in international waters by shock-troops, self-defense is an option. Especially when your ship contains building materials, toys and wheelchairs and has on board a host of activists from many countries. There was a clear element in the raid of making a show of force - pour decourager les autres. This was a "Don't Fuck With The Jews!" moment. It was unnecessary, and a sign of Israel's increasingly erratic behavior. Another writes:

While not excusing Israel's actions, I did want to question some of your logic. You wrote:

"...a country with 150 nuclear warheads, the most lethal military in its region, the ability to occupy neighboring countries at will, and the protection of the global super-power was actually threatened by ... a small crew of boats."

Well, yes. Welcome to terrorism in the 21st century. 

New York has one of the world's greatest police forces, with an intelligence unit bigger than that of many small countries, yet a major tourist attraction and population center was almost taken out by ... one guy in a used SUV.  We have the planet's most powerful air force, yet 9/11 was orchestrated by ... a small crew of terrorists with box cutters.  The USS Cole was a member of the world's greatest naval fleet in the world, a destroyer equipped with the most sophisticated radar equipment known to man, yet it was actually attacked by ... a small rubber dinghy manned by two Al Qaeda members.

Israel's response to what has been labeled a peace flotilla manned by "activists" will be debated and there's no doubt that there are at least a dozen other actions the IDF could have taken to turn the ship around, but to imply that a great military power can not or should not be threatened by small actors is to ignore the disturbing recent history of terrorism.

Another:

I briefly skimmed the "dissent of the day."  I question whether you should even respond to emails of that sort; the "Jew hater" comment is offensive independent of any evidence for it.  I think the proper response is to stop reading.

Another:

I have never considered your criticism of Israel to be anti-semitic, but your stance on this incident is really starting to be "anti-reason". Maybe it's the real time nature of blogging, so your thought process is put out there for all of us to see, and the "interim" conclusions you are reaching now would be thrown away later when you are writing a more considered piece on the matter.

It is valid to argue over the necessity and the scope of the blockade. But once you acknowledge that a blockade is justified to keep weapons out of Gaza (as you have done), then you must also accept that ships attempting to run the blockade will be subject to intercept and search. Otherwise the blockade is pointless. And you must also accept that given the nature and purpose of the blockade (to interdict weapons and "strategic" materials going into Gaza), the folks doing the boarding will be armed. And if they are set upon by passengers wielding knifes and lead pipes ... well, what the hell do you think is going to happen? I've been pulled over for traffic violations before, and I can guarantee you that if I set upon an officer with a lead pipe and tried to wrestle away his/her gun, that officer's partner would draw down on me, and all hell would break loose. At least I expect that's what would happen, because I am an adult who lives in the real world.

And you really need to stop making such a huge deal about the ship being in international waters. It's been a while since I studied international maritime law, but my recollection is that if the ship has declared its intent to run the blockade, is nearing the blockade zone, and refuses to alter its course after being warned, the fact that the ship is in international waters is irrelevant. The Israeli's didn't sink the ship, after all; they intercepted it.

Another:

Your assertion of disproportionate violence is abhorrent for two reasons. The activists clearly were acting with violence as to threaten the soldiers' lives (yes, multiple people surrounding a single individual and hitting him with metal poles is a lethal threat). Using lethal force to prevent this is is no way disproportionate. Additionally, the entire idea of using "disproportionate" as an argument against Israel's actions is inherently biased, as it is based on the idea that one cannot use superior skills and weapons at their disposal to protect themselves because the fight would be otherwise unfair. The fact that the activists were bad at fighting does not in any way mean they didn't have the ability to kill.

But if war is politics by other means, and the result of the blatant exercize of brute force is the strengthening of your enemy, why go that route? And why, in all these emails, is there no actual regret for the dead civilians on board?