As the details emerge, there is little doubt that our efforts to prevent the flotilla seeking to break the embargo on Gaza have become an immense public relations disaster. Israel is being depicted in the global media as barbaric aggressors whilst Hamas and their fellow travelers are portrayed as valiant champions for human rights.
I have little doubt that when the facts are assembled, this debacle will not reflect adversely on the IDF. However, the surprise ambush does imply a breakdown in our intelligence. After all, only one day prior to the confrontation, a female participant of the flotilla interviewed by Al Jazeera TV expressly predicted that the outcome would be “one of two happy endings: either martyrdom or reaching Gaza.”
The other principal failure was the government’s unpreparedness in presenting its case to the world in a timely and effective manner. The authorities did manage to convey that the flotilla rejected Israel’s offer to enable the transfer of the goods, supposedly dispatched on humanitarian grounds, to Gaza following inspection at the Ashdod port. But despite being aware months in advance that a major international information campaign would be required after the event, the government was once again unprepared. When it did address the foreign media, it was in a totally unprofessional manner.
Israel faced a no-win situation. It was entitled by international law to deny entry to a flotilla of boats seeking to breach a military embargo against an Iranian-backed terrorist entity which proudly boasts of its determination to destroy Israel. Hamas is indisputably a terrorist group whose evil charter explicitly calls on the faithful to continue killing Jews until none survive. It is the ultimate hypocrisy for democratic countries to challenge Israel’s action. Could one conceive of American or European forces permitting convoys of unchecked “humanitarian aid” to be transferred to Taliban strongholds?
However, it was only in the afternoon, after the world media had been inundated with hair-raising stories about alleged Israeli atrocities (by which time most nations had already condemned Israel) that interviews with IDF soldiers depicting the events started to emerge and enabled Israeli journalists to begin presenting the case for Israel.
It then became clear that all the casualties occurred on one boat.Rather than the Gandhi style idealistic pacifists portrayed in the media, Islamists under the control of IHH, a Turkish pro terrorist group closely linked to Hamas, had ambushed, violently attacked and attempted to kill soldiers who had been led to believe that they were dealing with nonviolent political activists (click here and here for Youtube video links). It was unquestionably a lynch-mob atmosphere with evidence of participants shrieking Islamic battle cries and expressing a willingness for martyrdom in order to kill Jews.
IDF soldiers were shot with live ammunition, stabbed with knives, beaten with iron clubs and thrown off the boats. There is no question that they faced life-threatening situations and had no choice other than to use weapons in self defense. It is thus grotesque to relate to proportionality in the context of soldiers being beaten by a wild mob employing iron bars.
This was alluded to in the early media statements by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Regrettably these press conferences which should have been framed for the global media were ineffectively presented and predominantly broadcast in Hebrew for internal Israeli consumption. This surely should have been an occasion for Israel to have used its most articulate spokesmen to marshal the facts and convey them in an effective manner to a global audience.
We lost the initial opportunity of conveying the case for Israel at the outset when first impressions are critical. In the immediate aftermath of the interception of the flotilla, all coverage and testimony, including video feeds, were almost exclusively orchestrated by Hamas, Turkey, Al Jazeera and other hostile anti-Israel elements. It took almost fourteen hours after the event for footage of the brutal behavior of the thugs who confronted our soldiers to be released by the IDF. By then, it was too late. The earlier anti-Israel images had become embedded in the sound bites of all international media. Other than Fox TV in the United States, the crucial raw depiction of the thuggish behavior against the soldiers was largely ignored by the global media.
It was also regrettable that no reference was made to the fact that the embargo against Hamas was also being implemented by Egypt, no friend of Israel, which is not keen to enable weapons to flow from Gaza to their own Muslim Brotherhood terrorist factions.
This is not the first time that we face disastrous repercussions because of a delay in marshaling the facts. Again and again, we expose the lies to the world far too late and only after the horse has already bolted. We should have learned the lessons from the devastating fallout following our failures to respond in a timely manner to the false claims of massacres in Jenin during Defensive Shield or the fabricated Muhammad al-Dura blood libel which ignited the second intifada. On this occasion, we may well have promoted the objective of those seeking to legitimize Hamas.
Although there have been calls for an independent inquiry, the footage released by the IDF speaks for itself. However, we do need an inquiry or commission to explain why our government continues to mishandle the crucial war of ideas primarily because of delays in adequately communicating the facts. We need to know why more funds are not being set aside for the war of ideas and why we are not using talented Israelis with skills to promote our case.
It is true that even if the facts were crystal clear, we would still be condemned by most of the world. One only needs to contrast the international outcry against Israel with the recent muted response of the international community to the unprovoked North Korean submarine sinking of a South Korean frigate. But we must, at the very least, make sure that our case is clearly presented so that those who apply double standards against us are shamed and exposed. This can only be possible if we adequately provide the tools to enable objective, fair minded people to appreciate that we are confronting barbaric and determined enemies who represent the ultimate antithesis of what one would expect amongst those purporting to campaign on behalf of human rights.
We face today yet another major effort by our enemies to delegitimize us. It is a time for unity and full credit should be extended to opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Kadima who have set aside politics to display solidarity with the state. Hopefully that will be extended to the formation of a unity government which the majority of the nation would welcome during these trying days when we once again find ourselves, realizing the words of Balaam in the Torah, as “the people who dwelleth alone.”
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post