The Israeli assault on peace flotilla

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“Operation Justified Vengeance”: Israeli Strike on Freedom Flotilla to Gaza is Part of a Broader Military Agenda

by Michel Chossudovsky

ORIGINALLY: Global Research, May 31, 2010

<<< An Israeli naval vessel patrols beside one of six ships bound for Gaza. {Photograph: Reuters) They came by sea and air, shattering the peace of a Mediterranean night. Shortly after 4.30am yesterday, in international waters, the elite Flotilla 13 unit of the Israeli navy stormed the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of a flotilla crewed by an alliance of pro-Palestinian activists who had combined to deliver 10,000 tonnes of aid to Gaza. (Guardian.UK)

War Criminal Prime Minister Netanyahu, who directly ordered the strike on the international flotilla to Gaza was on an official visit to Canada at the time of the Israeli attack.  The strike constitutes an act of piracy in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Netanyahu’s actions, which have resulted, in more than 10 deaths and up to 60 injured constitute a criminal act committed in international waters. ( BBC News – Deaths as Israeli forces storm Gaza aid ship).  In a cruel irony, Netanyahu in a recent statement, committed himself to peace with Palestine: “We want to move as speedily as possible to direct talks because the kind of problem that we have with the Palestinians can be resolved in peace and can be arranged only if we sit down together”.

Several prominent personalities as well as several Global Research authors and partners were on board the ships.  The May 31st strike is a follow-up on “Operation Cast” initiated in late December 2008. It is meant to enforce the status of Gaza as a de facto urban prison.  Operation “Cast Lead” was part of a broader military-intelligence operation initiated at the outset of the Ariel Sharon government in 2001. It was under Sharon’s “Operation Justified Vengeance” that F-16 fighter planes were initially used to bomb Palestinian cities. The strike on the Freedom Flotilla is part of the logic of transforming Gaza into an urban concentration camp.

“Operation Justified Vengeance” was presented in July 2001 to the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon by IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, under the title “The Destruction of the Palestinian Authority and Disarmament of All Armed Forces”. “Operation Justified Vengeance” was also referred to as the “Dagan Plan”, named after General (ret.) Meir Dagan, who currently heads Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. (See Ellis Shulman, Operation Justified Vengeance, A Secret to Destrythe Palestinian Authority, Global Research, 2002)

Meir Dagan, in coordination with his US counterparts, had been put in charge of various military-intelligence operations. It is worth noting that Meir Dagan as a young Colonel had worked closely with then defense minister Ariel Sharon in the raids on Palestinian settlements in Beirut in 1982.

The 2009 ground invasion of Gaza, in many regards, bear a canny resemblance to the 1982 military operation led by Sharon and Dagan.  Dagan as head of Israeli intelligence, no doubt also took part in the decision to launch the strike on the Freedom Flotilla.

Was the Decision Taken in Consultation with Washington?

<<< Benyamin Netayanhu. Israel’s George W. Bush, but with brains. Doubly dangerous.

On May 26, the Israeli military (IDF) confirmed that it would confront the Freedom Flotilla in international waters, while intimating that there may be terrorist elements on board the ships:

“As part of the military preparation, the navy carried out an exercise intercepting ships and arresting passengers.

Navy Commander Major-General Eliezer Marom said the navy forces will use measures to protect the soldiers’ lives and ensure that there are no terrorist elements or explosives on the ships.

Marom said he instructed the forces to act sensibly and avoid provocations, adding that the IDF had no intention of harming the hundreds of passengers on board these ships.” (Israel’s Military Command Says Will Stop Flotilla, but Transfer Supplies to Gaza) It is worth noting that prior to this announcement, the IDF launched a public relations campaign, describing the Flotilla as a “provocative act”:

“Head of Gaza ‘s Coordination and Liaison Authority, Colonel Moshe Levi convened a press conference and said that there was no shortage in food and supplies in the Strip. “The planned flotilla to Gaza is a provocative act that is unnecessary under the existing conditions in the Gaza Strip, where the humanitarian situation is good and stable,” he said, adding that Israel allows many products into the Strip, and only limits those that might serve Hamas in advancing terror activities.” (Ibid)

Washington was fully aware as to the nature as well as the likely consequences of the IDF naval operation in international waters, including the killings of civilians. There are indications that the decision was taken in consultation with Washington.

The Role of Rahm Emmanuel

Obama’s White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was in Israel in the week prior to the launching of the raid on the Freedom Flotilla.  Although on a private visit, Rahm Emanuel met Prime Minister Netanyahu in high level discussions on May 26. And on that same day, the IDF confirmed the launching of a military operation directed against the Flotilla. On May 26, Rahm Emanuel also extended an invitation to Netanyahu to meet president Obama in early June following his scheduled official visit to Canada. In recent developments, Netanyahu has cancelled his US trip and is returning to Tel Aviv.

The Broader Military Agenda

It should be understood that the raid on the Flotilla also coincided with NATO-Israel war games directed against Iran. According to the Sunday Times “three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline.” (Israel Deploys Three Nuclear Cruise Missile-Armed Subs Along Iranian Coastline). The report tacitly presents Israel as the victim rather than the perpetrator of military threat:

“Israel’s business and defence centre, remains the most threatened city in the world, said one expert. “There are more missiles per square foot targeting Tel Aviv than any other city,” he said.

… The first [submarine] has been sent in response to Israeli fears that ballistic missiles developed by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, a political and military organisation in Lebanon, could hit sites in Israel, including air bases and missile launchers.

The submarines of Flotilla 7 — Dolphin, Tekuma and Leviathan — have visited the Gulf before. But the decision has now been taken to ensure a permanent presence of at least one of the vessels. The flotilla’s commander, identified only as “Colonel O”, told an Israeli newspaper: “We are an underwater assault force. We’re operating deep and far, very far, from our borders.”

… The deployment is designed to act as a deterrent, gather intelligence and potentially to land Mossad agents. “We’re a solid base for collecting sensitive information, as we can stay for a long time in one place,” said a flotilla officer. The submarines could be used if Iran continues its programme to produce a nuclear bomb. “The 1,500km range of the submarines’ cruise missiles can reach any target in Iran,” said a navy officer.

Apparently responding to the Israeli activity, an Iranian admiral said: “Anyone who wishes to do an evil act in the Persian Gulf will receive a forceful response from us.”

Israel’s urgent need to deter the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance was demonstrated last month. Ehud Barak, the defence minister, was said to have shown President Barack Obama classified satellite images of a convoy of ballistic missiles leaving Syria on the way to Hezbollah in Lebanon. (emphasis added) While these naval deployments were underway in the Persian Gulf, Israel was also involved in war games in the Mediterraean. The war game codenamed “MINOAS 2010” was carried out at a Greek air base in Souda Bay, on the island of Crete.

Also, in the wake of the decision directed against Israel’s nuclear weapons under the auspices of the NPT, the White House reaffirmed not only its support to Israel, but also to Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities. The statement issued one day before the raid on the flotilla points to US support of “Israel’s strategic and deterrence capabilities, which also include the launching of a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iran:

“A senior political source in Jerusalem said Sunday that Israel received guarantees from U.S. President Barack Obama that the U.S. would maintain and improve Israel’s strategic and deterrence capabilities.”

According to the source, “Obama gave [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu unequivocal guarantees that include a substantial upgrade in Israel-U.S. relations.”

Obama promised that no decision taken during the recent 189-nation conference to review and strengthen the 40-year-old Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty “would be allowed to harm Israel’s vital interests,” the sources said.  Obama promised to bolster Israel’s strategic capabilities, Jerusalem officials say – Haaretz Daily Newspaper)

The presence of Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in Tel Aviv undoubtedly played a role in the timing of this Sunday May 30th statement as well as the concurrent strike on the Freedom Flotilla. The killing of unarmed civilians was part of the mandate of the Israeli naval commando. It was an integral part of the logic of Dagan’s “Operation Justified Vengeance”, which presents Israel as the victim rather than the perpetrator and uses civilian deaths “on both sides” to justify a process of military escalation.

The action by the IDF has triggered a wave of indignation throughout the Middle East. It will no doubt also trigger a response by Palestinian resistance forces, including possible suicide bomb attacks inside Israel, which could then be used by Israel as a pretext and justification for the launching a broader military operation. Iran is being portrayed in Western media reports as supportive of Hamas and the Freedom Flotilla is said to be backed by a tacit Hamas-Iran alliance. Realities are turned upside down. Israel is the victim. In the words of Benjamin Netanyahu: “Our soldiers had to defend themselves to defend their lives.” In the words of Netanyahu at a press briefing in Ottawa:

“”Soldiers had boarded the vessel to check for any rockets, missiles or explosives headed for Gaza to be used for attacks on Israel, he said. They were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire, and our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives or else they would have been killed,” he said Monday during a visit with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Netanyahu added: “Regrettably in the exchange at least 10 people died. We regret this loss of life. We regret any of the violence that was there. I would like to wish speedy recovery to the wounded, including four of our own soldiers.” (Quoted in the Toronto Star, May 31, 2010)

Meanwhile, a White House spokesman has confirmed that the United States “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained”. But the action by Israel has not been condemned by the Obama administration: The administration is “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy.” (See The Associated Press: Obama administration concerned about Gaza incident)

For further details on Operation Cast Lead and Operation Justified Vengeance, see

Michel Chossudovsky, The Invasion of Gaza: “Operation Cast Lead”, Part of a Broader Israeli Military-Intelligence Agenda, Global Research, January 2009.

BONUS: THE INCIDENT AS COVERED BY THE GUARDIAN (U.K.)

Israeli attack on Gaza flotilla sparks international outrage

Israeli navy stormed the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of a flotilla of vessels crewed by pro-Palestinian activists

<<< Egyptians shout against Israel’s attack on the Gaza relief flotilla.

The Israeli navy stormed the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of a flotilla of vessels crewed by pro-Palestinian activists.

They came by sea and air, shattering the peace of a Mediterranean night. Shortly after 4.30am yesterday, in international waters, the elite Flotilla 13 unit of the Israeli navy stormed the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of a flotilla crewed by an alliance of pro-Palestinian activists who had combined to deliver 10,000 tonnes of aid to Gaza.

In a blitz of military strength, masked commandos rapelled on to the Turkish ship’s deck from a helicopter and boarded from the side by fast attack launch. They were armed with guns, stun grenades and tear gas. Assault craft drenched their target in dazzling light and used booming tannoys to warn the ship’s passengers to halt their mission or face Israel taking “all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade”.

The activists from as many as 50 different countries stood little chance in the face of such a show of strength. But if Israel had been hoping to benefit from the cover of darkness by attacking at night, they did not reckon on the presence of a network of on-board video cameras recording their opening moves. Turkish television footage showed how one by one as the commandos descended by ropes to the deck they were ambushed by waiting passengers armed with what appeared to be metal bars, sticks and in one case, a table. The reception for two commandos descending from a helicopter was brutal – the first was battered to the ground and heavily beaten and the second, landing seconds later, was assaulted by a man with a bar and forced to retreat into a doorway before fighting back out.

Whether these were the first blows struck in an incident that ended with the deaths of at least nine people and the injury of at least 50, is disputed. Those on board, including a reporter for Al Jazeera, said the Israelis fired on the boat before boarding. Israel said it opened fire after its commandos were attacked by activists wielding knives, clubs and pistols wrested from its soldiers. It was impossible yesterday to verify either account.  What is certainly true is that shortly after the assault, all communications with the flotilla were blocked. Mobile phones, satellite phones and internet access all went down, making it all but impossible to glean any account from the passengers about what had happened, beyond the few minutes that were captured on film. Israel’s version of events became the only one available in any detail.

The Guardian has attempted to piece together the story from electronic communications from the flotilla, video footage taken on board, interviews with the flotilla organisers, reports from journalists on board the Mavi Marmara, reports from journalists embedded with the Israeli military and statements from the Israelis. During Sunday on the journey from Cyprus towards Gaza, the trip had been progressing well, with spirits high among the pro-Palestinian activists, according to messages received from the flotilla at the Cyprus base of Free Gaza, one of the campaign groups behind the mission.

“They were excited because they knew they were on their way,” Greta Berlin, a Free Gaza activist in Cyprus who was in frequent contact, said. “We would get little messages saying ‘we are on a Mediterranean cruise, it is really quite lovely’. There was no feeling until around midnight that anyone was in any danger.” Little did they know that three hours earlier than that, at around 9pm, three Israeli naval craft had left the northern Israeli port of Haifa to intercept them. The plan was for Israel’s elite Flotilla 13 unit to disembark on the top deck of the Mavi Marmara, and from there rush to the vessel’s bridge and order the Marmara’s captain to stop, said Israeli journalist, Ron Ben Yishai, who was embedded with the Israeli military.

By around 11pm Israel’s taskforce was alongside the flotilla of six vessels and one of the navy ships broadcast a warning to the flotilla not to approach Gaza. “If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade,” the message said, according to a recording later broadcast on Israeli radio.

Then around midnight the flotilla co-ordinators appeared to become worried and Lubna Masarwa, a Palestinian Israeli on board the Marmara issued a series of urgent messages via Twitter. “We didn’t expect them now,” she said. “We thought they will arrive at the morning, please stay in touch with the other boats … People here put there life jackets [sic], everybody preparing here. We are in international waters … Three boats are coming, not two, Three Israeli boats, we are 78 mile from Israel … Two Israeli ships coming toward us … they contact the ship asked who we are and disappeared, getting close to the ship we can see them.”

The Free Gaza campaign was worried enough to issue “a call to the world from the people on the boats”. “This flotilla is bringing supplies the people of Gaza and are being met by military force,” it said. Over the next few hours as the Israeli ships circled, the flotilla issued a series of brief messages through their spot locator, a telecommunications device which charted their progress on a web site.

“This is a HELP message,” it said at 12.30am. “We have been contacted by the Israelis but are still fine, don’t worry.”

Shortly afterwards another states: “Challenger 2 [one of the boats] contacted by Israeli Defence Force radio A/O approached by IDF ships”, and another: “Going ahead”. Three more “OK” signals between 1.30am and 2.30am were then replaced at 4.30am by a red exclamation mark stating: “Last position before IDF attack. 04:30 GMT, Latitude:32.64113, Longitude:33.56727” – around 70 miles from the coast of northern Israel and 90 miles from Gaza. The assault had been under way for at least 30 minutes, according to Dr Arafat Madi, one of the European organisers of the convoy who spoke to the activists by satellite phone shortly afterwards.

“The Israelis took the phones from us as we were talking,” he said. “We heard from them that the Israeli army attacked all the ships at once with hundreds of soldiers.” He said the Greek captain of one of the smaller vessels, the 8000, had been shot and two others were injured. But he had no information about injuries on the other vessels and said they were struggling to get any information from the Israelis to give to worried families of the activists.

Video footage of the assault on the Mavi Marmara showed at least half a dozen armed and masked commandos gathering themselves on the bow deck of the ship, apparently having been helicoptered on.  During the assault, which began in earnest 40 miles from the coast, several journalists continued to broadcast from the aft deck, sharing a microphone in a relay as they broadcast to the world.

Reporting for Press TV, an Iranian state-run channel, one said: “We are being hit by tear gas, stun grenades. We have navy ships on every side and helicopters ahead. We are being attacked on every side.” Activists on the ship were shown on video mustering at the top of a flight of stairs, armed with makeshift weapons. The ship’s captain could be heard speaking over the tannoy, urging them to give up: “Please, all the brothers, go back to your cabin and sit on your seats. Stop your resistance. They are using live ammunition. We can’t protect ourselves.”

Over the noise of gunfire, Jamal Elshayyal, reporting for Al Jazeera, said two passengers had been killed. He claimed a white flag of surrender had been raised on board “after Israeli commandos descended upon the ship from a helicopter as well as surrounding it on all sides [in boats].” He continued: “Despite the white flag being raised, the Israeli army is still shooting, still firing live munitions.”

Shortly afterwards the broadcasts stopped and all internet and satellite phone connections were lost.

The Israeli military had been surprised by the resistance they met, according to an account by Ben Yishai. He said the commandos were carrying paintball rifles. He said they were equipped with handguns but were only authorised to use them in life-threatening situations.  “The navy commandos were prepared to mostly encounter political activists seeking to hold a protest, rather than trained street fighters,” he wrote on the Ynet News website. “The rioters on the top deck, whose number swelled up to 30 by that time, kept on beating up about 30 commandos who kept gliding their way one by one from the helicopter.”

He claimed activists stole a handgun from one commando and threw him 30 feet over a rail, causing serious head injuries. Only after this were commandos authorised to use live ammunition and then shot at activists’ legs, he said. He added that passengers pounded soldiers’ hands as they tried to climb on board. Footage from inside the ship, broadcast on Turkish television, showed the impact of the battle. A woman carried a bloodstained stretcher, men were shown bleeding from wounds, people moved about tending the injured. People were stretched out on the floor and it was not clear if they were alive or dead.

Flotilla 13

Flotilla 13, the Israeli naval commando unit that intercepted the Gaza Freedom flotilla, is one of the country’s elite military formations, with rigorous selection and training procedures and a reputation for ruthless efficiency. It is known to have been involved in numerous clandestine seaborne operations, including many raids on neighbouring Lebanon. It works closely with the Mossad secret service.

It was also involved in a curious foreshadowing of the Gaza incident in February 1988, when Flotilla 13 is reported to have sabotaged an attempt by the PLO to highlight the issue of Palestinian refugees by sailing a ship to an Israeli port, forcing Israel either to sink it or board it or let it land the refugees. The night before the vessel, al-Awda (“The Return”) was due to sail, it was blown up and sunk in Limassol harbour, Cyprus — with no loss of life or political embarrassment.

In recent years the naval commando force has played a key role in intercepting arms shipments from Iran and Syria to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Flotilla 13 is often compared to the US Navy Seals and Britain’s Special Boat Service.

—Ian Black, for the Guardian

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