For the commandos, no fiasco and relatively few casualties
The naval commandos who participated in Monday's raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla have no doubt: They weren't battling "activists" aboard the Mavi Marmara, but terrorists.
"Everyone who was there on the ship and saw what they had prepared understands this," said Capt. A., who commanded one boarding party.
The commandos are dismayed by the view that the raid was a fiasco. They think the level of casualties on both sides was very low, given the circumstances, and that other army or police units would have killed or wounded far more passengers.
First Lt. A. was the 13th commando to board the ship. When he arrived, his comrades were already deep in battle.
"The minute I had both feet on the boat, I saw two terrorists beating one of our group with iron bars," he said. "I brought down the first with a blow to the back while protecting my head from the second with my left hand. Then I was hit on the hand with a baton. I took my paintball rifle and fired paintballs at them. In those seconds I got a blow that broke the paintball rifle, so I switched to my pistol."
Unlike his comrades, he never actually fired his pistol, he said; he merely used it to deter attackers. But the commandos who boarded before him had a much harder time. Within two minutes nearly half had been wounded, and some had lost their communications devices.
"At such moments, you don't start thinking," the lieutenant said. "You act reflexively and react instinctively, based on what you have learned. But after a minute or two, control returns. You begin to hear orders again and switch from a tunnel-vision situation back to seeing the situation of the [whole] force."
Despite the impressions of chaos left by the video footage, he added, the commandos actually gained control of the upper deck in about three minutes and began handcuffing the passengers. "But then there was a shout of 'live fire,' and that we had shooting casualties."
The commandos said that the guns fired at them included at least one that was apparently thrown overboard afterward as well as two pistols that were seized other commandos. Most of the nine passenger deaths occurred at this point, as the commandos believed their own lives were in danger.
Once the situation had stabilized - aided by the arrival of reinforcements - the commandos began to treat the wounded. Lt. A., for instance, said he helped with that even though his left hand had been rendered useless by the baton blow.
They then began advancing toward the lower deck and the bridge.
"There was fierce resistance," said Capt. A. "There were hundreds of people on the deck. In my estimation, between 50 and 100 of them were terrorists. There was still live fire being aimed on us, but that stopped at an early stage ... They would jump on us from doors and windows with batons and knives. At this stage, we all stood with guns and fired at anyone coming at us with means or intent [to harm]."
However, he said, the commandos fired "very selectively," and most of the passengers who were shot at that stage were only wounded.
About 10 minutes after leaving the upper deck, they captured the bridge. It was 25 minutes after the boarding began, and the ship was in their hands. Then, doctors and paramedics were brought in to treat the wounded, and the seriously injured were evacuated by helicopter.