Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was praised this week, and justly so, for his testimony to the Turkel Committee, mostly because he did not divert responsibility for the failure of the Gaza flotilla affair. Nonetheless, it's impossible to ignore one troubling part of the chief of staff's statements: Ashkenazi said that for him the main lesson from the operational aspect is that if the Israel Defense Forces confronts a similar scenario in the future, it will have to use snipers, which he says would prevent harm to soldiers. This is very serious and shows that the chief of staff and the IDF have not learned a single lesson from the flotilla affair and Operation Cast Lead.
The implication of the chief of staff's words is that the IDF will not hesitate to hit civilians from a distance, using snipers firing live rounds. It's not hard to imagine what would have happened if the naval commandos had conducted themselves this way during the takeover of the Mavi Marvara, when the lives of the soldiers were not threatened.
This was precisely the doctrine of Cast Lead: minimum military casualties at nearly any cost - sometimes harming civilians and ignoring the laws of war. For this Israel continues to pay a heavy international price, and now it turns out that the chief of staff is threatening to continue this doctrine.
In the future, similar flotillas must be handled precisely the opposite way. First, we should ask whether there is a need, and especially wisdom, behind a forceful takeover, if we know that the passengers on the ships are not carrying weapons destined for the Gaza Strip.
But even if a forceful takeover is decided on, the IDF will have to find ways to ensure minimum casualties among both the soldiers and passengers. Israel got in trouble in the flotilla affair precisely because the IDF killed nine passengers. If they hadn't been killed, the affair would not have taken its toll on Israel internationally.
It's not only about Israel's image in the media, but also about the ethical profile of the state and its army. Using snipers against civilians must be restricted to extreme situations in which the soldiers' lives are threatened. The takeover of a ship whose passengers do not have firearms can and should be carried out differently.
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