We are expecting the arrival shortly of another ship that is slated to try to break through Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip and dock at Gaza’s port. “Israel will not permit the arrival of the ship,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already stated. “If the flotilla is not called off, the navy will prevent its arrival [and] will divert the boat to the port of Ashdod. Its passengers will be arrested and questioned, and the ship’s cargo inspected and transferred to Gaza overland.”
We had a similar story five years ago, when the Mavi Marmara, part of a Turkish flotilla, was intercepted at the cost of the lives of nine passengers and about 50 others injured. That case led to a deep fissure in relations between Jerusalem and Ankara.
About two weeks before the Marmara incident, I wrote to the defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak, recommending that the matter be handled as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had handled things when he ordered the Israel Navy to ignore ships that at the time were seeking to break the blockade. In fact, those ships managed to reach Gaza. Their cargo didn’t alter the military balance of power there, and the demonstrators failed to achieve their goal. They failed to turn the naval blockade into an international issue.
In my letter to Barak, I mentioned the case of the ship “Exodus 1947,” which was partly the basis for Leon Uris’ book “Exodus.” The ship carrying Jewish refugees who fought British troops in an effort to get ashore here in a country that was then British-ruled became a symbol. In practice, it put an end to the British naval siege of the country.
I later heard from Barak that he had presented my letter to the seven members of the inner cabinet, but they completely rejected my recommendation. What followed is well-known.
The ship that is currently making its way toward Gaza has been aiming to accomplish something similar. It isn’t carrying military cargo. It is seeking to focus world attention on the blockade that Israel is imposing on the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip. Ten years ago, Israel carried out a disengagement from Gaza, withdrawing its military and the residents of the Jewish settlements there. The world is accusing us of still maintaining Gaza under military occupation. We, in turn, are seeking to prove that we have withdrawn, but we haven’t disengaged. We continue to control everything going in and out, and that is a continuation of an occupation government.
It is in our hands to decide and determine if the goal of the new ship will be achieved or not. It is in our hands to decide whether we will be smart and “weak” and simply ignore the ship, letting it reach Gaza. Then all the fuss over its trip here will dissipate. Or we can play into the hands of the activists on board and be “heroes,” but foolish ones. We will take over the ship and show the entire world that indeed it is not carrying weapons.
The writer, a retired major general, was head of IDF military intelligence.