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With latest flotilla, IDF celebrates overcoming passive activists

The military tries to paint the blocking of two unarmed ships as a major military success – and highlights its own faults in the process

Our brave troops have raided, at dawn, two unarmed ships, filled with dangerous and enthusiastic peace activists, and have managed to carry out the operation without casualties. The operation actually had a name – Ruah Kalah, “Light Wind” – and was overseen by the commander of the Israeli Navy himself, Admiral Ram Rotberg (Hebrew).

Senior brass have told Ynet they were “deeply satisfied” with the results of the operation, though they admit that the success was also derived from “the passivity of the 27 activists.” Which is to say, the IDF is satisfied that when its armed forces met unarmed activists, it managed to carry out a routine mission, as they did not bother to resist. The IDF also notes that the reason there were no casualties is because the lessons of the earlier flotillas were implemented, and the troops were strictly ordered not to use violence against the (again, passive) activists. One assumes that without those orders, and the presence of no less than an admiral on the scene, the passive activists would have suffered some violence. This, to say it mildly, is not very encouraging.

But wait, it gets worse. Ynet has “found out” (read: It received a communiqué from the IDF Spokesman, and asked to publish it under the name of the reporter, a common and deplorable practice) that two of the commandos who participated in the intrepid naval engagement against the two ships, a combat which will surely be listed among such notable naval battles like Salamis and Trafalgar, had been wounded during the assault on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010. The commandos, we are told by the IDF Spokesman, consider this recent engagement to constitute the “closing of a circle”.

For more than 40 years, the IDF's main mission was fighting popular resistance. Al Ma'asara, 2010 (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

For more than 40 years, the IDF's main mission was fighting popular resistance. Al Ma'asara, 2010 (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

Oy. Now, I realize the IDF has no successes to report lately. I also understand that, by definition, the IDF cannot win: Its main activity since 1967 is the suppression of a popular uprising. This does not make for rousing battle tales. Since 1982, when the IDF last clashed with the Syrian army – and, shall we say, did not emerge from the encounter wreathed in glory – its soldiers saw enemy soldiers only in pictures. And, since no one except Dick Cheney and his menagerie of sycophants takes pride in torture; and since the IDF’s normal battle drill (one platoon + air support facing two Palestinians, most likely semi-armed teenagers, often promoted to “wanted person” status after their demise) will not ignite feelings of pride in anyone but gang members, the IDF has to somehow pump any casualty-less engagement as a great success. After all, when the Chief of Staff publicly says Gilad Schalit is a “hero,” then the naval commandos – an elite unit which once took pride in truly daring raids on enemy ports and fortified positions, and which now serves as glorified checkpoint troops – must be worthy of a medal, or something.

When we keep repeating the old axiom that “the occupation corrupts,” we must bear in mind that it corrupts, first of all, its enforcers. They first become garrison troops, a blunt tool which is ill-suited for any other purpose, but the corruption does not end there. Long years of occupation, the perception that it “fights for its home,” turn it into a potential putschistic element against a government which may decide to end the occupation. The classic example is Algiers, where the army joined the French colonists in terrorist acts against the local population – they were honest enough not to use the bleached term “price tag” – that were intended to break the fragile ceasefire between the French government and the local rebels. In the end, it led an armed mutiny against its elected government.

France had De Gaulle and a long republican tradition on its side; both of them lacking here, it’s not at all clear what will stand between Israel and such a fate.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Caro

      I support a just resolution to this conflict but I find your report leaves a horrible taste in my mouth. These ‘heroic peaceful’ activists show solidarity with Hamas leaders and are unmoved by suffering of people in the Negev. I suppose the IDF and others who have risked their lives to prevent suicide bombing and other acts of terror after the PA rejection at Camp David are to be ridiculed as well

      Reply to Comment
    2. Caro

      I support a just resolution to this conflict but these ‘heroic peaceful’ activists show solidarity with Hamas leaders and are unmoved by suffering of people in the Negev. I suppose the IDF and others who have risked their lives to prevent suicide bombing and other acts of terror after the PA rejection at Camp David are to be ridiculed as well

      Reply to Comment
    3. Caro, why do you think that the activists on the ship are unmoved by the suffering of the people in the Negev?

      As an Israeli, I think the suffering of the people in the Negev horribly unjust, but as a rational human being I have to ask whether the siege on Gaza actually makes them safer.

      I would also ask why you are so sure that the activists support the Hamas? Is it not possible to show solidarity with the inhabitants of Gaza without supporting the Hamas?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Bella Center

      If, as you say, the IDF is worthy of your sarcasm, what do you do with the Free Gaza flotilla folks who make preposterous claims about the ‘violent takeover’ of this boats. They certainly make it sound like a huge military campaign against them.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Lemme get it straight, Caro – Does anyone who shows support for Israel automatically support the Netanyahu/Liberman government? No? Then how come support for the people of Gaza is automatically a support for Hamas?

      And, like it or not, the people in Gaza suffer much, much more – on any perceivable scale – than the people of the Negev. They can leave the Negev, for starters.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Bella, there was. Hundreds of men, several ships, air support – all overseen by the commander of the navy. That’s the definition of a “huge military operation”.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Shoded Yam

      “… The classic example is Algiers, where the army joined the French colonists in terrorist acts against the local population – they were honest enough not to use the bleached term “price tag” – that were intended to break the fragile ceasefire between the French government and the local rebels. In the end, it led an armed mutiny against its elected government.”
      .
      Mr. Gurvitz, while I find myself in agreement with you more often than not, I don’t think the Algerian example is the correct one
      .
      I suggest that the circumstances surrounding the pied-noir and those of the west bank settlers are not entirely analagous. While I belive this to be true, neither are the circumstances of the respective arab populations in question. At the end of WW II, Algerians, by virtue of their status as residents of La Department Algiers, were offered full rights and citizenship by the Fourth Republic. They rejected the offer. They would have been more than happy to accept French citizenship, but they knew the French gov’t would betray their interests in favor of the pied-noir. The pied-noir had been aligned with vichy during the war, were notoriously fascist and reactionary, and had actively collaborated with the germans, as had those units of the Armistice Army and Foreign Legion that had been stationed in Algiers. The French were loathe to start digging into their recent past and they certainly weren’t going to risk civil war for the sake of a few dirty hill berbers and some rug merchants from the souk. It became understood that the French would much rather betray the intrests of native Algerians than confront the pied-noir. The hideousness of this betrayal was compounded by the fact that hundreds of thousands of North African arabs and berbers, most of whom happend to be Algerians, had enlisted with the Free French after North Africa had been liberated. It was these men who reconstituted the French Army. It was these men who fought up the boot of Italy and invaded Southern France. It was these men who marched with General Leclerc under the Arc de Triomphe when Paris was liberated. And it was these men, who after having their interests so sorely betrayed in favor of the collaborartionist settlers, would reject French entreaties and as a consequence, throw them out along with their pied noir baggage. While the denizens of Kiryat Arba, Imannuel, and the like are detestable, they are not burdened with the onus of having betrayed their country to a foreign power. Likewise, the palestinians are denied the moral cudgel that the algerians were able to wield against France as a result of its defeat, its collaboration with the germans, and the subsequent necessity of having to employ the services of hundreds of thousands of Algerians in order to effect its liberation.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Caro

      I mentioned their support for Hamas because they communicated by radio with the head of Hamas in Gaza. Yes I want Gazans to have a natural life but I don’t think the activities of the islamists help them. After all the Netanyahu government is not blockading the West Bank in the same way.

      Reply to Comment
    9. directrob

      Lets hope we will see no more “truly daring raids on enemy ports and fortified positions”. The more so if the target is Iran …

      Reply to Comment
    10. Henry Weinstein

      So a French government offered after WW II full French citizenship to native Muslim Algerians? Never heard of this, never read this, and I’m French, and I studied this period at university in the 80s (and more recently, when I began to try to understand what’s was going on in Israel), Shoded.
      I’m not interested in polemic, so I just write what I know, in defense of Yossi’s remark. I mean, I respect you, Shoded. Other points in your comment are valid, but not your main assumption.
      .
      The parallel Yossi drew with the Pied-Noirs’ lobbying politics and terrorist methods is accurate, and worth to be studied.
      The Pied-Noirs – who were not all racists & reactionary, but the majority of them was; European settlers coming from France, Italy, Spain, Malta – were only 1 million (10% of the Algerian population) and they succeeded to bring France (around 50 millions at the time) in a nasty war in Algeria which provoked a civil war in France (most of non-French commenters ignore totally this).
      .
      La Guerre d’Algérie Digested:
      The starter is that European settlers were opposed to any change.
      > The Algerians began their fight for independence.
      > The French people who was for the independence of Algeria had to fight a nasty war in Algeria to protect the Pied-Noirs, because most of French politicians and the French army supported the Pied-Noirs, “L’Algérie Française”.
      > De Gaulle – who was a maverick hated by French ruling class – came to power because France had collapsed in civil war: he succeeded – being Général De Gaulle, the first French Résistant in 1940 – to defeat military the Algerian insurrrection (La Bataille d’Alger was won, ask US Army and IDF if you don’t believe me, ensuring France could rapatriate the Pied-Noirs and all French citizens safely) AND politically the Pied-Noirs and their supporters.
      > The French people voted en masse in 1962, in the same referendum, the most important date in recent French history, for the independence of Algeria AND for the direct election of the President de la République, which meant the Président de la République would be elected by the French people and not by the French politicians.
      .
      The recent history of post-colonial France is far more complex than your comment suggested, Shoded. In France like anywhere, there is a huge difference between the French people and its ruling class.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Shoded Yam

      “…So a French government offered after WW II full French citizenship to native Muslim Algerians? Never heard of this, never read this, and I’m French”
      .
      A polemic? possibly. In any event, I’ll reference Walter Lacquer’s; “Europe In Our Time”. I can’t find the excerpt at the moment (or the book, I misplaced it), but I remember reading about informal negotiations carried out with the FLN, early on in the Algerian conflict whereby the idea of full citizenship had been bandied about. From what I gathered, it was rejected out of hand for a number of reasons, one of which was the aforementioned.
      .
      Clearly, in France like anywhere, there is a huge difference between what the French people actually know (or what they’re being taught) and what its ruling class are telling them. 😉

      Reply to Comment
    12. Henry Weinstein

      Shoded, why all this rhetoric?
      You write something based on something you remember reading somewhere but you don’t remember where it was, and ANYWAY it was about “informal negociations carried out with the FLN, early on in the Algerian conflict”.
      “Informal negociations”…
      Never a French government offered full French citizenship to native Algerians, not only because the Pied-Noirs were opposed to it, but because it was ABSURD: I mean, France is France, and Algeria is Algeria.
      It was a colonial venture, “L’Algérie Française”.
      The French people didn’t supported this colonial venture, only their ruling corrupted class.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Shoded Yam

      What rhetoric? I made an assertion based upon what I have read re. the issue. And while not having majored in modern French political culture, I have read extensively on the subject; The Rise & Fall of the Third Republic, the works of Robert Paxton, the aforementioned Walter Lacquer, etc., Enough I would say, to speak upon the subject with a reasonable amount of competence. Speaking of absurdities, the fact that you chose to characterize this as “rhetoric”, following a lengthy resume redolent with such phrases; “as I am french” (as if we wouldn’t know this, since its not like you mention it every second sentence) :-), and “I studied this in college”, speaks more about your discomfort over someone else stomping around in your supposed area of “expertise”, rather than anything substantive about my remarks or your forte, all the regurgitated chronologies of the Algerian Conflict notwithstanding.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Philos

      SHODED YAM, you mean that the Free France troops raped and pillaged their way up the Boot of Italy. In fact they were promised “booty” as part of their pay package and this is widely recorded in the historical literature. Unfortunately, France’s role in WW2 whether as Vichy or Free France was neither glorious or honourable. It was an utter disgrace on all accounts.
      Having said that I’m pretty sure that the occupation has atrophied the IDF’s capability to fight traditional inter-state wars. Although those are becoming rare birds indeed.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Shoded Yam

      “…SHODED YAM, you mean that the Free France troops raped and pillaged their way up the Boot of Italy. In fact they were promised “booty” as part of their pay package and this is widely recorded in the historical literature.”
      .
      While I’ll agree that its not a good idea to use an einsatzgruppen as a rubric for bad behavior, the Algerian and Moroccan troops (spahis, tiralleurs, etc)don’t quite meet the standard of excellence set by our german friends. 😉 On the whole they were effective and honorable soldiers. In any event, and whatever their behaviour, it doesn’t ameliorate the debt that was owed to them by the french gov’t.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Mikesailor

      The comments about Algiers are almost too funny. They distract from the point at hand which is the ‘bravery’ of the IDF ‘confronting’ unarmed peace activists. Actually, from video of this ‘confrontation’ in international waters, it appears that the actions of the IDF were anything but peaceful. Using salt-water firehose cannnons against unarmed small boats is a sure way of overloading the bilge pumps on the vessels and will lead to, at best, unsafe conditions, and at worst, the actual sinking of those vessels. I’m sure any ‘admiral’ of even a small boat would recognize this act of violence for what it was. The act of a coward.
      As to the amount of actual violence used, why do Israelis always listen to the IDF rather than the passengers? Why didn’t Israeli media either travel on this ‘historic’ battle akin to Trafalgar? Or better yet, ride along with the flotilla (although it is difficult to call two small boats a flotilla)? How much propaganda can the Israeli public swallow? And why, if Gaza is not occupied can the IDF interfere with shipping? W@hy could they not inspect the boats for contraband, which apparently did not exist, and let the boats proceed to Gaza? The lies told, and swallowed, by and for the ‘true believers’ is truly amazing.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Shoded Yam

      “The comments about Algiers are almost too funny”
      .
      You’re easily amused Popeye. Wait till I tell ya’ the one about the penguin with car trouble.
      .
      I was simply making the assertion that the Algerian analogy utilized by Mr. Gurvitz, was an incorrect one within the context of his piece and then went on to explain why. I had no intentions (nor do I possess the amount of erudition that would be necessary)of serving up a dissertation on the politics of post-war france. Clearly there are others who are so inclined.
      .
      ” They distract from the point at hand which is the ‘bravery’ of the IDF ‘confronting’ unarmed peace activists.”
      .
      No. What “distracts from the point at hand”, is the ensuing hissy fit on the part of those individuals whose world views are not being properly validated.

      Reply to Comment
    18. RichardNYC

      @YOSSI
      “One assumes that without those orders, and the presence of no less than an admiral on the scene, the passive activists would have suffered some violence. This, to say it mildly, is not very encouraging.”
      —>Damned if you’re Israel…and…damned if you’re Israel. Considering that the IDF behaved the same way towards passengers in the first flotilla (those not on the Mavi Marmara), it doesn’t make sense to assume what “One” has assumed here. Petty, silly thought.

      Reply to Comment