At least nine people lost their lives when Israeli troops raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 31, 2010. How did the confrontation begin and who started it? The answers to these two questions are disputed. Tel Aviv blames the activists aboard the largest ship, the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, for attacking Israeli soldiers first with knives and then axes. However, the activists have a different story to tell. They say the Israeli commandos began shooting as soon as they hit the deck.
The incident has drawn severe criticism from the global community. A number of demonstrations and protests across the world have condemned Israel and its “illegal” blockade on Gaza. A Turkish draft resolution circulated at the UN Security Council also described the attack as a violation of international law.
However, Israel`s Foreign Ministry said: “Any vessel that violates or attempts to violate a maritime blockade may be captured or even attacked under international law."
In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Dr Max Singer talks about why Israel alone should not be blamed for what happened on May 31 and whether its action was in violation of international law.
Dr Max Singer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, and a founder and senior fellow of the Hudson Institute.
Kamna: How do you rate Israel’s strategy of raiding Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters?
Max Singer: Israel had no good alternative for diverting the ships that were attempting to break the official blockade of Gaza. International law requires that a blockade be enforced consistently. The method used to divert the ships worked without trouble for five of the six ships. It got into trouble with the sixth ship because that ship had a large number of trained mercenaries, who ambushed the Israelis who were attempting to enforce the boycott.
It clearly was a tactical mistake for Israel to use a plan that did not take account of the possibility that its force would be attacked by fighters rather than just resisted by demonstrators.
International law clearly authorises blockades to be enforced in international waters and there would have been no benefit and some additional problems if Israel had waited until the flotilla had entered territorial waters.
Kamna: Do you think the flotilla’s aim was not just to provide aid to Gaza, but also to provoke Israel?
Max Singer: The flotilla`s primary, if not exclusive, aim was to provoke a confrontation with Israel. Israel had offered to deliver to Gaza all humanitarian supplies carried by the flotilla, or provided by others. Furthermore, Israel already delivers some 15,000 tons per week of supplies to Gaza. There is no shortage of food or medicine in Gaza. Israel also provides medical treatment in Israeli hospitals for Gaza residents.
Kamna: Protests across the world have already denounced the Israeli action. Do you think the governments will also take any substantial action against Israel?
Max Singer: While there have been many protests against Israel, most of them have given reasons which are factually or legally incorrect. There have been a number of cases in the past where there was an international uproar based on initial reports that claimed massacres or other crimes by Israel, and which were quietly dropped as the true facts began to be understood.
Kamna: Can Turkey alone bring considerable pressure to bear on Israel?
Max Singer: Turkey can bring pressure on Israel, but Israel can also bring pressure on Turkey. Turkish statements have been so extreme and in conflict with the facts, and Turkish responsibility for the pre-planned attack on Israeli forces has become so clear that Turkey is no longer in a position to be regarded as an objective or independent third party. It is clearly allied with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah.
Kamna: How significant is it for Israel to keep its hold on Gaza?
Max Singer: Israel`s only "hold" on Gaza is its effort to protect itself from attack by and from Gaza. Gaza is very close to Israel`s main population centres and has been used for thousands of attacks on Israel. The purpose of the blockade is to prevent more and better weapons from coming into Gaza. Israel cannot afford to allow Gaza to have an unlimited supply of weapons. The only alternative is the blockade.