My outrage with the disastrous takeover of the flotilla boats on their way to Gaza is not over the behavior of individual soldiers fearing their lives and reacting accordingly. Rather, it is about a political leadership that put these soldiers in a position in which they were certain to become targets for violence. These soldiers were sent on a mission that defies logic. A helicopter dropped them, one by one, onto a vessel with a mob on it. Regardless of the activists' intentions, the IDF's method of interception was perceived as an act of aggression.
In the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, in the pitch black of night, Israeli special forces in uniform and armed were lowered by helicopter onto the vessel one by one, to confront a group of people, whose real intentions were not absolutely clear to the soldiers - an already tenuous situation was bound to explode. And when soldiers feel their lives are at risk, they are ordered to make a judgment call and trained to open fire.
This scenario would have surfaced in any role-playing taking place prior to the operation. Every military and political leader in Israel knows that when under threat to his life, a soldier is ordered to open fire.
So why was this interception method chosen in order to stop a convoy of boats? Surely a Navy commando knows how to dismantle and immobilize the engines of such ships. Doing so would have allowed the Navy to tag them anywhere they please without ever boarding the vessels.
No arms were found on the boats other than the pistols taken from the soldiers by the activists whose stated mission was to deliver humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza.
I doubt that the knives carried on the boats were a real threat to the State of Israel. These knives were indeed a real threat to the lives of the soldiers put on those boats: alone, at night, in international waters. It was a threat created by the mission they were sent on.
Israeli public opinion is likely to rally behind the soldiers, the military and its government. This is not because the Israeli public likes what happened. The Israeli public's instinctive reaction, justly, is to show support and solidarity with the soldiers risking their lives for the country's security. What is painfully missing is political leadership that is brave enough to stand up and make the nuanced argument on why this was not about the individual soldiers' behavior, it is about the political leadership that sent them on a bad mission. Israel's government has gone beyond bad politics here. They have demonstrated that the life of a soldier is no longer as sacred as it had always been held.
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