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Israeli media critical of IDF performance against Gaza flotilla

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–When was the last time you met a happy Jew?

It has not been in our blood at least since the Biblical Prophets. They provide models of self-criticism on the border–or over the border–of obsession and just plain nutty. Nothing was good enough. Other prophets who seemed to agree with them on the major issues, but not on everything, earned the title of false prophet. That carried a curse of death. Modern prophets, and there are many among us, are only a bit more temperate in criticizing their rivals.
One need look no further than the Israeli press the day after the operation against the Freedom Flotilla. Ha’aretz could be predicted to have its reservations, but it exceeded expectations. The major headline on page one decreed that the operation was a failure, and would assure international complications. Above that headline were four op-ed pieces. One begins, “No explanation can justify the crime was was done, and no excuse can explain the stupidity . . .” Others carry the labels, “Smug sin,” “Ship of fools,” and “Inquiry Demanded.”
Other papers were only marginally different. The print and electronic media include those who have reacted against their colleague, but the general picture is negative.
Criticism comes not only from the left, where there are Israelis who feel that the government must lift the blockade on Gaza, as well as do what else the Palestinians demand in order to make peace. Commentators not clearly on the left assert that the casualties will cause the country more harm in international politics than the blockade is worth. Some focus on the Turkish source of the Flotilla and the Turkish identity of those killed, and surmise that Israeli-Turkish commerce will diminish or stop altogether. One business publication worries that a Turkish embargo on trade with Israel will spread to other countries. 
Other critics focus on the tactics employed by the IDF. One aging journalist cited his military training of 25 years ago to say that the troops were not prepared for what they faced. 
I will not claim battlefield credentials, but years of lecturing at the tops and bottoms of two national armies taught me to avoid detailed criticism of tactics. Considerations are complex and depend on information not widely available. Decisions on how to prepare for a prominent operation come after discussions among military officers, often with input from politicians holding elective office.
This is not to say that we should leave all sensitive matters to officials, but some modesty is appropriate for those criticizing from the outside.
But modesty is no more a component of Jewish culture than a willingness to abstain from criticism.  
My own view of the operation against the Freedom Flotilla is that it was both appropriate and successful. I see the blockade as justified by the determination of Hamas to replace Israel, and the capacity of Iran to supply it with serious weapons. Israel is already pressed by a substantial flow of missiles from Iran through Syria to the Hizbollah of Lebanon that continues despite the responsibility of UN troops to monitor the 2006 cease fire agreement. This experience cautions against any outside assurances to keep Gaza free of similar material.
Against those who say that IDF personnel were not properly prepared for the operation, it appears to me that they overcame resistance quickly without loss of life to themselves and with only a limited number of deaths among those who used force against them. 
Nine deaths of the innocent or activists do not cause anything like this level of verbal violence when they come as the result of an American air strike in Afghanistan or a demonstration on the streets of Tehran.
Military activity is seldom sterile or surgical. Opponents who fight back invite the use of ever greater force. If these troops were not expecting the degree of violence that they encountered, it appears that they adjusted their behavior quickly and well.
No Jew should ever aspire to having the last word. But neither should he/she surrender the opportunity to be heard.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
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