by John Thompson (He is a resident of my home town of Toronto and we would meet from time to time. A real nice guy to boot.)
Having spent two days examining as much of the evidence as I could, there are two points that deserve to be mentioned.
Israel acted well within the confines of international law and maritime practice in enforcing a legitimate blockade of the Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip. Moreover, in halting the flotilla, the Israeli forces involved in the incident began with restraint. International Waters are of no account, if it is clear that the ship is clearly heading towards a blockaded area… the US Navy for instance, has been known to halt and inspect suspected North Korean ships bound for Iran on the high seas on numerous occasions.
Blockades and interdictions are common, and have been so for decades since the Second World War (where unrestricted violence was frequently used). The normal convention is to open communications and demand the ship ‘heave to’; if it fails to comply a shot from a large caliber gun or a burst from a machinegun is fired across its bows. If the ship still refuses to comply; this is repeated — albeit the shot is aimed more carefully and comes closer to the ship. If the ship still refuses to halt, it is warned once more before a shot is fired at its bridge. If it still refuses to heave to, the blockading force has the right to sink it. Once a ship has hove to or slowed down, it may be boarded by personnel from the blockading force.
The Israelis offered another choice to the flotilla (which was refused) and otherwise seems to have behaved with restraint. It is not clear if the ships came to a dead stop or proceeded towards Gaza and a slow pace, but it is abundantly clear they were not sunk!
It is also abundantly clear that the passengers and crews of the boarded ships offered potentially lethal violence — using “improvised” weapons that had been carefully stowed beforehand. A crate of dishes dropped on someone’s head from 6m overhead does not seem as malevolent as shooting them, but a crushed skull is a crushed skull regardless. High pressure hoses and swung chains directed at somebody climbing a rope ladder from a zodiac boat are also potentially lethal.
Canadian and US naval personnel boarding ships (as they regularly do) brandish submachine guns and shotguns; the Israelis came aboard with paintball guns only to be reminded of an unwelcome truth. Metre long metal rods and knives do not seem as lethal as modern assault rifles, but they are in close confines in the dark. This is a calculation that was made ahead of time by many of the so-called peace activists. Many police bulletins remind officers — often using graphic photographs — that somebody with a knife within arms reach is equally deadly to a man with a handgun; a man armed with a paintball gun is in very serious danger.
The restraint that the IDF personnel showed on boarding the vessels of the flotilla was directly responsible for the loss of life that ensued when the protestors’ pre-planned brawl erupted. Next time, the IDF should behave in a manner more consistent with those used by other navies (including those of Canada) in similar circumstances — display your firepower and don’t hesitate to use it. It saves lives in the long run.
Director of the Mackenzie Institute
John Thompson is a Canadian military and terrorism expert who spent 13 years in the Canadian military. Thompson has been associated with the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, the Royal Canadian Military Institute, and is currently the director of the Mackenzie Institute, a Canadian think tank focusing on terrorism, political extremism and warfare.