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Strategic Studies

Strategic Studies

The International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) is based in the Washington DC area in the United States, and is a worldwide membership Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)…

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Israel's Interception of the Turkish Flotilla

A View From Jerusalem on the Intelligence Failure by Israel, and the Failure of the International Community to Look at the Sponsors of the “Flotilla”

Early in the morning of May 31, 2010, the Israeli Navy intercepted a flotilla of vessels, sailing from Turkey to Gaza, with the professed aim of bringing humanitarian aid and moral support to the Gazans.

Since its inception, the HAMAS Administration in Gaza has waged war against Israel, firing thousands of rockets on population centers in the south of the country. Responding to this aggression, Israel placed Gaza under siege and carried out Operation Cast Lead. Given the fact that there is a state of war, Israel has been legally maintaining a blockade of Gaza for the purpose of preventing it from building a military infrastructure, importing advanced missiles, and, not the least, preventing outsiders from bringing in new forces and dangerous know-how, such as bomb-making and the preparation of explosives.

Such necessities as food and medicines reach Gaza on a regular basis and are not lacking and are not blockaded from entry by Israel. Their delivery is currently supervised.

For its part, HAMAS wants to break the blockade so that it can have a channel to import weapons and matériel on an unsupervised basis. In order to wage war against Israel, they need to have a sanctuary where they can operate freely, import weapons, and stage new offensive attacks. During the Vietnam War, Cambodia and the Ho Chi Minh Trail served this purpose. In short, HAMAS badly wants to break out. Although the Israeli Navy was not totally prepared for the confrontation, it maintained the blockade and defended its sovereignty.

There is another dimension which must be appreciated. Turkey has developed a new strategic vision of its place in the world and is seeking to expand its influence.

Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davuto?lu, is the engineer of this new approach. His idea has been to establish a Pax Ottomana in this region. He does not seek to rebuild the Ottoman Empire but to expand the influence of the Islamic Turkish state as peacemaker and arbiter. In our times, the expansion of influence may bring considerable benefits. This explains Turkey's intense desire to push its way in as the peacemaker between Syria and Israel.

Within a larger perspective, it is possible to say that after the European Union closed the door on Turkey, it decided to construct a similar enterprise with Islamic Turkey as the central player, combined with improved relations with Iran, Syria, and the HAMAS. Turkey has invested money in the improvement of Gaza port, and if Turkey was able to send shipments of men and matériel to Gaza, it would automatically develop a presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. As Bernard Lewis succinctly put it: “Turkey flipped.”

It is necessary to take a careful look at the sponsors of the aid flotilla.

Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Fighel of Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (IDC) wrote a recent report1 which examined the Turkish IHH Insani Yardim Vakfi “Humanitarian relief fund”. This radical Islamic organization, which was established in 1992, was prominent among the coalition of organizations participating in the aid flotilla.

Col. Fighel described some of its activities: “IHH has a broad program of important activities in distressed areas. They include sending food and support to orphans, establishing educational institutions, hospitals and clinics, programs for vocational education, supplying medicines, building mosques and preventing the violation of human rights in various Islamic locations throughout the world. In recent years it has begun widening its activities to European countries, in part by establishing branches which bear its name.”

Fighel also pointed out that “in the past IHH provided logistical support and funding to global jihad networks”. In addition, he reported that there was evidence which linked this group with terrorism, anti-Western incitement, and the transport of weapons.

This brings us to the main point. The Israeli Navy did not know the enemy, although it should have. Anyone who knew the activities of Turkish IHH could have foreseen the distinct possibility that some of the passengers were seasoned fighters, some of whom may have seen action in the Balkans. What puzzles analysts is the fact that since the identity and activities of the sponsoring organization were known, the Navy nonetheless sent its commandos into battle with paintballs. To assume that these people were genuine “peace activists” represents a serious intelligence failure.

In this context, we cite the writing of the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu who, in his classic, The Art of War, wrote the following in c. 500 BCE:

Know the enemy and know yourself;
In a hundred battles you will never be in peril.
When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself,
Your chances of winning or losing are equal.
If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself,
You are certain in every battle to be in peril.

It is the responsibility of those who send soldiers into battle to know the enemy. Their failure to fulfill this responsibility – in light of abundant information in the public domain – explains what really went wrong.


* The Author: Dr Joel Fishman is a Fellow of a research center in Jerusalem.


1. See: http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e105.htm

Analysis by Dr Joel Fishman, in Jerusalem*

(c) 2010 International Strategic Studies Association, www.StrategicStudies.org

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