Israeli media is filled with headlines claiming the Palmer Report vindicated its attack on the Mavi Marmara and tut-tutting about Turkey’s threats against it. You read headlines saying Erdogan is a dangerous megalomaniac, that Turkey aims to start a war, etc. But you don’t hear hard-headed realism in many quarters. This isn’t surprising since the Israeli media is largely a megaphone for the political and military elite. But every so often there are still, small voices of reason and pragmatism. When you hear them you need to pay attention. Such a voice is Maariv columnist Ofer Shelah, who penned a sharp-eyed piece, Turkey-Israel Relations: IDF Erred, the Nation Will Pay (Hebrew). It should be noted by anyone seeking to disparage Shelah’s devotion to Israel or its security, that he was a deputy company commander in the paratroopers (usually the rank of captain) and lost an eye to an IED in Lebanon.
Here are some excerpts:
The deterioration of relations with Turkey causes serious strategic damage to Israel. Turkey is a natural Israeli ally in that both are democracies tied to Europe. The former is also the scarlet thread that runs through the triangle of non-Arab powers in the region, Iran, Turkey and Israel.
…Blame games and self-justification have become the only foreign policy of Israel in the age of Netanyahu-Lieberman. The price we will pay if this deterioration continues will be much higher than anything the Turks will pay…
What should trouble us is how we got to this place. Here is the truth that no one will dare say: because of pride [ed., in the sense of “hubris” or “face”]. Not the pride of Israel, but rather of its army. You can always disparage politicians, but the truth is that the IDF is responsible for the incompetent operation which assaulted the Mavi Marmara. It designed, approved and executed the plan. It was the IDF which refused to understand that its mission wasn’t to detain a ship, but to deal with a protest having a potential for violence. And that the most important goal was to contain and disperse it without causing injuries, which would cause far more damage to Israel than anything the passengers could inflict.
The IDF refused to bring sufficient non-lethal force to deal with the incident. It did not engage in serious negotiation with the intended targets before the assault. The IDF killed people in a manner that even the Palmer Report, which Israelis are hailing as quite favorable to us, called “inexplicable and unjustifiable.” This is the same IDF by the way, which has refused to concede any of these errors publicly, but which well knows it erred.
…[The problem is] when the IDF errs the Israeli ego is knocked off its feet. This shows itself in circling the wagons around our soldiers, our kids, so that anyone who criticizes the operation doesn’t love them. This includes the use of a cynical “love” for the soldiers which allows people to hide [those errors] behind it. It continues with a flawed inquiry whose intent wasn’t to correct the errors, but to conceal the shame [of them], by claiming that any other outcome would involve betraying them [the soldiers].
The Palmer Commission claimed that Israeli soldiers shot people in the back. From the Israeli side, we heard from no one who was prepared to grapple with this claim, which should’ve been investigated because of the ethos of the IDF, not because it was important to the rest of the world.
So because the IDF never errs, we reach for the usual suspect and raise the finger of blame upon our [poor] hasbara. We always prefer to think that our actions are OK, and the fault lies with those who don’t explain them well enough [to the world]…
No politician will be willing to deviate from this pattern at any cost because he will always be held inferior to the sacred military apparatus. No politician will dare say that the IDF screwed up. And certainly won’t be willing to demand that other than military considerations be taken into account in the event of future such incidents. Instead of this [bringing other considerations like diplomacy to bear], Israel will be forced on the defensive and the damage will be what it will be. This is what turns tactical failures into wars which have no purpose like the second Lebanon war; and failures of execution and planning into diplomatic crises causing great damage to relations with a vital ally, which it isn’t at all clear how to repair.