Ted Lapkin

The Farce of the Flotilla

Last week’s so-called ‘Freedom Flotilla’ was an exercise in anti-Zionist political theatre that had nothing to do with freedom or humanitarian motives

I’m certainly no Marxist, but Karl was on to something when he observed that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” There was something truly farcical about last week’s rerun of the so-called ‘Freedom Flotilla’ that attempted, once again, to run Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

Shayetet 13 Naval Commandos
Shayetet 13 Naval Commandos

This latest episode of anti-Zionist political theatre was well-documented by journalist Ohad Hemo from Israel’s Channel 2 who sailed aboard the Swedish fishing trawler that served as the Flotilla’s lead vessel. The SS Marianne’s motley crew was primarily composed of hard-core European anti-Zionists with an Israeli Arab Knesset Member and former president of Tunisia along for the ride as token-ethnic window-dressing.

The footage filmed by Channel 2 pretty much showed the utter fraudulence of the flotilla’s purported rationale. Those much vaunted humanitarian supplies turned out to be a few shoe box-sized containers of pharmaceuticals. And then there was leftist ‘revolutionary’ Dror Feiler, who was filmed rummaging through the Marianne’s junk-filled hold in search of two solar panels supposedly intended for use by a Gaza hospital. As the less-than-impressed Hemo dryly observed: “the objective, so we discovered, is simply the [political] message.” [click here to watch video]

And the inevitable interception of the Marianne by the Israeli Navy set in train a series of events that turned out to be much more anti-climax than climax. When Israeli Arab politician Basel Ghattas voiced his objections to the IDF’s action by megaphone, the naval force commander retorted:

“Shalom Member of Knesset Basel Ghattas, you’re not a lawyer and you don’t know international law. Your intention to reach Gaza is illegal … At this point this voyage has ended and we’ll escort you on your final leg to Ashdod.”

The back-and-forth battle of the loudspeakers continued for some time. At one point Ghattas threatened the Israelis with prosecution before an international court, but IDF officer replied in fluent Arabic:

“Basel, you know very well that there is no shortage of anything in Gaza, except those items used for terrorism.”

The conversation then moved to negotiations over how – or whether – the Israeli boarding party would gain access to the Marianne. The vessel’s Scandinavian captain, who went by the name of Johann, responded to the Israeli request with a blanket refusal: “I will not allow you aboard my ship.”

Basil Ghattas appeared to demonstrate a bit more flexibility – at first. But then he went on to impose conditions that were unacceptable to the Israelis who recalled the violence inflicted on their sailors during the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident of 2010. The Israeli commander’s exasperated response to Ghattas’ proposal was expressed in quite blunt terms:

“Member of Knesset Ghattas, even on this stupid detail we can’t reach agreement, it seems. You don’t expect me to board the ship alone amidst that mob. From my perspective you’re the senior responsible person and this is what you’ve done. These are the people whom you elected to join and we can’t even arrive at this simple agreement.” 

The Israeli officer then addressed himself to former Tunisian president Moncef al-Marzouki, expressing empathy over the recent terrorist attack that killed 38 European tourists at a coastal resort in that country.

“First of all I want to extend my condolences for the horrific, horrific terror attack that took place last Friday. We were really sorry to hear about that. And I’m surprised that you are on your way to support a regime that has the same ideology of those who committed that act of terror on your coast.”

And while these negotiations dragged on along the starboard side of the Marianne, Israeli Shayetet-13 naval comamandos achieved tactical surprise by boarding the ship from the port side. Once aboard, the Israeli troopers encountered little resistance, save in the case of one stubborn activist who had to be tasered into compliance.

The Channel 2 tape captures the reticence of the Israelis to use force against the passengers and crew of the Marianne“Stop, stop, stop! I don’t want to use this” yelled one SEAL in warning while brandishing his taser. “Stop it right now! You’re acting like insane! So now, I don’t want to use this!

But in the end of the day the stubborn activist gave the naval commando no choice – which of course was the entire object of the exercise. And, as expected, the anti-Israel blogosphere went into foam-flecked overdrive trying to beat up this minor incident into a massive crime against humanity.

“Israelis use electric stun guns on Gaza flotilla passengers”, proclaimed BDS activist Ali Abunimah in the anti-Zionist website Electronic Intifada. But despite Abunimah’s best efforts to edit the footage selectively in the most incriminating manner possible, the end result shows conclusively that the Israelis used non-lethal force only as a last resort.

The theatre of the absurd nature of this entire enterprise extends to the very abuse of language throough which it is described. Since 2007 Gaza has been ruled with an iron fist by the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood that draws its values directly from the 7th century. The jihadi theocrats of Hamas have spread a reign of terror over Gaza in which Christians are persecuted, women are oppressed and political opponents are cast off the rooftops of high-rise buildings. The application of the term “freedom” to any action that benefits these medievalist barbarians is a misnomer so grotesque that it would make Orwell cringe.

The events of this week also illustrate the extent to which the IDF is a learning organisation that has the ability to assess its operations with dispassion and honesty. The Israeli Navy carefully analysed the errors of planning and method that plagued its Mavi Marmara operation of 2010 and altered tactics accordingly. It was this combination of intellectual flexibility, moral courage and consummate professionalism on the part of Israel’s elite naval commandos that ensured the so-called Freedom Flotilla ended, not with bang, but a whimper.

About the Author
Ted Lapkin is a former Israeli combat-intelligence officer who has worked as a political strategist and speechwriter in Washington and Canberra. His debut novel 'Righteous Kill' ( was published in 2020.
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