The crisis is still at its height but this is nevertheless the time to wonder how Israel managed to walk into such an obvious and painful propaganda trap that took the lives of some young Turks. It was some kind of Istanbul circus, which was not led by any sovereign government that was able to intervene to improve the plot.
We can go on shouting that there were not peace activists waiting on the boat but thugs looking for a fight. That may be right but the game being played today is for the hearts of viewers and decision makers in the world's capitals, and claims based on facts, regretfully, are not relevant.
The pictures on Arab and Turkish TV channels were all the same. The Al Jazeera correspondent was reporting at the moment the boat was seized and suddenly the broadcast was cut off. MK Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly) was demanding that soldiers assist the wounded. There were passengers wearing gas masks in the darkness of the night and others leading injured or putting the dead in the corner of the boat.
In short, a collection of David versus Goliath scenes. And in the long hours since Israel has not been able to produce one single picture that will improve its image during this crisis.
The person winning the points in this contest is not the person that is right but the person who produces the most convincing pictures and voices. This principle was known before the flotilla set sail but despite that Israel walked straight into the trap.
From the moment that the flotilla left port, Israel already found itself one goal down. When the commandos boarded the boats, Israel went two goals down. When the passengers on the boat started dying Israel's comprehensive defeat was complete. But the political arena is not the World Cup. We are talking about lives.
Two tough questions are raised by the scenes played out since this morning on Turkish and Arab channels. Why did the political echelon send the best of our boys onto boats packed with 600 activists armed with TV cameras and satellite phones? Did the commandos of the 13th squadron believe that they could neutralize Al Jazeera's correspondents?
It was naïve to send into such a politically charged fray, the likes of which Israel does not have much experience, commandos armed to the teeth, and not to expect them to resort to their weapons. And why were these soldiers ordered to board the boat instead of just surrounding it at sea until the international media lost interest and they were forced to return to the port from which they embarked?
The media strategy that should have guided the decision makers in Jerusalem should have been to avoid contact between the soldiers and the boats' passengers at any price. Because this was not done the other side has won a propaganda victory.
Our spokesmen can go on claiming that it was not the media union sailing off Israel' shores but a group of thugs surrounded by cameras. But these claims are not relevant in a world in which the screen is king and a press release is a piece of paper that nobody takes notice of.
Israel can shout "Hamas" because dozens of soldiers were injured during the violent attack by the boat's passengers. But the world's attention is focused on those who died on the boat. It is futile for Israel to protest about the plight of its soldiers out at sea. The world will prefer to listen about the situation of Gaza's population. Our diplomats will be wasting their time by saying that the flotilla's organizers are connected to Hamas.
That's also a fact but it's about time we realized that around the world, and for sure in the Muslim world, Hamas is not the swear word that it is thought of here. Jerusalem has to adapt itself to this reality. Israel must maneuver itself with skill, instead of fighting at every opportunity in a hopeless war. Israel must reshape itself.
So we have lost again. Because what will remain in the memories of TV viewers around the world will be the pictures of IDF soldiers on the deck, heavily armed and covered from head to foot with night vision and communications equipment, having landed from one of the world's fastest and best naval fleets. So go shout now that the flotilla's organizers did not come with medicine and food for the residents of the Gaza Strip but were waiting for the soldiers with knives and guns.
The author is the Arab affairs correspondent of "IDF Radio" (Galei Zahal).
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 31, 2010
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