Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bizzare picture of the Day: Sinkhole in Guatemala

Max Boot on the Gaza "flotilla"

And the importance of information operations.

Israel’s enemies long ago realized how potent propaganda warfare could be. They have made ample use of video cameras and Internet postings; Hezbollah even has its own satellite channel. Israel has been late to realize the importance of information warfare, but in its response to the Gaza flotilla dust-up it is finally casting aside the instinctive secretiveness of the military to give the world a view of what actually happened. Of course that won’t change the minds of many who are instinctively anti-Israel. But it’s better than simply ceding the information battlefield as Israel has done too often in the past.

Solomonia's excellent roundup of "Gaza Flotilla" information, and some thoughts on same:

This collection of information simply cannot be improved upon. No doubt this incident will serve as a military case study in the future. A case study of the challenges of military operations in a morally asymmetric environment.

The people that organized the 'flotilla' read the IDF quite well. They had good reason to believe both that the Israelis would attempt to board, and would not use lethal force unless things became quite dangerous. So, they realized they could do some serious damage using knives, bats, chairs, etc..and one of two things would happen. Either (1) the IDF forces would retreat, and the 'flotilla' could claim victory, or (2) the IDF would use lethal force, and the 'flotilla' could do as they are doing now, cry "massacre". In that case, a PR victory again, because the default position of the world press is to assume guilt and negligence on the part of Israeli forces when it comes to anything connected with Israel's protecting itself from threats emanating from Gaza or the West Bank.

The set up for the present PR headache was masterful, even down to calling the blockade running ships a "flotilla" ( I guess "regatta" would have been a bit much?) and festooning the vessel we see in the videos with flags, giving it a somewhat macabre holiday maker's facade. This all gives rise to a belief in the casual viewer that the boat was full of unarmed and peaceful if perhaps vociferous protesters with only humanitarian intent, arrayed against a cold military that does not care that Palestinians are starving, nor about killing the innocents aboard the ships. An obvious canard, but it plays well.

Here you have a hard dilemma for the Israeli government and the IDF. They are enforcing a blockade. They knew, days before, that this 'flotilla' was coming. It had been heavily publicised. They expected the 'flotilla' to be full of people, including some high profile protester types, that would at most protest visibly and loudly. They knew the primary intent of the 'flotilla' was to make a political statement and create/reinforce an impression via broadcast news media and the Internet. The primary intent was obviously not to simply deliver aid. If that were the case, there are other well known and well established routes, dependable routes, for doing so, yes policed by the Israelis, but routes that do reliably deliver all aid funneled through them.

It is obvious that Israel expected no serious life threatening violence. They inferred from similar past events that they would be able to intercept, take control of the craft, inspect, and deliver any humanitarian aid via those other well established routes. They were also not unreasonable in suspecting that weapons or money may be stashed aboard the vessel, intended for delivery to Hamas. There is an extensive track record in that regard. That is the reason for the blockade.

Now, that, being the circumstance, the commandos circled in helicopters, saw a crowd on the top deck of the vessel, assumed they were protester types, not thugs or street fighters, and descended via ropes from the helos. They were immediately set upon by a crowd of around 30, armed fighters. They continued to descend, one at a time, and things got ugly quickly A melee ensued. The videos tell the tale.

The commandos were under instructions to use paintball guns to disperse the crowd, this based on the false assumption that the passengers were all non fighting protester types. The commandos used the paintball guns to no avail. They were being attacked with knives, pipes, and one commando is thrown onto a lower deck. The men had good reason to believe their lives were in danger. They asked for and received permission to use pistols they were carrying which were to be used only last resort in the face of life threatening action. They fired at legs to disperse the attackers. Either before or after, the fighters fire back. Details are sketchy. Commandos made their way to the bridge, and took control of the vessel, arrested those aboard, took them ashore and began processing either for release or for trial.

Now, in terms of learning lessons from the incident, there are several that come to mind:

Given that the 30 or so people on the top deck showed hostile intent as the first commandos descended, what would have been the best way to board the vessel? It looks to have been a mistake to continue to try to rappel one at a time, into the melee.

An option that comes to my mind would be softening of resistance by use of various methods that are less than lethal, but effective:

Low tech: flash bang, liberal use of stun grenades or tear gas;

High tech, if available: LRAD or other disabling acoustics like the Active Denial System (generates an intense sensation of heat).

Another option seems to be that the Naval vessels could have allowed the "flotilla" to proceed, and even dock, but essentially lay siege to it at that point, letting nothing off the vessel and nothing on. Optional to this approach, let no person off the vessel without a search and 'background check'. Once again, if resistance is met, use non lethal means to subdue.

Another option: while still out at sea, disable the vessel without sinking leaving it immobile on open water. Initiate siege. Wait 'em out.

Would any of these options have short-circuited the intended goal of creating a PR nightmare for Israel? Perhaps. Should Israel have anticipated such shenanigans? Yes. Absolutely. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Is Israel morally blameworthy for this turn of events? No. The onus must be squarely placed upon those that intentionally set about causing the use of lethal force. Was there a better way to deal with the "flotilla"? Once again, perhaps, but in the realm of military operations, and especially, in the realm of moral asymmetry, the law of unintended consequences looms large. I can imagine some bad consequences of each of the options I've listed above.

At any rate, make a habit of checking back with Solomonia for updates. Good job.

Ink Spots: The 2010 NSS document. Catch-all kitchen sink-ism,

This seems to be a consensus among those that have read the document.

In a nutshell for those that do not have the patience to read the NSS:

"National security" is construed so broadly as to incorporate basically every element of American political, economic, and military strength.

Yep. That about sums it up.

Tuesday Blues: Stevie Ray Vaughan - soul to soul (say what)