Gaza aid flotilla: Why Israel expects to lose the PR war
As a Gaza humanitarian flotilla carrying some 800 demonstrators and 10,000 tons of goods approaches its destination, Israeli officials are applying lessons learned from the previous eight Palestinian aid flotillas. But officials don't expect the Israeli message to win the media campaign.
In Pictures The Israeli separation barrier: A West Bank wall
In Pictures Palestinian smugglers on the Egypt Gaza border
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Now, with an estimated 800 demonstrators and 10,000 tons of goods expected to reach Gaza's waters Saturday – the ninth and by far the largest such attempt – Israel has long since changed its approach.
Israeli commandos plant to intercept the Gaza aid flotilla, albeit with orders to avoid unnecessary conflict with civilian passengers, which include some Israeli Arab parliamentarians and foreign lawmakers. A VIP room will be prepared for those distinguished protesters in the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, where the navy plans to send the diverted ships.
Israeli spokesmen, meanwhile, are being deployed in a defensive publicity war. They argue that Gazans have ample food and supplies despite the blockade, and that complaints should be directed at Hamas, the Palestinian faction that rules the territory and is considered by the US, Israel, and Europe to be a terrorist group.
But Israeli officials admit that they're in a losing battle because they expect attention to focus on the humanitarian fallout of Israel's three-year blockade on the coastal territory rather than on Hamas.
"We know one thing for sure, in the media we are going to lose the war anyhow,'' says Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for Israel's Defense Ministry. "It doesn't matter what we do, if we let them into Gaza, they will speak against Israel. If we stop them it will also be a bad picture.''
'We learned our lesson' – Israeli spokesman
Two vessels, Liberty and Free Gaza, docked in Gaza in August 2008, when Israel's military was convinced they were not ferrying and weapons. It also assessed that intercepting the ships would be more trouble than it was worth.
In October and November that year, two other ships were given the same treatment in the hope that the attempts would eventually stop.
But when the blockade-busting attempts didn't let up, Israel ended its policy of benign neglect and began casting the protesters as allies of Hamas.
"We learned our lesson,'' says Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, characterizing the activists' chief goal as being political more than humanitarian. "It was coordinated by Hamas.''