IDF: Okay, So Maybe They Weren’t Al-Qaeda After All

by Kevin Jon Heller

This would be amusing, were the Obama administration not backing Israel’s insistence that any investigation into the attack on the flotilla be conducted (read: whitewashed) by Israel itself:

When placed under journalistic scrutiny, the IDF is being forced to admit that its claims about the flotilla’s links to international terror are based on innuendo, not facts. On June 2, the IDF blasted out a press release to reporters and bloggers with the shocking headline: “Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be Al Qaeda mercenaries.” The only supporting evidence offered in the release was a claim that the passengers “were equipped with bullet proof vests, night vision goggles, and weapons.” A screen capture of the press release is below:

The IDF distributed this press release on June 2. The following  day, it changed the headline, essentially retracting its lurid  accusation.

Not content to believe that night vision goggles signal membership in Al Qaeda, reporter Lia Tarachansky of The Real News Network and I called the IDF press office to ask for more conclusive evidence. Tarachansky reached the IDF’s Israel desk, interviewing a spokesperson in Hebrew; I spoke with the North America desk, using English. We both received the same reply from Army spokespeople: “We don’t have any evidence. The press release was based on information from the [Israeli] National Security Council.” (The Israeli National Security Council is Netanyahu’s kitchen cabinet of advisors).

Today, the Israeli Army’s press office changed the headline of its press release (see below), basically retracting its claim about the flotilla’s Al Qaeda links. The new headline reads: “Attackers of the IDF Soldiers Found Without Identification Papers” (the top of the browser screen still contains the original headline about Al Qaeda). The more Israel’s claims about the flotilla’s terrorist links are challenged, the more they fall apart.

16 Responses

  1. Is this a law blog?  Because making fun of hyperbolic government press releases is something that can certainly occupy one’s time endlessly, but it’s kind of a waste of J.D.-caliber analytic skills.

  2. wm13,

    Yes, it’s a flippant post — but it has a serious purpose, which is to illustrate the absurdity of the US position on who should conduct an investigation of the attack on the flotilla.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

    I also don’t think it’s accurate to describe the IDF’s claim as merely “hyperbolic.” If it wants to be taken seriously by the international community (which is debatable), it has an obligation not to make baseless and incendiary claims.

  3. KJH,
    I’m kind of with wm13 on this one… you might be right in pointing out the ridiculous press statement or the apparently ridiculous list of allowed and forbidden goods in the blockade, but you’re not really linking it to a legal argument…

    On a related issue, I’d love to hear your comments on my point about IHL applying not through the situation in the palestinian territories, as everybody seems to think, but through the existence of an armed conflict between Israel and Turkey, given that there is no legal link between an attack on the high seas of a foreign ship and the situation in the palestinian territories…

  4. So a reckless PR by a spokesperson is a basis for invalidating the competence of the Israeli military advocate to investigate  the flotilla case? What about the US? Obviously since George W Bush provided the world with false information regarding the presence of WMD in Iraq no one should ever trust the US to investigate the conduct of its armed forces.

    Some people would term your post as Israel-bashing.

  5. The fact that the UNHRC even considered passing a resolution before the all facts were in illustrates the absurdity of the UN conducting an investigation into the incident.

  6. “Obviously since George W Bush provided the world with false information regarding the presence of WMD in Iraq no one should ever trust the US to investigate the conduct of its armed forces” – this is actually what many people believe, and I can’t really blame them…

  7. Yep, it’s definitely Israel-bashing to point out that the IDF pushes its preferred narrative of the event with no factual basis whatsoever. 

    And for the record, I don’t believe the US can credibly investigate itself, either.  Or France.  Or Australia.  Or any other country.  I guess I’m guilty of bashing all those countries, too.

  8. The Turkish government are currently trying not to agree to any Inquiry looking at their links to the organisation which organised the flotilla. But I don’t see an equivalent post on that.

    This post moves away from legal debate to personal expression of views. Isn’t that an abuse of your position? By all means say it – just somewhere else.

  9. The problem Professor Heller, is not the baseless PR, which you have nicely nitpicked over the web, but your bizarre attempt to use it as some sort of supporting evidence to your claim that the IDF  is incapable of investigating the flotilla event.  The IDF is a relatively large organization, and its spokesperson office does not share personnel , to the best of my knowledge, with neither the military advocate office nor the military police. You, however, with a wide brush, paint them all in black. Not that I think that a baseless PR, that was retracted in less than 24 hours (how long did it take to the Bush administration to admit its WMD error?) says much about the competence of the IDF spokesperson.

    Your claim, that the PR  “… illustrate[s] the absurdity of the US position”, cannot be whitewashed, therefore, by playing the innocent card of “no country can investigate itself”. The same goes for the claim that it is “debatable” whether the IDF wants to be taken seriously by the international community. I don’t recall you ever wrote that about the US armed forces (perhaps I’m wrong though).

    I am not sure why I have wasted time on that comment. This post, however, complements very nicely the rest of your posts since the flotilla attack including the legal analysis. I think that I recognize the pattern.

    BTW the IDF now claims once again that an Al-Qaeda activist sailed on the Marmara. You can read that in Haaretz English web-site.

  10. We have ample reason not to trust any IDF narrative of events based on historical experience. Let’s put this statement in proper perspective and context:

    First, we should keep in mind, with Zeev Maoz (in Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israeli Security and Foreign Policy, 2009 ed.), “the total lack of oversight and control of the IDF and the security community by the civilian community in Israel.” For “the legislature and the judiciary completely bow to the security community on virtually any aspect of its involvement in shaping policy. After nearly forty years of occupation, during which the IDF engaged in numerous instances of killing of civilians, land confiscations, collective punishments, deportation, and house demolitions, there still exists no external body that is capable of investigating the IDF’s actions.”

    In addition, as Sylvain Cypel reminds us in Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (2006), the mythic relationship of the IDF to Israeli society is increasingly deconstructed and challenged, despite the fact that numerous Israelis “have gotten used to frantically making light of the most terrible atrocities, even justifying them if need be. [….] But there are also many Israelis who no longer trust the official communiques: ‘The army spokesman is lying’ is a phrase heard more and more often, even from some of those who favor the repression. The list of obvious lies has become too long. [….] ‘We’re digging ourselves deeper and deeper into the official lie. The behavior of units like the border guards is abominable. The IDF is now seen by everyone as a very violent army. Its influence on the education of the young is very negative. It has been corrupted by the occupation, no doubt about it,’ says Michael Ben Yair, former legal adviser to the Rabin government.”

    The fact that the IDF operates in the Occupied Territories* with an “unprecedented degree of impunity” (Cypel) should be reason enough not to believe it is incapable of policing itself or conducting internal investigations with any meaningful measure of objectivity.

    Our perspective and context is complete with mention of Lisa Hajjar’s pathbreaking study, Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza (2005).

    *My use of this term with regard to Gaza is in keeping with the arguments of Saree Makdisi, Neve Gordon, Orna Ben-Neftali, Aeyal M. Gross, and Keren Michaeli, among others.

  11. erratum: “not to believe it is capable….”

  12. Yaniv,

    A pattern?  Do tell!

    By the way, if you think I haven’t consistently criticized the US military for whitewashing American war crimes, you’re either willfully blind or characterizing my blogging without actually having read it.

  13. No, I do not think that you have not criticized the US and never said such a thing. What I wrote above is that I do not recall that you have ever stated that it is debatable whether the US army would like to be taken seriously by the international community. I have left open the option that you did post something like that, but I have missed it. I truly hope, though, that you have never made such a wild accusation.

    As for the pattern – you probably understand very well what I mean: it is anti-Israel activism. I, of course, cannot be certain about that, but perhaps the reason that you have indulged in a long and thoughtful argument regarding a 150 years old precedent, that turns Hamas terrorists into legitimate combatants (and, who knows, perhaps it even bestows legitimacy on  those who financially support them) just because of the Israeli maritime blockade, has something to do with that.

  14. That Kevin relies on Max Blumenthal for such a post tells you all you need to know about Kevin’s motivations and credibility.

  15. KJH writes, ‘Yes, it’s a flippant post — but it has a serious purpose, which is to illustrate the absurdity of the US position on who should conduct an investigation of the attack on the flotilla.”

    Yes, rather the investigator should be established by a group mostly filled with self-avowed enemies of Israel and a group that spends much of its time lambasting Israel while rarely criticizing its adversaries.  Furthermore, the investigator will ask one of his main assistants to be a person who had already argued that Israel had likely committed war crimes for the action she would investigate. 

    That is the non-absurd investigation according to KJH.

  16. There’s one straw man that won’t be getting up anytime soon.

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