Greta Berlin, a leader of the pro-Hamas Free Gaza Movement, told the New York Times in a telephone interview from Cyprus today that Israeli soldiers dropped onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara and “opened fire on sleeping civilians at four in the morning.” That is undoubtedly the version of events that will be believed throughout the Middle East, where any anti-Israel theory is swallowed whole. But those not merely motivated by ideology might reach a rather different interpretation of what happened, thanks to the videos of the event released yesterday by the Israel Defense Forces.
The least-convincing video came first—a long-shot showing much of the vessel from above, presumably from a camera on one of the helicopters that inserted the commandos. The footage is grainy because the raid occurred in the early morning hours and was filmed with a night-vision lens. The figures are seen from a distance. They’re tiny. The only way you can tell what’s happening is from labels inserted by the IDF—e.g., “The first soldier is injured and thrown to the deck.”
Much better footage was released a few hours later. In a close-up shot you can actually see the troops descending on ropes and being set upon by an angry mob. The “peaceful” passengers wielding chairs and metal rods are clearly visible. So, too, is the horrifying sight of a soldier going head-first overboard.
A third video is almost entirely dark, but the soldiers’ conversation in Hebrew—with English subtitles provided by the IDF, but an accurate translation—tells the story. “It’s coming from all directions,” they shout. “We need to be evacuated now! Real weapons, real weapons! They are firing on us. There is live fire below.” As much as the words the desperate tone of the radio chatter conveys the magnitude of what was occurring.
This is further confirmed in an interview posted by the IDF with one of the commandos, whose arm is in a sling and whose face is obscured. “Every guy that descended was met by three or four people,” he says. “And they just started beating him up, tearing him to pieces. It was a lynch.”
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.
Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today.