Israel (inadvertently) admits it broke law in raiding flotilla

on 21 Comments

With a Libyan aid ship perhaps trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza, Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a warning to the IDF not to stop the ship in international waters, Haaretz reports.

The Foreign Ministry advised the defense establishment yesterday to wait until the Libyan aid ship reportedly headed for Gaza approaches or enters the coastal strip’s territorial waters before making any attempt to stop it. The ministry made the recommendation to avoid the risk of breaking international law.

That warning is an implicit admission that when Israel attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31, it broke international law.  Before the Israeli Navy raided the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship was in international waters, 85 miles west of Haifa, according to this Ali Abunimah blog post.

After the flotilla attack, Craig Murray, an expert in maritime law, had this to say about the Israeli raid:

A word on the legal position, which is very plain. To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.

Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody’s territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.

21 Responses

  1. lysias
    July 13, 2010, 1:52 pm

    Turkish opposition deputy Kürşat Atilgan explains the Turks’ failure to send military backup to protect the Freedom Flotilla by the consideration that it was impossible to predict what a paranoid country like Israel would do in response: MHP Deputy Kürşat Atilgan: Assuming Israel does not use the PKK is naive:

    Do you think that Turkey was unable to make Israel backpedal because the elements of national power did not lend support to the government? Why didn’t the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) assume an active role in rescuing our citizens and vessels?

    There is a long chain of mistakes in this regard. First of all, no one in Turkey knows how many miles out to sea Israel considers to be part of the blockade on Gaza. Israel is not a normal country. It is a problematic country that believes that it is surrounded by threats. It is a paranoia-stricken country. What can you say if they declare the blockade starting from 100 miles? If you have power, then you can declare a blockade that is in your national interests. This is acceptable in international law. We, as Turkey, had at one time declared a blockade starting from 25 miles off the Turkish coastline. But after a while, we understood that it did not serve our interests and lifted it. Those guys were shouting, “Do not come.” But the misconception was that they could not interfere with the Turkish vessel.

    • lysias
      July 13, 2010, 1:55 pm

      Even this opposition deputy calls the Israeli attack on the flotilla an “act of piracy” (as well as blaming Israel for recent PKK Kurdish rebel attacks inside Turkey):

      Do you think that the problem is this power struggle between Turkey and Israel?

      It was wrong to start a power struggle with Israel. As a result of this struggle, Israel knowingly and willingly killed our eight citizens and captured our vessel in an act of piracy in international waters. This is a great fiasco. With regard to Turkey’s Iran policy, Israel sent a message with this attack, which effectively said that things will be harder for Turkey in the region. Indeed, Israel’s defense strategy is centered on destroying everything that may pose a threat to its security in the future. It is for this reason that Israel is trying to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This policy is wrong, but it is perceived as vital by Israel.

    • MRW
      July 13, 2010, 4:09 pm

      Turkey was not the flag of the Mavi Marmara. It was an island somewhere….Cosmosros Island? Something like that. The Libyan ship is traveling under the flag of Moldova as the map showed.

  2. Richard Witty
    July 13, 2010, 1:53 pm

    Strained logic Alex.

    The statement could also indicate a greater attention to international law than you attribute, that Israel WANTS to be careful to preserve international law.

    The opinion you site on blockade, is not the only legal opinion being presented.

    • Chaos4700
      July 16, 2010, 8:42 am

      Why are you apologizing for outright murder of an American citizen, Witty?

  3. Kathleen
    July 13, 2010, 1:55 pm

    Ed Teller tracking both the Libyan ship and the Green Peace ship over at Seminal at Firedoglake
    The Amalthea Nears Gaza – Flotilla 2010, Round Three
    link to

    View this users Facebook profile EdwardTeller July 13th, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Apparently, the captain of the Amalthea offered the IDF to allow them to board the vessel and inspect it at sea, if they would then allow the ship to proceed to Gaza after inspection. The IDF appears to have refused the offer:

    Angeolopoulos continued, “I say to the Israeli authorities that the ship is carrying humanitarian aid and food and there are no weapons or prohibited materials, as claimed by Israel.”

    “If Israel wants, the Israeli navy is invited to board the ship and to search it so that they can see with their own eyes that it is only carrying food and allow it to continue to the port of Gaza.”

    View this users Facebook profile EdwardTeller July 13th, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Course of Amalthea now 151 degrees, speed 1.6 knots. It may have been boarded. The heading is now to the west of the port of el Arish. No rational reason for it to slow down, unless there is no unloading berth available at el Arish.
    View this users Facebook profile EdwardTeller July 13th, 2010 at 11:40 am

    BTW, here’s the link to the route tracker. I posted it in the diary’s body, but here it is again.
    View this users Facebook profile EdwardTeller July 13th, 2010 at 11:43 am

    The Rainbow Warrior has turned their position transponder off.

    • Philip Munger
      July 13, 2010, 2:06 pm

      Thanks for the link. I’ve been tracking the freighter since yesterday. It changed course about 90 minutes ago, and slowed down from over 7 knots to 1.5 knits.

      It may have been boarded.

      (I’m Edward Teller at firedoglake.)

      • lysias
        July 13, 2010, 2:30 pm

        Reuters report from 8 minutes ago says Amalthea has asked Egyptians for permission to land at El Arish: Libyan aid ship asks to dock in Egypt, not Gaza:

        JERUSALEM/CAIRO (Reuters) – A Libyan ship carrying aid for Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip has asked to dock in Egypt instead after the Israeli navy ordered it not to go to Gaza, an Egyptian official said on Tuesday.

        The Moldovan-flagged Amalthea — renamed “Hope” by activists — got permission to sail to El Arish port, where authorities planned to unload its declared cargo of 2,000 tonnes of food and medicine and transfer it by land to Gaza, the official said.

        But he added: “There is no coordination at the moment with the ship and we do not know where its final destination is.”

        I suppose the request could still be just an exercise in deception.

  4. radii
    July 13, 2010, 2:00 pm

    since when does israel care about breaking laws?

    i thought they did that daily just for their perverted sense of fun

  5. potsherd
    July 13, 2010, 2:01 pm

    Someone ought to point this out to Barack Obama. He would certainly have to condemn this act of illegal warfare in which a US citizen was killed, if only he knew!

    • Psychopathic god
      July 13, 2010, 3:14 pm

      Israel is like the guy who walks out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to his shoe. Everybody else sees it. Everybody is laughing at the slob. But the slob never looks down to see what the problem is, he just starts punching people in the nose for noticing his gaffe.

    • munro
      July 13, 2010, 3:25 pm

      “Obama would certainly have to condemn this act of illegal warfare in which a US citizen was killed, if only he knew!”

      Yes, “this is the moment.” If Obama’s 3d chess strategy is to be more hated than W it’s working.

  6. MHughes976
    July 13, 2010, 2:14 pm

    I’m not sure if there is such an implicit confession of illegality as Alex suggests, and as I too would like to think. I read the San Remo manual several times and I couldn’t deny that there seems, according to that document, to be a right to intercept a vessel on the high seas if there is reasonable evidence of an intention, merely an intention mark you, to break a blockade. The manual is only an attempted summary of existing law and I haven’t looked at the underlying documents. But it would seem that if the ship now approaching has filed papers saying it’s going to El Arish, and if there is no solid ground for doubting this, then there is certainly no right to intercept. The Mavi Marmora was clearly intending to go to Gaza, and that would make a difference.
    I thought that the Israeli legal case had other serious weaknesses, notably the absence of a properly publicised list of contraband articles and the lack of interest in the duty to permit free passage (not, very much not, just transmission) of essential goods, but I don’t think that things were as plain in legalistic terms as Craig Murray states that they were. Humane terms are another matter.

    • potsherd
      July 13, 2010, 3:30 pm

      But if the blockade itself is illegal, the interception must be illegal.

      • MHughes976
        July 13, 2010, 3:50 pm

        That is absolutely true, but does not quite validate the position taken by Alex or by Craig Murray, which depends on the fact that the Mavi Marmora was on the high seas.

    • MRW
      July 13, 2010, 4:12 pm

      Here’s Craig Murray on the San Remo issue, which I think he had something to do with writing up, but dont hold me to it:

      Every comments thread on every internet site on the world which has discussed the Israeli naval murders, has been inundated by organised ZIonist commenters stating that the Israeli action was legal under the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.

      They ignore those parts of San Remo that specifically state that it is illegal to enforce a general blockade on an entire population. But even apart from that, San Remo simply does not apply.

      The manual relates specifically to legal practice in time of war. With whom is Israel at war?

      There is no war.

      Israeli apologists have gone on to say they are in a state of armed conflict with Gaza.

      Really? In that case, why do we continually hear Israeli complaints about rockets fired from Gaza into Israel? If it is the formal Israeli position that it is in a state of armed conflict with Gaza, then Gaza has every right to attack Israel with rockets.

      But in fact, plainly to the whole world, the nature and frequency of Israeli complaints about rocket attacks gives evidence that Israel does not in fact believe that a situation of armed conflict exists.

      Secondly, if Israel wishes to claim it is in a state of armed conflict with Gaza, then it must treat all of its Gazan prisoners as prisoners of war entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. If you are in a formal state of armed conflict, you cannot categorise your opponents as terrorists.

      But again, it is plain for the world to see from its treatment and description of Gazan prisoners that it does not consider itself to be in a formal position of armed conflict.

      Israel is seeking to pick and choose which bits of law applicable to armed conflict it applies, by accepting or not accepting it is in armed conflcit depending on the expediency of the moment.

      I have consistently denounced Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. I have categorised them as terrorism. If Israel wishes now to declare it is in armed conflcit with Gaza, I withdraw my opposition and indeed would urge Hamas to step up such attacks to the maximum.

      Does Israel really wish to justify its latest action by declaring it is at war with Gaza? That is what the invocation of San Remo amounts to.

      • MRW
        July 13, 2010, 4:13 pm
      • Koshiro
        July 13, 2010, 5:53 pm

        The debate centered on the fact that the Mavi Marmara was boarded in international waters for a simple reason: The idea that Israel could assume it was maintaining a legal blockade was so mind-boggingly preposterous that it didn’t occur to any knowledgable observer.

        Hasbarists and their useful idiots repeat ad nauseam the alleged rights of a belligerent power imposing a blockade, but fail to mention which conditions a blockade must actually fulfil to be legal.

        93. A blockade shall be declared and notified to all belligerents and neutral States.

        94. The declaration shall specify the commencement, duration, location, and extent of the blockade and the period within which vessels of neutral States may leave the blockaded coastline.

        These are conditions that a blockade must satisfy to be legally recognized in the sense of the manual. Did Israel take any of these steps? No. Is the blockade thus legal? No.

        Note that this does not even touch the question of applicability, which, as Mr. Murray has pointed out, also ends in a negative answer for Israel.
        In a nutshell: The blockade is illegal because the basic legal situation (international armed conflict) is not present. And even if it was present, which it isn’t, it would still be illegal because Israel has not satisfied the obligations which alone could make it a legal blockade.

        ‘Nuff said.

      • Koshiro
        July 13, 2010, 6:00 pm

        P.S.: Just to make it clear, I’m not saying that any present posters are ‘useful idiots’. I was referring to the countless instances of people copy&pasting paragraph 67 of the San Remo manual without bothering to read even what they just copied&pasted, let alone the whole document.

      • MHughes976
        July 14, 2010, 5:09 am

        All quite true. And the interception would have been just as unlawful had it occurred within shouting distance of the Gaza coastline, since at that point Israel is neither a belligerent nor a lawful occupying power nor a sovereign.

  7. Citizen
    July 13, 2010, 2:44 pm

    Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a warning to the IDF because Israel’s PR agency so directed as the best way to enhance Brand Israel for the moment.
    Israel has shown little evidence over the years that it should adhere to international law–that’s for gentile nations. Besides, look at what Manifest Destiny did to the native Americans. The world is hyporcritical and obssessed with Israel because it is a jewish state and the gentile world is ant-semitic, has a mental disease, a birth defect. Security of Israel is all that matters. Case closed.

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