Mavi Marmara one decade on: IDF officer remembers harrowing operation as success

Although a lack of intelligence led to IDF soldiers being injured and 10 attackers killed, the mission to stop the blockade-runner was a success, Major N. says.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Marking 10 years since participating in the takeover of the Mavi Marmara, Major (res.) N. told Israel Hayom that it was no failure, although a lack of intelligence information led to several comrades being seriously injured and nine terrorists killed in an incident that soured relations with Turkey for years.

The Marmara was a boat full of anti-Israel activists and terrorists who sailed from Turkey in a PR stunt to try and “break” Israel’s lawful maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip.

It was part of a small flotilla whose spokesmen said was bringing humanitarian aid to the coastal enclave. Five of the six boats allowed themselves to be towed to the Ashdod Port for inspection when the Israeli Navy warned them to stop as they neared the coast on May 31, 2010, but not the Marmara.

Major N. was the sixth soldier from Israel’s elite naval commando unit Shayetet 13 to rappel down from an IDF helicopter to take over the boat when it refused to stop.

“It wasn’t the first flotilla that we’d had to stop, nor the last,” he told the Hebrew daily. “What was unusual in this flotilla was the great number of participants…. What we didn’t know was that besides the activists that boarded the boats in Anatolia, 60 terrorists from the IHH also boarded in Istanbul.”

IHH is a Muslim Turkish NGO that says its purpose is to provide international humanitarian aid. However, the U.S. government had designated it as “an organization created by Hamas leadership to transfer funds to the terrorist organization.”

In contrast to reports at the time, the commandos did not come armed only with paint guns, he said, noting, “We came protected, with vests and real weapons.”

The terrorists among the passengers were prepared to fight, as N. recalled that the second he touched the deck after rappelling down from the helicopter with 14 other comrades, three men jumped him.

“I got an iron bar to the head, my helmet flew off. They started hitting me with axes, crowbars and hammers. The first thought that popped in my head was, ‘What’s going on here?’ I’d never encountered such violence. When the third bar hit me on the head, I realized that they’re trying to kill me. So I grabbed my weapon and shot one of the terrorists.”

N. remembered the incident being over very quickly and then using his paramedic training to treat the wounded.

“From the second the battle ended, five minutes after we rappelled down, until 6:00 [when the commandos were evacuated] … I treated the injured,” he said. He also helped the wounded terrorists while the boat was towed to Ashdod, noting, “They were given the best medical care.”

Gaza flotilla

Weapons found on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, part of a flotilla headed for Gaza in 2011. (Itamar Moatty/IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

According to N., the media reaction to the incident, which lasted for weeks, did not jive with reality as he saw it.

“The media reverberation was insane,” he said, “but the commanders did a good job. I did not have a feeling of failure. I suppose those who got injured didn’t feel a sense of victory, because at the end you went into a situation whole and well and came out injured badly. As a unit we succeeded in our mission.”

In all, the IDF said seven commandos were injured, four of them moderately, including two with gunshot wounds. Of the assailants, 55 were injured, and nine terrorists were killed as they attacked the commandos. A tenth died after being in a coma for four years.