Donald Macintyre: Israel ruled the airwaves as it did the seas

Analysis: The PR battle

Jonah's Hill overlooking the port of Ashdod is rich in history, the look-out point from which British officers during the Mandate used to scour the sea below to prevent illegal Jewish immigrants from entering Palestine.

Yesterday journalists peered across the same stretch of water, a slight heat haze visible on the horizon, looking for a very different kind of vessel – those whose passengers had been arrested on the high seas in the early hours and were now being brought under Israeli command one by one to port.

It was near as we could get – and reminiscent of the so-called "hill of shame" from which we were forced to watch Israel's bombardment of Gaza during the 2008-9 war, having been excluded from entering the territory.

Once again we had no access for most of the day to those on the other side – then it was the Gaza population, now it was the passengers. And this time even telephone contact was impossible, with the passengers' mobile and satellite phones having been temporarily blocked or confiscated.

Whether intentionally or not, the quarantining of reporters from the several hundred activists brought ashore at intervals of several hours yesterday helped to underpin a sophisticated and comprehensive Israeli media operation that ran through the day.

For the most part, Israel commanded the air waves as comprehensively as they had commanded those of the south-east Mediterranean in the early hours of the morning.

At Jonah's Hill, officials from the Israeli military and government departments fanned out among the reporters, relaying with courtesy and fluency their version of events.

This in turn was reinforced by a stream of analysis and explanation by politicians and sympathetic analysts in the live television coverage throughout the day and, by late afternoon, there was the aerial black-and-white film, supplied by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), of commandos landing aboard the Mavi Marmara.

The core message was that the deadly violence was started not by the Navy but by activists on board the vessel who had attacked Israeli forces.

And that Israel was within its legal right to carry out the operation in international rather its own territorial waters because it could not be sure that the flotilla did not pose a threat to its security.

Whether or not that account is vindicated by any independent investigation of the incident, if there is one, is a matter for the future, but, for yesterday at least, Israel moved with impressive efficiency according to the American political maxim about media rebuttal and counterattack: speed kills.

At Jonah's Hill, the Israeli media handlers were favoured with a supportive crowd of flag-waving members of the public and right-wing activists keen to show their support for the operation against the flotilla. "Well done the IDF" said one banner in English and Hebrew.

One of those who had come to show his appreciation was a 52-year-old business consultant, Haim Cohen. Wearing the tell-tale orange bracelet of those who opposed Ariel Sharon's withdrawal of settlers from Gaza in 2005, he said had seen television images of an activist thrusting a knife into the stomach of an Israeli serviceman.

"I came here to support the IDF," he said. "The IDF is the best army in the world. In any other country they would have killed everybody. Here they only killed 15."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Analyst -International TV Production

£250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Recruitment Genius: Project Management Support Assistant

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Railway Museum, the largest of its ...

Sauce Recruitment: FP&A Analyst -Home Entertainment

£250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: (Rolling) 3 month contractA global en...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project