Seven Things You May Not Know About the Deaths on the Blockade-Busting Ship Near Gaza

An Israeli armed naval boat, right, escorts a ship from the Gaza-bound flotilla with Israeli troops on board into the port of Ashdod, Israel, May 31, 2010.
AP

Dan Raviv is a CBS News correspondent in Washington, host of radio's Weekend Roundup, and co-author of "Every Spy A Prince: The Complete History of Israel's Intelligence Community"

1. Experts on international maritime law disagree on whether Israel had the right to board the six vessels in the blockade-breaking flotilla. The ships were in international waters when seized by Israeli naval commandos. Israel insists it acted lawfully by warning the ships repeatedly that they were heading for a closed military zone.

2. An officer in Shayetet 13 (ironically, that's Hebrew for "Flotilla 13"), the famed but secretive naval commando unit, told Israel Radio that his men did not expect the passengers on the ships to welcome the Israeli soldiers, "but we did not expect that level of violence." He confirms that they were holding only paintball guns, at first, "but we were also carrying other firearms, and when we quickly determined that there was a crowd trying to kill Israeli soldiers, we changed the operation to a live fire mission and did what we know to do best. We suppressed the opposition, shot only those we needed to, and took control of the ship." The officer added that on the other five protest vessels, there was almost no violence and Israeli commandos took command smoothly. Israeli newspapers say the seaborne drama was "a fiasco," in part because of bad intelligence on what the soldiers should have expected on the deck of that ship.

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3. Out of more than 700 demonstrators, taken into custody by Israel, at least 16 were citizens of the United States. U.S. diplomats report that two were quickly deported by Israel -- including a former U.S. ambassador to Mauritania, Edward Peck, now at home in Chevy Chase, Md., who says he did not appreciate the official reason for deportation being "entering Israel illegally." The 81-year-old says he never intended to enter Israel at all. Peck admits to feeling "disappointed" that the flotilla, which he thought would do some good, has made tensions in the Middle East even worse.

4. The organizers of the flotilla, the Cyprus-based Free Gaza Campaign, say that two more vessels intend to break the blockade and enter Gaza this week. One is named for Rachel Corrie, an American killed at age 23, seven years ago, when she was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer she and other protesters were attempting to block in the Gaza Strip. Corrie was featured in a play based on her writings and is considered a hero of pro-Palestinian activists.

5. Supporters of Israel are urging reporters to investigate the money behind the flotilla that aims to break the blockade of Gaza. They claim that IHH, the International Humanitarian Relief Foundation, is part of a collection of Muslim charities linked -- by U.S. government investigators -- with terrorists.

6. Middle East experts cannot even agree on whether Gaza has a shortage of food and medicine. Both Israel and Egypt have severely limited what gets into the poverty-stricken, crowded area -- occupied by Egypt from 1949 to 1967 and then by Israel from 1967 to 2005. Authorities in those two nations say they're trying to block deliveries of rockets and ammunition to Hamas, the religious Sunni party that controls Gaza after expelling the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction. Palestinians complain bitterly that cement and other building materials are banned by the blockade, saying they need to rebuild homes destroyed in the Israeli attacks on Gaza early last year -- in a brief war apparently sparked by Hamas rockets hitting Israeli towns.

7. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Ottawa, Canada, when the clash occurred and was planning to fly to Washington today (Tuesday) for a meeting with Barack Obama at the White House. The President and the prime minister had obviously not been getting along well, and this event was meant to smooth ruffled feathers -- including a joint appearance before reporters, a sharp and friendly contrast from the stony silence and unphotographed meeting they had in the Oval Office in March. Now, the U.S. says it wants to see a full and independent inquiry by Israel as to why people in the Gaza flotilla were killed. Connected with that or not, the two leaders will reschedule their get-together sometime -- but that was left vague. Israeli officials had been hoping that their participation in peace talks with what they call "the good Palestinians" (the Mahmoud Abbas government in the West Bank) and other signs of improving relations with Washington would help Israel and the U.S. coordinate a tough stand toward Iran and its nuclear program. All that is delayed by the unexpected, but perhaps foreseeable, mess on that ship in the Mediterranean.

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    Dan Raviv is a correspondent for CBS Radio News based in Washington, host of CBS News Weekend Roundup, and co-author of "Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars"

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