It turns out that major Libyan rebel commander Mahdi al-Harati was one of the jihadists on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship that tried to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza in May 2010. As John Rosenthal notes, “after the seizure of Tripoli, al-Harati was named second-in-command to Abdul-Hakim Belhadj, the head of the newly formed Tripoli Military Council.” Belhadj also has an interesting pedigree, having been in phone contact with the leader of the 2004 Madrid train bombings just weeks before they were perpetrated.
Al-Harati, for his part, told the Spanish daily ABC in December that “I was wounded on the Mavi Marmara and spent nine days in an Israeli prison.” ABC reporter Daniel Iriarte had come upon al-Harati and two more of Belhadj’s men in Syria; they candidly told him they were there to help their “Syrian revolutionary brothers.” That should raise alarms as to just what sort of elements might be replacing Bashar Assad—who, like Gaddafi before him, is a brutal thug but not necessarily the worst the region has to offer.
That al-Harati’s résumé includes the Mavi Marmara is, however, rich in irony from an Israeli standpoint. The nine Turkish club- and knife-wielding lynch-mob members who were killed on the ship became, as I noted back then, the most internationally regretted jihadists of all time. This despite the fact that anyone with access to YouTube could see that the mob had savagely assaulted the Israeli naval commandos who boarded the ship bearing paintball guns.
And yet the deaths of the nine—called “peace activists” by much of the media—sparked such an outcry that eventually three Israeli commissions and two international ones were set up to investigate what had happened. The more consequential of the latter two, the UN’s Palmer Commission, gave a ruling last September that was seen as basically vindicating Israel in its ongoing bitter diplomatic spat with Turkey over the incident. Still, while the Palmer Commission concluded that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was thoroughly legal, it blamed the commandos for using too much force—apparently believing they should have kept relying on their paintball guns instead of finally drawing their pistols to save themselves from a grisly fate.
At the time, however, Israel tried hard to convey that the commandos’ attackers were members of the IHH, a radical organization with global-jihad, including Al Qaeda, links. Belatedly, the fact that the likes of al-Harati—who doesn’t need too much dot-connecting to arrive at the Madrid train bombings—was not only on the ship but wounded in the fighting is further substantiation of the point. So, for that matter, is Hamas terror-master Ismail Haniyeh’s visit with the relatives of the Mavi Marmara casualties on Monday.
The larger point, of course, is that the West has trouble identifying the nature and agenda of actors in the Middle East. From Iran in 1979 to the Mavi Marmara to Egypt, Libya, Tunisia—and possibly Syria—at present, those claiming virtue can turn out to be much the opposite. Clearly, Assad’s fall would be a blow to Tehran’s axis. Those struggling to replace him have to be watched closely.
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