If Israeli soldiers had boarded the Mavi Marmara armed with assault rifles instead of paintball guns, would the Turkish Islamists on board have been just as eager to attack them? The odds are against it. In order to attack soldiers, you have to believe that they won't be able to turn you into a smear on the deck. And it's not hard to see why they would have believed that.
But the flotilla encounter is a useful model, not only of Israel's own weak response toward terrorism, but that of the Western world toward Islam as a whole.
Going in with paintball guns to stop people who genuinely want you dead, does not deescalate the situation-- it escalates it. There are after all two kinds of violence. Violence that occurs as a misunderstanding and can be talked out. And violence that is the result of people who want to kill thinking they've got a shot at accomplishing their goal. And there's no better way to insure violence than to give those kinds of people the idea that this is their moment.
But Israel has been responding with metaphorical paintball guns to terrorism for too long now. How many times has Israel bombed empty buildings or sent tanks on pointless raids with no strategic objective except to show the flag. How many times has Israel arrested terrorists, only to let them go as a "confidence building" measure. For that matter the entire Gaza blockade, in which Israel reacted to the Hamas takeover of Gaza with a partial blockade (accompanied by large doses of aid) in order to isolate Hamas. Instead Hamas has used the blockade to isolate Israel even further. That you see is the problem with paintball guns. Not only aren't they of much use, but they actually invite further conflict, and when you finally have to use real guns, more people will die as a result.
Only consistently leveraging force provides a deterrent. That is something Israel once understood, but has long ago forgotten. Instead Israel has inconsistently employed force, which has naturally led to charges of "disproportionate use of force", because the government has set a bottom basement value for the use of force, which means that both its friends and enemies have learned to expect minimal responses. This means that when we do go to war, we get less support from our friends who are suddenly shocked by what we're doing, and when we don't go to war, we give our enemies the idea that they can get away with anything.
Remember Osama bin Laden's shock as the scale of the US attack in Afghanistan. Or Hassan Narsallah's at the Second Lebanon War. Bin Laden had gotten used to being able to carry out attacks like that on the USS Cole, without expecting anything besides a few poorly aimed missiles in return. Nasrallah had assumed that Israel's tolerance of terrorism from Hamas and Fatah meant that it was a soft target. America and Israel's response to one particular attack, shocked the Islamic terrorist groups responsible. But that shock also demonstrates the problem. Terrorists should naturally expect a ruthless response. When we tolerate terrorism, we create the expectation that they can get away with anything. Then they cross a red line, we strike back hard, and buy ourselves some peace. The terrorists begin scaling up their attacks again, certain this time that we're incapable of fighting back. Until they hit another red line.
If we consistently deployed force against terrorism, we wouldn't have this seesaw cycle that the left wing media routinely dubs the "Cycle of Violence". Instead we react inconsistently, which fails to function as a deterrent. Our inaction lulls terrorists into thinking that they have a free pass, which only demonstrates that we don't have a deterrent. Next to outright inaction, the inconsistent use of force is destructive to maintaining a stalemate. Because if given two possibilities with equal amounts of evidence for both, one that you will strike back with full force and one that you will remain apathetic-- most motivated enemies will find ways to argue themselves into believing the latter. And they will attack.
Carrying paintball guns will not win you love. During the Munich Olympics in 1972, the German police handed out flowers. The flowers did not stop PLO terrorists from invading the Olympic Village and murdering Israeli athletes. On the other hand Israel's response of hunting down and killing those responsible, sent a decisive message that even murdering its people on foreign soil, among police who hand our flowers, would not save them from retribution. A year after the Munich Massacre, the Black September branch of the PLO was shut down.
But we still keep using paintball guns. For 17 years Israel has tried to show goodwill toward the PLO formed Palestinian Authority and even toward Hamas. And the PLO and Hamas unsurprisingly responded with massacres and atrocities. If you run from a rabid dog, the dog will chase after you. If you stand and confront the dog, you might have a chance to beat it off, or shoot it. But if you always run from the dog, the dog will feel entitled to chase you and try to bite you. And so every time Israel responded, there was an outcry. But it was Israel that had taught its enemies that it would not respond to terrorism, only to then sometimes respond. That sort of inconsistent behavior is extremely confusing to rabid dogs.
When dealing with enemies who want to kill you, one thing is certain-- nice countries finish last. Totalitarian regimes and homicidal ideologies view "niceness" as an admission of weakness or guilt. And here's the dirty little secret, often we tend to view it that way too. Backing down before enemies becomes learned behavior. The human mind rationalizes it by embracing pacifism and then finally the enemy's point of view. Inaction in the face of terrorism becomes Stockholm Syndrome. The more you teach soldiers to carry paintball guns, the less psychologically able they are to wield real guns in an actual battle. Because you can't win by giving up. And giving up convinces your own people that the battle isn't worth fighting anyway.
It's all well and good to be nice, but when confronting enemies who seek to destroy you-- remember, nice countries finish last.