Israel has once again been subject to international condemnation. In this latest incident, Israeli forces attacked a flotilla of ships that were supposed to be carrying aid to Gaza. During this attack, people on the ships were killed and some Israelis were wounded. Not surprisingly, this incident has stirred up strong emotions. Some are even likening the incident to piracy.
On one hand, it could be argued that the act is one of piracy. On the face of it, attacking civilian ships in international waters and killing people seems to rather like piracy. After all, when the folks from Somali head out to sea to attack ships, they are regarded as being engaged in piracy.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the act was not one of piracy. After all, one key distinction between pirates and non-pirates is that pirates do not not operate under the auspices of a government. Of course, governments do authorize pirate-like activity, but this is called “privateering.” The moral distinction between piracy and privateering can (to say the least) be a very fine one. After all, whether a person is killed by a pirate or a privateer probably matters very little to that person. However, this can be a relevant distinction and perhaps could be used effectively to argue that the Israeli attack was not an act of piracy.
Another argument that can be given to defend Israel is based on the assumption that nations have the right to act in self defense, even in international waters. Presumably Israel regarded the flotilla as a threat and then acted in accord with that assessment. This, of course, raises the question of whether the act was a legitimate act of self-defense or not. If the flotilla presented an actual threat, then the attack might have been justified. Even if the flotilla did not present a legitimate threat, then the attack need not be piracy. It would, however, be an illegitimate attack and hence morally questionable (at best).
It could also be argued that even if Israel was not acting in self-defense against a threat, Israel was acting in what those in charge saw as being in their self-interest. Of course, a pirate can say the same thing. They, no doubt, think that their piracy is in their self-interest. However, this hardly makes their actions correct (unless, of course, that is what makes actions correct). However, acting incorrectly at sea need not be the same thing as piracy. And, of course, it can be argued that Israel was not acting incorrectly.