June 03, 2010

Blunders on the High Seas

Much ink has been spilt about the so-called flotilla fiasco these past days, a botched Israeli commando raid of the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara vessel in international waters transporting, depending on who you ask, committed Gandhi-like humanitarians, or per others, hardened al-Qaeda linked terrorists. Amidst the cacophony of YouTubes with yellow highlighted arrows emblazoned about, helpfully highlighting metal poles and “objects”, stun grenades and firebombs, or talk of ‘Khaibar’ chanting miscreants flush with a million Euros, as well myriad spent non-Israeli bullet cartridges allegedly causing manifold gunshot wounds, or per other (equally heated) retellings, something of a pre-planned massacre by beastly IDF goons simply for the sport of it, not too much is yet definitively clear save that tragic loss of life occurred in an illegal operation (or one of dubious legality at very best), so that the Israeli mission was undeniably a failure operationally, tactically, and strategically. Let us take each in turn, though it is the last which is most important.

Operationally, it’s largely no-brainer fare what went wrong, as various military experts have opined ad nauseam. Why was the intelligence about the ‘activists’ on board so sub-par, to include presuming a more docile reaction to airborne commandos crashing the party at an ignoble pre-dawn hour? What of the somewhat surreal tidbit about paintball rifles, as the FT reports typically “used to bruise and mark suspects for later arrest”, as if either of these crowd-dispersal techniques on a sea-borne vessel make any sense whatsoever? Instead, with the intelligence badly flawed from the get-go, and thus the operational capabilities required fundamentally misconstrued, it was all too easy for live ammunition to be too liberally employed in the initial chaos leading to fatalities (nine and counting, with regardless even one death too many for a boat full of non-combatants, which contra the always enterprising musings of Alan Derschowitz, where he says that the flotilla’s passengers “fit uncomfortably onto the continuum of civilianality that has come to characterize asymmetrical warfare”--I suspect instead most leading public international law authorities would ultimately conclude, 'continuums of civilianality' or not, that these individuals were not rendered bona fide combatants simply because the ship was attempting to break a blockade, and given the totality of the circumstances).

Short to mid-term tactically, the operation was similarly a blunder. I don’t necessarily disagree with many Israeli commentators who contend that the Mavi Marmara’s nautical intrusions were less about delivery of humanitarian aid, more about breaking the blockade (I am however fatigued by the sophomoric rhetoric emitting from Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Mavi Marmara wasn’t the "Love Boat", or the less sophomoric, and more crudely propagandistic fare, say, that the mostly Turks on board were hell bent on helping set up an “Iranian port”, the better for Ahmadi-Nejad to ship in the processed uranium). But here’s the rub, assuming the activists were more minded to break the blockade than anything else, the fact that Israel’s botched operation caused major loss of life and widespread international outrage will now only intensify further the international pressure to end this very same blockade. Already there is talk about modifying the extent of the blockade even in Washington, and the NYT reports the Israelis are “exploring new ways” of supplying Gaza. As Washington is ultimately Israel’s only die-hard friend--if a tad more halting one of late—this is hardly a surprise.

But it is the strategic failure however which depresses most, and for many reasons. First, and perhaps most important, the Israeli-Turkish relationship has deteriorated dramatically, even dangerously. I am reasonably confident that had the Israelis not immediately repatriated all the Turkish individuals in their custody Ankara might well have truly contemplated terminating diplomatic relations. That’s really rather stunning, when you think of it, given the longevity of these ties. Related, deepening defense cooperation is still at real risk looking forward depending on Israel’s next moves regarding the blockade (as is restoration of full Ambassadorial-level diplomatic ties). And of course you have Prime Minister Erdogan’s statements—which cannot be wholly discounted as fiery rhetoric in the aftermath of the emotional death of Turkish civilians—that “nothing will be the same” in the context of Turkish-Israeli relations. While one senses, at least as of this writing, that both parties have pulled back from the brink some, the situation is still fraught with real tension and the bilateral dynamics are highly problematic to say the least.

Second, this all comes at a highly sensitive time geopolitically in the region with Turkey having sought to broker (along with Brazil) a deal respecting Iran’s nuclear program (incidentally, I hope the subject of a separate post soon). These efforts, whatever their merits, and having been rebuffed rather too high-handedly (or, alternatively, in too rushed and defensive a manner?) in various quarters, will have as a result the Turks likely intensifying their reach out to the ‘East’, especially given Washington’s tepid reaction to date on the flotilla incident (certainly from Ankara’s vantage point, witness but a proposed U.S. observer for an Israeli-led investigation into this fiasco!). In short, and post the Iraq War with its materially negative implications respecting the US-Turkish relationship, it is fair to say Israel’s botched intervention on the high seas has only made the sledding all the harder respecting helping calibrate Turkey’s evolving role in the neighborhood better from Washington’s perspective.

Related, this ill-fated operation was a blunder too as it will only render more complicated Israel’s objectives respecting the sanctions end-game at the United Nations on the Iran dossier, doubtless making it easier for the assorted ministrations of Brasilia, Ankara (as well other emerging powers) to work on peeling away Beijing and Moscow’s support for anything emitting from Turtle Bay that might have had real teeth vis-à-vis Teheran (to the extent these capitals were really minded to ultimately sign on to a robust U.S. draft to begin with, a dubious proposition ultimately, nor am I a fan of sanctions for sanctions sake, ineffective as they typically are, whether of the ‘smart’ variety or otherwise, so that we should be more focused on long-term containment initiatives likely).

Third, this presents yet another set-back likely to the mostly moribund launch of so-called ‘proximity talks’ George Mitchell has been pursuing for so many long months, a thankless task if there ever was one (if an important one nonetheless, given no credible, more ambitious initiatives are underway). Any setbacks to these fledgling diplomatic initiatives provide a shot in the arm to Hamas, further make life difficult for whatever assorted Fatah moderates in Ramallah, while putting more pressure on Cairo, Amman and possibly Riyadh, to the benefit of Damascus and other less conciliatory players.

And last, while there are still other strategic setbacks besides, the continued de-legitimation of Israel among large swaths of global opinion coming out of the ’06 Lebanese conflict, the dismal Operation Cast Lead, the Goldstone Report, and now this latest debacle, is worth highlighting as well. I know, I know, everyone would be beating up on Tel Aviv anyway, we are told by those who are always at the ready to provide carte blanche style rationalizations for whatever conduct Israel might deem appropriate, and with whatever the consequences, but this seems too easy a retort, no?

Meantime the mood in Israel, in the main, seems to be one of mostly defiance and rallying around the flag. There are vehement criticisms about the operational missteps, but few question the tactical wisdom of the operation itself with respect to the preservation of the blockade, fewer still the strategic challenges the botched operation have raised to the forefront per the above. Yes, something has changed in the Israeli public’s mood these past years, a thriving polity known for its rancorous and hard-fought debates across the political spectrum, not least when it came to national security issues. The rancor is still there, to be sure, but save outlier parties like Meretz a broad Likud-Labor-Kadima consensus has apparently congealed, one with little patience for the niceties of world opinion, international law, persistent diplomacy, and painstaking alliance-building. This extends beyond the political class itself, as some roughly 95% of the Israeli public polled believed the vessel needed to be stopped, ostensibly come what may.

The reasons are many, I suspect. The long campaign of suicide bombings engendered much hatred of the 'other' amidst the Israeli public. The fact that rocket attacks continued from Gaza after Israel’s withdrawal frustrated keenly, ‘what more can we do’, many asked? And legendary figures from the Israeli national security firmament are no longer with us, most notably, Yitzhak Rabin, so that the nation likely feels somewhat unmoored with only more second-tier players available. And yet these very sources of frustration are evocative of a lack of self-reflection among too many Israelis, one fears. If you withdraw from Gaza, but after an election Hamas wins (like it or not) cut back on the amount of basic goods allowed in--and then even more so after the ejection of Fatah from the Strip--is it any wonder frustration will mount within Gaza helping fuel further bouts of violence, for instance?

As for the current crise du jour, less about the flotilla (as symptom) ultimately than the blockade (as cause), can Israelis not better appreciate that acting as self-appointed commissars authorized to calibrate the precise amount of food aid, medical supplies and other goods allowed into Gaza (with nutritional issues still arising nonetheless, and post-Cast Lead rebuilding efforts hugely stunted), with what types of specific goods per detailed lists of authorized and non-authorized fare, offends sensibilities, indeed mightily, and in many quarters? Or that the communal punishment of 1.5 million people, for the acts of an off-shoot group of the Muslim Brotherhood which also incidentally provides varied social services (and with which frankly the U.S.—or a proxy—should open channels too given their key position within the Palestinian polity), similarly perturbs many fair-minded persons? Or, still, that the constant discussion surrounding a single IDF soldier, one Gilad Shalit, while heartbreaking for him, his family, his unit and Army, and indeed perhaps too the Israeli nation more generally, is nonetheless perhaps discounted in ‘net’ import some by those looking at the plight of well over a million Palestinians by comparison (Netanyahu has listed this single soldier as one of three key variables weighing on Israel’s posture vis-à-vis the blockade)?

I could go on, but this mood of national testiness, dearth of self-reflection, default to non-conciliatory postures, and easy resort to militarism is proving ever more debilitating to Israel’s overall position and future in the region, and indeed globally. More than anything, the tactical obsession with eradicating enemies (as if one even could every last Hamas or Hezbollah adherent), rather than more seriously moving forward towards an overarching peace settlement with the Palestinians (as well the Syrians and Lebanese) is what strikes me as most short-sighted. What is needed is more strategic patience, realism and wisdom among Israel’s leaders, as reminiscent of the aforementioned Yitzhak Rabin. Mssrs. Netanyahu and Barak have not mustered same, alas, certainly not of late.

Last, however, we would be remiss not to mention Washington in all this, which has proven overly halting, passive and cautious in its approach to this issue, despite its ever growing costs as strategic liability to the United States. President Obama needs to become more personally involved in pointing the parties towards the final parameters of a convincing settlement, while playing ‘honest broker’ more forcefully, and in out-of-the- box fashion (yes, I know, he’s rather busy, and more seed-work is required by Clinton and Mitchell). This means bold acts (at least by our paltry standards) to shake up dynamics some, like having a vigorous international investigation into this incident with, who could imagine, Turkish and Israeli observers, say, rather than simply Israelis running the investigation with a token US observer who will be widely viewed by the world as a white-wash enabler, or moving to engage Hamas (likely indirectly via EU proxies at first), or still skipping over proximity talks in favor of the real thing, meaning direct talks under U.S. mediation (by exerting adult supervision and real pressure on the parties to get them to the proverbial table). Did we vote for change? Real change? Well, where is it, one too often wonders, across a variety of areas. Except, really, this isn't really revolutionary change, it's called basic, robust and slightly more risky and creative diplomacy, which this nation has employed in the past on occasion, if not too often in recent memory.

In short, and as often, another dismal episode emitting from the Middle East, lots of noise and protestations and shrieks resulting, and little by way of intelligent, concrete policy-making apparently in the offing from any governmental quarters (like, say, more forcefully sketching out in Quartet, UN and other international fora the key parameters that everyone is aware are needed for an overall peace deal, while pursuing outreach to portions of Hamas that would be willing to renounce violence on the basis of a meaningful peace settlement). This also begs questions regarding how a ribald, Tweeting (Palin-style), special interest-laden, and hugely dumbed-down cable news addled mass democracy manages to run a serious foreign policy, but that topic is perhaps better left for another day.

Posted by Gregory at June 3, 2010 10:08 PM | TrackBack (0)

The strategic failure was Israel deciding to inflict collective punishment on a population that consists of at least 40% children. You can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding.

Posted by: Hal at June 3, 2010 11:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm Israeli and I've been trying to wrap my head around the way that this is playing out globally.

On Monday AM, I was shocked to be reading about the raid and the number killed. By evening, it was apparent that a) the Israeli blockade action was certainly precedented under rules governing hostilities at sea b) the Israelis had come under a focused and substantial attack before responding with live fire. It seemed to me that was pretty much the end of the story.

So yes, in retrospect there was an intelligence failure and different tactics should have been used. But imagine if large numbers of heavily armed soldiers had boarded the other 5 ships - we would have been hearing about how it's such terrible optics, soldiers against peace activists etc. Seems a bit unfair to engage in that kind of Monday morning quarterbacking - especially since the US had been putting pressure on Israel to treat the situation with the utmost delicacy (probably at least one reason for the small numbers of soldiers and the paintball guns).

So your posting is a bit of insight into what people abroad are thinking:

* Your first paragraph surveys various kinds of claims from both sides and then states "not too much is yet definitively clear" - and seems to think that the details of what happened are not so important.

* You say that the Israeli actions are "an illegal operation (or one of dubious legality at very best)"

* You say you "don’t necessarily disagree with" the view that the flotilla was "less about delivery of humanitarian aid, more about breaking the blockade" - but you make light of the Israeli concerns that Iran will ship long-range missiles to Hamas as they have done to Hezbollah

* You find Bibi "sophomoric"

* You offer some geopolitical discussions that view this incident as central in situations like Turkey's ongoing Islamicization and the Iranian nuclear problem.

* You describe the Israeli state of mind as a "mood of defiance and rallying around the flag." and criticize Israelis for not questioning the wisdom of maintaining the blockade. You attribute this to suicide bombings which led to "hatred" - though we haven't had those for years now (rocket and missile launchings are the thing these days).

* Further you criticize Israelis for "default to non-conciliatory postures, and easy resort to militarism".

* much more, leading to the punch line that "President Obama needs to become more personally involved in pointing the parties towards the final parameters of a convincing settlement, "

Obviously there is so much to talk about here that it's difficult to know where to begin.

Two main points:

1. The reading of the Israelis that you offer is mistaken or even cartoonish.

* The international community has made clear that it will tolerate Hamas and Hezbollah rocket fire on Israeli cities and insists that any Israeli response be proportionate in the sense of not causing civilian fatalities.

* Obama is likely to put immense pressure on Israel to cede the West Bank without even receiving a real "peace agreement". If Palestinians begin firing rockets from the West Bank after that, there will again be little support for Israel from the international community.

* Many Western liberals think that the rocket fire is not a big deal, and since it's not possible for Israel to eliminate the rocket threat without causing civilians casualties, Israel should just soak up the rocket fire.

* Thus the Israeli position is based not on hatred but on a very rational concern for the future.

2. The fundamental problem of the "peace process" has nothing to do with strong-arming the parties into a particular set of details.

* The problem is one of recognition - as the PA is now refusing even to sit in the same room as the Israelis to negotiate.

* More fundamentally, it is evident that even if a govt were established in the West Bank that was not openly irredentist, it would not take actions against Hamas etc. for launching rockets. During the Oslo years and since, we have seen time and time again that even the moderate elements of Fatah view the prevention of terror attacks as equivalent to being agents of Israel.

Posted by: Galili at June 4, 2010 07:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Galili: Maybe you should look a little bit closer into a couple of numbers. The point Greg was implicitly making that Israel is systematically choosing disproportionate violence to whatever provocation it perceives is absolutely correct.

Since 2001, the rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza killed 23 people (http://www.theisraelproject.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=hsJPK0PIJpH&b=883997&ct=3887857) - and you list this as a valid excuse for the Israeli responses? This single boat fiasco alone killed 9.

Or look at the political opinions in Israel, especially Israel's youth. There is a fantastic analysis by Noah Milman to be found here: http://theamericanscene.com/2010/06/02/eyeless-in-gaza

What we have with Israel is a country which is systematically and shamelessly exploiting the victimization of the past to justify land grabs via illegal settlements, and which shows clear signs of moving towards an apartheid regime in the future. And America is the Big Brother sheriff which Israel can count on to protect them while it does all this.

Illegal settlements? No problem.
Ravaging of Gaza with subsequent communal punishment? No problem.
Disproportional use of lethal force leading to thousand of deaths? No problem.
Assassinations using faked IDs of allied nations? No problem.
Constant lying about nuclear capabilities, even offering them to rogue nations? No problem.

Rocket attacks leading to 23 Israeli deaths over 10 years? Justifies EVERYTHING.

Do you see the disconnect causing the rest of the world to turn away from Israel? If you honestly don't, ask yourself why. And if you do, but don't care about all it, you're qualified to be an Israeli politician dreaming of Greater Israel.

Posted by: Mentar at June 4, 2010 01:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

'You find Bibi "sophomoric"'

I know better than to insert my comments on a topic of which I am obviously less knowledgeable than other commenters. However, I will point out that he did not say Netanyahu was sophomoric, he said the rhetoric (saying the Mavi Marmara wasn't the Love Boat) was sophomoric. I would tend to agree with that assessment given the gravity of the situation. If this implies that by extension Netanyahu is himself sophomoric, then he should probably just refrain from saying such things, particularly during a crisis that is seriously damaging an important alliance.

Posted by: doug at June 4, 2010 01:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"a) the Israeli blockade action was certainly precedented under rules governing hostilities at sea b) the Israelis had come under a focused and substantial attack before responding with live fire. It seemed to me that was pretty much the end of the story."

Point A is a very gray area. "certainly" is a bad word choice if your being honest.

Point B is well labeled, because it's bullshit.

Posted by: BSR at June 4, 2010 01:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I'm Israeli and I've been trying to wrap my head around the way that this is playing out globally. On Monday AM, I was shocked to be reading about the raid and the number killed. By evening, it was apparent that a) the Israeli blockade action was certainly precedented under rules governing hostilities at sea b) the Israelis had come under a focused and substantial attack before responding with live fire. It seemed to me that was pretty much the end of the story."

. . . and they all lived happily ever after.

Posted by: Sandor at June 4, 2010 02:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm Israeli and I was momentarily shocked by the Israeli military killing people aboard ships bringing humanitarian supplies to some of the poorest people on earth, but then I listened to embarrassingly transparent and shabby government propaganda and I realized we were right all along and I didn't need to bother myself with another moment of thought about it for as long as I live.

Posted by: Tim at June 4, 2010 06:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Under the rules of blockade, Israel may stop and search shipping entering a previously declared exclusion zone and/or its territorial waters. Formal declaration of a blockade must also list goods that are contraband. If neutral ships are not carrying contraband they may proceed to their destination.

Israel has yet to publish a list of what it considers contraband. Information derived from observers such as the Economist indicates that many goods that have no relation to the ostensible reason for the blockade (that Hamas would smuggle materials for making missiles to be fired on Israel), and that enforcement of the blockade is often capricious.

If--instead--Israel is seeking to pressure the residents of Gaza into renouncing the result of the elections that brought Hamas into power, and to halt the firing of rockets into Israel, then the blockade amounts to collective punishment of the civilian population of Gaza, which is illegal, immoral, and unworkable (as the Israelis should know, given how ineffective it was when the British used against the Jewish population during the hostilities leading to the end of the Mandate in the 1940s).

Posted by: Tom S. at June 4, 2010 06:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Israelis reading this truly need to understand that unequivocal U.S. support for their country is rooted not in popular affection for their country—I would guess that a majority of Americans couldn't tell you what religion most Israelis practice—but in elite support, and that recent catastrophes have strained that support very badly. (Witness definitively middle of the road pundits like Andrew Sullivan and Peter Beinart sounding like Noam Chomsky in their revulsion toward Israeli conduct of late—they very much reflect extraordinarily strong currents in elite thinking.) The point where our ruling class starts to look at Israel as a tiny foreign country with a small economy and no real strategic significance, and one whose status as a client state is stressing vastly more important international relations, is the point where Israel reaches serious trouble. That point grew much closer after this fiasco. In the long run it's simply not in the American character to support an expansionist ethnoreligious state, and so either the character of the Israeli state will change or it will ultimately forfeit American support.

Posted by: Robert K. at June 4, 2010 07:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Whilst largely laudable the article falls into the trap of compromising over the legal position with respect to the establishment of an enquiry to investigate these incidents. It seems that in every crisis in the Middle East Israel must be appeased, even if it means riding roughshod over the law in this manner.

Maritime law assign to the states on whose ships the incidents took place or whose navigation was impeded. Turkey has an absolute right to conduct the investigation into the boarding of the Mavi Marmara as have the several states whose flags were flown by the other vessels. Of course the UNSC may conduct its own investigation as may other UN bodies within whose purview this incident may lie.

Israel may, and indeed should, conduct an investigation into the conduct of its own troops with respect to their compliance with domestic and international law, this should be fully compliant with the relevant international standards to avoid the possibility of those troops being indicted elsewhere for those specific offences. She has, however, no jurisdiction over those on the flotilla vessels, nor has she any claim over their property or the vessels themselves, all of which should be returned in good order forthwith.

As to the matter of the blockade, Israel claims to have notified everyone of this correctly, however it does not appear that she has the right to declare a blockade in the first place, such a power is reserved by the UNSC.

Posted by: Matthew Doye at June 4, 2010 07:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bibi "sophomoric?"

I disagree with that. I find him to be an unprincipled liar, a cowardly thug, and a direct and persistent threat to the security of the United States:

April 10, 2002

"Clearly, the urgent need to topple Sadaam is paramount. The commitment of America and Britain to dismantle this terrorist dictatorship before it obtains nuclear weapons deserves the unconditional support of all sane governments.

I have come before you today to ask you to continue to courageously and honorably carry that torch by standing by an outpost of freedom that is resisting an unprecedented terrorist assault. I ask you to stand by Israel’s side in its fight against Arafat’s tyranny of terror, and thereby help defeat an evil that threatens all of mankind."

September 20, 2002

"I do not mean to suggest that there are not legitimate questions about a potential operation against Iraq. Indeed, there are. But the question of whether removing Saddam's regime is itself legitimate is not one of them. Equally immaterial is the argument that America cannot oust Saddam without prior approval of the international community."

"This is a dictator who is rapidly expanding his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons, who has used these weapons of mass destruction against his subjects and his neighbors, and who is feverishly trying to acquire nuclear weapons."

Thanks, Bibi.

Posted by: HeavyJ at June 4, 2010 08:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The American Jewish community--to which I belong--needs to recognize the difference between being a true friend to Israel and being an enabler. A true friend will speak hard truths, an enabler will let Israel do whatever it wants, no matter how counterproductive or dangerous it may be.

Posted by: Tom S. at June 4, 2010 09:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"As for the current crise du jour, less about the flotilla (as symptom) ultimately than the blockade (as cause),"

Yes, this is why I feel so offended when defenders of Israel characterize the Mavi Marmara as a trap, filled with provocateurs who wished for nothing more than martyrdom in a bloody confrontation with the IDF.

Running through a blockade is provocative, but it's not done in the hopes of tricking Israel into committing a massacre. It's done to alleviate and bring attention to the suffering of 1,5 million Palestinians. Of course it suits the Israeli govenment to try and steer attention away from this fact. Of course it suits them to besmirch the motives of the organizers, because then the inhumanity of the blockade can be thrust to the side in outrage over the actions of "borderline jihadists".

The blockade has been in place for three years, and it's safe to say the Israeli government had grown complacent with the suffering they inflict on the people of Gaza. And to be honest, the same complacency had descended on the governments of other nations. When they failed to do anything, activists picked up the torch. The blockade is too strict, it inflicts terrible hardships on the Palestinians in Gaza, and if the current Israeli government has any sense of decency (hah) they'll be shamed into lightening it.

Posted by: Laker at June 5, 2010 06:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The comments here are almost as fascinating as the article itself, which as an American Jew and supporter of Israel (but NOT its current government) I found to be incredibly well thought-out. Yet, the comments immediately try to reverse that, putting aside the concept of detailed, nuanced thinking in terms of lies and half-truths.

Hal - I do not support the blockade as I think it is an impractical solution and does more harm than good, but how is it that the history of Palestinian collective punishment of Israelis (and visitors, and even non-Israeli Jews abroad) for the years leading up to the blockade is never worth a mention?

Galili - first my apologies if I got your name wrong, but the typeface makes it difficult to tell what is an 'i' and what is an 'l' in your name. I have friends in and from Israel, and I truly do fell the pain that Israel has suffered for decades, and especially for the peoples of Sderot - where a friend lost a family member to an errant shell striking a highway as he drove past. That said, you make the classic mistake of jumping to outlandish assumptions to support this behavior. There is NO reason to believe that Obama would demand that Israel "cede" the West Bank, unless you are arguing against a two state solution. The PAs refusal to talk directly would end in a second if Israel would freeze the settlements, a promise it has made and broken more times than I can count at this point. Finally you ignore the great deal of work since the Gaza/West Bank split that the PA has done to renounce violence against Israelis. As to "Many Western liberals think that the rocket fire is not a big deal, and since it's not possible for Israel to eliminate the rocket threat without causing civilians casualties, Israel should just soak up the rocket fire." - well that is ridiculous. As a Western liberal and a Jew I know of no one that believes that. In fact many of us have trouble understanding why Israel allowed the shelling of Sderot to go on for so long before responding, and applaud the restraint. However, just because someone does not support HOW Israel handled the shelling does not mean that they believe that Israel should just allow the shelling. That is ridiculous.

Tom S. - You are correct that Israel has a responsibility under international law to publish a list of what is contraband and has failed to do so. However, Israel's biggest failure IN THIS CASE was in how it stopped the ship. This violence could have been avoided, or at the very least a clear demarcation of who started what and when would have been clear, if they had followed the international standards for over 50 years now; you disable the ship before you board it. They essentially jumped over three steps of protocol when they landed on that ship, thus guaranteeing confusion and mayhem. Also, Hamas was never elected to lead Gaza. They were elected to a plurality of seats in the Palestinian Legislature. The election results left the executive branch, which had control over the police, in Fatah hands. Hamas demanded that the legislative be given control of the police (which would be a first in a 'democratic' system). When the executive said no Hams staged a coup - attacking police all over the country and forcing the duly elected executive branch of Palestinian government into exile in the West Bank. Any police that failed to get out and did not swear loyalty to Hamas were shot on site.

However as a fellow Jewish American I must say your statement that "The American Jewish community--to which I belong--needs to recognize the difference between being a true friend to Israel and being an enabler. A true friend will speak hard truths, an enabler will let Israel do whatever it wants, no matter how counterproductive or dangerous it may be." is absolutely true. Are you familiar with J Street? You should look into them.

Robert K. - there is a great amount of support for Israel in the U.S., just not for it's current government. There are plenty of Jews like myself who fight against AIPAC and a strategy that discourages, rather than encourages, a fair two state solution. In the USA, our foreign policy - right or wrong - is largely based on maintaining certain "power balances". This is why for decades we have sold weapons to Saudi Arabia even as we sell defenses against those weapons to Israel. U.S. support for Israel will never evaporate, but what she can or can't do to support it changes when Israel acts belligerently. That is how Israel puts itself at risk with actions such as these. As for the idea that the majority of Americans don't even know that Israel is a Jewish state, that is far beyond laughable.

HeavyJ - As much as I hate Bibi, and I do, that should really be "Thanks Bush". The fake intelligence used to justify that ridiculous war was produced by the US, not Israel. Bibi has always been a right wing nut job, and the Bush administration fed his appetites.

Laker - Exactly. And thank you for doing what so many do not - differentiating between Israel and her government.

Posted by: David Norman at June 5, 2010 11:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

apologies that several of the comments seemed to have gotten caught in the junk filter. published now (albeit w/ some time lag) but will have the issue looked into going forward. best to all.

Posted by: greg djerejian at June 5, 2010 12:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The posturing around the Israeli-Palestinian problem is the last relic of the post WWII Cold War era. Neither side has strategic implications for the US now that proxy fights with the Russians are no longer necessary.

All the hand wringing is really unnecessary. The Israelis have created the 'Gaza Ghetto' open air prison to punish a population with a median age under 18. With Egyptian complicity. The Palestinians on the other hand are one of history's most incorrigibly self-destructive ethnic groups.

They deserve each other. Hell, Rwanda had more casualties, Darfur had more casualties, Cambodia, had more casualties. Did we give a crap about them?

More indifferent cynicism would do the world a lot of good here.

And then we can superficially emote about whatever tragedy happens later. It's a lot easier and much more cost effective.

Posted by: LosGatosCA at June 5, 2010 12:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

David N.:

Terrorist attacks are not collective punishment. The Arab boycott of Israel is, however.

I am a member of J Street.

Posted by: Tom S. at June 5, 2010 12:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for the idea that the majority of Americans don't even know that Israel is a Jewish state, that is far beyond laughable.

37% of Americans can't find the United States on a map. The idea that U.S. support for Israel is based in some broad popular consensus is absurd; the public follows elites, and if their opinions change the public's will as well.

Posted by: Robert K. at June 5, 2010 09:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Djerejian,

Just a small side comment: please get a better editor. While I found your article very informative, it took me a while to get there because of your extremely convoluted grammar. Loads of unnecessarily nested clauses and nearly-run-on sentences make reading your article extremely difficult.

Posted by: BugMeNot at June 5, 2010 11:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

First, since no one seems to have mentioned it previously, let me be the one to thank Greg for this reasoned and well-thought-out analysis of the sad Mavi Marmara affair, and for breaking his much-regretted-in-the-blogosphere silence on the issue. As always, he has something intelligent to say (a rare quality online nowadays).

And the obligatory disclaimer: I'm also a Jew, an American, a "supporter of Israel" - if way more the "J Street" than the "AIPAC" type - and the main takeaway I am feeling from what develop from the Gaza Flotilla debacle is a sinking feeling; a feeling of fear: that Israel has, this time, taken a "step too far" and that the reflexive (and typically mindless) support from the American power structure may, for once, be acting against the country's interests rather than in support of them.

It is (IMHO) a classic "tail v. dog" situation: Israel takes some violent and ill-considered (or ill-planned) action against its "enemies" (real, perceived, imaginary or manufactured); there is a general international negative reaction, Israel ignores it, or tries to wave it away with false comparisons (usually invoking the Holocaust as a one-size-fits-all excuse); and the US government, and typically, most of its media, simply parrot the official line (usually invoking "terrorism" as a one-size-fits-all bogeyman).

What is notably different about the Mavi Marmara attack, though, is that Israel has, for once, blatantly put the US on the spot vis-a-vis their/our relations with a significant "third party" -Turkey - whose political and strategic importance (to Israel, the US, the EU, the rest of the ME, etc.) is of an exponentially greater level than that of, say the Israelis' usual victims; the Palestinians (stateless paupers); Hezbollah (violent minority enclave in a semi-Failed-State); or Syria (third-rank backwater state).

Why they would provoke the Turks (seemingly willfully) seems the biggest mystery of the whole affair - and the US, as usual, is caught in the middle with no good options.


Posted by: Jay C at June 5, 2010 11:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's not the first tme that the Netanyahu regime has provoked the Turks. There was the diplomatic imboglio of a few months ago, when the Turkish Ambassador was humiliated, after which the deputy foreign minister boasted about it.

Methinks that Israel's attitude is that if a government does not support Israel 100%, than it defaults to being against Israel. It is difficult to think of a more shortsided and stupider way of dealing with countries; but I don't see any other explanation. It certainly allows Israel to convince itself that it can do as it pleases and damn the consequences.

There is only one country that can grab Israel by the lapels and give it a good shake. That is unlikely to happen until the US Jewish community recognizes that Israel's survival is at stake.

Posted by: Tom S. at June 6, 2010 11:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

......Brilliant dissertation on the state of play Greg......unfortunately the mindset displayed here by most of Israel's most zealous partisans is probably a fair facsimile of thinking in the right wing dominated Israeli govt. and this has to be scary for ordinary Americans and official Washington. Basically these guys have matches and they are lighting fires under the bed. It's time for Washington to start flashing the amber lights but I see little serious sign of this so far although I suppose one wouldn't given the nature of domestic politics.

Posted by: Ottovbvs at June 6, 2010 03:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"First, and perhaps most important, the Israeli-Turkish relationship has deteriorated dramatically, even dangerously."

LAUGHABLE! Why wasn’t it Turkey’s sponsorship of an Islamist organization labeled a terrorist group by the American government that damaged Turkey’s relations with Israel? Why is it not Turkey’s cooperation with Iran’s Holocaust-denying, Holocaust-planning leader Ahmadinejad that has damaged Turkish-Israeli relations?

Posted by: Matt at June 8, 2010 07:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am a scientist, not a politician or diplomat, so I had neither the patience nor the inclination to follow you rather windy exegesis of what you call a "botched" exercise. I myself don't see it as "botched" at all; I see it as simply accelerating the inevitable.

You apparently haven't realized it, but Turkey has been lost to the West for 7 years, when the Turks refused to let us attack Iraq from the north. Over the years, Erdogan has revealed himself to be as much of a scumbag as Ahmadinejad. So the fact that the Israel-Turk relationship is permanently damaged is something that was going to happen sooner or later anyway. No great loss. Next, it's only a matter of time before the Turks are kicked out of NATO and they will certainly never, ever get into the EU. Going forward, my hope is that the Kurds will make life miserable for the Turks for years to come. Disclaimer: I am an Armenian, whose 4 grandparents were massacred by the Turks.

Another point. You talk about an "illegal blockade" of Gaza. I always roll by eyes when I hear talk about illegal wars and the like. There is no legality that governs survival. Kudos to the Israelis!

Posted by: rg at June 12, 2010 08:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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