This crisis -- and it is a crisis -- is the fairly predictable outcome of the years of neglect of the Gaza situation by the Bush and Obama administrations. Bush turned a blind eye during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008, and then the Obama team chose to focus on renewing peace talks between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority while continuing to boycott Hamas. The U.S. only sporadically and weakly paid attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the strategic absurdity and moral obtuseness of the Israeli blockade, or the political implications of the ongoing Hamas-Fatah divide. Now, on the eve of Obama's scheduled meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas -- the fruits of the "honey offensive" towards Israel -- can they be surprised that Gaza is blowing up in their face?The Israeli assault on the flotilla has galvanized Arab and international media attention (to say nothing of my Twitter feed). Arab and Turkish publics appear to be truly outraged, as do the Turkish, Arab and many European governments.
In reality, what happened today is the Israelis got their butts handed to them. The Israeli response to this aid flotilla was a fabulous gift to Hamas and Iran. (Try to imagine, if you will, the Israelis trying to go before the U.N. Security Council to gather support for sanctions on the Iranian regime right now. They would be more likely to leave New York with sanctions on their own regime!)
Again, I really have little interest in Israel and Palestine given the way in which people on both sides tend to fling accusations of anti-Semitism, war crimes, terrorist-sympathizing, fascism, etc. But as a student of low-intensity conflict and information operations, one really does have to marvel at the incredible own goal the Israelis have just scored. The fact that Hamas and its allies didn't even have to do a thing to earn it is what I find to be most remarkable. Not that they care what I think, but the Israelis should not be talking about the people on the aid flotilla right now. They should be examining themselves and their response and asking how they hell they fumbled this so badly.
Allahpundit defends the IDF:
It looks like Ynet’s account, which Ed linked earlier but which you should absolutely read in full, was spot on: The IDF really thought they were facing off with “peace activists” here and didn’t realize their miscalculation until they were on the boat. (See the third clip below for just how badly they misjudged.) The argument from the left is that the raid was illegal because it happened in international waters, but evidently that’s not true either: If a neutral ship is intent on running a blockade after being warned to turn back, the fact that it’s on the high seas isn’t a defense. Apparently Israel was either supposed to let the ships run the blockade, not knowing for sure who or what was on board, or instruct their troops to let the passengers crack their skulls open with lead pipes once they were on the deck in the interests of “dialogue” or something.
Juan Cole suggests that the shooting may have come when Israeli soldiers overreacted, but frankly any time you set up this sort of military encounter you have to expect the possibility for fatalities caused by the side with all the weapons. This was a brutal attempt to enforce a brutal and inhumane siege of one of the world’s most impoverished patches of land.
Gaza doesn’t contain nearly enough arable land to support the Strip’s population as subsistence farmers. Which of course is true of many other places on earth. But the effect of the embargo is to make meaningful commercial activity in Gaza nearly impossible, pushing living standards down to what would be a below-subsistence level were it not for the trickle of aid that flows in. The Hamas authorities exercise some fairly rough justice over the area, extremist groups burn down summer camps and Israel launches airstrikes periodically sometimes injuring dozens sometimes hurting no one. The overall situation is incredibly bleak. Construction supplies aren’t allowed into the area, so it’s been impossible to rebuild since the war there from a couple of years back, and all the physical infrastructure is just degrading over time. Israel is attempting to defend itself from the sporadic rocket fire that’s emanated from the area since the IDF abandoned trying to directly administer it during Ariel Sharon’s administration, but the level of human sufferingwe’re talking about a place where 1.5 million people livebeing inflicted is just staggering.
I have my doubts about the wisdom of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and there was obviously an operational/intelligence failure that led to Israel’s naval commandos having to open fire to defend themselves, giving the other side a propaganda victory. But it does appear that the physical violence started from the other side, which to begin with had the rather unhumanitarian mission of aiding Hamas, and, to the extent there were sincere humanitarian/peace activists involved, allowed themselves to get hijacked by violent Islamic extremists who manned one of the ships.
Net result of the “peace/humanitarian” mission: dead activists, wounded Israeli soldiers, no more humanitarian aid to Gaza than if Israel’s offer to transfer the aid to Gaza from Ashdod had been accepted, and a likely breakdown in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that were about to start. Congratulations.
Responding to claims that the aid flotilla itself represented a “provocation,” Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine writes, well, yeah: “The whole point of the Gaza flotilla’ was to get a reaction out of Israel and call international attention to the problem of the blockade of Gaza…like all other acts of civil disobedience it was designed to provoke a response.”
Writing that the attack “is likely to create sustained international attention to the way Israel has treated the Gaza Strip in a way that nothing else has since the Gaza war and possibly since the beginning of the blockade,” Ibish suggests we compare the flotilla “to the Mississippi Freedom Summer’ in which young white Americans from around the country went to the bastion of Jim Crow in order to organize local African-Americans, register them to vote, educate them and confront segregation”
First reaction: This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government, an extremism that Peter Beinart wrote about in his recent, much debated New York Review of Books article. And it will further isolate Israel from the rest of the world. The US will be asked to condemn this behavior in the inevitable Security Council resolution--if Obama doesn't veto the resolution, there will be hell to pay among the Israelophilic leaders of the American Jewish Community. If he does veto the resolution, his outreach to the Islamic world is kaput. If he abstains, everyone is offended.
This is what happens when you have a blockade. If you allow ships to sail past without boarding them, it isn't a blockade. So if the blockade is legitimate, then Israel's action in boarding the ships was legitimate. And the blockade is certainly legitimate, since terrorist supporters shipped rockets and other armaments into Gaza which were used to attack Israel.
The flotilla has nothing to do with "humanitarian" purposes, as humanitarian supplies are routinely shipped into Gaza by land. It has everything to do with Israel's enemies trying to bring the blockade to an end so they can resume shipping weapons into Gaza.
It hardly seemed possible for Israel -- after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade -- to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes. But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that. If Israel's goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it's hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.
Despite the drumbeat of condemnations against Israel that will be heard in the coming days over this event, the fact is the Gaza flotilla was inspired and supported by Hamas as the presence of several Hamas leaders at its launch in Turkey revealed. The convoy’s supposed goal of bringing succor to starving Palestinians in Gaza is a lie. The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Hamasistan has not halted the flow of food and medicine to the region. The blockade is aimed at preventing “construction” materials from flowing into Gaza, since Hamas uses these materials to strengthen its military defenses as well as its homegrown arms industry. Talk about aid to suffering Palestinians is nothing but a cover for efforts to aid the Islamists of Hamas, whose ruthless hold on the district was achieved by a bloody coup.