3 Political Casualties of the Flotilla Raid

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For years, Israeli soldiers had top cover for just about anything that happened to occur. That cover extended all the way to the White House, but it expressed itself most often in the form of a reflexive defensiveness from the Israeli political establishment. This is normal and rational, but it served to cement Israel's isolation. Israel would say that it was being held to different standards and that the existential threat is faces is real, no matter what others may think. This may be true. But when the entire world, save (quietly) Turkey, and (openly) the United States, held Israel to a different standard, then Israel was held to a different standard. Complaining about this won't fix it. Israel got that, which is why they've gone ahead and continued to exercise their right to self-defense in the manner they best saw fit.
But that top cover from America no longer exists in the Obama Administration. A lot has changed. Even the U.S. military reports strained relations with the Israeli defense forces.  This time, there will be no intercession from American diplomats. In the administration, there is no presumption that Israel did the right thing.

Five years ago, had Israeli soldiers overreacted, or simply reacted, to physical aggression aboard one of the boats, the American government would be ready to help sooth nerves. Five of the six boats surrendered peacefully; Israel had broadcast its rules about docking often and openly, and aside from questions of proportionality, which are always tough to answer, Israel might have been within its rights to do what it did, even acknowledging that its soldiers badly overreacted.

The first, and biggest, casualty of the raid is the already fraying bonds of trust between Israel and Turkey. Turkey has been allowing U.S. fighter jets to use their bases and their airspace, which provides training opportunities that the Israeli Air Force needs and can't find inside their country. Fighter squadrons are routinely hosted at bases in Anatolia. In the 1990s, there was even a formal defense-industry-to-defense-industry cooperation pact. But Turkey's politics have changed, too. As the country became more open about its cooperation with Israel, internal opposition to it has risen. The secular generals have been struggling to preserve the relationship, but Turkey's foreign policy has called for closer ties to Gulf Arab states, to Syria, and to Iran. Israel hasn't been happy about that.

At this juncture, with the U.S. playing the role of a more neutral arbiter, the flotilla raid serves as an ultimatum for Turkey to choose which side it's on: The Arab world's? Or Israel's? Turkey is going to choose the former. Whatever military cooperation that has been will be severely degraded.

Second, the blockade of Gaza, which has aided Israeli security, will probably be a casualty of the action of Israel's own military enforcing it. That, in turn, might fortify Hamas's credibility over the Palestinian Authority -- well, I'll stop here and let others who know more run with this one. Here's betting that the first item of business for the U.S. will be to persuade Israel to end the blockade and accept an interim solution. 

A third casualty will be American missile defense in Europe. Again, it's in Israel's interest for the U.S. to continue to build a missile defense interest throughout Eurasia. Israel has been frustrated with the pace of the joint development missile, the ARROW-3, that the U.S. and Israel are fielding. Russia, which has been fighting hard to interpret clauses in the new START treaty about "strategic defensive systems" to prevent the U.S. from building radar arrays in places like Turkey. The ARROW 3 is also a thorn in Russia's side. Before START can be ratified in the U.S., lawmakers will want to make sure that our BMD capacity isn't degraded and that the ARROW 3 projecting proceeds without delay. In Russia, the Duma won't ratify the treaty unless it has some assurances that the U.S. has made concessions on missile defense. Israel may have have given the U.S. another reason to delay its BMD plans. 

Before an American political commentator can write about the Middle East, you have to cross a credibility threshold among the cognoscenti: you must either have been to the region regularly and speak one or more of the languages fluently, or you must be attached to one of the various American-Israeli lobbies, or you're supposed to lay bare your deepest feelings about your religion and ethnic heritage. In any event, if your hands aren't red from all the handwringing, then you should just stop before you start, because no one will pay attention to you. It's time to cut that out, too. There are too many overlapping issues. More voices, with different perspectives, will energize this debate.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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