On Sunday morning, elite Israel commandos armed with paintball guns, and carrying pistols they were forbidden to use, roped down to the deck of a Turkish NGO ship, the largest vessel in a six ship flotilla attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The soldiers were attacked and beaten by the activists using metal clubs and knives.
So much for restraint.
Israeli naval vessels surrounded the Mavi Marmara and fighting broke out between soldiers and activists. 7 Israeli soldiers were wounded and 19 activists were killed.
The NGO organizer of the “Freedom Flotilla,” Ä°nsani YardÄ±m VakfÄ±, aka IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation (The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief) is a Turkish Islamic charity founded in 1992 to supply aid to the Muslim Bosnians and is part of a group of Saudi-funded Islamic charities with a record of providing support for Hamas and al Qaeda.
Israeli Defense Force 1:01 video showing non-violent activists beating Israeli soldiers.
Al Jazeera 1:28 propaganda video reporting from “on board the ship which holds 600 activists, parliamentarians, women, children, and the elderly, all of whom are civilians.”
Andrew Sullivan provides the perfect example of the predictable leftwing Western response:
The violence by the activists is pretty abhorrent. These are not followers of Gandhi or MLK Jr. But the violence is not fatal to anyone and it is in response to a dawn commando raid by armed soldiers. They are engaging in self-defense. More to the point: they are civilians confronting one of the best militaries in the world. They killed no soldiers; their weapons were improvised; the death toll in the fight is now deemed to be up to 19 – all civilians.
It staggers me to read defenses of what the Israelis have done. They attacked a civilian flotilla in international waters breaking no law. When they met fierce if asymmetric resistance, they opened fire. And we are now being asked to regard the Israelis as the victims.
This is like a mini-Gaza all over again. The Israelis don’t seem to grasp that Western militaries don’t get to murder large numbers of civilians because they don’t like them, or because they could, on a far tinier scale, hurt Israelis. And you sure don’t have a right to kill them because they resist having their ship commandeered, in international waters. The Israelis seem to be making decisions as if they can get away with anything. It’s time the US reminded them in ways they cannot mistake that they cannot.
Startfor’s George Friedman observes that the Turkish IHH has effectively copied the Zionist “Exodus” scenario for a major PR victory at Israel’s expense.
It is difficult to imagine circumstances under which public opinion will see Israel as the victim. The general response in the Western public is likely to be that the Israelis probably should have allowed the ships to go to Gaza and offload rather than to precipitate bloodshed. Israelâ€™s enemies will fan these flames by arguing that the Israelis prefer bloodshed to reasonable accommodation. And as Western public opinion shifts against Israel, Western political leaders will track with this shift.
The incident also wrecks Israeli relations with Turkey, historically an Israeli ally in the Muslim world with longstanding military cooperation with Israel. The Turkish government undoubtedly has wanted to move away from this relationship, but it faced resistance within the Turkish military and among secularists. The new Israeli action makes a break with Israel easy, and indeed almost necessary for Ankara.
With roughly the population of Houston, Texas, Israel is just not large enough to withstand extended isolation, meaning this event has profound geopolitical implications.
Public opinion matters where issues are not of fundamental interest to a nation. Israel is not a fundamental interest to other nations. The ability to generate public antipathy to Israel can therefore reshape Israeli relations with countries critical to Israel. For example, a redefinition of U.S.-Israeli relations will have much less effect on the United States than on Israel. The Obama administration, already irritated by the Israelis, might now see a shift in U.S. public opinion that will open the way to a new U.S.-Israeli relationship disadvantageous to Israel.
The Israelis will argue that this is all unfair, as they were provoked. Like the British, they seem to think that the issue is whose logic is correct. But the issue actually is, whose logic will be heard? As with a tank battle or an airstrike, this sort of warfare has nothing to do with fairness. It has to do with controlling public perception and using that public perception to shape foreign policy around the world. In this case, the issue will be whether the deaths were necessary. The Israeli argument of provocation will have limited traction.