Saturday, June 05, 2010

What to think about the Gaza flotilla disaster?

The analysis by Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel in Haaretz strikes me as accurate and depressing - Hubris on the high seas. It highlights the stupidity and blinkered consciousness of those at the top of the Israeli government - Netanyahu and Barak. The Israeli naval commandos were not prepared for what they encountered on the Mavi Marmara - a mixture of genuine peace activists and thugs prepared to use violence against the commandos. They didn't train for that possibility. The Israeli military didn't correctly assess who was on that boat (those connected to the IHH, the Turkish Islamist charity that chartered the boat) and what their motivations were (those who said before they sailed that they wanted to be martyrs).

The Israeli government is led by people who do not understand that in addition to defending Israel from its actual enemies (Hamas or Hezbollah), they have to understand whose Israel's real friends are, and who might be somewhere inbetween (Turkey, before this week's fiasco). Netanyahu, despite his claim that he supports a Palestinian state alongside Israel, strikes me as someone who still thinks that he can hold onto all of the West Bank and Jerusalem through some kind of trickery to fool the whole world. I can't believe that, despite Obama's unwillingness to unequivocally condemn the Israeli actions this week, he will not eventually tire entirely of Netanyahu and his machinations. (He clearly is already very tired of Netanyahu, but he hasn't yet figured out how to effectively pressure him - I think that Bill Clinton was better at it, when he forced Netanyahu into the Hebron Protocol in 1997, which delivered most of Hebron to the Palestinian Authority, and also forced him to agree to the Wye River Memorandum in 1998).

In all of the upset this week about the Gaza flotilla, one very important thing that happened a couple of weeks ago seems to have been forgotten - that when the international conference on nuclear non-proliferation occurred a couple of weeks ago (attended by those nations who had signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which Israel has not signed), its final communique condemned Israel, not Iran. One of the things that Netanyahu was going to discuss with Obama this week, before he aborted his trip to Washington, was this very communique. Now he's lost his chance because of his own stupidity.

Israel does face real enemies - not only Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, but people like the leaders of the Gaza flotilla whose goal is to destroy Israel (see Greta Berlin's comments). The United States is Israel's real friend, and despite Israel's latest stupidity, most people in this country still support Israel. Will that continue to be true if Netanyahu continues to do what he can to alienate the President of the United States in the name of Israeli security?

Update (later on June 5): See Helene Cooper's article in tomorrow's New York Times, which expresses just what I was trying to get at in this blogpost. She quotes Anthony Cordesman as saying:
Recent Israeli governments, particularly the one led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Cordesman argued, have ignored the national security concerns of its biggest benefactor, the United States, and instead have taken steps that damage American interests abroad.

“The depth of America’s moral commitment does not justify or excuse actions by an Israeli government that unnecessarily make Israel a strategic liability when it should remain an asset,” Mr. Cordesman wrote, in commentary for the centrist Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he is the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in strategy. “It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it tests the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews.”
This is what Netanyahu does not seem to understand (or maybe what he doesn't want to understand, given his own ideology and his dependence on coalition partners who are more right-wing than he is). Israel is the weaker party, and depends upon the United States for diplomatic and military support. It is in Israel's interest not to anger the U.S., especially when it comes to issues that are not crucial to Israel's survival. Settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem endanger Israel's future. If Netanyahu had the seichel that he presents himself as having, he would understand this.


  1. The reason Iran went unmentioned is that the final documents have to be approved by consensus by all signatories to the NPT. Iran is a signatory.

    Israel, of course, isn't. If Israel were a member, setting aside that it couldn't be criticized for not signing the NPT, it could also veto any criticism of itself.

    If it chose.

  2. Rebecca,

    I agree with some of what you write here.

    My biggest disagreement is that you conflate policy with the competent carrying out of that policy. We do not, at this point, know where problems exist - only that people unfortunately were killed and Israel has, as a result, been tarred by its enemies and friends. Discovering the reason for why Israel acted as she did would require more information than is likely to leak out any time soon. Perhaps there were failures in information gathering, as some have speculated. Perhaps, the error was merely at the operational level, as others have speculated - in this case, anti-Israel people who say that the Israeli military scared those onboard into making a stand against the landing of Israelis on the boat.

    I think that what you have written about Turkey is simply contrary to fact. Turkey changed stripes some time back - note its emotional embrace of Sudan's eliminationist leadership/government and Iran leader and government - and such has been widely reported.

    Lastly, it is not all that clear that, apart from the US, that Israel has any friends. Certainly, any country that says Israel should merely life the blockade is no friend of Israel since the obvious result of such action would be rockets being fired into Israel. So, that leaves out most European countries. And, in the US, it is far from clear that the main player in the Obama administration - i.e. Obama - has any remote warmth for Israel.

    Much more important than this incident is Obama's policy - i.e. embracing countries that oppose US allies - has led the world to believe the US is in retreat. And that is causing events to spiral out of control all over the world and, quite likely, we are heading towards a terrible war.

  3. Gary, what would be the advantage to Israel in joining the NPT? Wouldn't they have to give up their nuclear weapons in that case?

  4. I could list the advantages, such as they are, but I think you probably mean the comparative advantage, and that's certainly subject to debate.

    The answer to your second question is pretty much "yes."

    And, of course, then no one could accuse Israel of not adhering to the NPT, of being somehow granted an unwritten exception, the U.S. could no longer be accuse of making Israel an unwritten exception in policy with no possible de jure explanation, and Israel wouldn't be in company with North Korea as a nuclear outlaw, and unlike Iran, which at least has signed the NPT and adhered to it most of the time.

    Would the trade-off be worth it? As I said, quite debatable.

    But it certainly would prevent Israel from being criticized from not signing the NPT. Which is where we started.

  5. To be sure, I don't expect any Israeli government any time in the immediately foreseeable future deciding to give up Israel's nuclear weapons.

  6. Very true. Thus I don't see Israel joining the NPT any time soon.

    What do you think of the latest Times of London supposed report on the Saudis giving Israel permission to overfly if they decide to bomb Iran?

  7. Belatedly: I find British unsourced news reports, as a rule, unconvincing until support for their claims show up elsewhere. British newspaper practice allows for all sorts of claims to be printed with nothing but anonymous sourcing, and they usually turn out to be true.

    Of course, sometimes they have scoops.

    In this case, the claim is plausible, but since it's unverifiable until it's verified, I don't make anything of it.

    I do note that today's flurry of stories about an attack coming from Israel planes landing at, and launching from, the Saudi air base at Tabuk, made me laugh. (A look at a map should explain why.)