What in the hell is Israel thinking?

The last time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington, DC, it was widely reported that he was snubbed by President Obama. I can’t recall the specifics, but I think it had to do with the fact that Netanyahu had announced, right before heading into peace talks, that Israel would be greatly expanding its roundly despised settlement program in east Jerusalem. Given this, one wonders what’s in store for Netanyahu tomorrow, when he’s scheduled to visit Washington and meet with Obama. One would think, given the fact that Israeli forces last night killed at least nine peace activists in international waters, that his reception at the White House would be similarly chilly… Here, by way of background, is a clip from Glenn Greenwald:

Late last night, Israel attacked a flotilla of ships in international waters carrying food, medicine and other aid to Gaza, killing at least 10 civilians on board and injuring at least 30 more (many reports now put the numbers at 19 dead and 60 injured). The Israeli Defense Forces is claiming that its soldiers were attacked with clubs, knives and “handguns” when they boarded the ship without permission, but none of the Israeli soldiers were killed while two are reported injured. Those on the ships emphatically state that the IDF came on board shooting… An IDF spokesman said: “Our initial findings show that at least 10 convoy participants were killed.”

And here’s a clip from Foreign Policy magazine’s blog about the probable outcome of these actions:

…(T)he international response has been swift. Turkey has recalled its ambassador and warned of “consequences,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for an investigation, European governments have expressed shock, and I imagine thousands of outside observers like me are wondering just what possessed the Israeli government to risk such an outcome when it sent naval commandoes to board the vessel.

As Haaretz’s Amos Harel puts it, “The damage that Israel has caused itself internationally can hardly be exaggerated.” Harel warns that the rumored presence of an Israeli Arab activist among the victims could lead to riots and perhaps even “a third intifada”…

As was alluded to above, there’s some discrepancy as to what happened when. And, both sides are releasing video. Israel Defense forces have released footage showing their commandos being beaten with what look like pipes upon being lowered to the ship by helicopter and otherwise roughed up by an unruly mob. The international aid workers and peace activists onboard the ship, however, claim that shots were fired before the commandos hit the deck. Given the fact that no members of the Israeli Defense Forces were killed, while at least nine peace activists were, however, seems to indicate to some that the actions of the IDF, even if they came in response to aggressive behavior on the part of peace activists, were disproportionate to the threat.

I don’t know how much stock I put in it, as it sounds suspiciously like a hail Mary pass in the wake of overwhelming international blow-back, but Israeli spokespeople are now suggesting that they responded how they did due to evidence that al Qaeda was somehow involved.

One more thing to chew on… What if this wasn’t a huge PR blunder at all, but something that was done very deliberately? That, according to U-M professor Juan Cole, is a distinct possibility. Here’s a clip:

…There are two possible reasons for the violence. One is that the Israeli troops boarding the vessels met some sort of resistance and over-reacted. Aid volunteers are unlikely, however, to have posed much real challenge to trained special forces operatives.

The other possible reason is that the far rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman gave a green light to the commandos to respond with excessive force. That is, the deaths and woundings may have been a brutally frank warning to any future Gaza aid activists that they are taking their lives in their hands if they plan any more flotillas to help the Palestinians. The Israeli far right may have felt that there was otherwise a danger that in a few months there would be an even bigger flotilla and that eventually the blockade of Gaza would be broken.

Although we outsiders would welcome this development because we are concerned about the health and well-being of Palestinian children under blockade, the Israeli Right views all Gazans as terrorists and sees besieging them as the only way to safeguard Israelis from attack. The Israeli Right is being paranoid and inhumane in this belief. There is no reason to think that denying Palestinians enough food or medical supplies or concrete will actually deter the small number directly involved in violence.

It is worth noting on Memorial Day that the Israeli attack deeply complicates the task of the US military in the region. It is a propaganda boon for Sunni extremists and Shiite activists such as Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, and for the Taliban in Afghanistan. It undermines the authority of the Egyptian and Jordanian governments, which have US-brokered peace treaties with Israel, treaties that are deeply unpopular with ordinary people in both countries. That some demonstrations are being held in front of US consulates and not just Israeli ones tells us who will get the blame for Netanyahu’s machismo…

I know Israel has a huge and powerful lobby in this country, and I’m truly sympathetic to their safety concerns, but, at some point, if they keep behaving in this manner, I’d have to think that we as a nation would be forced to recognize that our interests and theirs do not necessarily coincide. Fortunately, I know that there are still good people in Israel who are interested in negotiating a two-state solution in good faith. And, my hope is that someday soon they’re given the opportunity to do so. I haven’t seen any Israeli polling data to confirm this, but my sense is that these most recent actions by the Netanyahu government may not just be upsetting the rest of the world, but people within Israel as well. At least that’s what I hope.

update: Netanyahu has apparently backed out of tomorrow’s scheduled meeting with Obama.

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  1. Ktro
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    I think your faith in the good people of Israel is misplaced.

    My evidence:

  2. Knox
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    To answer your question, I don’t think the Israeli government thinks at all abut how their actions will be received by the international community.

  3. Posted June 1, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    The Israeli government is thinking, as Salon.com states,:

    “the most crucial relationship Israel has is with the United States, and there isn’t much indication yet of that this will alter that relationship. The hard consensus at the elite level in favor of tolerating whatever Israel wants to do rests on a soft consensus in American public opinion. Both are likely to survive this in some slightly diminished form, ”

    All Israel has to do is say, “Well, sure, we staged an act of piracy and killed people – but they resisted! We think they must have been terrorists.” The American people will respond with frowns and nodding, back an “investigation” (which will be difficult when Israel won’t allow access to half the story), and make another batch of popcorn to keep watching BP reality tv unfold.

    Jack Bauer’s got those aid workers under control – but when are Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck going to save the gulf?!

  4. Bob
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Based on their history, there is really no reason to think that this action was not deliberate. Calling Israel out for their truly awful policies is still the great taboo in this country. Even the most provocative, seemingly left of media figures in this country (Bill Maher for example) are lightning quick to defend the Israeli government when someone dares to speak some of these truths in the major media. They get very, very nervous and change the subject quickly. Without electing some monster, white-supremacist thinking leader, it would be nice to see our government stand up to Israel and cut off aid completely until they make real efforts to give these people a fair settlement. During the campaign it was hinted that Obama sort of thought this way. But there is no reason to expect him to do anything like it based on his pretty timid actions so far.

  5. EOS
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Maybe they were thinking that they have a right to survive even though they are surrounded by countries that would like to wipe them off the map. Maybe they realize that they need to inspect the flotilla of boats parked offshore so that they aren’t used to bring in more rockets that will be used against their civilian population. Maybe they were thinking that British Palestine has already been divided up and 80% is now considered Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon and that further dividing Jerusalem is not in their best interests. Maybe they were thinking that they have to provide for their own defense, since the rest of the world is not going to help. Maybe they were thinking that the next “Peace Proposal” is always one more Muslim majority country and further loss of land of the only Jewish majority country. If we really want a two state solution, we’ll need to eliminate dozens of Muslim states.

  6. Peter Larson
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Maybe it’s that the Israeli military is largely disorganized and fractious and prone to heavy handed stupidity.

  7. dragon
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Maybe they were thinking that they have to provide for their own defense, since the rest of the world is not going to help.

    God damn you’re an idiot.
    Why don’t you try to get some dumbass teatard member of congress to officially declare Israel a fetus.
    You also forgot to mention how those poor defenseless Israeli bullets were savagely attacked by the bodies of anti-semites.

  8. Kim
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Rahm Emanuel, our White House Chief of Staff, isn’t the guy to play hardball with Israel. Here’s something about his dad from Wikipedia:

    His father, the Jerusalem-born Dr. Benjamin M. Emanuel is a pediatrician who was active in the Irgun (Hebrew: ארגון), a hardline group that fought for Israeli independence until 1948 and was branded as a terrorist organisation by the British colonial authorities.

  9. Steph's Dad
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Turkey says there will be another flotilla, and it will have Turkish military escort.

  10. Steven Thompkins
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Allow me to interject a little Finkelstein.


  11. Steven Thompkins
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    The flotilla may not have worked, but, as a result of it, “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has ordered the border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip to be opened.”


  12. Kim
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Another aid ship, the Rachel Corrie, is on it’s way to Gaza for Ireland. Which makes me think that maybe that’s the reason Egypt agreed to open up its border. I think maybe Obama asked them to so that the Rachel Corrie could be rerouted, avoiding another bloody attack.


  13. Meta
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    From the Progress Report:

    Early Monday morning, Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships in international waters transporting aid to the Gaza Strip in defiance of a three-year-old Israeli blockade, killing nine people in the ensuing struggle. Setting sail from Turkey and ports in Europe last week, the flotilla carried 10,000 tons of supplies, including food and construction equipment, to aid the people of Gaza, who are undergoing “a protracted crisis” as a result of the Israeli siege. The ships were operated by some 700 activists, mostly Turks but also “Israelis and Palestinians as well as Americans and many Europeans — among them politicians, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and Swedish author.” Upon boarding the flotilla’s largest ship, the Mavi Marmara, Israeli commandos encountered violent resistance and opened fire with their pistols. After Israeli forces finally took control of the ships, the activists “were processed in and around Israel’s port of Ashdod, where the six ships of the blockade-running convoy had been escorted.” Prior to this incident, eight previous aid flotillas “were either allowed to reach Gaza or were diverted by the Israeli navy without incident.” Activists had spent the past year planning the “Freedom Flotilla,” soliciting the “participation of international parliamentarians and the backing of the Turkish government.”

    INTERNATIONAL OUTRAGE: The Israeli raid “triggered widespread condemnation across Europe; many of the passengers were from European countries.” The raid also “strained already tense relations with Israels longtime Muslim ally Turkey, the unofficial sponsor of the mission.” On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told lawmakers in the Turkish parliament that “this bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse.” The United Nations Security Council “expressed deep regret at the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation early on Monday in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza, and condemned those acts.” Responding to calls for an international investigation of the incident, Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Alejandro Wolff said, “We are convinced and support an Israeli investigation…and have every confidence that Israel can conduct a credible and impartial and transparent, prompt investigation internally.” Egypt announced on Tuesday it was temporarily opening its border crossing with Gaza, and several thousand Gazans rushed to the Egyptian border, “hoping to take advantage of a rare chance to escape the blockaded territory.”

    ISRAEL RESPONDS: In the days and weeks leading up to the launch of the flotilla, the Israeli government was attempting both to downplay the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and to present the flotilla’s sponsors as supporters of terrorism, though the evidence for the latter claim is highly questionable. On Monday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who expressed his “full backing” for the raid, canceled his meeting with President Obama scheduled for today in order to return to Israel to manage the crisis. Ha’aretz’s diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn wrote that Netanyahu must immediately “convene a national committee of inquiry into Israel’s interception of a Gaza aid convoy.” Commenting on the Israeli messaging, Ghaith Al-Omari, an adviser to Middle East Progress, said, “What’s even more galling, to some extent, putting aside the human cost of it, is the spin we hear afterwards, trying to gloss over these deaths, trying to gloss over a tragic situation, trying to divert attention towards a concocted terrorism link.” Al-Omari insisted that the only way to deal with the long-term problem was “to continue the pursuit for peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. Similarly, Jeremy Ben-Ami of the pro-Israel, pro-peace group J Street encouraged “President Obama and other international and regional leaders to take today’s terrible news as an opportunity to engage even more forcefully in immediate efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

    FOCUS ON GAZA: Though the ostensible reason for the Israeli and Egyptian-enforced siege on Gaza is to weaken the militant group Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since ejecting its Fatah rivals in 2007, it has actually had the reverse effect. Speaking from Gaza in April, Bassam Nasser of Catholic Relief Services said “the blockade enabled Hamas to become in complete control of everything in Gaza,” and that “closing Gaza and enabling goods or commodities to enter mostly only through the tunnels [has] enabled Hamas to have greater control.” Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis noted in a 2009 report, co-written with Marc Lynch and Robert Adler, that the blockade “has hurt the Palestinian people while not substantially inhibiting Hamas. And simultaneously it allows Hamas to blame persistent shortages on the Israeli blockade.” Though the Obama administration recognizes that Israel has genuine security concerns in regard to Hamas, it has encouraged Israel to ease some aspects of the blockade. In an earlier interview explaining the reason for the flotilla, Free Gaza chairperson Huwaida Arraf said “1.5 million Palestinians are trapped in the largest open-air prison in the world, denied basic rights, freedom of movement, the right to receive medical attention. … When our governments fail to uphold values that we believe in, to defend human rights, we believe that we the people of the global community must take action.”

  14. EOS
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Israel acknowledged big mistakes today concerning the bungled boarding of a Gaza-bound aid ship. They didn’t go in hard enough, fast enough and in sufficient numbers to establish overwhelming control. Though they were within their legal rights to board the ship and inspect the cargo, they didn’t expect that the “peace activists”, who were purportedly bringing only humanitarian aid and who vastly outnumbered the few soldiers who boarded, to immediately begin to beat the soldiers with metal rods.

    Israel has a right to defend itself, including the continuation of its UN and Egyptian sanctioned blockade on Gaza, a terrorist-controlled enclave on its border. The blockade prevents more sophisticated arms from reaching the hands of the Hamas terrorists who continue to conduct terror attacks and fire missiles at Israel. Since June 2007, rival terrorist groups, Hamas and Fatah, have wrestled for control of the Palestinian Authority, with Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Former Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas long ago announced the dissolution of the former unity government and declared a state of emergency. Hamas and Fatah accused each other of a coup d’état; neither recognizes the authority of the other government.

    To defend human rights, the people of the global community must take action and eliminate the terrorists and relocate the Palestinians to countries where legitimate governments exist to secure their rights. We wouldn’t allow terrorists to conduct raids on the U.S. from neighboring countries and we shouldn’t look the other way when they attack Israel either.

  15. Peter Larson
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    It’s taken me literally years to come to an opinion on Israel/Palestine. I find it to be one of the most complicated political situations on the planet.

    I am amazed that people are able to approach it in such a simple and black and white fashion and still get out of bed in the morning.

    FYI: Human rights does not usually entail forcibly removing people from their homeland and sending them to other countries.

  16. Edward
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    “We expected them to shoot people in the legs, to shoot in the air, just to scare people, but they were direct. Some of them shot in the passengers’ heads. Many people were murdered – it was unimaginable.”


  17. Meta
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Looks like Obama killed the UN security council’s demand for an investigation.

    Turkey has led criticism of the raid, accusing Israel of committing a “massacre”, and the UN security council demanded an impartial investigation. There were reports in the Israeli media today that Israel had ordered the families of its diplomats in Turkey to leave that country because of Turkish anger at the raid.

    Washington blocked an attempt at the UN security council for an international inquiry yesterday, issuing a mild statement regretting the loss of life. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, later called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable”.


  18. Meta
    Posted June 3, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    From the Washington Post –

    An American citizen of Turkish origin was among the nine Turks killed in a botched Israeli effort to stop a Turkish aid ship from reaching the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a Turkish official said on Thursday.

    “It’s a Turkish origin, American citizen. We know that,’’ the official said by phone from Turkey, adding that more details were not yet available.

    The nine bodies were flown home from Israel to Turkey, along with hundreds of activists, aboard a Turkish plane yesterday. Israel was not able to identify the bodies because the dead had no identification on them, Israeli officials said.

    The killing of nine Turks has created enormous tensions in the relationship between Israel and Turkey.

    Israel has come under widespread criticism following the operation, aimed at maintaining a blockade of Gaza. Israel accused the Turkish contingent of being part of a radical Islamic movement and showed video of passengers attacking naval commandos as they landed on board.

  19. kjc
    Posted June 3, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I propose changing the name of this post to what in the hell is joe biden thinking?

  20. Ted
    Posted June 7, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Shit’s gonna get interesting now.

    Iran has offered to escort the next aid convoy into Gaza.


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