Sixth in a series. Sadly this probably won’t be the last.
Question 1: Israel, like every other country has the right to self defense. The flotilla was an attack on Israeli sovereignty! Imagine if they had tried to land on the coast of Florida, how would the US react?
Answer: Surely Israel has the right to self defense. But no one was attacking Israel. Please note that even according to Israeli army spokes people, the ship was in international waters. Every ship has the right to travel unmolested in international waters. Attacking a ship in international waters may be considered an act of war (cf. N.Korea’s attack on a South Korean ship) or piracy (particularly if civilian merchant marine ships are attacked), but it is never an act of self defense. Moreover, the destination of these ships was not Israel, but Gaza and at no point did these ships enter Israeli waters. Any country that attacks a ship, especially a civilian vessel, in international waters deserves the condemnation of the world community, whether it be the US, Israel or North Korea.
Question 2: But their intention was to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza! Surely Israel has the right to enforce its blockade?
Answer: Unfortunately, in international disputes, most often might makes right, so in that sense Israel certainly has the right to enforce it. But I kind of doubt the question is asked in that spirit. The blockade is controversial, obviously, or we never would have gotten to this situation. So let’s look carefully at Israel’s justification for the blockade. Israel usually gives two arguments to justify its actions:
- Gaza is an enemy state and free flow of goods and materials will allow Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, to arm themselves and attack Israel
- Hamas is a terrrorist organziation and as such has no legitimate right to rule Gaza. The embargo’s intention is to make life so uncomfortable under Hamas rule, that eventually Hamas’ government will fall
These justifications need to be examined from both a practical (i.e. effectiveness) and moral standpoint. We’ll start with point number 2 first. Blockading an entire country to remove its government, no matter how despicable, is an act of collective punishment and as such is a war crime (BDS supporters take heed). Sure, the mighty do it all the time, Cuba being an example that instantly comes to mind. But look how effective that is! Castro has outlived endless US Presidents and his regime has remained in power for over 60 years. Hamas doesn’t seem to being going anywhere either. So blockades fail both the moral and effectiveness tests.
Which brings us to the first argument. An arms embargo, at least, has a more compelling moral case. However, the most effective way to enforce one is to open up Gaza’s transit points and ports and put them under Israeli or international inspection. Once having done that, it would be trivial for Egypt to shut down the smuggling tunnels which currently are the main source of imports of goods and arms to Gaza. Given the hermetic sealing of all Gaza’s ports of entry, Egypt has to turn a blind eye to these tunnels in order to prevent mass starvation in Gaza. As a result, the current blockade is totally ineffective in blocking arms to Gaza. Which can only mean Israel doesn’t really care about the arms embargo but is really interested in collective punishment of the Gazan people.
Question 3: Well you yourself say that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. So this whole Gaza Flotilla thing is just one big unjustified political provocation to make Israel look bad. So why shouldn’t Israel stop them?
Answer: Well I agree 100% that this flotilla was meant to be a political provocation more than a humanitarian mission. As such, it has succeeeded spectacularly although unfortunately at a huge cost in human life. But provocations may be justified. To see if this one is we must examine the situation more closely.
We’ve already clearly established that Israel’s blockade is neither moral nor effective. And while there is no humanitarian crisis in the narrow sense (i.e. no one is dropping dead of hunger) the suffering of the Gazan people is real and quite awful. This has been discussed in great detail in many places, but the best summary is this article which is a great Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions all on its own. I especially agree with this point:
But what about a person’s need for freedom of movement, a person’s right to create, to produce, to earn a living and study, to leave for timely medical treatment and to travel? The spokespeople and PR professionals who try to prove things are fine reduce human needs to a graph containing only water, food and shelter. These graphs tell more about their presenters than they do about human beings.
But what does this have to do with justifying the flotilla? I am getting to it (my snappy answers are never so snappy). Israel’s blockade is in fact an international affair. The US under Bush whole heartedly supported it, and Obama hasn’t yet had the political ammunition to push Israel on this point. Since might makes right, when the US supports a particular action, most of the the world goes along. You would think in tins case the Arab countries would push back. Yet Egypt is an eager and crucial collaborator with Israel. Without Egypt the blockade would not be possible. Egypt supports it because Hamas is tied to the Islamic groups which until recently were the only serious opposition to Mubarek’s dictatorial regime. Even the “legitimate” Palestinian government is mostly silent. Abbas hates the Hamas as his main political rival, so he hasn’t been working overtime to fight the blockade either. So for the most part, the Arab world has not even lifted a finger to help the Gazans.
Which brings us to Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan. Not being an expert in Turkish politics, I have no idea if there is any political gain to be had for his support of the Gazans. Whatever his motivations, he has been quite critical of Israel since operation Cast Lead. And Bibi’s government seems to be working overtime to annoy and humiliate him. So, perhaps out of a combination of righteous indignation and hurt feelings, Erdogan threw his support behind the Gaza flotilla.
Previous efforts were relatively small affairs. With Turkish government support behind it, this one became a big deal. The goal was obviously to call attention to the unjust blockade of Gaza and provoke a response from world governments to put pressure on Israel. As is rapidly becoming apparent, Israel’s stupidly brutal over reaction made this attempt succeed perhaps beyond the wildest dreams (or nightmares) of its organizers.
Question 4: Well what was Israel suppossed to do, just ignore them?
Answer: Yes. Personally I would say that (at minimum) Israel should lift the total blockade already, and go with the open port option I discussed above. However, from the perspective of Israel’s right wing government, if they were smart (within the context of their own absurd goals) the best political tactic would have been to ignore the whole thing completely. The flotilla would have landed in Gaza, made a few speeches and then be forgotten, like the land convoy this past summer. Who remembers that? Of course Bibi & Co are working overtime to debunk the myth that Jews are smart. In any case their stupid brutality almost guarantees that the blockade will be lifted sooner rather than later, and not on Israel’s terms – not to mention the huge political price Israel is and will pay for this contemptible over reaction.
Question 5: Over reaction? How can you call it an over reaction? You saw the videos? The so-called “non-violent” activists were lynching those poor soldiers. The Israeli soldiers were only acting in self defense!
Answer: Back to self defense again. You do realize that the activists were acting in self defense as well. When US Navy snipers killed Somali “pirates” and freed the hostages they were hailed as “heroes.” The Israeli soldiers were acting as pirates coming to take these people hostage. The people on the boats had every right to fight back in self defense and try to push the Israelis off the boat.
Of course, being right does not mean fighting back was smart. The Israeli soldiers were heavily armed and the resulting carnage shows how heavily stacked the odds were against the activists. The open questions that the video does not answer is why (and which) activists decided to fight back and how much they actually fought beyond those few seconds on the Israeli army video? Based on past experience I don’t give much credence to the Israeli army’s version. And we haven’t heard yet from the people on the boat. It is quite possible that the shooting started, and out of fear for their lives some of the people on some of the boats started fighting back rather than being slaughtered. Not that it helped them.
But assume everything the Israeli army claims is 100% the unvarnished truth, namely that as the soldiers innocently boarded the ship, they were put upon by armed bandits with knives and metal rods (and later gun shots as the “hooligans” stole a couple of soldiers guns). Assume also that Israel was 100% justified in boarding the ship in the first place (neither of which assumptions I accept at all). Even still, what happened has no justification whatsoever. This is suppossed to be the Israeli army, the army of the famous Entebbe raid, the best army in the Middle East. Do you really mean to say this highly trained army doesn’t have the skill to quickly secure a few boats filled with mostly unarmed civilians, with minimal casualties?
I unequivicolly believe that Israel’s army does have the skills to accomplish that. And I certainly don’t believe that the Israeli army purposefully went in hoping to kill so many people. Not even Bibi or Barack are that cruel and stupid. Rather, the fact that between ten to twenty people were killed and dozens wounded means that from a purely military perspective, what we are witnessing is gross ineptitude.
What most likely happened is that the whole operation was poorly planned from the get go. The soldiers were not necessarily from the most elite commando units and/or not very experienced or well trained. The army probably also assumed that the take over would go smoothly and did not deploy sufficient and proper forces. The icing on the cake is that the operation was probably initiated off schedule. Right before the attack happened, reports came in that the boats were changing course to avoid the Israeli warships and move into coastal waters during the day. Israel wanted the operation to take place under cover of night at all cost, so this change in course most likely pushed the operation forward.
Take all these factors together, add a dash of panic and confusion, and the result is scared soldiers who quickly become trigger happy, particularly since they have been trained (subsequent to Olmert’s Lebanon war) not to put too much weight on the lives of “Arabs” when soldiers lives are at risk. Well yes, Turks aren’t Arabs, but most young Israeli soldiers probably don’t know the difference.
Question 6: Well you can’t blame the soldiers! They were scared for their lives. What would you have done in their situation?
Answer: Having been in similar situations during my army service, I can only say the number one rule for anyone in danger is don’t panic. It is obvious the high number of casualties is precisely a result of the soldiers and their commanders panicking. Nonetheless, the scared soldiers are not too blame for fighting for their lives as they viewed the situation. The failure here lies squarely on the shoulders of the military and political echelon who ordered and planned this attack. Aluf Benn makes a similar argument here. Again, even if you accept the assumptions listed above (which I don’t), this operation was an utter failure which needlessly caused the loss of innocent lives, not to mention the huge political cost to Israel. Ehud Barak and Bibi Netanyahu both need to resign.