Israel’s deadly assault in international waters against a civilian peace flotilla laden with humanitarian supplies bound for Gaza looks to be another spectacular own goal for Israel’s international reputation.
At least ten peace activists are dead, of whom at least four are Turkish, while four Israeli naval commandos are in hospital because of the incident, which occurred yesterday morning.
No matter how you try and spin this, it’s never going to be a good look trying to justify commandos firing on and killing civilians, regardless of mitigating factors. Turkey is livid and the US is in the extremely awkward position of trying to somehow placate its two foremost democratic allies in the Middle East, with Turkey threatening that further supply vessels will be escorted by the Turkish navy. Bear in mind that Turkey is a member of NATO meaning that if it is attacked, other NATO members are obligated to come to its defense.
ABC News senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper confirms that, despite the steadily increasing distance between the Obama administration and Israel, “there won’t be any daylight between the US and Israel in the aftermath of the incident”. But the US is also the foremost member of NATO…
And the situation is no where near as clear cut as it looks.
Israel’s boarding of the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in the convoy – and the only one not to stop after being warned they would be boarded unless they changed course, is piracy given they were unarmed civilian ships in international waters. At least, that’s what a lot of outraged people are claiming.
But it’s not necessarily – Israel may have been well within its rights to board the Mavi Marmara under international law, which suggests that under the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, it is permissible under rule 67(a) to attack neutral vessels on the high seas when the vessels “are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture.”
That’s leaving aside the legality or morality of Israel’s continuing blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza in the first place though, which seems to this outsider like some particularly brutal realpolitik / collective punishment. For a bit of context, Gaza is, or was, a beautiful seaside city of 1.5 million people. Where I come from is a beautiful seaside town of 1.5 million people called Auckland in New Zealand, so it’s a little unnerving trying to imagine my hometown being invaded by tanks, air-strikes and troops, as happened to Gaza a year and a half ago under Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.
Regardless, note that in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) video posted below, it appears that the IDF offer for the activists to land in Ashdod and have the aid delivered by land to Gaza, under the activists’ supervision – which they refuse.
The IDF has also posted video clearly showing those aboard the Mavi Marmara attacking IDF naval commandos as they attempt to abseil aboard the ship from helicopters at night, including throwing one commando overboard.
Further undermining the image of peace-loving activists merely trying to send sorely needed aid to the desperate women and orphans of Gaza, the whole trip may have been intended to provoke just such a reaction. The BBC reports that:
Video has emerged showing some on board the aid ship shouting anti-Jewish and radical Islamist slogans as they prepared to sail to Gaza last Friday.
The pictures, from Arabic TV, showed the campaigners in a jubilant mood. One said she was determined either to get to Gaza or to die a martyr.
A friend of mine has sardonically referred to this as whinging activists intentionally pissing off the IDF and then complaining about the results: “Look a hot grill. I’m going to put my hand on it…”
Conservative commentator and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Max Boot argues in the Wall Street Journal that “Israel’s actions in boarding the flotilla of ships bound for the Gaza Strip were entirely justified and perhaps even unavoidable”, but concedes that, “Unfortunately they turned into a tactical and strategic fiasco that does further damage to the Jewish State’s tattered international reputation.”
Israel is predictably, not backing away. Some of the more right wing Israeli hawks are hunkering down solidly behind a besieged conspiracy mentality that sees the entire world as out to get Israel. A ‘top Israeli navy commander’ has ominously (and anonymously) warned the Jerusalem Post that “next time we’ll use more force” – with two more delayed ships from the flotilla due to arrive in the coming days.
One of those ships is Irish, the MV Rachel Corrie, and Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen has warned there would be “most serious consequences” should any harm come to Irish citizens involved with the aid flotilla destined for Gaza.
Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times outlines three angles Israel appear to have badly miscalculated:
First, that there will be some sort of new intifada. Second, the continued deterioration in their relationship with Turkey. Third, their fraying ties with the Obama administration.
(Israel’s relationship with Turkey had already been deteriorating for at least two years under the leadership of Turkish Prime Minister Tayip Recep Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist party and right-wing Israeli President Shimon Peres’ progressively more hawkish Likud party.)
This is an ugly situation with the potential to get much, much worse – DEVELOPING.