Israel, the U.S. and the Arab World
June 1, 2010
The government of Israel is supposedly run by the Jewish state's toughest and most ardent defenders, but so far they have inflicted worse damage on its security and its future than its enemies ever could. By treating a Gaza-bound aid flotilla as a military threat, killing nine civilians and imprisoning hundreds more, that government achieved the only foreseeable outcome: another episode of international isolation and internal demoralization.
Whether Israel's commandos committed any criminal acts will be determined by investigation, but in the meantime it is safe to say that what happened was not only wrong but exceptionally stupid. Yet while shortsighted brutality has long been a hallmark of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, that tendency is now clearly undermining the strategic interests of both Israel and its traditional friends, including the United States.
The question that sane Israelis are now openly asking themselves: what is their government’s strategy?
Consider the events over the past two years that have led up to this moment. The war on Gaza, initially justified by Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, was grossly disproportional and resulted in war crimes against Palestinians that completely overshadowed the casus belli. Since then, the blockade of Gaza has stopped humanitarian assistance and prevented reconstruction—which has only provoked worldwide support for Hamas' human rights complaints against Israel.
Meanwhile, that war proceeded covertly as well, leading to the clumsiest intelligence operation in Israel's history—the murder of a Hamas official in Dubai by agents who left behind copious evidence of connections with Mossad. That evidence included passports issued by friendly nations, which of course strained diplomatic relationships with them. Worse, the choice of Dubai as an assassination location put severe pressure on Israel's unofficial but strong relationship with the United Arab Emirates—a powerful force for moderation and tolerance in the region and beyond.
Whatever Hamas lost when Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was throttled in a Dubai hotel room, the damage to Israel was considerably greater.
Certainly the same can be said of the latest fiasco, which has severely damaged if not ruined Israel's long-standing ties with Turkey, whose citizens were among those killed and apprehended in the flotilla attack. Until the evening of May 30, the Islamic government of Turkey was prepared to permit its army to participate in joint exercises with the Israel Defense Forces—a stunning development that shows just what Israel's government so casually risked.
Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government seem blithely unaware or uncaring in the wake of its ruinous actions. The question that Israel's friends must ask is the same question that sane Israelis are now openly asking themselves: What is their government's strategy? Indeed, what strategy could these tactics possibly serve to advance? How is their survival, let alone their future peace and prosperity, enhanced by behavior that alienates every friend and potential friend, while encouraging every foe and creating more of them?
If Israel and the United States believe that the most important security problem is Iran and that regime's possible acquisition of nuclear weapons, then the sane response is to build regional and global alliances in response. Iran's neighbors in the Gulf are almost as unhappy about that looming threat as Israel is. A wise policy would draw those states into regional security arrangements and enhance connections with them.
Of course, that kind of policy would mean refraining from such destructive acts as the Gaza blockade, the Dubai assassination and the flotilla attack. It would require the serious pursuit of renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians, so that Iran, not Israel, would face isolation. And that in turn would demand the end of settlement construction and the acknowledgment that Jerusalem is an international holy place that cannot be controlled by a single state.
As Bill Clinton bluntly reminded Israelis in Jerusalem last winter, none of the fundamental factors that imperil the Jewish state's democratic and peaceful future have changed since his own peacemaking efforts ended in frustration. How unfortunate—and dangerous—that the Netanyahu government is so determined to ignore his warning as its strategic position deteriorates.
David Grossman, The Los Angeles Times
June 2, 2010
No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed off the coast here early Monday morning, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the Israeli government and the army. Israel did not send its soldiers to kill civilians in cold blood; indeed, this is the last thing it wanted. And yet, a small Turkish organization, fanatical in its religious views and radically hostile to Israel, recruited to its cause several hundred seekers of peace and justice and managed to lure Israel into a trap, precisely because it knew how Israel would react — knew how Israel is destined and compelled, like a puppet on a string, to react the way it did.
How insecure, confused and panicky a country must be to act as Israel acted. With a combination of excessive military force and a fatal failure to anticipate the intensity of the reaction of those aboard the ship, it killed and wounded civilians, and did so — as if it were a band of pirates — outside Israel's territorial waters. Clearly, this assessment does not imply agreement with the motives — overt or hidden, and often malicious — of some participants in the Gaza flotilla. Not all are peace-loving humanitarians, and the declarations of some of them regarding the destruction of the state of Israel are criminal. But these facts are simply not relevant at the moment; such opinions, so far as we know, do not deserve the death penalty.
Israel's actions are but the natural continuation of the shameful, ongoing closure of Gaza, which in turn is the perpetuation of the heavy-handed and condescending approach of the Israeli government. It is prepared to embitter a million and a half innocent people in the Gaza Strip to obtain the release of one imprisoned soldier, precious and beloved though he may be. And this closure is the all-too-natural consequence of a clumsy and calcified policy, which again and again resorts by default to the use of massive and exaggerated force, at every decisive juncture, where wisdom and sensitivity and creative thinking are called for instead.
And somehow, all these calamities — including the latest deadly events — seem to be part of a larger corruptive process afflicting Israel. One has the sense that a sullied and bloated political system, fearfully aware of the mess produced over the years by its own actions and malfunctions, and despairing of the possibility of undoing the endless tangle it has wrought, becomes ever more inflexible in the face of pressing and complicated challenges, losing in the process the qualities that once typified Israel and its leadership — freshness, originality, creativity.
The closure of Gaza has failed. It has failed for years now. What this means is that it is not merely immoral but also impractical, and indeed worsens the entire situation and harms the vital interests of Israel. The crimes of the leaders of Hamas, who have held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive for four years without once allowing the Red Cross to visit him, and who fired thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns and villages, are acts that must be firmly dealt with, using the legal means available to a sovereign state. The ongoing siege of a civilian population is not one of them.
I would like to believe that the shock of Monday's frantic actions will lead to a reevaluation of the whole idea of the closure, at last freeing the Palestinians from their suffering, and cleansing Israel of its moral stain. But our experience in this tragic region teaches that the opposite probably will occur. The mechanisms of violent response, the cycles of vengeance and hatred have begun a new round, whose magnitude cannot yet be foreseen.
Above all, this insane operation shows how far Israel has declined. There is no need to overstate this claim. Anyone with eyes to see understands and feels it. Already there are those here who seek to spin the natural and justified sense of Israeli guilt into a strident assertion that the whole world is to blame. Our shame, however, will be harder to live with.