Loose Cannon: Israel shows how to lose friends and alienate people

Friday, June 4, 2010

  • By enforcing containment, Israel has simply compounded the misery of ordinary civilians while failing to dislodge Hamas or kee

    By enforcing containment, Israel has simply compounded the misery of ordinary civilians while failing to dislodge Hamas or kee

Written by Greg Beneteau

When an international flotilla carrying aid and pro-Palestinian activists embarked from Cyrprus on route to the Gaza strip, Israel vowed to enforce the naval blockade it has held around the Palestinian territory since Hamas came to power there in 2007.

In the end, Israel succeeded in keeping the ships from entering Gaza, but at a terrible cost to human life and its own reputation on the world stage.

After the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmama was boarded by 15 Israeli commandos in international waters on Monday morning, leading to the deaths of at least nine activists, even Israel’s closest allies have begun questioning whether the Jewish state crossed a line in the sand.

For its part, Israel Defence Forces claimed that protesters attacked first with sticks, knives, grenades and even live fire after soldiers landed on the vessel from a helicopter to inspect the ship’s cargo for weapons. According to reports, at least eight Israeli soldiers were injured in the raid, and two were in serious condition.

Israel also contended that the “Freedom Flotilla,” as it was known, was more of a political stunt that an aid mission, intended to provoke the military into action.

Regardless of who started the violence, it’s hard to think of a worse outcome for such a poorly planned inspection. It's one thing to claim self-defence – even disproportionate in its scope - against armed insurgents. But by boarding a humanitarian convoy in the middle of international waters, Israel re-wrote the rules of engagement, with fatal results.

The debacle is part of a recent pattern of deliberate belligerence exhibited by Israel, currently governed by the hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a coalition of right-wing parties.

It was strongly rebuked over the alleged involvement of Mossad secret service agents in the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai earlier this year, after it was revealed the suspects had traveled abroad using forged British, Irish, German and French passports.

Following allegations last month that Israel had offered to sell nuclear weapons to Apartheid-era South Africa, a coalition of nations, including the U.S., supported a U.N. resolution demanding the country open up its nuclear program to international scrutiny.

Officially, Israel has never confirmed nor denied that it has a nuclear arsenal, but is believed to possess upwards of 200 warheads. Still, it continues to defy calls to come clean about its nuclear capabilities, apparently believing ambiguity is a deterrent to its enemies.

In fact, such obfuscating is unhelpful to Israel. Not only are these distractions making it difficult for the U.S. and its allies to present a united front against the nuclear ambitions of arch-rival Iran, they bolster the credibility of anti-Israel opponents like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in the region.

With the deadly attack on the Mavi Marmama, Israel also strained relationships with traditional allies. Turkey, a NATO member and once staunch ally who unofficially supported the aid mission, denounced the raid as a “massacre” and withdrew its ambassador to Israel.

In the U.S and Canada, the response was more tepid. U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper both expressed regret for the loss of life, but declined to condemn the attack until more information came to light.

Still, for Netanyahu, who was visiting with Harper and was planning to visit America when news of the deaths broke, it marked an embarrassing new low for relations with his Western allies.

In the following months, Israel will face considerable pressure to end its blockade of Gaza, a move that is long overdue. By enforcing containment, Israel has simply compounded the misery of ordinary civilians while failing to dislodge Hamas or keep it from obtaining weapons.

In order to improve its international standing, Israel also needs to make a serious effort to re-engage in peace talks with the Palestinians, including the Hamas-led government in Gaza, which recently said that it would end its armed resistance if Israel returned to its 1967 borders. That, at least, is a starting point for further discussion.

In short, Israel must demonstrate that it is genuinely interested in being a contributor to peace and stability in the region. At present, it is hardly acting the part.

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