The Existential threat in the mirror: Regarding the Gaza flotilla debacle, the facts don’t matter
Let’s start at the beginning: Not only is Israel well within its rights to seal off Gaza, it has done so in a way that has, over the years, despite global opprobrium to the contrary, shown considerable restraint. The Hamas regime in Gaza has systematically threatened and attacked Israel and has abominably failed its own ...
Let’s start at the beginning: Not only is Israel well within its rights to seal off Gaza, it has done so in a way that has, over the years, despite global opprobrium to the contrary, shown considerable restraint. The Hamas regime in Gaza has systematically threatened and attacked Israel and has abominably failed its own people. It’s Hamas, not Israel, not the Palestinian government on the West Bank, who pose the biggest obstacle to progress on the peace talks — and that’s saying something.
In addition, given the above, Israel’s intervention to board the aid flotilla bound for Gaza was a reasonable tactic with regard to the enforcement of its Gaza policy. The flotilla itself — whatever its humanitarian merits may have been — was also clearly a calculated provocation. The tragic outcome of the Israeli intervention was one of the well-understood risks deliberately undertaken by the organizers of the flotilla and, I believe, one that they foresaw as a potential victory.
That said, the flotilla must also be seen as an almost inevitable response to a policy that is just as unsustainable as it is justifiable. Isolating Gaza may provide some security benefits to Israel but in the end, as this incident demonstrates, it has created even greater risks. Not only does it give the Hamas regime an excuse for its manifold failures, it fuels Gazan and global furor toward Israel and strengthens a leadership faction that when studied up close is as callous and incompetent as any in the world. The policy also clearly exacerbates appalling conditions within Gaza. It is therefore not only a policy that invited precisely this kind of multi-purpose aid initiative… ultimately it is a policy whose days are numbered for the very same reason.
As for the flotilla itself, every single outcome was good for the organizers and bad for Israel. Delivering aid, being stopped, attempting to deliver aid but being delayed and even a conflict on the high seas all were outcomes that would advance the interests of the organizers and the Hamas regime in Gaza. Some among the organizers were certainly sincere in their desire also to help the people of the enclave-people who certainly deserve urgent relief from their intolerable circumstances. But some on board the flotilla were clearly less interested in that. They are part of an ongoing and currently escalating effort to derail peace talks, distract from problems elsewhere in the region and to take advantage of what is seen as a watershed moment — a moment in which there is a sense the Unitd States is uncomfortable with its historic policies and, despite its muted response to the weekend’s events, a sense that Washington may be willing to distance itself from the Israelis to a degree to which the U.S. has been disinclined to do for half a century.
In short, the Israelis were set up.
That said, their actions fall into the category of a self-inflicted wound from a country that seems in recently to be mimicking the old image of a guy holding a gun to his own head and saying "stop or I’ll shoot."
The mission was botched and the costs are hard to calculate. It is not just the tragic loss of life. It is not just the cancelled meetings in Washington or the further straining imposed on an already strained relationship. It is not just the global outrage and further isolation of Israel. It is not the real damage done to the important Israel-Turkey relationship. It is also that the Israelis will be forced in all peace discussions in the months ahead to focus on a Gaza deal, one that almost certainly will strengthen the most dangerous enemies of real peace (the Hamas, Hezbollah, Iranian, militant faction) while providing, I suspect, only marginal benefits to the Palestinians living in Gaza.
Finally, these events are also likely to take a material toll on the Netanyahu government’s viability. That may not be the reaction in Israel at the moment. Many in Israel may reflexively react defensively in the face of a wave of global negative sentiment that is over the top in its hostility, insensitive to the underlying facts of the situation. But sooner or later — as Israel’s international position materially deteriorates — one has to wonder whether they will start to ask whether this government that is so concerned with "existential threats" to Israel may ultimately prove to be one of those threats.
From the unnecessary and destructive settlements policy to its blundering into severely degraded relations with the United States and the world, Netanyahu is the face of a country that increasingly unable to show its face anywhere internationally without provoking contempt. Admittedly, he is only partially an author of the problems he faces. Circumstances and dedicated opponents who are seen by most of the world to be advancing legitimate human rights concerns are even more important co-authors. But absent one of the great about-faces in the history of recent global affairs, it is reasonable to ask whether it is only through the departure of the current prime minister that the Israelis will be able to regroup and actually positively influence their own destiny.
For Netanyahu and for Israel, this weekend’s tragedy is therefore a turning point. It doesn’t matter whether it is being misunderstood. It doesn’t matter whether it was a set up. It doesn’t matter what the facts are. Israel, born at a disadvantage and vigorously playing defense ever since, is now on its heels. The next few years will see it lose ground demographically, diplomatically and literally. Whether after all that what is left actually is secure and sustainable will depend on decisions about how it wishes to present itself during the months ahead — decisions that must necessarily involve reversals of Netanyahu policies regarding settlements, Gaza and confusing self-destruction for self-defense.
David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy and CEO of The FP Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf
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