We can play a slight game of Rashomon between the generally reported version of events and the Israeli version of events, but the undisputed facts remain: Israeli naval forces attacked a group of five ships carrying aid to the blockaded Gaza strip in international waters, and at least ten (Israeli press reports fifteen) people, almost certainly civilians, are dead, and four Israeli military personnel were wounded.
In the last few years we have seen one of the most distressing things imaginable for American Jews: Israel's behavior, long some of the most careful and restrained in the world, has been as stupid and short-sighted as that of the United States. A huge part of this has been the departure of tens of thousands of upscale and liberal Israelis who emigrated after the indiscriminate violence of the second indifata, leaving behind somewhat more hard-ass people behind who would invariably vote for Likud or even more hard-ass parties... I'm well-along in my conclusion that the Israelis' problem-- like our own-- is no longer one of policy mistakes, but of affirmative stupidity.
Yes, there is a logic to the proposition that the Palestinian resistance ceased to have the upper hand when its weapon of choice went from hurled rocks to school-bus-bombs... but then, Israel managed to give back the moral high ground with its insanely disproportionate responses, whether in Gaza, or Lebanon, or now, in international waters. Worse, Israeli forces encountered a Hizbollah capable of digging in and holding ground with a willingness to take casualties-- and Israelis, used to having tanks and air power and overwhelming fire-power against rock throwing teens... haven't been prepared. And yet again...
No one is suggesting that Israel could tolerate the delivery of weaponry into Gaza; but at the moment, at least, there is no evidence this happened. Israel's fear of someone "breaking the blockade" seems to somehow have led its leaders to forget that Israel has a navy, a well-armed navy. that confronted five civilian vessels. Furthermore, these things have a traditional way of playing out: a standoff at the edge of Israeli territorial waters, with notes and conferences and ultimately, shots across the bow... the naval forces being in a position of defense of their own territorial waters against aggressive action by the blockade breakers. The reason for this is multifarious-- but it usually minimizes loss of life. And the diplomatic backlash.
Which will now be severe. Israel was already taking a hit in its standing with Turkey, the Muslim country with which it has long had its best relationship. Now, with Turkey being the de facto sponsor of the flotilla, and having recalled its ambassador, there will be much work to do before that relationship is back on track. Israeli PM Netanyahu has canceled his visit with President Obama, European nations are demanding an explanation of why the Israeli military apparently massacred their civilians... and at the end of the day... for what? Presumably, to satisfy some constituency of stupid people, whether in the Israeli general electorate or its elites, who think the answer to interloping upscale civilians (including, I suspect, a not insubstantial number of diaspora Jews) is to launch a violent raid in international waters.
Brilliant. With luck, the Netanyahu government will fall over this, and the Israelis will put in a different, hopefully less stupid, set of leaders. Unfortunately, I fear that like Americans, Israelis' view of the universe is a tad self-centric, and Netanyahu and company will only be more popular. And this at a time when Israel is mobilizing its Neocon fifth column here to suggest that the United States take military action against Iran in defense of it (Israel)! Good luck with that, geniuses,.
The irony at the end of the day is that Israel's greatest threat will not prove to be Iranian nuclear weapons or Hizbollah rockets or Hamas... but itself. Very much a paradigm of the situation the United States is in-- fully capable of dealing with all of its "threats".. except its biggest one: its own stupidity, which will cause the manageable to become unmanageable in no time at all. We really do have nothing to fear... but stupidity. I don't know about you, but I'm deathly afraid of it.
Update: While, just about uniquely, the official White House reaction has been a muted "we must have all the facts," it seems that a more important diversionary signal (for domestic consumption) is required: the announcement of the death of the
drummer from Spinal Tap Number Three official in Al Qaeda. As protests against the Israeli action, and the blank support check given Israel by the United States, begin to grow in scale (and they will) one wonders if an "orange alert" can be far behind? Those who would accuse the Obama Administration of "selling out Israel" in any manner would do well to note what is happening now: we don't announce the death of an al Qaeda No. 3 for just anyone.
Update the Second: What Jim Henley said.