Page 2 of 2 Nothing new for Israel all at sea
By Victor Kotsev
Some actually benefited. Hamas benefited the most. The bloodshed and the
international attention came as a lifeline to the besieged and embattled
Islamic movement. Without lifting a finger, Hamas achieved a major propaganda
coup against Israel. The blockade was eased a bit, and even Egypt opened Rafah
temporarily (thus, even the people in Gaza benefited, albeit less so than their
leaders). The movement's political head in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, addressed the
activists: "You were heroes, whether you reached [Gaza] or not."
Iran also benefited. "A vote on a new UN Iran sanctions resolution will likely
be pushed back due to diplomatic fallout from the Israeli raid on the Gaza aid
flotilla, among other reasons," reported Politico on Wednesday. "The Obama
administration had been planning to bring a new Iran sanctions resolution to a
vote at the
UN Security Council on Thursday but diplomatic sources said the vote is not
likely to take place this week."
It is unclear what Turkey achieved, other than a practically complete break
with Israel. "The Turkish government undoubtedly has wanted to move away from
[its close historic] relationship [with Israel]," writes US think-tank
Stratfor, "but it faced resistance within the Turkish military and among
secularists. The new Israeli action makes a break with Israel easy, and indeed
almost necessary for Ankara."
Israel found itself in the middle of a massive, and uphill, public relations
battle. The Jewish state faces several uncomfortable scenarios. According to
It is vital that the Israelis succeed in portraying the
flotilla as an extremist plot ... Internationally, there is little doubt that
the incident will generate a firestorm ... Opinion in Europe will likely
harden. And public opinion in the United States - by far the most important in
the equation - might shift to a "plague-on-both-your-houses" position ... The
next steps will involve calls for sanctions against Israel. The Israeli threats
against Iran will be seen in a different context, and Israeli portrayal of Iran
will hold less sway over the world. And this will cause a political crisis in
Israel. If this government survives, then Israel is locked into a course that
gives it freedom of action but international isolation. If the government
falls, then Israel enters a period of domestic uncertainty. In either case, the
flotilla achieved its strategic mission.
While not everybody
agrees with these predictions, some of them (such as that Turkey severing
relations and Iran benefiting) have already come true. Moreover, other
influential analysts, such as David Rothkopf, have reached broadly similar
Most importantly, we can infer the extent of the damage Israel faces by just
how much Netanyahu is on the defensive. "Israeli officials said all 680
activists held would be released, including two dozen Israel had threatened
earlier to prosecute charging they had assaulted its troops," reported Ha'aretz
on Tuesday. Israel, moreover, promptly delivered most of the cargo of the boats
to Hamas, and took steps to ease the blockade.
The Free Gaza movement may have "achieved its strategic mission" according to
Stratfor (and most other analysts), but things don't look so straightforward to
the organizers. If indeed the flotilla was infiltrated by extremists (which is,
in fact, somewhat likely, due to the partnership with the Turkish IHH, )
they would bear part of the responsibility, and this would mean that they are
now at a crossroads. They could either condemn the violence and seek to tighten
non-violent discipline next time (as well as to restore the confidence of the
part of their supporters who are dogmatically non-violent), or they could
decide to embrace certain violent forms of resistance.
Either way, they would need to do some serious soul-searching and to face some
very difficult decisions. Serious fragmentation among their supporters may not
occur immediately, at least not while the action is happening, but dissenting
and disillusioned voices may emerge from among their ranks.
To give an example, this is an excerpt from a speech delivered on October 2,
2008, by Nicaraguan diplomat Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, then-president of the
General Assembly of the UN, in which he refers to the first Free Gaza voyage:
Gandhi's and [Martin Luther] King's successors in the 21st century have carried
out further experiments in the power of non-violent truth to achieve justice
and peace in every corner of the world - including, in the last two months,
Gaza. The Free Gaza Movement has succeeded in breaking the siege of Gaza by
non-violent direct action. After sailing from Cypress, 44 activists from 17
countries landed their two small wooden boats at Gaza Port on August 23, 2008,
where a beleaguered people welcomed them ... From the groundbreaking work of
Gandhi and King to the ongoing example of the Free Gaza Movement, we can
discern the transforming power of non-violence at a crossroads in our history.
Asked for a comment, a leading expert on non-violent social movements requested
that his name not be mentioned due to the fact that information about the
incident is currently inconclusive, but had this to say:
activists did indeed violently attack the soldiers, even if the attack was with
non-lethal beating, this was incorrect non-violent practice. Gandhi and Dr
Martin Luther King Jr always insisted on disciplined rejection of any form of
violence, even in retaliation for savage beatings. This is necessary to
maintain the moral high ground and attract political support for the cause of
justice. The use of violence by the flotilla activists gave the Israelis the
excuse they seek to justify their brutality.
It is hard,
therefore, to imagine today an impassioned defense of the Free Gaza movement
along the same lines used two years ago by Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann. Moreover,
we would be hearing criticism from among their core supporters. (Nicaragua,
nevertheless, expressed strong support by breaking relations with Israel over
The peace movement, and especially the moderate-left camp in Israel (not to be
confused with the extreme left) will probably take a blow, as it does every
time Israel's isolation grows. The peace talks between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority, moreover, may become more difficult. Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas already protested strongly the raid, calling
it "a massacre".
Egypt (and to a lesser extent Jordan and the US) has come under intense
pressure to steer away from Israel. The Egyptian government is no supporter of
the activists, especially given the recent memory of the Viva Palestina convoy.
Nevertheless, it issued a condemnation and opened the Rafah crossing for three
A final big question that remains is the most difficult to answer specifically:
how will this incident affect Middle Eastern politics and the larger course of
events. Some analysts, such as Asia Times Online's Simon Thurlow, have argued
that it "permanently altered world politics".  Others have projected
apocalyptic scenarios including, on the wilder-speculations side of the
spectrum, a naval confrontation between Israel and Turkey. 
Barring a major unforeseen development, however, it seems that the bloodshed
will strengthen some grim existing tendencies, but will not set new trends.
Israel's isolation is nothing new, and neither is the flurry of condemnations
from the international community. It is not Netanyahu's first major diplomatic
scandal, and not even the first such this year. Turkey's course away from
Israel is not new. Iran's evasion of sanctions is not new. Hamas was pleasantly
surprised, but the lifeline the incident offered will not last forever.
Much will depend on the exact facts, which will continue to come out in the
next days, and on the outcome of the public relations war, which will continue
to unfold. For most of those involved, nevertheless, the impact of the incident
will be markedly negative. It is possible that further provocations will ensue
on both sides, and with the rise in tensions, the probability of more violence
will increase. As Ian Bremmer notes, it will likely be a hot, hot summer.