Israel mishandled the Gaza “humanitarian aid” flotilla through extreme forbearance, and will suffer a marathon of tongue-clicking and hand-wringing by diplomatic hypocrites who know better. The Jewish state lost the propaganda battle the moment the floating time bomb disguised as a humanitarian mission sailed from Turkey. If Israel had denounced the matter as a provocation and withdrawn its ambassador from Turkey, warning that the object of the exercise was to provoke violence and open the way for weapons deliveries to Hamas, the outcome might have been quite different.
The facts in the case are straightforward.
Although it is true, as the New York Times misleadingly noted, that the Turkish sponsor of the flotilla – Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH – The Foundation of Humanitarian Relief) – does not appear on the United States State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, IHH belongs to an umbrella organization that US authorities have identified as a terrorist financier, namely Union of Good (Ittilaf al-Kheir). 
Jonathan Schanzer, a former US government official specializing in terrorist financing, provides the details and links to the relevant US government documents in a post at the Weekly Standard blog . Schanzer quotes US Treasury documents that report that the Union of Good “compensated Hamas terrorists by providing payments to the families of suicide bombers. One of [the charities], the al-Salah Society, previously identified as a key support node for Hamas, was designated in August 2007 … The Society employed a number of members of the Hamas military wing and supported Hamas-affiliated combatants during the first Intifada.”
Turkey’s secular government of a decade ago banned the IHH from contributing to earthquake relief because of its terrorist ties, as Caroline Glick observes in the Jerusalem Post . The fact that the present Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has embraced IHH is consistent with Erdogan’s public support for Iran.
Israel maintains a naval blockade of Gaza because Iran among others attempts to ship missiles and other weapons employed to attack Israeli civilians from launching pads in Gaza. In February 2009, the Monchegorsk, shipping weapons from Iran to Hamas in Gaza, was seized by authorities in Cyprus, the most recent of several high-profile interceptions.
Israeli authorities offered to allow the flotilla to land at the Israeli port of Ashdod and ship its cargo of humanitarian aid to Gaza overland after appropriate security inspection; the flotilla refused.
There is in any case “no humanitarian problem in Gaza”, according to the United Nations Middle East envy Robert Perry , despite occasional shortages of construction materials and other goods.
In short, the Gaza flotilla caper was the invention of an organization with deep ties to terrorist financing of Hamas to ameliorate a humanitarian problem that doesn’t exist while refusing an Israeli offer to deliver its aid to Gaza. We know the outcome: Israeli naval commandos carrying paintball guns encountered armed resistance and suffered injuries, and ultimately used their weapons to defend themselves. Israeli authorities say nine were killed, while activist groups said 19 were unaccounted for.
All these facts are on the public record. Nonetheless, the international press persist in describing the flotilla as a humanitarian aid convey rather than as a transparent provocation by terrorist organizations, and the governments of the world will click their tongues hypocritically over the Israeli action.
There is a curious symmetry between Israel’s reluctance to call out the Turks for their sponsorship of the provocation, and the seemingly explicable reluctance of the Israeli military to treat the threat with the seriousness it clearly deserved. The Israeli navy commandos walked into a trap for which they clearly were unprepared.
After the fact, Defense Minister Ehud Barak denounced the IHH as “a violent, extremist organization that supports terrorism”. But if that is the case, David Horovitz asked in the Jerusalem Post, “In such circumstances, facing such hostility, it is hard to fathom why the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] so underestimated the challenge its soldiers would face, and thus erred so strikingly over both its choice of how to thwart the flotilla, and over the number of soldiers, and the equipment, it sent into the battle at sea.”
Evidently, Israel has trouble accepting the reality on the ground, just as other governments do. There is not going to be a peace negotiation, but rather a war, and that the war will be terrible and bloody. Israel has lost Turkey as an ally; the United States, for that matter, has lost Turkey as an ally, as the leaders of Ankara compete with the mullahs of Tehran for the leadership of Islamism. A stronger American hand might have made war unnecessary. But the Barack Obama administration has withdrawn from strategic leadership, and when the cat’s away, as I wrote last October, the mice kill each other .
Israel has been hoping against hope that the old alliance with Turkey can be salvaged, and that the American national security establishment somehow will overrule the president, whose aversion to the use of American power is now a matter of doctrine. During a recent visit to Jerusalem, well-informed Israelis emphasized that Israel was trying to show the United States that it is a reliable ally. But it is hard to be a reliable ally of a superpower that no longer wishes to be one.
Whether Israel has the wherewithal to set back Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a number of years is a matter of debate; it almost certain could do so with tactical nuclear weapons launched from its submarines now in the Persian Gulf. It would have to combine an air attack on Iran with a ground assault on Hezbollah’s forces in southern Lebanon. In the best of cases a decisive victory against Hezbollah might cost the lives of perhaps 3,000 infantrymen, not to mention the lives of civilians caught in a rocket bombardment. It would have to have sufficient resources to frighten Syria away from intervening, or, if necessary, to reduce Syria’s armed forces. If the war plan went awry, casualties might be far greater.
The actual parameters of a pre-emptive war are far more complex, and I have neither the information nor the expertise to offer further conjectures on how matters might play out. There are many possible variants; if I knew enough to analyze them competently, I would not write about them in any event.
The price under the best of outcomes would be traumatic for a state in which the death of a single serviceman is a national tragedy. The country’s leaders still hope against hope that they might find some alternative to war. The Gaza flotilla affair should teach Jerusalem that no matter how gingerly it approaches the threats on its borders, and how gently it responds, it ends up holding the bag for the region’s problems. It might as well get down to the business of war.
By coincidence, observant Jews around the world this week read Numbers 13:1 to 15:41 in synagogues, including the Biblical story of the 12 spies whom Moses sent to scout the promised land. Joshua and Caleb argued that an invasion would succeed, but were outvoted by the representatives of 10 of the 12 tribes. For that display of cowardice, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert until the entire generation that had left Egypt had died out and was succeeded by men born into freedom. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not a religious man, but no doubt this week’s Torah portion will command his undivided attention.
1. Editor’s note: According to the Free Gaza website, “The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is comprised of: Free Gaza Movement (FG), European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza (ECESG), Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), Ship to Gaza Greece, Ship to Gaza Sweden, and the International Committee to Lift the Siege on Gaza, with hundreds of groups and organizations around the world supporting the effort.” The Free Gaza Movement includes on its board of advisors Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Jeff Halper, John Pilger and Jenny Tonge.
2. The Terror Finance Flotilla,
3. Ending Israel’s losing streak,
4. UN Envoy to Peres: No Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza
5. When the cat’s away the mice kill each other, Asia Times Online,
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, senior editor of First Things (www.firstthings.com).
This article was published June 2, 2010 in Asia Times Online and is archived at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LF02Ak03.html