Right now IDF soldiers are in the hospital because they walked into an ambush aboard the Mavi Marmara carrying paintball guns, with orders to unholster their firearms only as a last resort. Here's video that clearly shows them being attacked as soon as they hit the deck of the ship.
Predictably, quite a few members of the violent floating mob ended up dead. This is being widely portrayed as a brutal Israeli attack on peaceful activists attempting to deliver humanitarian aid. There are angry protests in capitals all over the world ("Saw anger at London protest at Israeli embassy I'm more used to seeing in Mid-east than Europe," says ABC News correspondant Jim Sciutto on Twitter). The UN has convened an emergency session for the extremely urgent purpose of condemning the Jewish State just one more time.
Make no mistake: This is a fiasco for Israel. Former US Mid-East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller lays it out for Eli Lake of the Washington Times: "This feeds the efforts of those in the international community who seek to delegitimize Israel. This has undermined Mahmoud Abbas, who will have to toughen his position in negotiations or even suspend them. This hands Hamas a huge political windfall."
Israeli commentator Avi Trengo blames Defense Minister Ehud Barak for "ordering the IDF to adopt an impossible policy: Stopping the flotilla using force, while doing it without using force":
So how would any other navy enforce a naval blockade? First, a clear warning in English: Turn back or we shall fire. Next, A shot across the bow - a last warning to show the seriousness of our intentions. Finally, firing at the vessel's propeller, in a bid to paralyze the ship's sailing and steering capabilities.
Only then, and only after allowing the ship to be tossed from side to side under the sun, the time would come for taking over the vessel using massive force: Clearing away the decks using water hoses, splashing oil on its windows, ramming into the vessel, and finally staging the takeover.
This is how any self-respecting Navy would conduct itself. However, there is only one problem here: The utilization of force and fire, which is precisely what Barak wanted to avoid. He feared the images, and therefore ordered the takeover to get underway at early morning hours, much before the ships crossed into Gaza's territorial waters.
If Israel had proceded that way, is there any doubt that we'd hear exactly the same chorus of condemnation? As British media watchdog Just Journalism points out, the flotilla to Gaza was openly spoiling for a fight, with one 'activist' declaring before they set sail ‘We are now waiting for one of two good things - either to achieve martyrdom or to reach Gaza.' Short of ending the blockade -- which would mean allowing the delivery of weapons that would be used to kill Israeli civilians -- there was no way for Israel to win. Barak's kid-glove approach (which, to be fair, did succeed at bloodlessly intercepting five of the six ships in the flotilla) earned Israel exactly no credit in the eyes of her critics, for whom Israel is ipso facto in the wrong whenever she defends herself.
Traditionally, Israel has had a friend in the United States. A large majority of the American people support Israel's right to exist, and most American presidents have understood the strategic importance of our alliance. To the Obama Administration's credit, they've been much more cautious than most goverments in responding to this incident, issuing a statement that "The President expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today's incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals. The President also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning's tragic events as soon as possible." This compares favorably with the statement by William Hague, the UK's new Foreign Secretary, whose first instinct was to "call on the Government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza." (Actually, Israel allows lots of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.)
A meeting between President Obama and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu had to be cancelled so that the latter could return home to deal with the fallout. There's been tension between the US and Israel in recent months that's been contrary to the interests of both nations. If the Obama Administration can now step up and support Israel in this time of crisis, it will do more to repair the frayed relations between our two countries than any meeting could have.
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