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Rough Seas for Israel After Gaza Flotilla Intercepted (Updated through the day)

The unavoidable PR fallout from the deaths of at least 14 activists has already roiled the capitals of Europe and may cause unrest among the Israeli Arab population. (Updated continuously as news arrives.) (Also: Watch Richard Landes direct from Jerusalem on PJTV.)

by
Allison Kaplan Sommer

Bio

May 31, 2010 - 5:41 am
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Undeniably, Israel appears to have stepped directly into a trap of a carefully planned suicide mission dressed up in the clothing of a humanitarian effort. If the goal was to blacken Israel’s image internationally, it was undoubtedly successful, as the hateful sloganeering against Israel sweeping across Facebook and Twitter demonstrates.

As they watched the public relations nightmare unfold, many Israelis — even those who support the three-year-old blockade on Gaza — began asking if it couldn’t have been executed in a manner that might have avoided bloodshed. Commentators in the Israeli media asked whether it could or should have been possible to block the flotilla’s progress at sea without sending soldiers on board, or somehow surrounding and isolating the flotilla and stranding them at sea. Others asked whether it would have been so terrible to allow the flotilla to arrive in Gaza without incident, despite the fears that it would set a precedent and cause damage to Israel’s security. Questions were raised as to whether the damage created by the operation was not greater than that potentially incurred by allowing the flotilla to defy the blockade.

This damage is expected to be significant in a number of ways. First and foremost, since the mission was represented as that of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation — though its “humanitarian” nature is a matter of controversy — there is significant worry about how the events surrounding the interception of the flotilla will act as a catalyst for Israel’s already problematic relationship with Turkey. Haaretz commentator Amos Harel wrote:

The damage that Israel has caused itself internationally can hardly be exaggerated. A previous crisis with Turkey that erupted earlier this year after Israel humiliated Ankara’s ambassador now looks like small change in comparison. Even before then, relations with Turkey had deteriorated over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and the generally anti-Israeli stance taken by Turkey’s moderately Islamist government. The new crisis is likely to lead to a total break in ties.

In addition to the international damage, the aftermath is also exacting a price from Israel internally, with demonstrations that very well may turn violent scheduled to take place in Arab communities across Israel. The unrest among Arab Israelis was heightened by persistent rumors that the head of the Israeli-Arabic Islamic Movement’s northern branch, Sheikh Raed Salah, was among the casualties in the clash, and that the Israeli forces had targeted him directly.

Unfolding events are also undoubtedly throwing a wrench into the plans for what both countries had planned would be a warm and conciliatory meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, which was hoped to smooth over the recent bumps in the U.S.-Israel relationship. According to reports in the Israeli media, Netanyahu has seriously been considering postponing the visit, but a final decision has not yet been made, as officials debate the benefit of the visit with the potential political damage caused by the prime minister being overseas when the situation at home is so volatile.

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Allison Kaplan Sommer is a writer and former PJM editor based in Ra'anana, Israel.
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