From all outward signs the ‘international community’ is sleepwalking into a disaster. Turkey has laid out a demand for an Israeli apology which the Jewish state is unlikely to even consider. The Wall Street Journal writes “Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S., Namik Tan, laid out three demands for Israel to meet in order to maintain its relationship with Ankara. In addition to the public apology from Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Tan said the Israeli government must consent to an international investigation into the commando operation, in which nine Turkish activists died on a Turkish-flagged ship, the Mavi Marmara. The Turkish envoy, a seasoned diplomat and former ambassador to Israel, also said Israel must take concrete steps to ease its military blockade of the Gaza Strip.”
In the meantime, the Irish-Malaysian ship “Rachel Corrie” has rejected an Israeli request to land its cargo and accompany their supplies into Gaza, declaring it was their intention to break the blockade. This nullified an earlier offer by the Irish foreign minister. Unless the ship changes course, it will enter the embargo zone within two hours after this post is published.
The Irish Foreign Minister, Dr. Michael Martin earlier reached an agreement with Israel, whereby the Rachel Corrie would proceed to Ashdod where its contents would be checked, unloaded and shipped to Gaza under observation of representatives of the activists, the UN and the Irish government. The activists rejected this offer, continuing to insist on sailing to Gaza and breaking the Israeli blockade, but also stated (according to the Irish FM) that they would not resist the IDF, should it decide to board the ship.
The ship is expected to close in on Gaza about 7 AM on Saturday morning. It’s the second attempt this week by the Free Gaza Movement to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza as well as its closure of that area’s land passages to all but humanitarian aid.
This crisis is developing as the President, mesmerized by the oil leak in the Gulf, canceled his planned visits to Australia and Asia. Obama even went on the Larry King show to declare himself “furious”. But the oil leak crisis itself has been in the pattern of the administration’s belatedness. It seems to have little ability to anticipate a crisis, only react to it a day late and a dollar short.
The proximate danger is that the Turkish demands, which are sure to be inflamed by the almost certain repeat interception of the “Rachel Corrie” may escalate into the 21st century equivalent of the July Crisis which escalated into the Great War. It began, ironically as a diplomatic attempt to isolate Serbia. “This Ultimatum was part of a program of coercive diplomacy meant to weaken the Kingdom of Serbia … The program was a failure as Serbia, having received assurances of support from the Russian government, made an equivocal response to the Ultimatum, leading to a conflict which rapidly spiraled into a broad European war under conditions disastrous to Austria-Hungary.”
One of the key miscalculations was the Austrian belief that Serbia had no alternative to an unacceptable ultimatum except diplomatic capitulation. “It was finally agreed by all present except Tisza that Austria Hungary should present an ultimatum designed to be rejected”. It was only the first of a string of diplomatic mis-apprehensions. The story the most tragic days in early 20th century history was a that of too little, too late. Although many statesmen apprehended the danger many were unaware of the secret deals and contingency plans which bound up Austria and Germany, Serbia and Russia. They completely mis-estimated the effect of their clever demarches. Only when the entire picture revealed itself was the monstrous cumulative effect on display for all to see. But by that time the armies were marching. The subsequent collision was foreseen in some quarters and yet no concerted effort was launched to stave it off. The one nation able to defuse the crisis between Turkey and Israel is America. And President Obama has his head a mile under the Gulf.
There was in the July Crisis, in the ultimatum presented to Serbia, a terrible asymmetry of interests. Each party made its own calculation and it was different from the estimates of their counterparts. Russia saw itself bound to come to the aid of Serbia and Russian mobilization as a gesture to its ally triggered an irrevocable mobilization of the Germany Army. The rest is tragic history. For many in the West, Israel is in the immortal words of the French ambassador to Britain just a “shitty little country”. But to those who live in Israel it is the last safe place on earth for a race that within living memory was nearly exterminated in the European gas chambers. Crazy as it may seem — and it may have seen to the Western diplomats of long ago — people will fight for what they regard as shitty little causes.
Charles Krauthammer expressed what is by no means an isolated view of the stakes from a Jewish point of view. Krauthammer argues that Israel is now clinging desperately to the last defensive paradigm that will permit it to survive. If it takes a step back, it will go over the abyss.
But even more important, why did Israel even have to resort to blockade? Because, blockade is Israel’s fallback as the world systematically de-legitimizes its traditional ways of defending itself — forward and active defense.
(1) Forward defense: As a small, densely populated country surrounded by hostile states, Israel had, for its first half-century, adopted forward defense — fighting wars on enemy territory (such as the Sinai and Golan Heights) rather than its own.
Where possible (Sinai, for example) Israel has traded territory for peace. But where peace offers were refused, Israel retained the territory as a protective buffer zone. Thus Israel retained a small strip of southern Lebanon to protect the villages of northern Israel. And it took many losses in Gaza, rather than expose Israeli border towns to Palestinian terror attacks. It is for the same reason America wages a grinding war in Afghanistan: You fight them there, so you don’t have to fight them here.
But under overwhelming outside pressure, Israel gave it up. The Israelis were told the occupations were not just illegal but at the root of the anti-Israel insurgencies — and therefore withdrawal, by removing the cause, would bring peace.
Land for peace. Remember? Well, during the past decade, Israel gave the land — evacuating South Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005. What did it get? An intensification of belligerency, heavy militarization of the enemy side, multiple kidnappings, cross-border attacks and, from Gaza, years of unrelenting rocket attack.
(2) Active defense: Israel then had to switch to active defense — military action to disrupt, dismantle and defeat (to borrow President Obama’s description of our campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda) the newly armed terrorist mini-states established in southern Lebanon and Gaza after Israel withdrew.
The result? The Lebanon war of 2006 and Gaza operation of 2008-09. They were met with yet another avalanche of opprobrium and calumny by the same international community that had demanded the land-for-peace Israeli withdrawals in the first place. Worse, the U.N. Goldstone report, which essentially criminalized Israel’s defensive operation in Gaza while whitewashing the casus belli — the preceding and unprovoked Hamas rocket war — effectively de-legitimized any active Israeli defense against its self-declared terror enemies.
(3) Passive defense: Without forward or active defense, Israel is left with but the most passive and benign of all defenses — a blockade to simply prevent enemy rearmament. Yet, as we speak, this too is headed for international de-legitimation. Even the United States is now moving toward having it abolished.
But, if none of these is permissible, what’s left?
What’s left is to watch our opinion leaders deal with an oncoming train. For Helen Thomas the answer to the problem is a throwaway, PC line, followed by a chuckle. Shitty little country. Go back to Europe. Her cocktail party laugh is a reminder, if any were needed, that when you meet people who can blow smoke out of their ass, the wise man declines any proffered proof of the feat in the way of nicotine-stained shorts.
The July Crisis occurred 96 years ago, and Murphy, who was then active, has yet not yet retired from the stage of unintended consequences. Let’s hope we don’t hear from him soon.
Update: Helen Thomas, at her website says “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.” Her most recent statement can be taken as an update and therefore the representation of her current state of thinking. One problem with the Middle East is that nobody seems to care much for the state table, but they remember every transaction in the log table. Very little is forgotten and not enough is forgiven in that part of the world. In a world where the past is almost as real and perhaps even more real than the present, the “mutual respect and tolerance” that she craves may spring from more from good fences and wariness than it will from genuine goodwill and understanding. That people change their tune, as Ms. Thomas did, in order to live side by side with them, more out of self interest than in altruism, does not cheapen the fact. What does it matter why people live in civility for as long as they do? We should take what we can get. Live and let live is usually better than the alternative.