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The Flotilla Crisis and Israel's Would-be Friends

The truth about Israel and the terrorist flotilla is now apparent for anyone who wants to see. The problem, however, is the one various people, like Max Boot, have alluded to. Israel, by the way it dealt with the problem, handed Hamas and its opponents a major propaganda victory.  Daniel Pipes makes much the same point.  Nevertheless, this leaves no excuse for the various left-wing and liberal commentators who have seized the moment to find new reasons to bash Israel, and to portray it as the aggressor.  As Boot points out, “The so-called Gaza flotilla, comprising eight ships and roughly 800 participants, was not put together by peace-loving humanitarians primarily worried about relieving the suffering of Gaza residents.” Rather, it was a project of the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi, an ally of various global jihadist terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

So what Israel got was a PR disaster, from which it is now trying to recover. Nevertheless, some clearheaded mainstream foreign policy observers have seen the truth without a problem. Leslie Gelb is one of them. Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations and former New York Times top foreign affairs correspondent, writes:

Israel had every right under international law to stop and board ships bound for the Gaza war zone late Sunday. Only knee-jerk left-wingers and the usual legion of poseurs around the world would dispute this.(my emphasis) And it is pretty clear that this "humanitarian" flotilla headed for Gaza aimed to provoke a confrontation with Israel. Various representatives of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the main organizers of this deadly extravaganza, have let it slip throughout Monday that their intention was every bit as much "to break" Israel's blockade of Gaza as to deliver the relief goods.

The problem is evidently that there are more “knee-jerk left-wingers” around than Gelb imagines. And many of them think of themselves as mainstream liberals who would not consider themselves part of Gelb’s category. So let us look carefully at the arguments and analysis of this ever growing group.

First, once again, comes Andrew Sullivan. The guilty party of course is both Israel and -- you guessed it -- the dreaded neo-cons. Writes the brilliant pundit, the people on board the flotilla were defending themselves from invaders. He does not mention that the Israeli commandos carried only paint guns they were told to try and avoid using, and pistols which they had to get permission to use. He claims that the analysis of people like Noah Pollak and Jennifer Rubin “is a function of a mindset warped by paranoia, enabled by utter arrogance, fueled by a sense of impunity.” Sounds like a case of the pot calling the kettle black to me.

On Sunday, Sullivan conceded that the “activists'” violence was “pretty abhorrent,” and that they are not “not followers of Gandhi or MLK Jr.” But he goes on to say that “it is in response to a dawn commando raid by armed soldiers. They are engaging in self-defense.” Sullivan, evidently now an expert in international law as well, sees the Israeli act as the Turkish government does, that of “inhumane state terror.” And Sullivan continually repeats that “the attack took place in international waters,” implying that fact in itself makes it illegal.

Again, as Gelb explained, “blockades are quite legal. The United States and Britain were at war with Germany and Japan and blockaded them. I can't remember international lawyers saying those blockades were illegal — even though they took place on the high seas in international waters. There would be a general violation only if the hostile actions against the ships took place in waters under the jurisdiction of another sovereign state. Thus, for example, if the Israelis stopped the ships in Egyptian waters, that would have been a violation.”

That point was emphasized as well on Sunday night on the PBS NewsHour by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who pointed out: “Under international law, when there's a case of a military blockade against a hostile entity -- and we are talking about a hostile entity … Hamas in Gaza, a country under Article 51 of the United Nations charter…has a right to defend itself. By the same articles of war, the United States blockaded Germany during World War II in the open seas. Israel was well within its international rights.”

Next comes the indefatigable Peter Beinart, whose self-proclaimed commitment to Israel and liberal Zionism seems more and more to mean joining the anti-Israel group and abandoning any support of Israel in favor of  portraying  it as the aggressor.  Beinart blames not the commandos, whom he agrees were attacked by a mob, but the Israeli government and its American supporters.  Beinart says the Israeli embargo of Gaza is not meant to keep out arms -- how Beinart knows this is something he evidently is alone privileged to have found out -- but is meant instead to “to impoverish the people of Gaza, and thus turn them against Hamas.”

If that is the case, why does Israel regularly allow in aid of a humanitarian nature to Gaza, and why did it offer through a week of negotiations to search the ships for arms and then deliver the food and other items of a humanitarian nature to Gaza itself? As Oren noted, “Israel vowed to transfer that aid to Gaza. About 100 trucks of humanitarian aid, food and medicine go into Gaza every day. There's no shortage of food in Gaza.”