It is inconceivable that the Israeli cabinet ordered the attack on the Gaza aid flotilla in international waters, killing and wounding scores of civilian passengers of dozens of nationalities, without considering its consequences. Among the more than 600 passengers were people of all ages, Members of the European Parliament, United States and Israeli citizens. Turkey, from where the flotilla sailed, had said that the ships were indeed carrying humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza, where more than a million Palestinians have been under Israeli siege for three year.
According to Al Jazeera, the Turkish government has summoned the Israeli ambassador to protest. The Foreign Ministry in Ankara has called it a gross violation of international law and warned of irrevocable consequences for bilateral relations. Angry demonstrations have taken place in several places in Turkey and they are spreading. Condemnations of Israel are bound to continue in the coming weeks and months.
In the light of information widely available in advance, Israeli claims that the activists bringing aid were armed with guns and knives, were Hamas affiliates, who made attempts to lynch Israeli soldiers, are grotesque. Equally bizarre is the Israeli military spokeswoman’s claim that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza – claim that the United Nations relief agency and other humanitarian organizations flatly deny. Many people outside Israel will not believe these claims. An Al Jazeera correspondent traveling with the flotilla told the network that the organizers had instructed all the passengers to go inside the ship under attack and had raised the white flag.
The aid flotilla was at least 40 miles from Gaza, in international waters. Some international lawyers are already describing the Israeli military operation as illegal, because the flotilla was on the high seas. Moreover, as one of the ships was flying Turkey’s flag, it was under Turkish jurisdiction. An Israeli radio commentator has suggested that the military miscalculated the strength of resistance from those on board. It must be said here that the passengers, in international waters, would have the right to defend themselves in the circumstances.
What does this episode tell us? It shows the Israeli government’s determination to ensure that there are no more international attempts by activists to break the Gaza blockade in future. Even if future attempts were deterred, the international fallout of these events would be serious. From Jordan and Turkey to Spain and Sweden, many governments are joining in the condemnations of Israel.
The latest episode is another severe blow against the Palestinian-Israeli peace process that was barely alive. It makes President Obama look powerless to influence events in the Middle East in any positive way. Many of Israel’s critics may feel the aim of the attack on the aid flotilla was to sabotage the latest American attempts to resurrect talks with the Palestinian Authority.
As international criticisms grow, the Israel lobby in the United States, and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, will intensify their efforts to counter them. Israel may continue to enjoy the protection of America’s veto in the United Nations Security Council. But Israel stands more isolated today than it has been for many year in the wider community of nations.