Israel attacks Gaza aid flotilla

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.

The Lahore massacre

Even for a country where violence has long become routine, the orgy of killing in Pakistan at Friday’s prayers in Lahore is particularly distressing. Men armed with guns, hand grenades, wearing suicide vests, killed nearly 80 people and wounded more than 100 at Garhi Shahu and Model Town in the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up as security forces began closing in.

It is important to say a few words here about the victims. They were members of the Ahmadiyya sect of Muslims, regarded as heretics by many other Muslims, particularly hard-line Sunnis. Pakistan has a four-million-strong Ahmadiyya community, officially regarded  as non-Muslims. They have long been persecuted and the discrimination continues to date. In 1984, Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq issued an edict that prohibited Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim, or ‘to pose as Muslims’. General Zia then enjoyed the patronage of the United States president Ronald Reagan. At the time, Washington was providing Zia with billions of dollars of military and economic aid, and arming and encouraging Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, to fight Soviet communism in Afghanistan.

Ahmadis, in fact, claim to lead the revival of peaceful propagation of Islam. The sect’s founder Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) proclaimed himself to be the Mujahid (divine reformer) of the fourteenth Islamic century. Among the most objectionable aspects of Ahmadiyya beliefs is their view on the death and return of Jesus.

The massacre on Friday at Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore is yet another reminder of the folly of feeding bigotry and intolerance that always leads to unforeseen disastrous consequences. Today, the same fundamentalists the Americans fed, and their children, confront their erstwhile masters. They kill fellow citizens who do not conform to their interpretation of Islam. And those who do.

Kabul suicide bomber targets NATO troops

A suicide car bomb attack targeting NATO troops killed about 20 people near parliament in the capital Kabul today. More than 50 others were wounded. An army doctor said it was the worst bombing in the city for more than a year.

The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility, saying they had targeted ‘invading  NATO forces’. The insurgents said they used a van loaded with 750 kg of explosives. The attack came amid US-led military operations in Helmand Province and in the Taliban stronghold, Kandahar. Success in these operations would be essential for President Obama’s intended withdrawal of US combat troops to begin in July 2011.

The BBC defence and security correspondent Nick Childs says, “The Western alliance is making no bones about the fact that it is trying to wrest the military initiative in Afghanistan from the insurgents. So, in the battle for perceptions and hearts and minds, this will be a serious blow, with the high loss of life both of NATO troops and local civilians.”  

A spokesman for the international peacekeeping force confirmed that six of its soldiers had been killed. Apart from the five US soldiers, one Canadian is believed to have died. But most of the casualties were civilians, as is the case in most attacks by combatants.

There was another attack inside Pakistan. At least 12 people were killed in a bomb blast near a police vehicle in the north-western Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan. Officials said the bomb was planted on a bicycle and targeted the deputy police superintendent, who was killed along with his guard and driver.

There have been a number of US drone strikes inside Pakistan since the attempted bomb attack in New York in early May. An American citizen of Pakistani origin, Faisal Shahzad, is in custody as the main suspect and is being interrogated. In response, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned of serious consequences for Pakistan if security threats appeared to originate from that country.

As President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for a military drawdown approaches, violence on both sides is likely to increase, resulting in casualties not only among combatants, but critically, among civilians.