Friday, June 4, 2010

The Flotilla: What We Know Now...

TBE's Rachel Leiterstein at a rally supporting Israel yesterday in New York

Here's the first problem. When we rush to judgment, we are almost always wrong. Here's the second problem. In this age of instant communication and ubiquitous punditry, everyone rushes to judgment. The third problem: just about everyone who rushed to judgment about the flotilla incident was wrong. Which leads to the fourth problem: Israel should have released its video proof of the violent intent of the so-called peace protesters many hours earlier. An entire news cycle came and went and the knee-jerk pontificators all had time to step up onto their soap boxes and pontificate.

Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic blog, "The Disappearance of Jewish Wisdom," highlights this problem - he admits that he doesn't have all the facts yet and that the protesters were "not exactly Ghandi-like," but can't entire suppress the temptation to pontificate anyway about Israel's lack of foresight.

With the dust now beginning to clear, we are getting a solid picture of where the Israelis could have done better - and why a bloody confrontation still might have been unavoidable. I participated an hour long briefing for rabbis from AIPAC yesterday via conference call. We learned that Israel indeed pursued several courses of action to avoid a confrontation, but that confrontation is what the radicals on this boat - and apparently the Turkish government - wanted. The signals of radicalization from Turkey are especially distressing. We also learned that, despite all the claims to the contrary, Israel is going to great lengths to ensure that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. You can see the documentation here.
Bülent Yildirim, the main organizer of the Gaza Flotilla, explained at a Hamas rally in Gaza that the operation was no humanitarian effort but part of a global Jihad to overthrow governments and install Islamist dictatorships. He made no secret of that fact, as shown in the MEMRI translation and video - see more details here.

AIPAC also provided an Action Alert, calling upon us to contact our representatives.

Click here to view statements made by VP Biden and members of Congress. See also House Majority Leader: Israel "Rightfully" Raided Flotilla and Sen. Lieberman Defends Israel Over Flotilla Raid.
Biden's comments on Charlie Rose:

"They've said, 'Here you go. You're in the Mediterranean. This ship -- if you divert slightly north you can unload it and we'll get the stuff into Gaza. So what's the big deal here? What's the big deal of insisting it go straight to Gaza? Well, it's legitimate for Israel to say, 'I don't know what's on that ship. These guys are dropping... 3,000 rockets on my people. "Look, you can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not -- but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know -- they're at war with Hamas -- has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in." Biden also blamed Hamas for the crisis that has wracked the coastal territory and for the ongoing state of conflict with Israel.
As we put pressure, and the world put pressure on Israel to let material go into Gaza to help those people who are suffering, the ordinary Palestinians there, what happened? Hamas would confiscate it, put it in a warehouse [and] sell it. So the problem is this would end tomorrow if Hamas agreed to form a government with the Palestinian Authority on the conditions the international community has set up."

Click here to watch the interview.

Jim Himes, BTW, released the following statement on June 1:

“Israel is our good friend and our only long term ally in a dangerous part of the world. As Americans we do not rush to judgment before we have the facts. As tragic as the situation in the Mediterranean is, I urge all parties involved to do all they can to reduce tension and to allow the facts to be examined.”

Correctly, he did not rush to judgment on June 1. Now that it is June 4, I've contacted Himes' office to thank him for his wisdom in that initial response and to see if there might be an updated statement reflecting his current perceptions.

President Obama has said some encouraging things as well, here with Larry King:
President Barack Obama told CNN's Larry King on Thursday: "The United States, with the other members of the UN Security Council, said very clearly that we condemned all the acts that led up to this violence. It was a tragic situation. You've got loss of life that was unnecessary. So we are calling for an effective investigation of everything that happened. I think the Israelis are going to agree to that - an investigation of international standards - because they recognize that this can't be good for Israel's long-term security."
"Here's what we've got. You've got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns when they've got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel/Gaza border. I've been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people's bedrooms. Israel has a legitimate concern there. On the other hand you've got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future."
"I think what's important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity so that we figure out, how can we meet Israel's security concerns, but at the same time start opening up opportunity for Palestinians....You've got to have a situation in which the Palestinians have real opportunity and Israel's neighbors recognize Israel's legitimate security concerns and are committed to peace." (CNN) See also Video: Obama Interview (CNN)

Also, here are some talking points from the director general of Israel's Ministry of Public Diplomacy (who is a cousin of TBE's Sue Greenwald).

See also this AIPAC backgrounder on the NPT Review Conference last week, another major concern (that has fallen under the radar because of Gaza). Instead of seizing the opportunity of the NPT Review Conference to highlight Iran’s blatant pursuit of nuclear weapons, many member nations worked to use the NPT document as a vehicle to criticize Israel. Regrettably, the US givernment did not use its veto power to prevent this document from being passed (although US spokespeople later deplored it). Calling the document “deeply flawed” and “hypocritical,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that it “singles out Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy and the only country threatened with annihilation... [and] ignores the realities of the Middle East and the real threats facing the region and the entire world.”

See also J-Street's
Gaza Flotilla Resource Page and Q&A: Gaza Blockade - to gain a slightly different perspective.
Still, with more of the facts now known, with Israel's case far more defensible, there is this:

In our zeal to defend Israel against unwarranted and relentless attack, we need to temper that bumper sticker mentality with a dose of humanity. In 2001, with the Oslo process blown to bits by the suicide bombers, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote:

"In the past, Israel's enemies have tried to put it in a military crisis and failed. Then they tried to put it in a political crisis and failed. Now they are about to put it in a spiritual crisis, and they may succeed."

That is exactly what is happening now. The war right now is for Israel's very legitimacy in the eyes of the nations. Not for its physical survival, but its moral legitimacy. Of course we know that the playing field is unfair, that Israel is being led into trap after trap by those who do not value human life. But the only way to combat that is to not allow us to dehumanize the Other. We must grieve for the loss of life this week on the open waters west of Gaza. Israel's enemies understand that those who lose their humanity can easily be portrayed as themselves less than human: bloodthirsty, vengeful demons.

There is no question that Israel's case is strong, even if some might question the precise tactics used. There is also no question that the embargo of Gaza needs to continue, as long as humanitarian aid is allowed to enter (as has happened). But our best response - and Israel's - to continue to be human; to acknowledge the suffering on all sides. And to grieve for all the victims.

Finally, see this excellent summary of the current situation from Marc Shulman's blog:

The Israeli government is laboriously trying to decide how to respond to the world-wide criticism that its country has come under since its soldiers were ambushed, attempting to stop the ships headed to Gaza. I think it would be useful to summarize what we know as of now. Much of this has been known for a few days (and I wrote about most of it on Tuesday) but let's review:

First, this was not a ship filled solely with international aid workers or other people with peaceful goals. There might have been a large number of activists, but this was ship was clearly filled with potential suicide bombers. It seems this is what a group of those on the ship were trying to do. Nine of them succeeded, at least in the suicide part. The IDF presented captured footage showing one of the attackers saying beforehand he has tried twice before to become a "Shahid"-- this time he hope he succeeds. Second, The group that sent the ships has been closely tied to Muslim fundamentalist groups; groups that have clearly been responsible for terrorist activities. It is also clear the Turks on board had been heavily influenced by the rise of Islam and anti Israeli attitudes in Turkey. This rise of Islam has been led by Erogdwan, the Turkish Prime Minister, who has set Turkey on a steady anti-Israel and anti-Western path. According to the chief foreign correspondent of the Israel Channel 10, who just returned from Turkey; who spent significant time in Gaza and the West Bank, says he has never been to a rally (like last night's demonstration in Istanbul) where the hatred for Israel was so strong. He fears that Turkey could turn into another Iran. There is an excellent piece on Turkey in the Wall Street Journal called:
Erodwan and the Decline of the Turks

The plan was an ingenious set up on the part of the planners. They wanted violence and they were ready to make the best use of it. The world fell right into their trap, immediately blaming Israel, as if it had deliberately (or even accidently) killed dozens of women and children. There is another excellent article in the WSJ on how fast the world rushes to condemn Israel, called: Beating Up on Israel

We also know that Israeli intelligence failed completely to anticipate what happened; something that is not understandable, since it would seem one of the easier assignments to have gotten an agent on to a ship full of activist from all parts of the world. However, there was no attempt to gain that intelligence, assumedly, since it was no one's priority. This, again, shows the failure of the Israeli government to understand what its priorities should be.

We also know how poor, or more correctly, how slow Israel's PR campaign is. As I mentioned yesterday, the IDF films of the event have been the number 1, 2 and 3 most watched films on YouTube... but they came late! Today, Michael Oren had an excellent article in NYT, An Assault Cloaked In Peace, but he writes most of what I wrote from public sources on Tuesday, on Thursday. Israel needs to learn to act like some American politicians to control the news cycle as much as possible.

On the positive side, Vice President Biden was on Charlie Rose last night In the interview, he defended the right of Israel to intercept the ships and gave a historic perspective- making the simple point that if Hamas was to accept the conditions of the Quartet: Refute violence, agree to Peace Talks and Accept Prior agreements, there would be no quarantine. Biden, who is the person closest to President Obama in the administration would clearly not have gone on air with such a statement without the President's green light.

Finally, on a really positive note: A new natural gas field was discovered off the coast of Israel. It is double the size of the field that was discovered last year. That first field will be able to supply Israel with natural gas for 20-30 years, the new field if its projections come to fruition will turn Israel into a major Gas exporter.

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