When 70’s era poet/singer/communist Gil Scott-Heron sang “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” he obviously never conceived of a revolution that would not only be televised but live-streamed and You Tubed. Within hours of Monday’s attempted run of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, I had seen news reports from Al Jazeera filed live from the boat and footage uploaded to You Tube by the “peace activists” along with a video reply from the Israeli navy.
The attempt to run the blockade and head to Gaza despite warnings from military officials was not a failure; it was a success and the nine people who died were collateral damage in the war for hearts and minds. That may seem crass, but this is a war being waged mostly with media images and the goal is to exert world wide pressure on Israel to open up the Gaza borders.
That pressure and the outrage came swiftly. “State terrorism” is how Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, described the storming of one of the six boats in the flotilla and the resulting deaths. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, “Nothing can justify such violence.” And that is before anyone knew all of the facts; we likely still don’t and yet while the United Nations is calling for a full investigation and a review of what happened, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has already passed judgement and called for an end to the Gaza blockade.
Israel may have won the skirmish on the boat, but they’ve lost the battle in the diplomatic world, not that there was much chance they would win.
Appearing on Fox News the morning after the incident, Daniel Hannon, a British member of the European Parliament told viewers that few people would have their minds changed by what happened and he is likely right. Those who hated Israel before will continue to hate the country, those that support Israel will likely, but not definitely, keep supporting them.
Without having been on the Mavi Marmara, we cannot say clearly whether the actions taken by the Israeli commandos were “disproportionate”, as so many diplomats claimed Monday. We do know a few facts though and they are worth considering before resorting to a knee jerk condemnation of Israel.
There were six ships in the flotilla, only one clashed with the military. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Ottawa Monday for a visit; one he cut short due to the crisis, but before he left Netanyahu gave his side of what happened. “We told the flotilla of ships,” the prime minister told reporters, “we said, ‘You can take all your cargo, put it in our port of Ashdod. We’ll just ferret out if there are any war materials and the rest can go through.'”
It seems that fears of war materials being part of the cargo may have been justified. Among the more than 600 people detained by Israel were dozens with ties to Islamic extremists, some suspected of terrorist activity. The flotilla was sponsored in large part by the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a group that while often a provider of basic humanitarian aid, has been tied to terrorism including a history of weapons trafficking.
The IHH has been linked to attacks in France, had weapons seized at its headquarters and was linked to Ahmed Ressam, the man known as the Millennium Bomber for his plans to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on January 1, 2000. Henri Barkey is quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying of the IHH, “It’s an Islamist organisation as it has been deeply involved with Hamas for some time. Some of its members went on the boat saying that they had written their last will and testament.”
Does any of this excuse Israel’s actions? No. Neither do the condemnations of a thousand diplomats convict them however. Without being there we cannot know. Without all the facts we cannot judge. None of this has stopped those condemnations; meanwhile there is comparative silence about a true massacre of nearly 100 Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan.
One of the reasons for the outrage directed at Tel Aviv is that friend and foe of Israel hold the country to a higher standard; they expect more. And in many respects Israel, even with the nine deaths, met that standard. If, as their harshest critics have claimed, Israel wanted a massacre, they could easily have had one by having the commandos open fire on the activists as they lowered themselves onto the ship. They could have also followed the North Korean example and simply sent a torpedo to sink it.
Does the boarding of the ship and the deaths of nine people help the prospect of peace talks? No, and you don’t need to be a foreign minister to see that. Neither does it help the prospect of peace though to have people like Bernard Kouchner condemning Israel and egging on the Turks toward a harsher response. Kouchner would have been wise to listen to Hillary Clinton who called for calm after her meeting with Turkey’s foreign minister, “I think the situation from our perspective is very difficult and requires careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned.”
I may not always know a “thoughtful response” when I see one, but I’m sure it does not include a boilerplate denunciation of the only true democracy in the Middle East; the only one that will open itself to judicial and international scrutiny.
Brian Lilley is a political journalist and Ottawa Bureau Chief for Astral Radio. He is also Associate Editor of Mercatornet. Follow Brian on Twitter.