Alex Massie

Worse Than A Crime, A Blunder

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What a disaster. For Israel that is. One may appreciate two things simultaneously: that the "peace" activists en route to Gaza were not necessarily as innocent as that appellation might suggest and that the Israeli commandos were, as matters developed, compelled to use more force than perhaps they anticipated.

Few sensible folk dispute Israel's right to defend itself. But how that right is exercised matters enormously, not least because Israel's predicament is doubly-asymmetrical. Each side considers itself under siege and, for once, each side is correct. Israel, surrounded by hostile or at best sceptical neighbours, is acutely aware of its regional isolation. But on the West Bank and in Gaza, Palestinians find or consider themselves besieged by Israel. Each side squeezes the other; neither side can actually prevail.

There is no contradiction between these positions; indeed in one sense the latter may be thought to spring from the former. But when it comes to the Israeli Defence Forces' actions the question of proportionality - much in vogue these days - seems vastly less important than the question of wisdom.

Yes, Israel has the right to maintain a blockade of Gaza and to intercept shipping that runs that blockade. But even here there is all the difference in the world between intercepting ships in Israeli waters and storming them while they remain in international seas. And if Israel has the right to send its commandos aboard any ship anywhere in the mediterranean then, equally and even if one finds the protestors shady or distasteful, Israel cannot, surely, be surprised if their raid meets resistance?

That doesn't mean the "peace flotilla" was full of innocents. Clearly they wanted to provoke Israel. What astonishes is Israel's enthusiasm for rising to meet that provocation. Surely it was foreseeable that a raid in international waters could end poorly? Surely it was not impossible to predict that if violence broke out that Israel, fairly or not, would be considered the more culpable party?

A little thing like the precise location of the ship may seem a trivial matter but it makes a considerable difference in establishing rights, responsibilities and, consequently, in the matter of apportioning blame. That blockades have been enforced in international waters in the past doesn't meen it was necessarily sensible for Israel not to wait until the boats were inside its own territorial waters on this occasion. One might wish it otherwise but when it comes to dealing with media stunts - for such the flotilla was - estimating the likely media fall-out from how one deals with the matter is surely only sensible.

In other words, like Operation Cast Lead, the problem is not a question of Israel's rights but of its wisdom - something that Jeffrey Goldberg suggests seems to have evaporated. And if that has gone then so too has Israeli leadership. As Haaretz puts it:

The grave political damage caused by the confrontation is all too clear. Relations with Turkey will probably deteriorate further, and there may even be serious damage on the official level. The proximity talks with the Palestinians, which started lamely and with low expectations, will have trouble proceeding, now that Israel has attacked a ship intended to aid Gazans languishing under a four-year siege. Hamas claimed an outstanding victory without firing a single rocket, Egypt is under redoubled pressure to undermine the siege by opening the Rafah crossing, and it's reasonable to assume Europe and the United States will not be able to let Israel get away with a mere reprimand.

UPDATE: Then again, the Daily Mash view is also true:

ISRAEL'S attack on a Palestinian aid ship will make it easier for Guardian readers to sound as if they know what they are talking about, it was claimed last night.

Experts warned Tel Aviv that every time it launches a seemingly unprovoked or disproportionate attack it allows at least 10,000 cretins to say something at a dinner party that everyone then agrees with.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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