Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Aid flotilla, Israel, and piracy,
Heading down the very twisted path of trying to make sense of Israel and its neighbors. The incident which happened Monday is straightforward and tragic, the history that led up to it is not. A flotilla of ships with humanitarian supplies attempted to reach Gaza (a small enclave ruled by Palestinians within Israel's borders)from the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. Israel had warned it would not allow the fleet of 6 ships carrying 10,000 tons of supplies to directly dock, saying those ships must first be diverted and searched for contraband. The fleet, with around 700 pro-Palestinian activists, attempted to steam through, Israeli commandos rappelled onto the ships to seize them, and on one of the ships, nine activists were killed in ensuing violence. Condemnation of the excessive force, or harshness of the response followed, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel, a UN security council meeting was arranged, Israel was defiant. Now, two days later, Israel is deporting the 690 or so activists, has yet to decide what to do with the ships, and the political aftermath is still emerging. You can stop here if you wish.
Why was there a blockade? Israel imposed one in 2008 after Hamas violently ousted the leadership of the other Palestinian political structure (Fatah) from the Gaza strip. Hamas has declared its goal of eliminating Israel as an entity. Israel declared that all material headed into this enclave would be searched, pointing to the rocket and arms smuggling going on across the Gaza/Egypt border. Already this narrative would be challenged fundamentally by various viewpoints, so to read deeper into the blockade reasoning, one needs to also be aware of the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the 2000 Camp David summit before that, the 1993 Oslo accords, the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the 1967 war, the 1948 Year of Independence (or Catastrophe depending on one's viewpoint), the Holocaust (denied by some in the Middle East including Hamas leaders), Zionism. All of this creates the maelstrom of Middle East politics - Wikipedia and libraries of books on the subject are there for further reading.
Ponderments: The aid flotilla was clearly making a political point. The activists were from dozens of countries and their presence was meant to deter Israeli action while drawing world attention to the issue (the tonnage of aid was a drop in the bucket and there could have been more if 650 activists had been replaced with supplies). The Israeli response was a given: the flotilla would be stopped. Israel was not about to allow a precedent of unchecked material to enter the Gaza strip as another pipeline for illicit materials would then be in place. Why weaponry choice of the Israeli commandos began with paintball guns (non-lethal) and pistols as backup is a mystery, but regardless there was violence, 9 people were killed. Were there shades of activists? Many humanitarians, and some extremists spoiling for a fight and a chance at martyrdom?
Two other points: The US was surprisingly cautious - wanting details and further explanation, resulting in a UN proclamation that the incident be investigated. It "regretted" the loss of life, which is a diplomatic stalwart, while nearly the same day, welcomed the news that one of its predator drones over Taliban land had killed an Al-Qaeda leader (along with a few wives, children and grandchildren - 9-10 in all). So nine here, ten there - some are regretted, some not.
Back to the Israeli choice to use paintball guns and then pistols as backup. There has been a lot of care by shipping nations when it comes to addressing piracy off the coast of Somalia. No undue bloodshed is wanted, so there are acoustic weapons, teargas, stun grenades, a whole arsenal of weapons that are commonplace non-lethal choices for trained commandos to use in confrontations. An ascending variety of these options was not chosen by Israel - I assume they were sending a message of their own.