Israeli Attack’s Silver Lining?

freedom floatillaDetails of Israel’s attack on the flotilla to Gaza containing humanitarian aid are still leaking out from the Israeli attempt to stifle them. But even if Israel’s spin about its attack on the flotilla is accepted, the situation is still fairly damning for Israel.

Israel maintains that it ordered the flotilla to divert to the Israeli port of Ashdod from the blockaded Gaza coast. When the ship did not do so, Israel launched a commando raid that killed at least nine passengers and wounded dozens more. At least seven Israeli soldiers were wounded in the attack. The Israelis maintain that their soldiers, boarding the ships by repelling from helicopters, were attacked by the passengers with metal rods, knives, slingshots, and two pistols commandeered from the soldiers themselves. The Israelis released a video from early in the operation showing passengers attacking the military men, who claimed to carry only paintball guns and pistols that they didn’t expect to use. The Israelis claimed they killed the aggressive passengers only in self-defense. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, at a press conference, claimed, “The entire flotilla is a political and media provocation by anti-Israeli activists. They have absolutely nothing to do with humanitarian aid.”

The passengers have a different story. One al-Jazeera reporter maintained that the Israelis shot at the ships before boarding. The organizers of the flotilla maintain that the commandos began shooting from the time they landed on the ship at 4 a.m. and released videos to support that position.

Yet even if we disregard flotilla organizers’ rendition of events and charitably accept Israel’s story as what happened, Israel is still culpable. The Israeli military attacked unarmed ships in international waters about 41 miles from the Israeli coastline—well beyond the 12-mile limit of Israeli territorial waters—to enforce an illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza. The blockade is a violation of international law and an act of war. Thus, the passengers of any ship being illegally attacked have a right to defend themselves with any armaments they can scrounge up, including pistols captured from incompetent commandos.

The Israelis claiming self-defense while in attack mode is similar to what their former patron, George W. Bush, claimed as he invaded the sovereign state of Iraq. As with Bush, the Israelis have always believed that “the best defense is a good offense.”

Not only were the Israelis in attack mode, they used what French President Nicolas Sarkozy aptly called “the disproportionate use of force” against the flotilla. After all, the flotilla contained aid supplies for the Gazan people, not weapons going to Hamas. Einat Wilf, a member of the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, admitted, “This had nothing to with security. The armaments for Hamas were not coming from this flotilla.” Before the attack, she had cautioned the Israeli government that this was a public relations issue, not a military one.

The Israelis have repeatedly justified the total blockade of Gaza on the basis of preventing such weapons from reaching Hamas and have also maintained that no humanitarian crisis in Gaza exists because of the quarantine. But the United Nations and non-governmental organizations have debunked the latter notion. And even though the Obama administration supports the Israeli blockade, Obama’s aides say that he has privately criticized the poor humanitarian conditions in Gaza. It is clear that the Israelis only let enough supplies through the blockade to prevent an immediate humanitarian disaster and politically manipulate the strictures by saying nothing will change until an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas has been returned.

ivan-eland.jpgTerrorism is usually defined as harming a population by collective punishment to pressure its leadership to make political changes. Normally we think of small groups terrorizing a population with bombs, but governments purposefully killing civilians with bombs (such as the allies did to Japan and Germany in World War II) or inducing starvation and illness with a more slow-motion blockade should also be considered terrorism. It is appalling that civilized nations, such as Israel and its U.S. patron, are committing or endorsing, respectively, this illegal and immoral quarantine.

The one silver lining to Israel’s unconscionable attack on a humanitarian flotilla is that its reprehensible collective punishment of Gazans through blockade likely will be made politically “unsustainable.”

Ivan Eland

This article first appeared in The Independent Institute and is republished with permis

Published by the LA Progressive on June 5, 2010
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About Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He also has served as Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), and has testified on the military and financial aspects of NATO expansion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on CIA oversight before the House Government Reform Committee, and on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Eland is the author of The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, as well as The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool. He is a contributor to numerous volumes and the author of 45 in-depth studies on national security issues.

His articles have appeared in American Prospect, Arms Control Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Emory Law Journal, The Independent Review, Issues in Science and Technology (National Academy of Sciences), Mediterranean Quarterly, Middle East and International Review, Middle East Policy, Nexus, Chronicle of Higher Education, American Conservative, International Journal of World Peace, and Northwestern Journal of International Affairs. Dr. Eland's popular writings have appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Miami Herald, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Newsday, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, Washington Times, Providence Journal, The Hill, and Defense News. He has appeared on ABC's “World News Tonight,” NPR's “Talk of the Nation,” PBS, Fox News Channel, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, CNN, CNN “Crossfire,” CNN-fn, C-SPAN, MSNBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), Canadian TV (CTV), Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, and other local, national, and international TV and radio programs.