Israel is the North Korea of the Middle East–or why running an Israeli blockade is a bad idea.

datePosted on 20:03, May 31st, 2010 by Pablo

The facts are still not completely in and will undoubtedly be the focus of much dispute, but it appears that while it was in international waters Israeli forces stormed the “freedom flotilla” headed to Gaza with humanitarian aid and several hundred pro-Palestinian activists, including Turkish parlamentarians, a holocaust survivor and a nobel laureate. The Israelis claim that their commandos were attacked with clubs and knives as they rappelled onto the lead vessel, and that soldiers opened fire when one of the commandos had his weapon seized by an activist. Estimates are that around 16 people were killed and 30 wounded. The flotilla is now being towed to Haifa, were the six vessels will be inspected and the surviving activists presumably arrested and deported. Since the flotilla sailed from Turkey and was organised in part by a Turkish-based Islamic charity, the Turkish government has demanded an explanation from Israel as to why it resorted to force. 

This is not a good look for Israel and no amount of PR spin is going to undo the image of soldiers gunning down unarmed civilians. I will not be surprised if the Israelis produce weapons caches found on the boats and a number of purported Hamas infiltrators amongst those on board as proof that the flotilla was up to no good, but even if that were a true discovery and not a staged justification, its reputation for callous disregard for the lives of those who even peacefully oppose its policies will be reaffirmed. On the other hand, deliberately attempting to break the three year old blockade after being warned by the Israeli navy to not enter its waters was a foolhardy, if courageous thing to do given Israel’s reputation and track record when it comes to the use of force.

Some might wonder why on earth Israel would do such a thing knowing full well that it will be universally condemned for doing so. The answer is simple. Like North Korea they have a garrison state mentality in which internal political dynamics and an oversized conception of threats far outweigh any concern with external reactions. Israel gave up a long time ago worrying about how its actions will be perceived by the international community. Its major concern is to not appear weak. Whatever their other differences, the Israeli political elite is virtually unanimous in its support for a hard-line defense policy, to include the blockade. It is a mindset that external actors do not share but which is compelling to them. Anything that could appear to be an exploitation of a point of Israeli weakness (such as successfully running the blockade) is seen as an existential threat.  Thus killing activists who dared to challenge Israel’s commitment to enforcing the blockade is seen as a fair price to pay for maintaining its image of toughness. What is more, the Israeli government believes that its Arab neighbours as well as others in the international community quietly respect its toughness, which serves as both a deterrent as well as a reaffirmation that it is here to stay, on its own terms.

Since the Palestinians receive little more than rhetorical support from the Sunni Arab world, Israel also knows a hard fact that the North Koreans understood when they torpedoed the South Korean frigate in March: there is nothing anyone can really do about the kilings beyond rhetorical condemnation and meaningless UN sanctions (and it will be interesting to see if Israel receives a UNSC sanction while North Korea does not). Although it may engage in some diplomatic retaliation, Turkey is not going to declare war over this incident. No other state or coalition of states are going to mount a counter-blockade that would invite an Israeli armed response, and economic and trade sanctions, even if they were to be applied, will be happily circumvented by the numerous “quiet” partners Israel has around the world. As an old Latin American phrase puts it, impunity has its own reward.

The point being that what appears outrageous to the outside world makes perfect sense to Israeli decision-makers given their garrison state mentalities. Had the flotilla organisers understood this, perhaps they would have thought twice about challenging the blockade. Had the Turkish government understood this, they would have been better served by dealing with the political wrath at home caused by their denying the flotilla permission to leave port rather than deal with the violent protests now occurring in the aftermath of the commando raid.

One thing is certain: specific differences notwithstanding and adjusting mutatis mutandis for context, ideology and circumstance, Israel is the North Korea of the Middle East. Both have been in a de facto state of (undeclared) war with their closest neighbours since the moment of creation/partition. Both of are driven by extreme security rationales born of the perception of imminent threat, real or imagined. Both have gone both nuclear and ballistic. Both see conspiracy in the far abroad. Both have repeatedly practiced a remarkable disregard for international convention. Both believe that they have the moral high ground. Both use military diplomacy as the leading edge of their approach to regional conflict. Both have hawk and dove political factions (and in society)  that are nevertheless united in their stand on the physical integrity of their borders. Both have larger patron states that provide them with physical and diplomatic cover. Both have hard-line zealots in positions of governmental authority. Both will kill innocents to make their point.

In that light Israel’s bellicose (ir)rationality, just like that of the North Koreans, may seem odd to us. It makes perfect sense to them.

52 Responses to “Israel is the North Korea of the Middle East–or why running an Israeli blockade is a bad idea.”

  1. Tiger Mountain on May 31st, 2010 at 21:22

    “All other things being equal” indeed. While both are outcast states, (and I await the contrary mewlings on that contention), one difference is Israel’s leaders and ruling sectors get to cruise on US and other sympathetic monies, aided by a dream ride from much of the worlds media.

    Apartheid still incredibly exists in reality for Palestinians and Israelis. The Berlin ‘wall’ was a widely despised cold war structure, but our Israeli pirate chums recently built their very own version fer crissakes!

    One can only speculate on the Turks involvement, but as Lew has said here, symbolism can be very important. A foolhardy mission surely to even think about tangling with the “zionist hoodlums” that employed a huge team of 27 spooks to assasinate just one Hamas member in a luxury hotel this year via their party trick of identity theft.

    Since UN resolution 237 passed on June 14 1967, through to now, United Nations resolutions defied by Israel are well into the hundreds.
    Talk about rogue states. Pablo is uncomfortably on target about the deficiency of real world Arab support, but the other leg is the ongoing tardiness of the US and Europe to withdraw support for this reprehensible construct of a nation.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Thomas Beagle, roundballnz. roundballnz said: RT @thomasbeagle: A good summary of the Israel problem from Pablo at Kiwipolitico: http://bit.ly/bVkShQ [...]

  3. Tom Semmens on May 31st, 2010 at 22:39

    Ah yes, the heroic defenders of plucky little Israel have shown yet again their fearless courage when their tanks, jetfighters and warships are confronted by stone throwing children and unarmed activists.

  4. Tom Semmens on May 31st, 2010 at 22:43

    Pablo, how true is the story that Golda Meir hinted they were prepared to use nuclear weapons on the USSR to force an all-out war when the Americans hesitated in their support for them in the Yom Kippur war?

  5. JD on May 31st, 2010 at 22:55

    To equate Israel’s actions and its position with the North Korea’s is an insult to the millions of North Koreans who suffer from starvation, forced labour, torture and execution.

    The North Korean is not threaten by anyone and no one, not even the South want the North to fall while Israel has had its embassies bombed.

    Pablo, you are capable of much better analysis than a sensationalized post resting in fallacies.

    FAIL

  6. Pablo on May 31st, 2010 at 23:03

    JD:

    Of course there are significant differences, which I acknowledge in the next to last paragraph. But if you re-read that paragraph you will see points of comparison. I admit to being provocative in making the analogy, but I feel that it is fair to do so in order to a) explain the sources of Israeli conduct when (external) common sense would argue in favour of a different course of action; and b) to spark intelligent debate.

    The point of the post is not about moral equivalency. It is about mindset.

  7. Venezia on June 1st, 2010 at 00:17

    Correction – The flotilla was apparently 70kms off the coast, NOT in Israeli waters as you have stated, but in International waters. My understanding is that Israeli waters extend only to 20kms from the coast.

  8. Pablo on June 1st, 2010 at 00:23

    Venezia:

    Read line 2 of the first paragraph.

    TomS:

    I have heard the Gold Meir story but have no independent authority that would confirm it, and think that it is implausible in any event.

  9. Venezia on June 1st, 2010 at 00:25

    Ok. Point taken Pablo. I was referring to the last sentence of Paragraph 2.

  10. Pablo on June 1st, 2010 at 00:33

    Venezia:

    The fact that Israel did not wait until the flotilla actually violated Israeli territorial waters and the blockade zone before conducting the raid shows the extent to which its leadership will go to demonstrate its toughness. That, plus the fact that conducting the raid in international waters prevents the IDF and Israeli govt from being sued in Israeli courts.

  11. Ag on June 1st, 2010 at 00:42

    Some might wonder why on earth Israel would do such a thing knowing full well that it will be universally condemned for doing so. The answer is simple. Like North Korea they have a garrison state mentality in which internal political dynamics and an oversized conception of threats far outweigh any concern with external reactions. Israel gave up a long time ago worrying about how its actions will be perceived by the international community.

    I’m not sure that this is the whole truth. The Israelis know that the US will support them in the end, pretty much whatever they do. Both the UK and Canada will support Israel, although not quite as fervently as the US.

    Everyone knows that the main reason for this is the exceptionally powerful Israel lobby in these countries. In the US it is basically impossible to have a frank discussion about Israel in the mainstream media. I have seen what happens if you try to do the opposite: a well-funded and thus well-organized operation will do all it can to make your life hell (sometimes in similar ways to the way you, Pablo, were treated by UoA). They’ll keep doing it, because they know that they will never be held accountable, and they know that most people in public life would rather shoot themselves than openly address the phenomenon of Jewish racism (as if Jews and other minorities were somehow magically exempt from our species’ favourite pastime). The current Israeli administration is composed in large part of vicious authoritarian bigots.

    What’s the point of trying to do anything about it, when enough public channels are controlled by the lobby to make change impossible. The sheer amount of money needed to be effective in opposition is prohibitive.

    But they are playing a very dangerous game. By crying wolf painting criticism of Israel as anti-semitic, they are slowly leeching any moral significance from that term. By insisting that criticism of Israel and Jews is the same, they are creating the monster that they claim to abhor (much to the chagrin of left wing Jews, who are painted as race traitors for their troubles).

    What annoys people like me about Israel is not so much its crimes as the fact that we aren’t allowed to discuss them openly in public for fear of being accused of Nazism. Admittedly, New Zealand is nowhere near as bad as Canada or the US in this regard, but it still could be better.

  12. [...] Israel is the North Korea of the Middle East –or why running an Israeli blockade is a bad idea. date Posted on 20:03, May 31st, 2010 by Pablo. The facts are still not completely in and will undoubtedly be the focus of much dispute, … Link: Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » Israel is the North Korea of the … [...]

  13. Tom Semmens on June 1st, 2010 at 08:20

    You may have under estimated the impact this has had in Turkey, Pablo. This is a serious own goal for Israel – Turkey was one of Israels few Muslim friends, and more importantly Turkey is the only regional power capable of taking on Israel, and they are fierce warriors to boot. Sure, Turkey is not going to declare war over this. But it is another brick in the wall, until one day even the Americans will tire of Israeli behaviour.

  14. Eddie C on June 1st, 2010 at 10:13

    Ag – it is one of the few things I’m not looking forward to about going back to Canada; statements critical of Israel are almost always equated with anti-semitism there. I was quite staggered to see the atmosphere last time I lived there. Quite seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if a post like Pablo’s prompted a complaint to a human rights tribunal for being hate speech (i.e. because it, in a limited context, compares Israel to North Korea).

    Pablo – It is interesting to read this post with your recent one re the mindset of North Korea’s political elite. Obviously most of the other domestic issues are not at all similar (Israel is highly developed, its citizens aren’ starving, it is a democracy, and its human rights record towards its own citizens is generally excellent), but this notion of existential threat and how it colours everything else is an alarming parallel.

  15. Lew on June 1st, 2010 at 12:14

    While I’m not a fan of the headline imagery here, this argument makes the most sense of any I’ve seen as an explanation for apparent irrationality of the IDF’s actions.

    I’m also a little surprised at the absence of frothy denouncements and excessively hawkish apologia. Pleasantly so.

    L

  16. Pablo on June 1st, 2010 at 13:14

    TomS: Yes, it will be interesting to see the Turkish reaction. Some analysts believe that Turkey facilitated the flotilla in order to establish its credentials as a champion of the Palestinian cause (which would be another reason why the Israelis acted as they did). Now the Turks have a domestic political crisis to handle as a result of the raids and that may be hard to ignore or simply quell. The Erdogan govt will have to at least make the appearance of doing something forceful or at least effective, which coming on the heels of the deterioration of relations between the two states puts him in a corner in terms of response. But there will be no war.

    Iran has to be enjoying this. It did nothing overt and yet its ongoing support for the Palestinian cause gets positively highlighted in pro-Palestinian circles in the wake of the incident.

    As for Obama–he needed this like a hole in the head, which is further proof that the Israelis act on their own internal logic without consultation when they deem it fit. The question is whether that sort of mindset would lead them to attempt a unilateral nuclear strike on a country they perceive as an existential threat.

  17. Steve on June 1st, 2010 at 14:26

    Israel’s attack on the flotilla may be a product of their own increasing comfort level with such violence through habitual use of same against the Palestinians. It may be that for the commandos on the helicopters and the spin doctors in Tel Aviv, this is was just one more operation both militarily and in propaganda terms.

    They have a clear field to tell whatever story they want as anyone who can contest it first hand is in their custody.

    Israel has, over time, proven themselves to be completely untrustworthy where telling the truth is concerned. I’m sure this will be just one more example. In this respect, too, they mirror North Korea.

    But it will hurt them in the long one. Karma has a way of sorting things out.

  18. Ag on June 1st, 2010 at 14:26

    Ag – it is one of the few things I’m not looking forward to about going back to Canada; statements critical of Israel are almost always equated with anti-semitism there. I was quite staggered to see the atmosphere last time I lived there.

    I know exactly what you mean. Living in Canada really woke me up to how good we have it in NZ.

    Get this. A few years back Israel had been doing something naughty that had created a stir on campus. Within a few days gigantic ads appeared on the billboards nearest to the entrances to the St George campus. All of them said things like: “Is your professor biased? Report academic bias to this number…”.

    Sounds innocuous until you read the bottom stating it that you should contact B’nai Brith Canada. Somehow I doubt that complaints about academic bias against Islam would have been taken seriously given the history of that organization in promoting anti-Muslim sentiment.

    The weird thing is that most Canadian Jews are decidedly not bigoted pieces of crap. Yet even they find it difficult to speak out.

  19. Tom Semmens on June 1st, 2010 at 16:04

    This incident had me re-read Captain Brian de Courcy-Ireland’s account of his interception and boarding of the President Warfield, a ship attempting to illegally run the British quarantine in Palestine, whilst he was captain of HM cruiser Ajax. It is worth quoting at length –

    “The boarding parties (from the destroyers) soon learned what they were up against. Those that got over were assaulted from all angles; Steam jets were turned on them; the side decks were coated with fuel oil to make them slippery; smoke bombs, fireworks and a variety of missiles were hurled at them and tear gas canisters were thrown at them… …the ‘battle’ continued for almost three hours… …A total of about four dozen boarders got across and one party led by Soames had fought their way to bridge, only to discover the ship was being controlled and steered from some secret position. He was more or less besieged in the wheelhouse… …the refugees had been controlling the ship from a sort of armoured citadel below the boat deck aft…”

    Eventually he was forced to close with his Cruiser, and the President Warfield then surrendered. The total death toll for this three hour long pitched battle? Three killed. One wonders at the forbearance and awesome discipline of the RN sailors involved. One wonders how the 4500 people on board would have fared if they had offered the same level of determined and organised resistance to the Israeli Navy in 2010.

    If you didn’t know already, the President Warfield is better known to history as the “Exodus.”

    The Israeli military certainly does not have the levels of discipline of the Royal Navy that much is for sure. The canker of its ill-disciplined violent rabble of a conscript army appears now to being reaching into its elite formations.

    TomS: Yes, it will be interesting to see the Turkish reaction. Some analysts believe that Turkey facilitated the flotilla in order to establish its credentials as a champion of the Palestinian cause (which would be another reason why the Israelis acted as they did). Now the Turks have a domestic political crisis to handle as a result of the raids and that may be hard to ignore or simply quell. The Erdogan govt will have to at least make the appearance of doing something forceful or at least effective, which coming on the heels of the deterioration of relations between the two states puts him in a corner in terms of response. But there will be no war.

    I considered a counterfactual of what might have happened if the flotilla had been chaperoned by, say, 3-4 Turkish warships. The frightening conclusion I came to? The Israelis would have attacked them, and sunk the flotilla “in the confusion” of the resulting full scale naval battle. A truly out of control state.

  20. Joseph P on June 1st, 2010 at 16:31

    “Some analysts believe that Turkey facilitated the flotilla in order to establish its credentials as a champion of the Palestinian cause”

    I’d like to read that point of view Pablo. Can you link me to them please.

  21. Pablo on June 1st, 2010 at 16:50

    Joseph P: This is just one of several: http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100530_brief_consequences_flotilla_attack.

    I know that you do hold Stratfor in much regard, but I prefer to get as wide a range of sources as possible. Here is another link from Strafor that provides a broader perspective that is not, as some accuse Stratfor of being, abjectly pro-Israel: http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100531_flotillas_and_wars_public_opinion

  22. Peter Cresswell on June 1st, 2010 at 17:15

    Israel is the North Korea of the Middle East. Both have been in a de facto state of (undeclared) war with their closest neighbours since the moment of creation/partition.

    With the fairly major difference that the state of war was generated by North Korea, whereas in the case of Israel it has been fairly loudly and bellicosely declared and re-declared by its neighbours.

    That’s a pretty major “specific difference” to bury under mutatis mutandis.

  23. Pablo on June 1st, 2010 at 17:19

    PC: Please try to see the forest, not just the trees. I have already stated that I recognise that there is plenty of difference between the two cases and do not think that they are morally equivalent. Again, I am trying to focus on the mindset behind the behaviour, regardless of its origins.

  24. Joseph P on June 1st, 2010 at 20:32

    I cannot find where Stratfor assert “Turkey facilitated the flotilla”. In the first article they mention that Turkish activists were aboard and that Turkey might gain some brownie points. The second article refers to “The Turkish Flotilla” several times but nothing about the Turkish Government facilitating.
    Do you mean by implication? As in “The Turkish Flotilla”

    I must say I am not impressed with your source given that the flotilla was organized by the “Freedom Flotilla Coalition”, which comprises the Free Gaza Movement (the founder of which is American) the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, The International Committee to Lift the Siege on Gaza, Ship to Gaza — Greece, Ship to Gaza — Sweden, and Turkey’s Insani Yardim Vakfi (who were the last to enter). How is this a “Turkish Flotilla”.
    I’m not sure this:
    “It is vital that the Israelis succeed in portraying the flotilla as an extremist plot” indicates an agnostic source.
    Any others? You did mention more than one.

  25. Joseph P on June 1st, 2010 at 20:44

    It will be interesting to hear the Aussie’s side of the story when they surface. One of them was shot and Paul McGeogh is in prison in Israel.

    http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/detained-journalists-reject-deportation-20100601-wrz9.html

  26. Pablo on June 1st, 2010 at 21:07

    Joseph P/Spoff: You need to read that first article more closely–it speaks of how “Ankara” may see benefit in supporting the flotilla. I am aware of your distaste for Stratfor and Israel given your comments in various fora, so am disinclined to engage in a cut and paste link war with you, particularly since you also seem to believe that the DPRK is blameless in the torpedo affair.

    Check your bias at the door or take it elsewhere.

    What I will point out is the very basic and obvious fact that by not preventing the flotilla from leaving port on a mission that was at a minimum bound to increase tensions with Israel, the Ergoran govt was tacitly signaling its position, whether that was its first choice or forced by domestic political pressures.

    Call it the diplomatic equivalent of passive aggression. Without doing anything it put the ball in the Israelis court while giving the tacit appearance of supporting the flotilla, only to now have to deal with the aftermath after the Israelis predictably called the flotilla’s bluff. In response, the Turks can either escalate or accept the outcome with some diplomatic complaint. It appears they will be content to do the latter.

    Although it may not be apparent to you, diplomacy is not a matter of black or white but more often a matter of how to play with a mixed deck of cards. Whether it was trying to stonewall or not, Ankara (if it indeed it sought to leverage the flotilla for diplomatic gain) may have well overplayed its hand. That often happens when a rising regional power attempts to make a splash on the world stage.

  27. Joseph P on June 1st, 2010 at 22:05

    Steady on old chap. That was a bit harsh.

    I just couldn’t find what you were alluding to in the article and I didn’t make the connection between “Ankara seeing benefit” and “Turkey facilitated”.
    Mind you, Stratfor stuff always confuses me. For example:

    “Many will mourn that the subprime lending crisis is about to cause major problems – and perhaps even a recession. Stratfor sees these fears as overblown for two reasons. First, mortgages that enter default are different from other defaulted loans in that mortgages have their own built-in collateral in the form of houses. Rather than getting back pennies on the dollar, creditors likely will recoup most of their money.”

    What are they saying here?

    Perhaps we better move on from Stratfor to one of your other sources.

    I haven’t the time for a cut and paste link war either and the torpedo affair is only in the first act. I shall happily doff my cap if I am wrong.

    As to prejudice, I make no bones about being Pro Palestinian Human Rights, Pro responsible and accurate media and anti the political manipulation of events to justify foreign policy. These are not prejudices, they are my position, born of my own rational judgment. You have your own set which differ from mine.
    I think it is good that we discuss these things and, from time to time, respond reasonably with sources when challenged. I realize my views are not mainstream always but they are not that far out. Take the torpedo affair for example. If one of the original inspectors of the wreck and a Brookings fellow who also happened to be South Korea’s National Security Strategy Secretary both share my view, not to mention the Church and Society Committee of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, they can’t be.
    I’m surprised you brought it up as somehow evidencing something about me or my point of view in this debate.

  28. Pablo on June 1st, 2010 at 22:10

    JosephP: Re-read my last response as I added to it while you were formulating your latest reply.

  29. Joseph P on June 1st, 2010 at 22:42

    What I will point out is the very basic and obvious fact that by not preventing the flotilla from leaving port on a mission that was at a minimum bound to increase tensions with Israel, the Ergoran govt was tacitly signaling its position, whether that was its first choice or forced by domestic political pressures.

    I am not sure what legal mechanism Turkey could use to prevent the flotilla from leaving port seeing it was multiple flagged. Do you mean arbitrary power or force?

  30. Ag on June 1st, 2010 at 23:10

    In your view, how will AIPAC spin this, Pablo?

    My opinion: “Crime, once exposed, hath no refuge but in audacity” – Tacitus.

    I should add that the Israeli case in law appears thin. They are arguing that they have a right to search neutral shipping in international waters if they suspect it of blockade running, which the relevant law appears to support. However, the same law appears to declare their blockade illegal, rendering their argument moot.

  31. Joseph P on June 1st, 2010 at 23:23

    Bit of an odd bod Craig Murray but I think he knows his Law:

    “A word on the legal position, which is very plain. To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.

    Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place
    on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody’s territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.

    There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.

    Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.

    Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.

    In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.”

    If he’s right, this pot could be bubbling for years.

  32. Pablo on June 1st, 2010 at 23:23

    Turkey can use Executive powers to declare the flotilla’s departing to be illegal as a matter of “national security.” Heck, the port authority could have done so, citing safety issues such as overloading or crew competence. The Navy could have closed the harbour mouth with a few grey hulls and that would have been that. The issue for the govt was domestic political backlash if that happened.

    The real important matter is that the Turkish military, the most secular and pro-Israeli element in Turkish society, did not weigh in on the flotilla matter before it became a national security concern (which it now is). Since they are the power behind the civilian throne, they let this happen. The reason is why?

    Perhaps because they have their own agenda. The Kurdish Workers Part is accused of staging a rocket attack on the same day as the Israeli raid on the flotilla, one that killed 9 Turkish soldiers. That suggests that there is much more than meets the eye in this geopolitical play. To wit, while the Islamicist-supported Endrogan govt casts a blind eye on or tacitly encourages the flotilla in spite of what is obviously going to happen in order to score diplomatic brownie points (and while Endrogan himself was on a prolonged state visit to Latin America), the real “threats” to Turkish security continued their campaign of violence with impunity (that word again!). Perhaps Turkish military priorities do not coincide, and in fact run against, the diplomatic ambitions of the Endrogan govt?

    Put another way: are you familiar with the term “coup d’etat”?

    Joseph, you have to get with the bigger play. While a good basis of moral comfort, ideological blinders inhibit a clear view of the broader picture.

  33. Pablo on June 1st, 2010 at 23:29

    Ag:

    Of course AIPAC will spin it as an act of self-defense. The war of dueling video takes has begun. Just watch Fox to get an idea of the Israeli/AIPAC line.

  34. SPC on June 1st, 2010 at 23:42

    The Erdogan government has an interesting decision to make on whether to supply a naval escort for any future supply ships.

    The ultimate question is whether they recognise Israel’s right to blockade access to Gaza – whether they recognise an occupied border. And this also involves Egypt’s blockade of Gaza. This is the position that they have now been placed in.

    Of course they might just escort ships to the end of international waters off the coast … and then leave it to the Israelis.

    The “ship” was always a PR exercise in inciting a confrontation at the point the ships were boarded. And it would only take a few prepared to be martyrs to resist and then others around them would be shot … thus the importance of having as international a group as possible on board.

    It’s still surprisingly easy to provoke the Israelis, one would have thought that after the taking of one prisoner by Hamas and two by Hizbollah they would have learnt some prudence. They must be really deep down a hole with their IDF security myth and unable to let go of the shovel. I wonder for how long, the “its getting harder to convince foreign people we really had no other choice” awareness will continue before they decide to change their approach.

  35. Joseph P on June 1st, 2010 at 23:55

    Turkey can use Executive powers to declare the flotilla’s departing to be illegal as a matter of “national security.”

    Is it that simple? Might that not cause an incident with the vessel’s flagged State? Sweden, the U.S. for instance.

  36. SPC on June 2nd, 2010 at 00:14

    It would appear that the campaign activists were looking for a Turkish partner and a Turkish flag to sail under. This to build popular pressure on the Ankara government to support the cause. That is cause a divide between Turkey and Israel at the government level.

    Israel must have known this, so why were they provoked? Did they see a changed Turkish position as inevitable if politics of Turkey continue on their present course? But, still why hasten that process?

    Is the idea that Turkey and Israel have security interests in common in dealing with Kurd “separatists” and Palestinian “separatists” and so if Ankara acts in support of the “free Gaza” campaign they are risking division with their military? Is Israel inciting the government of Ankara to choose now before domestic conditions move further towards popular support for the Palestinian cause?

  37. Ag on June 2nd, 2010 at 03:04

    “A word on the legal position, which is very plain. To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.

    This depends. The San Remo declaration, which Israel is appealing to, allows any country to inspect a vessel that may be attempting to break a blockade, even if that vessel is in international waters. The declaration is absolutely clear on this matter.

    However, and this is where Israel’s case falls apart, the same declaration sets up rules for what is a legitimate blockade and what is not. Israel is breaking most of the rules for what counts as a legitimate blockade, so they have no right to inspect anyone’s ship outside of their own territorial waters (to argue the opposite would effectively legalize state piracy).

  38. Tom Semmens on June 2nd, 2010 at 11:24

    Looking through all this, isn’t about time the Hague and Geneva conventions were updated?

  39. Lew on June 2nd, 2010 at 11:28

    Tom, how? Interests have become so thoroughly entrenched — fossilised, even — that the Powers That Be couldn’t agree on what to do with mushrooms, let alone a revisitation of our fundamental international laws.

    L

  40. Pablo on June 2nd, 2010 at 20:49

    Not to make fun of the incident, but this pretty much sums up the IDF tactical errors:

    http://dimpost.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/6mm0d.png

  41. Phil Sage on June 2nd, 2010 at 21:35

    Pablo – It is a perfect demonstration of the IDF tactical errors. Personally I don’t blame the commando’s on the ship who opened fire when their weapons had been seized. I blame whoever made the command decision to drop the few commandos into the middle of so many on the flotilla. They were overwhelmed. The video released by the Israeli’s shows how slowly the men roped down.

  42. Pablo on June 2nd, 2010 at 22:14

    PhilS: I agree. I have been reading the Israeli press and apparently the Navy decided to do the on their own rather than consult with other, more seasoned, commando forces. Plus they did not have the basic intelligence about the one boat on which the active resistance was encountered (on the other five boats the activists engaged in passive resistance). It appears that they believed that all of the flotilla boats would respond with passive resistance and went with paintball guns and sidearms rather than stun/flash grenades, tear gas, or some other means of effective non-lethal crowd dispersal. Even if the active resistance crowd was hiding below decks as the chopper approached, once they swarmed the deck to attack the first trooper down the rope, such methods could have been deployed from above and by the rigid hull inflatables that were alongside. As it stood, they had no such non-lethal means at their disposal, so lethal force wound up being used. That was a command failure as well as a PR disaster.

    The former has now become a problem–command failure plus a propensity to use force as a first resort is a recipe for conflict escalation, not the adversary’s surrender. All in all not a good look given that the entire episode was telegraphed weeks in advance.

  43. JVitag on June 3rd, 2010 at 04:12

    I think that many of the arguments made here are relevant, but it would seem many have overlooked CRITICAL points which must be addressed to steer this post more toward the center.

    1) This is not the first attempt to run the blockade, it is merely the first where “active resistance” as someone so delicately put it has been encountered. Since this is not the typical response (by either blockade runner or blockade enforcer) as defined by the past incidents we can all concede that there was an antagonistic force at work that should not have been there. To cite international law at this point on whether the blockade is legal or illegal is also irrelevent because if the governments of the world hadn’t called for UN action over the blockade before now that at least makes them all complicit in this event would it not?

    2) This was SUPPOSED to be a HUMANITARIAN flotilla. They can call themselves humanitarian and thus seek protections under the Geneva Convention as legal non-combatants. As soon as they picked up a knife, club, or other weapon with the intent of using against a legitimate military force they became combatants and lost their protection especially if they were the ones that shot first as appears to be the case. Call it what you want, active or passive resistance still carries the label RESISTANCE and resistance of any kind comes with it’s consequences does it not? If a cop pulls you over and tells you to get out of your car and you say ‘no’ you are passively resisting him and there are consequences. If you pull a knife and say no now you are crossing the line where you take your own life and put it into his hands. Whenever you are confronted with an authority, whether you believe it to be legitimate or not, you need to comply with their reasonable requests otherwise it makes you look like the bad guy. The proper thing for the flotilla to do was to stop, wait, and be escorted to whatever port the Israeli Navy brought them to, and then to lodge complaints through the appropriate channels. Only if the Israelis actually began assaulting the passengers of the flotilla without provocation then violence (on the part of the flotilla) would be justified. Further, the Israelis were outmanned without home court advantage, which meant that if those activists so chose each commando, regardless of their training, could have been killed and defeated by shear attrition. Yes the Israelis had bullets, but he flotilla outweighed that with numbers.

    3) This is not a case of shoot first and ask questions later, and this is not a case where intentions on either side need to be questioned. The Israeli Navy gave this flotilla a stern warning and advised them ‘not to go there’ which, as far as I can see, is their right to do. Boats, like aircraft, don’t usually leave port without filing a travel plan, and I highly doubt this flotilla was any different. So to question whether this flotilla intended go anywhere but Gaza, especially after ignoring orders to go elsewhere, is foolish. Not to mention, they knew ahead of time the port they were destined for was closed! So it is clear that this was a deliberate ACTIVE resistance to an authority that was either supported or unchallenged by the UN and world leaders. Who are these flotilla members to challenge an organized military force; Sergeant York trying to take down the Germans?

    4) To portray this as an act of unjustified hostility from a ‘garrison minded state’ likened to North Korea is just plain criminal. The mindset is irreverent when you remove the motives, origins and moral imperative of that mindset. Israel has been the targt of constant, real threat, while North Korea has no such antagonist. North Korea is not a democracy and Israel does not seek global dominance. Israel fights for survival, Kimmy sits atop his tower and spouts his threats and puffs out his chest now and then thinking he is tough.

    If you want my humble opinion, the Israelis didn’t have to minimize casualties in this instance and to condemn them for not and citing a totally different incident is idiotic. Hindsight 20/20 falls tragically short of first hand experience. If you want to find fault you need not look at the Israelis or their military, you can find more then plenty of it to go around elsewhere. This is a clear, cut case of self defense on the part of the Israelis.

  44. Lew on June 3rd, 2010 at 07:42

    JV, from my read your whole argument falls apart on the basis that the boarding was conducted outside Israeli waters and far from the blockade; and that they knew (or ought to have known) that attempting to board the vessel under such circumstances would precipitate a conflict. The flotilla might have turned up spoiling for a fight, but the IDF brought them one rather than simply keeping its cool.

    The position that because the international community did nothing about the blockade it must have been legal is highly questionable; and in fact, the Israeli actions in boarding the flotilla only have (arguable) legitimacy to the extent that the blockade was legal. That’ll probably never be properly tested. As with so many things, while it was not pushing any boundaries, the international community was prepared to tolerate the blockade, but once the Israelis start causing a ruckus, that position can change. This is akin to a drunk patron in a pub — technically, they should be expelled, but as long as they cause no trouble, they can stay.

    As the previous paragraph suggests, there’s not just a legal point to be made here — strict legality isn’t sufficient to justify Israel’s actions and it’s largely moot in any case since they refuse to be bound by international criminal law, and so the legality of their actions will never be properly tested. What’s more important is the assessment of their actions in terms of international norms of conduct. This is less a military or police action than it is a diplomatic and propaganda incident, and those are the rules which apply. Israel can claim legality as much as it likes, but it won’t make a blind bit of difference to the rest of the world who considers that Israel, as a supposedly responsible and democratic state in good international standing, ought not board foreign ships in international waters and kill and detain those aboard when other options were available. There’s no argument to be made that this shipment was an existential threat — indeed, it’s just the sort of incursion the IDF has been managing for decades, and they could have continued to manage it, at least as far as the actual blockade, and then perhaps a bit further, at which point more drastic action would have been seen to be justified. They chose not to, and to emphasise their hard-bastard credibility, trading off internal against external support. This appears to have backfired, and no amount of lawyerin’ will change that.

    The point of the comparison with the DPRK is that Israel is supposed to be a better sort — it’s not supposed to be a rogue state. But that supposition has been eroding, and this latest incident is evidence of further slippage.

    L

  45. Ag on June 3rd, 2010 at 11:10

    1) To cite international law at this point on whether the blockade is legal or illegal is also irrelevent because if the governments of the world hadn’t called for UN action over the blockade before now that at least makes them all complicit in this event would it not?

    First, the San Remo declaration is not settled international law in any case. Settled international law comes down on the side of the flotilla.

    Israel is citing the San Remo declaration as justification for its actions. The fact that its own actions violate the SRD make its point moot. As Lew said, the fact that the blockade has not been declared illegal in a court of law is irrelevant, were the case brought to trial, it would easily be proven that the blockade is illegal according to the SRD.

  46. SPC on June 3rd, 2010 at 22:37

    Lew, you say that there is a point of the actual blockade – where is this exactly?

    You are right to note that the question of the legality of the blockade is in many ways moot as there is diplomatic opposition from the EU and the UN to there even being a blockade.

    My take on this is that those who oppose there being a blockade are not really independent on any investigation of this incident. Just as those who opposed the Israeli decision to resort to a military incursion into Gaza had problems being independent (the concept is make the test of acceptable action so tough that any use of military force would be condemned – as a way to diplomatically punish Israel).

    I have problems with the international position.

    The UN imposed sanctions on Iraq that hurt more people over a much longer period of time (hundreds of thousands of people died over the decade of the sanctions) – sanctions only ended by the illegal US occupation of Iraq and the associated regime change. The EU supported those sanctions.

    Israel has more cause for the blockade than the world did after the end of the occupation of Kuwait. But I suppose a world dependent on ME oil saw a threat to itself from the Sadaam Hussein regime it does not feel from Hamas. Europe of course, dependent on ME oil, may feel more threatened by Israel’s assertion of its security imperative than by any actions by Hamas against Israel.

    Thus of course we have a world that would like Israel to show perpetual restraint in response to provocation because that suits an oil dependent world, and this same world is in fear of provoking terrorist actions against itself should it be seen as in the Israel camp.

    While I support the peace process (opposing the incursions into Gaza and Lebanon) and think the sanctions regime is over the top, there is an aspect of double standards and cynical self-interest at play in the way the international community operates.

    This probably harms the peace process as Israel, with good reason, has no trust in the international community. It is this lack of trust which pushes Israel towards the NK patterns of decision-making. NKorea leadership have chosen isolation to survive in power, whereas Israel has been forced into trust on its capacity to defend itself, because it has no confidence in other nations. That isolation can result in a rather barren approach to decision-making (continuation on a course that does not work) and the insularity leads to ultra-nationalists having primacy.

  47. JVitag on June 4th, 2010 at 00:10

    Israel is citing the San Remo declaration as justification for its actions. The fact that its own actions violate the SRD make its point moot. As Lew said, the fact that the blockade has not been declared illegal in a court of law is irrelevant, were the case brought to trial, it would easily be proven that the blockade is illegal according to the SRD.

    The wonderful thing about law, however, at least in the US, is that if you have been doing something for years that has not been declared illegal, and suddenly a ruling body makes it illegal, you can’t be held liable for previous operations. I believe they call it ex post defacto. You simply have to stop doing said action. Therefore, since the blockade has never been declared illegal in international court, it is in fact legal.

    Next, you guys are still ignoring the fact that this was a blatant disregard for the established law and precedent! The flotilla’s destination was not at all unknown before it departed. The flotilla, the Turks, and the Israelis all knew exactly where this flotilla was going. If border patrol saw a convoy of Mexicans approaching a hole in the fence at high speeds do you really think the US would just let them pass and then try to pursue them later? Doubtful. And if the border security, upon seeing or having reliable intel that these people were hell-bent on getting into the country do you think we would just stand aside? No. And if they showed aggression toward border patrol do you think for a nanosecond that we wouldn’t respond back? Well, now that Obama is president they would probably be afraid to even refuse them anything but safe passage into the country but under normal circumstances when we have a security minded president do you think there would be a response? The fact of the matter is that to be declared an aggressor, one merely needs to provoke a response more serious than “please back up” and even then you could probably be called an aggressor ESPECIALLY IF YOU KNOW THE RULES AND SOP.

    Israel has a right to defend her borders and secure her state and prevent the massacre of innocent civilians at the hands of known terrorists. All other considerations are secondary. The blockade exists to make sure every shipment into Gaza gets inspected because they don’t know the nature of the cargo.

    How would the US have responded to belligerent challenge of the Cuban blockade? We would have followed much the same procedure Israel did! Give a few verbal warnings and then intercept with the intent to board. We probably, for shock value, would have turned the guns of a destroyer the aggressor’s way, but the point remains. There is a serious double standard when it comes to Israel especially considering the fact that they have been bombarded by attack after attack pretty much since they were established. If you removed the moral imperative behind the US revolution against Britain what labels would you assign the colonists? Insurgents, murderers, heathens, usurpers? Since we won and because we did for the cause of freedom they are heroes.

    I think that most here are grasping at straws, especially when it comes to international law because I highly doubt any of you has more than an exposure’s worth of education on international law and precedence (and probably less than that). There is a reason lawyers go to law school so don’t quit your day job if you have one. I also think that you can’t logically and reasonably justify your anger or irrational opinion of the events and how they transpired and need to find even some meek justification for your position which is why you rely on a fledgling’s interpretation of international law. Frankly if I was president of the US and suddenly found myself surrounded by enemies and under constant attack and hundreds or thousands of my fellow Americans were being massacred simply for existing I know I would ignore international law in enforcement of my country’s sovereignty, security, and the safety of my citizens, and anyone that says otherwise is a dishonorable disgrace, or they’re lying for the purpose of perpetuating the double standard.

  48. JVitag on June 4th, 2010 at 00:35

    If you need further proof that Israel was within it’s right to challenge the ship, that the blockade was legal, the use of force appropriate, and that the ships were LEGALLY intercepted in international waters, read the below article from Reutors which actually has the opinions of legal experts from notable facilities.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65133D20100602

  49. Pablo on June 4th, 2010 at 00:42

    JVag:

    You appear to be losing the plot. You refer to “you guys” in response to an individual comment, and then say this: ” If border patrol saw a convoy of Mexicans approaching a hole in the fence at high speeds do you really think the US would just let them pass and then try to pursue them later? Doubtful. And if the border security, upon seeing or having reliable intel that these people were hell-bent on getting into the country do you think we would just stand aside? No. And if they showed aggression toward border patrol do you think for a nanosecond that we wouldn’t respond back? Well, now that Obama is president they would probably be afraid to even refuse them anything but safe passage into the country but under normal circumstances when we have a security minded president do you think there would be a response?”

    Uh, sorry to tell you buddy, but THAT is exactly what the Border Patrol do–they wait until the presumed bad guys cross the territorial border (which establishes the violation), then apprehend them. It might be harder to do but it is definitely legal. Israel could have taken a lesson from the guys in green uniforms.

    The subsequent two paragraphs descend into paranoid parallels of the most specious sort. In other words, they are semi-coherent gibberish.

    To be charitable I will assume that you were very high when you wrote this. Otherwise, I have to assume that you are a blinkered idiot, both because of your non-logical inferences and analogy, as well the fact that you have missed the point of my post by a country mile.

    I do not insult people lightly, but you are clearly an idiot in search of a village. Proof of this is offered in your second post, when you talk about legal experts from “notable facilities,” when you are clearly not in full control of your own.

    Please go away.

  50. Hugh on June 4th, 2010 at 02:04

    Man, this Hilter guy sounds like a pretty bad guy! Tell us more about him.

  51. Pablo on June 4th, 2010 at 02:09

    Hugh. The fool was deleted and banned for trolling. Sorry to spoil your fun.

  52. Isreali GOVERMENT gone too Far??? on June 7th, 2010 at 14:31

    [...] it's been getting shittier and shittier for the Palestinians. There is a very interesting article here about the "Garrison State" mindset of Israel which compels it to regard any opposition of [...]

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