Israel’s attack on a humanitarian aid ship headed for Gaza may prove to be the greatest strategic error the government has ever made.
Like the Soweto riots in South Africa in 1976, or Bloody Sunday - the American civil rights march on March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, where police opened fire and killed civilians - the Mavi Marmara affair crossed a red line.
It has triggered an international wave of condemnation, expressing a shift in attitude toward Israel.
The hope is that this international outrage, flanked by growing anti-government dissent inside the country, will provoke an identity crisis among the elite and people of Israel, shake up the political kaleidoscope and allow for a viable pro-peace force to emerge.
Unless this occurs, new Israeli aggression,
including against Iran, will remain high on their immediate agenda.
German doctor Matthias Jochheim, a member
of the IPPNW on board, has delivered his own low-key, sober version,
confirming the same facts.(2)
First, the Mossad sent films around the world via Internet purportedly showing passengers assaulting those Israeli troops who had descended onto the ship in international waters (to conduct a passport check, perhaps?).
Then came the announcement that the list of permitted goods into Gaza would be replaced by a list of forbidden items. (President Shimon Peres was quick to add cement to the ban.) No sooner had the Israeli government committed a diplomatic faux pas by refusing entry into Gaza to German Development Aid Minister Dirk Niebel than Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman magnanimously invited several European colleagues to visit the Strip.(3)
After rejecting numerous calls for an independent international investigation, Israel declared it would set up its own probe, but then Yaakov Tirkel, appointed head of the inquiry, threatened to resign unless he were granted more powers to subpoena witnesses.
This gesture may very well have been a piece of
cheap theatre; but, no matter: the point is that the Israeli leadership
stood exposed as confused, stumbling, and in total disarray, one day
engaging in clinical denial, and the next, tossing tidbits of concessions in
hopes of placating its critics.
The Israeli elite miscalculated utterly, and no mad scramble to control the damage will undo the deed or erase its consequences. Like the South African apartheid regime of the time, and segregation in the U.S., Israel’s 60-plus-year-old policy of discrimination, oppression, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is finally being acknowledged worldwide as a moral obscenity that can no longer be tolerated.
Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N., Gabriela Shalev lamented the fact that her country’s standing in the world has sunk to new depths.
Whenever Israel has moved militarily against Lebanon, as in 2006, or Gaza, as at the end of 2008, it was neither Hezbollah nor Hamas who were the actual targets. In both cases, Israel was mounting preparations for a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, and proceeded to knock out - or at least attempt to knock out - those forces who could be counted on to lead a political and military retaliatory response. (5)
Here, too, the Mavi Marmara massacre had less to
do with any Palestinian radicals in Gaza or Shi’ites in Lebanon, than with
Tehran. And it is not out of a desire to “stem Iran’s growing influence”
that Israel went into action, but because of its strategic commitment to
eliminate the Islamic Republic as a regional power.
He first came to power in 1996 with a political platform known as “Clean Break,” a program to break with the Oslo Accords, and revert to a policy of confrontation, settlement expansion, land annexation, and continuing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population.(6)
This scenario, articulated in detail in Netanyahu’s Clean Break policy, was to unfold against a backdrop of systematic regime changes in the region. All those governments perceived to be hostile to Israel were slated for replacement. In point of fact, since then we have had the second Iraq war, and the changes in Lebanon and Syria pursuant to the 2005 Hariri assassination.
What remains on the original hit list is Iran.
At the end of April, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in the U.S. for talks, warned against giving Iran too much time, because if it were to acquire a nuclear weapons capability that would “change the landscape” of the region and the world.(7)
Arguing that Iran has not complied with U.N. dictates (to suspend its uranium production, for example), the U.N. Security Council voted up sanctions on June 9, followed on June 17 by the European Union.
The U.S. hastened to up the ante with its own
unilateral sanctions on July 2.
The more interesting question is another: do those who are imposing sanctions actually believe that they will produce the desired effect? CIA Director Leon Panetta, when discussing the new American measures, stated,
Well, then, does the sanctions lobby perhaps understand the measures as a means to keep the “mad god” Israel at bay, i.e., are they punishing Iran in hopes of convincing Israel that it should renounce its intended military attack, while paying lip service to military action as a fallback option?
That might cohere with what reportedly transpired in the July 6 meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Barack Obama at the White House. Bibi told Fox News following the talks that he had thanked the President for the new sanctions.
He then quickly added that only the U.S. commitment to “keep the military option on the table” would get the Iranians’ attention. In tandem, U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain assured their Israeli audience in Jerusalem that that option was prominently placed at the center of the table.
Lieberman was quoted by JTA Jewish & Israeli News on July 8, saying,
Former Senator Charles Robb and former general Charles Wald co-authored an OpEd on July 9,
Now comes the most relevant sequitur: Are the sanctions, then, merely the non-bellicose means to further weaken Iran, economically, politically, and militarily, as a preparation for a major operation? The example of the prelude to two wars against Iraq is germane.
None of the sanctions that crippled Iraq’s economy aimed at forcing a policy change.
They served only to set up Iraq for the kill.
The proposal is simple and eminently workable.
It asserts the right to peaceful nuclear energy under NPT rules, then moves to the issue of nuclear fuel exchange. Iran agrees to send 1200 kg of LEU to Turkey, under IAEA observers, and to notify the IAEA.
Once the IAEA, Russia, France, and the U.S. respond positively, a detailed written agreement will be drafted for the 120 kg of fuel to be delivered to Tehran. Iran would deliver its uranium within one month and expect delivery of fuel within one year.
Finally, Turkey and Brazil welcome Iran’s
readiness to pursue talks with the 5+1 anywhere, including on their soil.
Asserting it was no “accident” that the declaration came “as we were preparing to move [for sanctions] in New York” and that “we had Russia on board, we had China on board,” Clinton stated she was “seriously concerned” by omissions in the document.
The main omission was reference to Iran’s continued enrichment program. Another concern was “the amorphous timeline” for Iran’s delivery of its uranium - although the document is precise on this.(11)
The series of sanctions followed shortly thereafter. Significantly, both Turkey and Brazil opposed them at the U.N., an act which certainly earned the two governments further contempt.
(Some have pointed to the fact that of all the
ships in the Gaza flotilla, it was the Turkish one that came under attack.
Could this have something to do with the Turkish-Brazilian initiative?)
Egypt reportedly allowed one Israeli and eleven U.S. ships to pass through the Suez Canal on their way to the Red Sea, an apparent signal to Iran. The ships, together with a German vessel, moved into the Arabian Sea after “conducting secret exercises off the shore of south-western Israel,” according to the June 26 Jordan Times.
Citing an Israeli report, the paper said the exercises included,
The exercises featured fighter bombers carrying out simulated bombing missions, and Israeli and U.S. fighter jets practicing long-range bombing missions.
Some facts of the naval deployment appeared also in Global Research.(12)
The same Jordan Times cited a Jerusalem Post
article week earlier about Israeli military plans for a new assault on Gaza
preparatory to a military campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
But one should not forget the perfidious role played by the Saudis vis-à-vis Iraq.
More alarming was the statement of the U.A.E. Ambassador to the U.S. on July 6 endorsing a military attack on Iran. Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba was quoted by the Washington Times:
He added that “talk of containment and deterrence really concerns me and makes me very nervous,” because he does not believe either would work.(13)
Neocons attending the ambassador’s session with
the Atlantic magazine, at Aspen, expressed surprise at hearing an Arab
diplomat endorse military action publicly, although many in the region have
uttered similar thoughts in private. It is no secret that most Arab Gulf
states fear a nuclear Iran and would sit on the sidelines during US-Israeli
After talks with Barak and Israel’s military chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem, Sen. McCain indicated the time had not yet come.
When asked by Fox News whether he had discussed the military option with Obama, Netanyahu danced around the issue, but reiterated his conviction that Iran must be made to fear such an option.
And Obama? He coined a most curious formulation, Israel’s “unique security requirements,” and pledged “unwavering … commitment to Israel’s security.”
When interviewed July 8 for the first time on Israeli television, Obama indicated the two governments would consult with one another, not act unilaterally.
But, one could just as well read this statement as indicating Obama and Netanyahu did discuss the military option, and from an operational standpoint.
A number of studies and articles support this hypothesis. First, back in December, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution ran a simulated war game involving an Israeli hit on Iran. The study, written up in the New York Times on March 26, apparently caught the attention of institutions and officials in the U.S. and abroad.
That scenario foresees an independent Israeli attack, which angers Washington.
The U.S. tells Israel to desist, and deploys anti-missile batteries and cruisers, warning Iran against retaliation. Iran responds with missiles lobbed into Israel as well as Saudi Arabia, but avoids any direct attack on the U.S. Hamas and Hizbollah also fire rockets. The Israel population panics, and many flee, while the economy crashes.
The U.S. finally okays an Israeli war against
Hizbollah, whereupon Iran attacks Saudi oil installations and mines the
Straits of Hormuz. The U.S. sends massive reinforcements into the region,
and, 8 days following the first attack, the war game comes to an end.(15)
But the war games story put the option back onto
the front pages of major media.
Four possible reasons offered for why Israel has
not moved yet are: that they didn’t think an attack would be successful;
that they preferred to improve their own capabilities first; that some top
Israeli political leaders would oppose it; and, that they feared a “Suez
reaction” on the part of the U.S.
Citing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had ruled out any war in 2008 but was now telling Fox News that a nuclear Iran could not be “contained” (a formulation popping up all over the place), Klein writes that some U.S. military are claiming Iran left them little choice after rejecting a “generous” U.S. diplomatic option.
An Israeli military source told him,
Klein says that he has been told that,
House Republicans Call For
If the White House has not yet officially issued an okay, the House on July 23 introduced a resolution, signed by a third of the members, explicitly endorsing war.
H. Res. 1553 begins,
Asserting categorically that,
...and quoting Obama that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable,” the Resolution proceeds to tick off statements attributed to Ahmadinejad and alleged Iranian violations of IAEA norms.
It “condemns” Iran for its threats, pledges cooperation with Israel,
It would be foolhardy to think these are only a bunch of arch-conservative Republicans trying to boost re-election perspectives by courting the Zionist faction among U.S. voters.
The resolution is a declaration of intent toward war. Neocon John Bolton had defined the role Congress could and should play in igniting conflict. In the July 13 Wall Street Journal, Bolton wrote that Congress must support Israeli “pre-emptive attacks” and justify them on grounds of self-defense.
He explained that,
One is the U.S. If, as his July 6 tete-a-tete with Bibi suggests, Obama has signed on to an Israeli “rogue” operation, containing the option of “plausible denial” after the fact, then the sane elements in the U.S. military and intelligence establishment must move into high gear.
The new NIE is long overdue, perhaps due to factional strife regarding its contents. If an intelligence assessment were to appear soon, reinforcing the findings of the 2007 NIE to the effect that Iran does not constitute a nuclear threat, that could defuse the arguments in favor of an attack. U.S. military professionals, who know better than to start a new war now, have plenty of ways of convincing a sitting President that such folly would lead to doom. The other force that could prevent war is Israel itself.
This entails nothing short of a revolution in thinking and/or a political coup.
The war party must be disarmed and discredited,
allowing for a new combination of political factors to define an alternative
Since the Gaza war launched in December 2008, world public opinion has turned against Israel. On March 25, the UN Human Rights Council, which had endorsed the Goldstone Report in October 2009 and forwarded it to the Security Council, voted up a resolution (29 to 6 with 11 abstentions) demanding Israel pay reparations to Palestinians for losses and damages in that war.
Two months later the UNHRC voted for a committee
to monitor investigations that the Palestinians and Israelis were ordered to
undertake. On March 10, the European Parliament had voted (335-267-43) to
endorse the report and call for its implementation. For the first time, it
acknowledged Israeli violations of international law.
On July 8, the Los Angeles Times reported that in seven cases, the Israeli military had established
Compared to the magnitude of the damage wrought
in the Gaza campaign, such admissions are paltry, but the fact that Israel’s
military had to impose token disciplinary actions on its own reflects the
power of Goldstone’s findings.
It pledged that the Israel army, having duly conducted its assessment of the Gaza war, would reduce civilian casualties in future wars! (20)
In addition to providing “protection of
civilians,” it would restrict the use of white phosphorous bombs in urban
None of this would have emerged without the
In a special session in Brussels on May 31 the 27 EU ambassadors called for an immediate, complete, and impartial investigation, access to the passengers, and the opening of border crossings to Gaza. Rage swept through the Arab world.
Amr Musa, Secretary General of the Arab League, said the event proved one could not make peace with Israel, which he labeled a rogue state.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri spoke of a
“dangerous and insane step,” while citizens took to the streets in Beirut
and Amman. Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Chalifa al Thani characterized it as
piracy and demanded an end to the blockade.
Just what stands behind Israel’s blockade policy was the subject of a laudable analysis published in Le Monde diplomatique on July 9.
Authors Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman examine two new developments in the Israel-Palestine conflict: the increasing politicization of humanitarian aid and Israel’s “redefinition” of international law as a threat to its existence.
The article cites Israeli officials on the aims of the blockade: Dov Weinglass, an advisor to Ehud Olmert, spoke in mid-2007 of putting the Palestinians on a “diet,” which, however strict, would not allow them to starve. Israel’s highest court ruled in early 2008 in favor of guaranteeing those in the “enemy area” a “humanitarian minimum standard,” and nothing more.
Details of the “Red Lines” set for this diet appeared in Haaretz: according to a government document, caloric intake for the Gaza population was to be set at a level just above the hunger line defined by the UN food experts.
If this is the policy behind the blockade,
clearly any humanitarian aid effort aiming to provide food, etc. comes under
the rubric of a “provocation,” as deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon put
it, since there “is no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. As a corollary, Israel
has lifted tax exemptions for NGOs supported by outside forces, and banned
all groups who call for putting Israeli leaders on trial.
Netanyahu delivered a speech in November 2009, in which he listed three threats to Israel:
That, Bibi declared, was the “intention” of the Goldstone Report.
He added that he hoped statesmen and jurists
would answer Goldstone’s approach by redrafting the laws of warfare.
Grinstein’s commentary is entitled:
Granted, it is a hysterical outburst, but nonetheless it contains valuable insights if read from a clinical standpoint. The author laments Israel’s military failures in 2006 and 2008, and especially the “offensive on Israel’s legitimacy” following these wars.
His view is that Israel’s enemies,
Grinstein’s piece was published on January 1 of this year, long before the flotilla attack.
Since then, the trends towards isolating Israel and awarding it pariah status have only multiplied. And, increasingly, it is Israelis and Jewish intellectuals who are fuelling the trend. Henry Siegman, a former director of the American Jewish Congress, published an article, “Israel’s Greatest Loss: Its Moral Imagination,” in Haaretz on June 11.(24)
Right after the Mavi Marmara confrontation, Siegman phoned a friend in Israel, to hear what the mood was. He was shocked to hear his friend say that the worldwide censure of Israel reminded him of the Nazi era.
Siegman’s analysis is worth quoting at length:
Siegman backs up his assertions with facts about nutrition in Gaza and childhood morbidity, an “obscenity” which is,
He notes that jokes about the Palestinian “diet”
are also reminiscent of the Nazi period. Though rejecting any one-on-one
comparison, Siegman recognizes that “the essential moral issues are the
Another authoritative Jewish intellectual warning of impending catastrophe for Israel is Daniel Barenboim, the Argentine-Israeli pianist and conductor, founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which brings together young Israeli and Arab musicians.
In a full-page interview in Die Zeit on June 10, Barenboim characterized the flotilla attack as “dumb.”
Echoing Siegman’s idea of Israel’s loss of “moral imagination,” Barenboim raised the question, what has become of the famous “Jewish intelligence?” - a phrase, he explains, used by both anti-semites and philosemites.
Among Israelis there are many intelligent people with whom one can rationally discuss Beethoven, Shakespeare, or Marx,
With respect to the political situation, Barenboim is categorical: the problem is the occupation and decades of injustice against the Palestinians, not the “widespread Israeli interpretation” that it all has to do with the Nazis and the Holocaust.
As for Hamas, Barenboim’s view is that,
His conclusion is unambiguous:
Israel On The Couch
A couple of articles circulated on the Internet in mid-June that made this point explicit. Signed by one Michael K. Smith, they “reported” on the suicides of two psychiatrists, one who had treated Netanyahu for nine years, and the other who had treated Barak (for “Security Addiction Disorder” - SAD).
Both accounts, appearing on June 12 and 15, turned out to be spoofs, but they are symptomatic of the growing awareness that a clinical approach to the Israel problem makes sense.(25)
Also, they remind us that humor is a powerful
antidote in such cases.
The psychiatrist reportedly suffered a series of strokes, each in reaction to outrageous statements by his patient, for example, that “Iran’s nuclear energy program was a ‘flying gas chamber.’”
An expert in the field, Dr. Rafael Eilam, in commenting on “Massive Attack Disorder” (MAD), which is “rampant among Israeli leaders,” says this syndrome may account for the attacks on Lebanon and Gaza,
The article ends with the news of a “Free Israel” initiative by psychiatrists worldwide, who want to send a flotilla with relief supplies for the Israeli doctors and their patients:
When the spoofs first appeared on the web, not a
few readers took the opening paragraphs seriously, because there was such a
ring of psychological truth to them.
Dr. Justin A. Frank, an American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, authored a brilliant study entitled Bush on the Couch.(26)
Relying solely on published speeches, statements, and interviews, Frank diagnosed the president as seriously mentally ill, actually a sociopath. Were Dr. Frank to examine statements on the public record by Netanyahu, Barak, Peres, Lieberman, Tzipi Livni among others, he might come to a similar conclusion.
When, at a recent public speaking event in
Germany, I asked the IPPNW member aboard the Mavi Marmara, how he, as a
practicing psychiatrist, would evaluate the mental state of the Israeli
leadership, he quipped that he was merely a psychotherapist, and did not
deal with cases of grave psychosis.
Continuing outside pressure in the form of U.N. or European investigative and disciplinary actions does have a palpable effect.
Grinstein is correct in assessing the consequences of sanctions and boycotts, including those in intellectual circles, but he is wrong in thinking that this has come about because the “enemies” of Israel are,
It is Israel’s own anti-Palestinian policies which have isolated the country, making it, yes, a pariah.
Grinstein’s reference to apartheid South Africa is also pertinent. What forced international firms to pull out of that country was the worldwide moral censure of apartheid. Not the economic impact of sanctions, but the moral thrust which occasioned them ultimately led to the downfall of the racist regime. Similarly, the civil rights movement in the U.S. was successful, not due to the economic damage done by its boycotts, but by virtue of the movement’s moral authority.
The U.S., which was mired in an immoral war
against Viet Nam while simultaneously depriving its own citizens of basic
human rights, had become a pariah in the eyes of the world and its
leadership had to willfully change.
They also pose the critical role of leadership.
Yitzhak Rabin apparently reached that conclusion.
Who is prepared to take up his legacy today?