Posts Tagged ‘Operation Cast Lead’
For anyone not yet up to speed, a flotilla of vessels carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza with the aim of lifting the blockade imposed by Israel was intercepted and attacked by Israeli commandos yesterday which resulted in 9-19 deaths (depending on which reports you believe, Israel still has not released an official list of names of those killed). To get up to speed on developments yesterday check out my first and second posts.
More news has come today, kicking off with a marathon UN Security Council meeting called by Turkey with the aim of eliciting an official response from the Council. The bulk of the meeting went on behind closed doors but reportedly it constituted mostly a back-and-forth between the Turkish and American representatives, the latter refusing to allow the Security Council to officially single out Israel for condemnation.
Turkey proposed a statement that would condemn Israel for violating international law, demand a United Nations investigation and demand that Israel prosecute those responsible for the raid and pay compensation to the victims. It also called for the end of the blockade.
The Obama administration refused to endorse a statement that singled out Israel, and proposed a broader condemnation of the violence that would include the assault of the Israeli commandos as they landed on the deck of the ship. [NYT]
Reportedly the Israeli army will be transferring the humanitarian aid found on the boat to Gaza.
Here’s a very interesting piece of news from the excellently-run Al Jazeera English liveblog:
11:37am: His wording is far from conclusive, but the Jerusalem Post seems to think Israel’s deputy defence minister, Manan Vilna’i, hinted that Israel sabotaged some of the ships in the Gaza flotilla.
When asked during an Israel Radio interview whether it might not have been possible to stop the ships in a more sophisticated manner, Vilna’i responded, “Every possibility was considered. The fact is that there were ten less ships in the flotilla than were originally planned.”
Hosni Mubarak has opened the Rafah border and, according to this Arabic source, there are no restrictions on who is allowed to enter and exit. Would be interesting to see some reports on traffic there. Also, the EU and Russia have released a joint statement condemning Israel’s use of force and calling for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. (Hat-tip: AJE liveblog again on both).
The MV Rachel Corrie, another ship that was supposed to be part of the original flotilla but the departure of which was delayed due to mechanical malfunction has reportedly set off for Gaza and is due to arrive within 48 hours. In a response that can now only be viewed as ominous, the Israeli Navy has stated that it is ‘ready’ to receive her. The ship is a joint Irish/Malaysian vessel.
As far as the mainstream media’s reporting has been, I would like to direct you to WashPo’s fairly extreme piece by Scott Wilson on the Free Gaza Movement. What the hell kind of lead paragraph is this:
Once viewed only as a political nuisance by Israel’s government, the group behind the Gaza aid flotilla has grown since its inception four years ago into a broad international movement that now includes Islamist organizations that Israeli intelligence agencies say pose a security threat to the Jewish state.
Clearly WashPo has missed the memo. Most of the mainstream media is treating this event with a lot more caution. I normally consider the FP a fairly reliable weathervane. I certainly wouldn’t consider it a liberal newspaper and yet it has included condemnation of the attack from Stephen Walt, Mark Lynch and its own editor-in-chief Blake Hounsell, all essentially calling for the blockade to be lifted.
So if the mainstream is not exactly lining up behind Israel, what does that mean for the defenders of this monstrosity. I direct you to the following tweet by Middle East expert (though she can’t see it from her house) Sarah Palin:
Assume u WON’T get straight scoop on Israeli flotilla incident via mainstream media;PLEASE read Krauthammer,Horowitz,et al 2learn other side
Palin has long been a shrill critic of her perceived unfair treatment at the hands of the supposedly pro-liberal mainstream, but what this shows is the increasing radicalisation of the pro-Israel-at-all-costs lobby and the increasingly ridiculous sounding hasbara that is being thrown up to defend the atrocities committed by the State. Witness this tweet from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:
Participants on the armada of hate had ties with global Jihad and Al Qaeda and used live weapons against our troops
Apparently tying any Muslim you don’t like to al Qaeda and ‘global Jihad’ hasn’t really worked since the whole thing about how Saddam Hussein didn’t quite have anything to do with 9/11, but clearly Mr. Ayalon and his Islamophobic friends missed that memo. I also like how the activists on the Turkish-flagged vessel used “live weapons” (as opposed to, presumably, dead weapons) against “our troops” (ie. elite commandos who stormed their boat in international waters). Wow? It doesn’t take an undergraduate degree to sort the BS out of that one.
Speaking of the legality of the raid, I’m going to paste this in its entirety, thanks to Mondoweiss and Craig Murray, ex UK Ambassador and one time Foreign Office specialist on maritime 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.
Meanwhile, Blake Hounsell for FP:
It already has the makings of a huge international fracas that will make the Goldstone Report look like small potatoes by comparison.
There’s a huge unwillingness on the Israeli right to face reality — that Israel is fast losing friends and allies in the world, and that this government in Jerusalem has only accelerated the shift. It’s not hard to imagine boycott campaigns gaining momentum, damaging the Israeli economy and isolating the country diplomatically, especially in Europe.
While I’m still skeptical of how much damage exactly boycott campaigns will actually have and whether the ‘friends and allies’ are actually going to be lost (all I’m seeing so far are spirited statements, as usual), I think that Hounsell makes a good general point: the tide does appear to be turning, as evidenced by how increasingly shrill and crazy Israel’s defenders currently sound.
I’m going link some great pieces by Stephen Walt and Arabist at the bottom of this post to save me having to essentially paste them in its entirety (especially Arabist, his post was that good) but here are my thoughts.
If we are to accept the Israeli narrative of events – that the activists on the Flotilla attacked Israeli troops with sticks, knives and deckchairs, thus provoking them to respond and unfortunately kill some of them – as the truth, the argument still has massive, gaping holes.
First of all, the boat was in international waters and Israel had no legal right to storm the boat with commandos, some of the best soldiers in an army considered already to be one of the best in the world. Since the boat was raided by soldiers, the occupants of the boat surely had the right to defend their vessel. The fact that they supposedly did so with a ragtag assortment of improvised weapons and were shot at with automatic weapons as a means of self-defense makes about as much sense as napalming a mosquito. This is pretty much the antithesis of proportionality and anyone who buys this is clearly deluded. Moreover, “the most moral army in the world” and certainly one of its best would surely have been able to manage a situation involving sticks and knives a little better than in such a way that resulted in at least 9 fatalities. Oh yeah, shal I remid you again? Commandos vs. Civilians. Proportional? No. This. Does. Not. Hold. Water.
Also, to those pundits that suggest that Israel’s main mistake was to board the boat in international waters and not in “Israeli territorial waters” appear to be missing the point. The boat was headed for Gaza, not Israel. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 (and still claims political kudos for doing so). Yes, Gaza is not recognised a state but that doesn’t make Israel’s siege of Gaza legal, nor does it just hand jurisdiction over Gaza’s territorial waters to Israel as a sort of parting gift. It is obviously not that clear cut.
Oh yeah, and the blockade. Need I remind you people how cruel and barbaric it is? No I don’t, because Stephen Walt will (if Glenn Greenwald didn’t in the post I linked last time). One final note to those supposedly hyper-realist defenders of Israel’s rights as a state: stop glorifying the State. There is no good reason why I, as an Australian (or any self-respecting national of any other country), should take Israel’s security any more seriously than the security of the people of Gaza. Right now, the biggest threat to their ‘security’ is not Hamas (as is often claimed by the Zionist lobby) but an Israeli blockade that is causing death by starvation and lack of medical attention, that is robbing the Gazans of the right to rebuild their shattered economy destroyed by air raids and Operation Cast Lead, and that is conducting a crude campaign of national humiliation and collective punishment. Oh, but the activists on the boat constituted a ‘threat to Israeli security’. Time to wake up.
And here’s that piece of gold by Arabist, read it.
First of all, if you haven’t already, check out my previous post on this with the preliminary round-up of events.
I’m not going to continue posting the repeated commentary from the leaders of the international community because they all mostly repeat the same thing ad naseum. For those interested, there is a good roundup in this AFP story and the Al Jazeera & Guardian liveblogs will keep you abreast. Maan has a handy list of the nine (and counting) countries that have summoned Israeli ambassadors for an explanation.
Relevant news is coming thick & fast and it’s difficult to keep up with all of it so I will attempt to post what I think is most important.
Steve Hynd pointed his Twitter followers to UNSC Resolution 1860 that called for a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and also called for humanitarian aid, something that Israel has not been able to adequately provide. All reports from Israeli spokesmen that aid is being delivered on a daily basis are basically nothing but propaganda, aid is being delivered but it’s estimated to be 1/4 of what Gazans actually need to survive.
Speaking of the UN Security Council, Reuters is reporting that a meeting is being convened to discuss the issue.
It is being reported that the French equivalent of AIPAC, Le Crif, has condemned the Israeli attack (French) on the flotilla. I’m not sure how stridently pro-Israel-at-all-costs these people are but that strikes me as interesting. Also, Netanyahu has reportedly cancelled his scheduled visit to the US to begin indirect proximity talks and is flying back to Israel immediately to deal with the fall out.
For those interested in what the US has to say about this, first comments are non-commital as expected:
“The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” a White House spokesman said. [AFP]
Over in Britain, much is being made of Nick Clegg’s previously fairly public opposition to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The question is, will Clegg be gagged by his coalition partners? Reports of protests at 10 Downing Street are already coming. David Milliband, without directly condemning Israel over the Gaza blockade, has voiced his opposition in not so many words.
India’s The Hindu, one of the few newspapers covering this in any detail in India, reports that Syria and Lebanon released a joint statement warning that Israel’s attack on the flotilla could be considered an act of war.
One thing that has been interesting to me throughout this debacle is the reaction of the much-maligned mainstream media. Criticisms over timeliness of reports and their wording notwithstanding, I’ll be looking at some of the personal tweets of celebrity journalists to gauge what’s considered legitimate feeling in the MSM camp. One example, Nick Kristof who has almost 1,000,000 followers on Twitter had this to say:
I didn’t RT early reports of Israeli military assault on #Gaza flotilla, ’cause I thought “Israel wldn’t be that stupid.”
From the Israeli side, most of the claims have been that the activists on board tried to ‘lynch’ and ‘stab’ the commandos who boarded the ship. Haaretz has a piece here. Here’s a quote from the IDF’s website:
During the boarding of the Marmara ship, demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. According to reports, two weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.
As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces first employed riot dispersal means, followed by live fire.
According to initial reports, these events resulted in over ten deaths among the demonstrators and numerous injuries. In addition, five naval personnel were injured, some from gunfire and some from various other weapons. Two of the soldiers were seriously wounded and the remainder sustained moderate injuries. All of the injured parties, Israelis and foreigners, are currently being evacuated by helicopter to hospitals in Israel.
It is not clear yet how much of this is hasbara, propaganda and the like and how threatening the people on board were but Glenn Greenwald has an excellent sum-up of the situation at Salon.com. Here are some choice quotes which I will leave you with:
The flotilla attacked by Israel last night was carrying materials such as cement, water purifiers, and other building materials, much of which Israel refuses to let pass into Gaza. At the end of 2009, a U.N. report found that “insufficient food and medicine is reaching Gazans, producing a further deterioration of the mental and physical health of the entire civilian population since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the territory,” and also “blamed the blockade for continued breakdowns of the electricity and sanitation systems due to the Israeli refusal to let spare parts needed for repair get through the crossings.”
It hardly seemed possible for Israel — after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade — to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes. But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that. If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it’s hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.
Marc Lynch has some sobering words about the attitude towards Gaza by successive US administrations:
This crisis — and it is a crisis — is the fairly predictable outcome of the years of neglect of the Gaza situation by the Bush and Obama administrations. Bush turned a blind eye during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008, and then the Obama team chose to focus on renewing peace talks between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority while continuing to boycott Hamas. The U.S. only sporadically and weakly paid attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the strategic absurdity and moral obtuseness of the Israeli blockade, or the political implications of the ongoing Hamas-Fatah divide. Now, on the eve of Obama’s scheduled meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas — the fruits of the “honey offensive” towards Israel — can they be surprised that Gaza is blowing up in their face?
One thing I like about both these pieces is that they maintain the focus on Gaza, Cast Lead and the crippling blockade. If it’s one thing I want you to take away from all this: do not forget to place these events in context. Israel has successively tightened the noose around an impoverished, humiliated and starving population begging for humanitarian aid. This alone constitutes a crime against humanity if there ever was one. The events on the Freedom Flotilla may be another nail in Israel’s coffin when it comes to Global PR but they should rightly point to what caused the boats to set sail in the first place: Israel’s barbaric blockade and the international community’s constant blind eye. Remember these things so that those that died on that boat didn’t die in vain.
Just a quick one today folks. I would like to draw your attention to something that popped up in The National a few days ago. Arab-Israeli MP Haneen Zoubi is demanding that Haaretz be allowed to publish an investigative report that was suppressed days before Operation Cast Lead was launched on Gaza. Here are the choice bits:
The investigation by Uri Blau, who has been in hiding since December to avoid arrest, concerned Israeli preparations for the impending assault on Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead.
In a highly unusual move, according to reports in the Israeli media, the army ordered the Haaretz newspaper to destroy all copies of an edition that included Mr Blau’s investigation after it had already gone to press and been passed by the military censor. The article was never republished.
She [Zoubi] said publication of the article was important both because Israel had been widely criticised for killing many hundreds of civilians in its three-week assault on Gaza, and because subsequent reports suggested that Israeli commanders sought legal advice months before the operation to manipulate the accepted definitions of international law to make it easier to target civilians.
Shraga Elam, an award-winning Israeli reporter, said Mr Blau’s suppressed article might also have revealed the aims of a widely mentioned but unspecified “third phase” of the Gaza attack, following the initial air strikes and a limited ground invasion, that was not implemented.
Not only has this report been suppressed in Israel, a so-called bastion of free speech and democracy in the Middle East, but it has contributed to greater hostilities between the Haaretz newspaper, a widely respected alternative to more right-leaning newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post and the Yedioth Ahoronoth, and members of the Government and media.
On Monday, an MP with the centrist Kadima Party, Yulia Shamal-Berkovich, called for Haaretz to be closed down, backing a similar demand from fellow MP Michael Ben-Ari, of the right-wing National Union.
She accused Haaretz management of having “chosen to hide” over the case and blamed it for advising Mr Blau to remain abroad. She said the newspaper “must make sure the materials that are in his possession are returned. If Haaretz fails to do so, its newspaper licence should be revoked without delay.”
Another Kadima MP, Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, this week urged Haaretz readers to boycott the newspaper until Mr Blau was fired. [The National]
So not only has the report been suppressed and its author driven into exile, his career as a journalist in Israel possibly ruined, but MPs are actually calling for the newspaper to be closed down. And these aren’t just crazy right-wing MPs either, but an MP from Kadima, the supposedly centrist party. The overwhelming lack of support for Haaretz, apart from a few journalists, is an indicator of how far away from democracy and free speech Israel as a country has gone. A free press is a cornerstone of a free and democratic nation and Israel is failing the test.
The EU has taken a stand, of sorts, on Jerusalem, stating that it needs to be shared between Israel and Palestine and that it must be the joint-capital of both states:
“If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states,” EU foreign ministers agreed in a statement released on Tuesday, diplomats said.
That was Israel’s main concern: There was a lot of fear that the EU would demand the 1967 borders be locked in place. If those borders were fixed, then major Jewish settlements like Gilo would become part of a future Palestinian state — an unacceptable outcome for the Israeli government. The original policy document, drafted by Sweden, made just that demand, but it was watered down in last-minute discussions this morning.
To be fair, the wording of the original statement was pretty rigid:
“The EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem,” said the [original] EU ministerial draft. [Haaretz]
I don’t think it necessarily warrants some of the Israeli rhetoric though, like comparing Sweden’s approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace to IKEA furniture, as one official said:
“The peace process in the Middle East is not like IKEA furniture,” one official said, making a reference to the do-it-yourself Swedish furniture chain. “It takes more than a screw and a hammer, it takes a true understanding of the constraints and sensitivities of both sides, and in that Sweden failed miserably.” [FP]
FP makes a good point on this:
Please. The original draft praises both Israel’s settlement freeze and U.S. mediation efforts. You can debate whether or not it’s productive for Sweden to be issuing proclamations on where the Palestinian border should be drawn, but in the end, these declarations have only about as much weight as the parties involved choose to give them. Which, judging from the righteous outrage out of Avigdor Lieberman’s shop, seems to be quite a lot. This sort of thing might play well to Lieberman’s political base, but internationally it just gives the EU’s East Jerusalem critique way more publicity than it would have had before.
The Swedes hold the EU rotating presidency at the moment, and the EU is an entity that people listen to, it’s not one of the unfortunately irrelevant minor countries of the UN General Assembly. If Israel chooses to respond to Swedish declarations in this manner, it just gives them more prominence and ensures that more people listen. While the EU obviously doesn’t have the same sort of international clout as the US, it’s definitely not irrelevant and the Israelis are only making it more relevant, particularly in the international press.
Interestingly, Haaretz also calls the claims over Jerusalem “the most intractable issue” in the conflict which to me seems a bit of an exaggeration. I’m pretty sure right of return, overall borders and demilitarisation of the Palestinian state are also pretty important issues. Oh and, Gaza/Hamas. I don’t think Israel’s going to let up on that one without a fight.
The Israelis have reacted in typical fashion to the resolution, ignoring the content of it itself and accusing it of not being productive for the ‘peace process’ (I’m starting to forget what that is meant to refer to) and calling “the Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiating table” the main factor halting peace negotiations at the moment. The settlement freeze notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure there are bigger factors than this one. Like maybe, Abu Mazen’s growing irrelevance? The US State Department has toed the line and, in not so many words, told the EU to stay out of it.
Meanwhile, Israel is attempting to further isolate Gaza by imposing an unofficial block on officials entering the territory. It’s run by terrorists y’all! Why would you want to go there? Go to Egypt instead, it’s nicer!
In other news:
- Check out the interview/eyewitness account of Cast Lead over at PoliticalTheatrics
- Iraq elections have been shifted to March 7th
- Lady Gaga met the Queen of England. ZOMG!
You would have been under a rock if you hadn’t noticed the veritable storm of controversy surrounding the Goldstone Report since its release. Justice Goldstone himself has not been under said rock, and he’s also noticed the fairly rhetorical manner in which his report is being attacked. His first and foremost challenge to critics: read the bloody thing! The man has a point, the Obama administration has denounced the report in strong words, and assisted Israel with its diplomatic offensive to have the report ignored. Most are assuming that the US will use its veto on the Security Council to make sure the report is not accepted (if Russia or China, both of which have come out in opposition to the report, don’t get there first, though admittedly Russia did back it in the UNHRC).
Lebanon’s Daily Star has a good round-up of the choice quotes from the al-Jazeera interview Justice Goldstone gave:
“I have yet to hear from the [Barack] Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are,” South African former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone told Al-Jazeera television.
“I would be happy to respond to them, if and when I know what they are,” added the jurist…
“I’ve no doubt, many of the critics – the overwhelming majority of critics – have not read the report,” he said, adding that the criticism had become personal. [Daily Star]
You can view the full interview here.
One other thing that struck me about the interview was Goldstone’s continued preambles of “As a Jew…”, it strikes me because it gives an idea of how deeply personal the attacks have been. I’m sure Justice Goldstone and his family have suffered a great deal in these past few weeks, what with their commitment to Israel and Jewishness questioned, as well as their very humanity and ethnic identity denied. I think the criticism from some members of the Zionist lobby has been a fairly nasty piece of work indeed.
Goldstone also wrote a piece that appeared in Jerusalem Post and Guardian’s comment-is-free, in it we have the same entreatments to read the report rather than go into personal attacks, also an interesting bit of rebuttal from him regarding the dismissal of the UNHRC’s recommendation to have the report looked at on the basis that its members have questionable human rights records themselves:
Israel and its courts have always recognised that they are bound by norms of international law that it has formally ratified or that have become binding as customary international law upon all nations. The fact that the United Nations and too many members of the international community have unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation and failed to investigate horrible human rights violations in other countries cannot make Israel immune from the very standards it has accepted as binding upon it.
Indeed, the Human Rights record of its members should not be used to mask the question at hand, if Israel committed war crimes in Gaza then it should be properly investigated and brought to justice for doing so. Questioning the human rights records of members such as Angola, Nigeria and Egypt as a reason to have the Council’s recommendation ignored does more to harm Israel’s reputation. Israel, claiming to be a bastion of democracy and law, should be striving to exceed such expectations, not compare itself to countries with Human Rights records severely blighted already.
All-in-all I find Goldstone’s defense to be adequate, well-reasoned and somewhat alarming. It is not too much to ask that if the report be criticised, then it should be properly read and the sections of the report with which issue is taken to be pointed out. Stonewalling it without even addressing it is not a constructive thing to do.
Operation Cast Lead changed a lot of things for Israel, one of which was its relationship with Turkey. Since the fall of the Shah’s regime in Iran, Turkey remained the only supporter and partner of Israel in the region, but all that changed with the Gaza offensive. Deeply unpopular with the Turkish consistuency, the relationship has always been troubled, but the world was shocked by Erdogan’s outburst at Davos earlier this year, whereas at home he was hailed as a hero. After that incident, tensions calmed down somewhat, it was clear that Israel needed Turkey and the arrangement was mutually beneficial. The ever-pragmatic Israelis wouldn’t let something like that ruin a good ‘friendship’, but was it already beyond saving? The Jerusalem Post reported that “exports between the two countries dropped 40 percent in the first nine months of the year.” That’s the same nine months since that Gaza offensive.
The latest nails-in-the-coffin have proved to be the Goldstone Report and the exclusion of Israel from joint-NATO military exercises, followed by a TV documentary airing in Turkey showing the IDF to be brutal murderers.
So is this truly ideological or is it merely populist politics? Well I’d suggest its probably a little from both columns. I’ve always been one to stress the realist nature of global politics, most states do things for self-interest, not due to the personal whims of their leaders.
For example, the AFP quoted Erdogan saying the following:
“We have taken the conscience of our people into consideration when we decided…. I had to be the voice that expresses the existence of my people and my people were rejecting Israel’s participation.”
Erdogan is seizing on the potential political capital of being the Turkish leader to break with Israel and the window of opportunity is obvious. If you’re in doubt about it, look at the world. The only real critics of these latest Turkish moves have been Israel and the US. The world doesn’t see Turkey as any less ‘moderate’ or any less level-headed. No country is about to break ties with Turkey in response to this. The world has given a collective shrug. This is an indicator of the shifting realities and attitudes to Israel. It is no longer seen as the poor little country bullied by all its bigger neighbours and fighting for its survival. It’s seen, at best, as the dominant military in the region with an unshakeable superpower supporter, and at worst as an aggressive warmonger. So given how much trade has already dwindled and how little risk there is, Erdogan is being a very shrewd politician.
Apart from domestic politics, Turkey is also making it’s regional intentions clear, it is attempting to flex its muscle further on the international stage and play a greater role in Middle Eastern and Central Asian politics. As Zvi Bar’ei points out in a well-thought-out commentary for Haaretz:
Turkey has overcome most of its economic problems and has been transformed into a regional economic power. It is a real strategic asset for the United States, increasing its importance after the Iraq war. It has also developed a different regional strategy.
As part of a broader regional strategy, Turkey needs to make sure it can actively engage with those countries that are openly hostile to Israel but are, to some extent, power-brokers in the region. Commentators who link Israel to the Iranian-Syrian “Axis of Evil” get one thing right, Turkey is seeking to engage these sorts of countries, Syria at least, though that hardly makes Turkey part of any axis.
Proof that this is not a one-off political move is in the rhetoric. They’re in it for the long haul strategically, or so President Abdullah Gul says, criticising Israel from the position of being a friend, much as many suggested Obama should be doing. In these sorts of statements, Turkey is showing its credentials for level-headedness and moderation in the region:
“Turkey is one of the rare states that has strong ties with both Arab countries and with Israel. We will continue to criticize and act when necessary, without undermining the foundations of these ties,” Gul was quoted as saying in an interview with Turkey’s popular state-run TRT1 television station.
Responses from the pro-Israel-at-all-costs lobby have been predictably shrill. A cafe chain has stopped serving Turkish coffee (never mind that they could just as simply sell Greek or Armenian coffee instead), echoing the ‘freedom fries’ idiocy after France condemned the Iraq invasion, and there is talk of boycotting Turkish Independence Day. These actions look as shrill and desperate as they ever have, and are embarassing for Israel. Ridiculous comments like those of Yoel Marcus suggesting that this somehow hurts Turkish international standing are falling on rather deaf ears, apart from perhaps those of Israelis clutching at straws, wanting to nod in agreement, pretending that anyone still cares.
The repercussions of these actions for Turkey are still unfolding. Turkey’s distancing from Israel and establishing of closer ties with Syria is quite alarming for Israelis, Netanyahu has stated that he doesn’t want Turkey to play a role in negotiations with Syria any longer, however this move shows little but Israel’s prolonged contempt for peace negotiations. Also, among other things, Obama is thought to have discussed the issue of Israeli-Turkish relations in a recent phone conversation with President Gul, this being seen as a fairly large departure from usual policy for Israel. Obama is understandably displeased.
Those who are pretending that Israel does not need Turkey, or that Turkey needs Israel more, are fools. Watch the news over the coming months. No doubt there will be a thaw in relations between the two after the very public ice-fest. Erdogan’s political capital will have risen at home, Israel will have lost out on the military exercises and will have to deal with the TV show but will still come back to Turkey, Israel needs Turkey. Israel will be practical and pragmatic as usual and Turkey is already dictating the terms. They say every relationship comes down to a power balance, this power balance is shifting heavily in favour of Turkey.
If there is any more doubt that this is damaging for Israel, read this piece by Stephen Walt for Foreign Policy about how limiting the relationship with Israel really is for the US:
Israel’s pariah status within the region reduces its strategic value significantly. It explains why Israel could not participate in the 1991 or 2003 wars with Iraq, and why it is difficult for Arab governments who share Israel’s concerns about Iran to openly collaborate with Israel or United States to address that issue.
Turkey is behaving shrewdly and reflecting its status as a country who’s star is on the rise. Israel is resorting to boycotting Independence Days, not serving coffee and burning straw-men while dancing around in celebration. You be the judge.
The resolution passed 25-6, with mostly developing countries in favor and the United States and five European countries opposing. Eleven mostly European and African countries abstained, while Britain, France and three other members of the 47-nation body declined to vote. [JPost]
The resolution agreed in Geneva simply calls for the U.N. General Assembly to consider the Goldstone report and for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back to the Human Rights Council on Israel’s adherence to it.
The report calls for the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court if the Israelis or Palestinians fail to investigate the alleged abuses themselves. [Haaretz] (For full breakdown of votes for/against/abstentions click the Haaretz link
Against: The U.S., Italy, Holland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Ukraine.
For: China, Russia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Pakistan, South Africa, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia, Djibouti, Liberia, Qatar, Senegal, Brazil, Mauritius, Nicaragua and Nigeria.
Abstain: Bosnia, Burkina-Faso, Cameron, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Belgium, South Korea, Slovenia and Uruguay.
Refused to Vote: Britain, France
Not Present: Madagascar and Kyrgyzstan were not present during the vote.
We’ll update you on new stuff that comes out of this as soon as we can. In the meantime… here’s your daily dose of crazy.
The Guardian pretty much sums up the repercussions of this:
Hamas looks unlikely to investigate its actions during the war and Netanyahu has already insisted he will not allow any Israelis to face war crimes trials. The US would almost certainly veto any decision critical of Israel if the issue reached a vote in the security council.
It’s good to see that this vote has been passed, it’s interesting to see that Bibi’s shuttle diplomacy during the meeting only succeeded in bringing around the US & some Europeans. This could be a further indicator that the first to abandon Israel’s side completely will be the developing world. However, despite a good deal of discussion in the UK about this, it’s disappointing that they chose not to vote for it in the end and decided instead to not participate due to lack of time. The old stalling ploy. Nice one, Gordon.
Sometimes I wonder why Haaretz continues to put this kind of crap into print, maybe the anti-Goldstone lobby simply has no real reasonable ammunition left so they just have to make do with intermittently sounding either like a bunch of petulant children or old men shaking their fists at clouds, and maybe Haaretz just prints it in order to sound “fair and balanced”.
This here article by one Yoel Marcus is so chock-full of ridiculousness that I just can’t help myself, let me sum it up for you:
Firstly, Turkey is clearly on its way to becoming a member of the Axis of Evil since the grave error of supporting the Goldstone Report sin of not allowing Israel to use their airspace for military exercises was committed. But don’t worry, this doesn’t matter, the Turks don’t matter, WE DONT NEED THE TURKS (despite them being the biggest economy in the region & Israel’s only friend in it). Also, apparently the Turks no longer have any right to criticise anyone since what they did to the Armenians and the Kurds, nope, no right at all. Never mind that, you know, of course this in no way refutes the fact that Israel killed children in Gaza, as the Turks rightfully pointed out… it’s just that the Turks can’t say anything cos they were bad too! Tattle-tales! While poor Israel has “become the world’s doormat” despite having the unquestioned support of the world’s only superpower.
Furthermore, Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denying means he is in no way allowed to consider nuclear weapons, for shame for even suggesting it, while Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons arsenal or ‘the thing we do not speak of’ is… cool. The article also credits Netanyahu for his grand-peacemaking plan: “Two states for two peoples”, all credit to Bibi, perhaps he should get the next Nobel Peace Prize? Oh and bloody Abbas, he’s been such a terrible man, despite initially helping Israel whitewash the Report, Hosni Mubarak on the other hand “turns out to be the most level-headed leader in the region”. Amazing!
There is also this bizarre little gem explaining why we should not talk to Iran:
Dialogue? Go for it. The Iranians are known for their salesmanship – when someone asks the owner of a carpet store the time, he will end up buying three rugs before getting an answer.
I never wanted those bloody rugs in the first place but I have to say, they are rather pretty…
Anyway there’s more crazy in there but my rant was long enough. See it & behold for yourselves!
- Saba Imtiaz
Al Jazeera’s live stream crashed on me so I couldn’t view the endorsement of the Goldstone Report for myself. That personal boo-hoo aside, should one be fairly optimistic or fairly cynical of this? If the Goldstone Report has been decried so much already, will an endorsement make any difference?
I’m going to lean towards yes, despite the signals of a third intifada in the making. In terms of its symbolic value, the endorsement – as has the Report – have been discussed worldwide now. While the countries that voted for the endorsement are pretty much the ones expected to, it is an important sign that the Report wasn’t just reduced to piles of paper. Israel and Hamas (though the level of their war crimes are by no means equally proportional) need to be held accountable for what happened during Operation Cast Lead, but more importantly Israel needs to realize what a major blunder they have caused in the aftermath of the invasion.
This is also an important sign to the Obama administration. They need to read (seriously, the amount of ill-informed opinions there are floating out there!) the Goldstone Report and realize that neither does their approval of the Israeli government’s actions help nor do their half-hearted squawks of disapproval hurt whenever the Israel government allows building settlements. If President Obama’s ill-thought out Nobel Peace Prize win was a “call to action” to him, then the time is now to act.
And if you’re looking for more optimism, Marc Lynch has a fairly good idea of why this could help move the peace process along.
First, the vote shows that Israel is paying a price for its short-sighted diplomatic strategy of confrontation with the Obama administration.
Second, the passage of the report may slightly increase the odds of a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement under Egyptian auspices.
Third, the U.S. will almost certainly veto any move in the Security Council to act on the report. But given how much importance the Israeli government has given to the Goldstone Report, this veto might actually be used as a form of leverage.
Well the NY Summit has been and gone and, lo and behold, nothing sensational or earth-shattering has hit the press this morning. What a surprise. Abdelbari Atwan called it “a capitulation” and “a defeat” for Obama in his editorial for al Quds al Arabi.
The Majlis has a full transcript of Obama’s comments after his individual meetings with Bibi & Abu Mazen and before the tri-partite summit itself, but there’s nothing earth-shattering in it. I’d say that all in all Obama sounds kinda frustrated:
America’s frustration showed when Obama told reporters the two sides had to stop stalling. “Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon. It is past time to talk about starting negotiations. It is time to move forward,” he said.
Jonathan Freedland’s comments for the Guardian’s comment is free confirm what I’ve suspected of late, Bibi and, to a lesser extent, Abu Mazen, are warm and comfy in their local politics:
How had it come about that, in the words of the Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea, the Americans had “discovered that they want an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement more than the Israelis and the Palestinians want it”? The narrow answer is the usual one, that the local politics on both sides of the conflict has made inaction a safer bet than action. Netanyahu sits atop a coalition that is perfectly stable – just so long as he doesn’t do anything. Were he so much as to hint at taking any of the steps necessary for a peace deal, coalition partners would start breaking off like aeroplane wings in an ice storm. As for Abbas, he has finally acquired some political strength, removing potential rivals from within his own Fatah faction while all trace of Hamas has been eradicated from the West Bank. As one Fatah insider puts it: “Abbas is now at the peak of his powers.” All that could damage him are the accusations of treachery that would instantly follow any compromise with Israel.
Freedland is forthright in his criticism of Obama’s recent failures in the arena of Middle Eastern politics, a criticism echoed by many on both sides of the arena. It is true, Obama has failed so far to gain any real concessions from either side, to get the peace process moving with truly wilful engagement form both sides. Arabs are asking for deeds not words, Israelis are lauding their Prime Minister for his strength, but Freedland advises us to not give up hope:
Above all, those panicking that Obama has not yet bagged a clutch of foreign policy triumphs in the Middle East and elsewhere may be forgetting both the mess that he inherited and his leadership style. He plays the long, slow game, advancing gradually. So, yes, there was no overnight fix in New York, but that was never on the cards. Besides, Obama believes he has time on his side. Unlike most US presidents keen to play Middle East peacemaker, he has not tackled this in his last year, but in his first.
In addition to the summit, Bibi also embarked on a few interviews as part of the PR campaign to woo the US public. His wooing was largely successful, old Bibi is a pretty canny media operator. Some exerts from his interview with Wolf Blitzer, and some pertinent thoughts, to be found at The Majlis:
When Blitzer brought up the Goldstone report, a U.N. investigation into the clash between Israel and Palestinian forces in Gaza in 2006 that Israel has renounced, Netanyahu said the report essentially gives a free hand to terrorists who wish to attack democracies.
Hamas fighters “get a free bill out of this bias,” Netanyahu said. “American pilots, NATO pilots … are gonna be on the dock … that’s not something that any country fighting terrorism can accept, and I don’t think you can accept it too.”
Blitzer didn’t challenge Netanyahu on that point, which is unfortunate, since on its face Netanyahu’s premise makes me, as an American, pause. After all, the U.S. has killed many civilians in the course of its war in Afghanistan, shouldn’t we now be afraid that the United Nations will come after us? But upon closer inspection, there are holes in Netanyahu’s fear-mongering. The reason Israel is under investigation is the method by which it attacked Hamas in Gaza. Critics of the Goldstone report aren’t questioning its conclusions – such as Israeli use of white phosphorous, killings of police officers and bombings of sewage treatment facilities. Instead, they question the premise and bias of the Goldstone Report itself.
The other interview I came across is with ABC’s Charlie Gibson (full transcript). In this interview, Bibi describes the recent summit in New York as “frank”, “productive” and “very good”. Gibson is a little tougher on Netanyahu than Blitzer on the issue of settlements, Bibi stonewalled him on it numerous times essentially stating that he rejects the Palestinian position of putting settlement growth ending as a pre-condition to peace talks: “The issue of the settlements has to be resolved. It should be resolved at the end of negotiations, not before the negotiations.” When pressed further, Bibi uses the old ‘natural growth’ defence and also mentions that a settlement freeze was not discussed during the NY Summit, contrary to previous reports. Gibson also asked Bibi about Iran but, isappointingly did not bring up the Goldstone Report.
On topic of the Goldstone Report, Israel has now urged the EU to reject it:
Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal on Tuesday convened 26 European Union ambassadors in Jerusalem for a diplomatic briefing.
The Foreign Ministry director-general also called on EU countries to clearly express their reservations over the report in any possible way. The report, he said, is not legal but rather “a one-dimensional, political propaganda poster biased against Israel.”
Here is the obligatory hand-shake photo, I enjoy how paternalistic Obama looks in this one.