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Michael Oren loses his way again

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The ongoing stalemate in peace talks has led to another op-ed in the New York Times by Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the US. As is often the case with Oren’s op-eds, the piece is full of weak arguments, hyperbole and hypocrisy.

The introduction sets the tone for the entire piece:

NEARLY 63 years after the United Nations recognized the right of the Jewish people to independence in their homeland — and more than 62 years since Israel’s creation — the Palestinians are still denying the Jewish nature of the state.

This, like the entire article, tries to oversimplify an incredibly complex issue and then make the Palestinians out to be some sort of irrational, anti-semitic barbarians. Oren is talking about a “Jewish nature of the state” when clearly defining Jewishness is a problem in itself, let alone boiling the nature of a state down to an ethno-religious identity.

Back in 1948, opposition to the legitimacy of a Jewish state ignited a war. Today it threatens peace.

Sure, it threatens peace as much as Israeli intransigence over the demands of the Palestinians. That’s what negotiation is. As for 1948, really Mr. Oren? Was 1948 really so simple? If Israel had established a Christian state, a secular state or a Rastafarian state, I’m pretty sure the Arab reaction would have been much the same. When you establish a state on land occupied partly by those who have inhabited it for the last thousand or so years, they being outside your ruling class, and partly by a massive population of recent migrants, war kind of tends to happen.

Such a step by the Palestinian Authority would be a confidence-building measure,” Mr. Netanyahu explained, noting that Israel was not demanding recognition as a prerequisite for direct talks. It would “open a new horizon of hope as well as trust among broad parts of the Israeli public.”

I’m pretty sure Israel wouldn’t fight so hard for a “confidence-building measure”. Building confidence takes a great deal more than that.

So what is the purpose of this new obsession then? Well Oren will actually tell you:

Indeed, Israel never sought similar acknowledgment in its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Netanyahu is merely making a tactical demand that will block any chance for the peace they claim he does not really want.

The problem is, Oren then fails to actually refute this. And I don’t mean robustly, I mean at all. Oren goes on to claim that Israel “recognizes the existence of a Palestinian people with an inalienable right to self-determination in its homeland”, which sounds nice but the reality of it is very different. This is because Israel doesn’t actually recognise a Palestinian homeland. How else would you explain its policy to settle Palestine’s “inaliable homeland” with hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers?

Oren’s position gets even more tenuous:

So why won’t the Palestinians reciprocate? After all, the Jewish right to statehood is a tenet of international law. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 called for the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in the land then known as Palestine and, in 1922, the League of Nations cited the “historical connection of the Jewish people” to that country as “the grounds for reconstituting their national home.” In 1947, the United Nations authorized the establishment of “an independent Jewish state,” and recently, while addressing the General Assembly, President Obama proclaimed Israel as “the historic homeland of the Jewish people.” Why, then, can’t the Palestinians simply say “Israel is the Jewish state”?

Oren’s reference to “international law” seems to contain very little actual law. We can discount immediately a random speech by Obama, which could only have been intended as complete buffer. Citing the now extremely defunct League of Nations policy as a “tenet of international law” is tenuous at best. The Balfour Declaration too was a British policy statement, and though the British mandate over Palestine was accepted by the League of Nations in 1922, one would then also have to consider the McMahon-Hussein correspondence and the Churchill White Paper, which both repudiate much of the Balfour Declaration. Besides, Palestine had zero representation in the League of Nations.

Moreover, Mr. Oren’s extremely selective use of international law is galling. What about the whole host of UN Security Council resolutions that Israel routinely ignores? Not to mention the recent UN HRC fact finding missions into both Cast Lead and the flotilla incident? The hypocrisy is maddening.

The rest of the op-ed then collapses into fear mongering about “a two-stage solution leading, as many Palestinians hope, to Israel’s dissolution” and Palestinians failing to accept “that the millions of them residing in Arab countries would be resettled within a future Palestinian state and not within Israel”. Why should they accept this? They have no hope of being “resettled” in Israel regardless of its identity, and why should they want to be resettled in Palestine? Should we forcibly resettle the Jewish diaspora in Israel? This is ridiculous beyond words.

Israelis need to know that further concessions would not render us more vulnerable to terrorism and susceptible to unending demands. Though recognition of Israel as the Jewish state would not shield us from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

And equally the Palestinians need to know that Israel is serious about peace, that it is willing to accept the right of a Palestinian state to exist and immediately halt the illegal settlement of occupied land within that future state. Though a halt to that settlement would not shield Palestine from further assaults or pressure, it would prove that the Israelis are not suicidally inclined towards an inevitable one-state solution. That’s how easy it is to turn this ridiculous argument on its head.

Mr. Oren concludes his op-ed with a paragraph that neatly sums up the tone and content of the rest of it, namely unabashed propaganda without meaning, logic or sense.

The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government. Criticism of Israeli policies often serves to obscure this fact, and peace continues to elude us. By urging the Palestinians to recognize us as their permanent and legitimate neighbors, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pointing the way out of the current impasse: he is identifying the only path to co-existence.

There are many ‘cores’ to the conflict, be they territory, security, national self-determination, dignity or oppression, but no one serious “refuses to recognize the Jews as a people”. The fact that some Jews are “indigenous to the region” is a matter of irrelevance and as for “the right to self-government”, the only way that Jews are going to lose the right to govern Israel is if they absorb a massive demographic shift of Palestinians under an inevitable one state solution.

And therein lies the irrational, paradoxical quality of the debate today. Mr. Oren’s op-ed reflects a fear that Israel will lose its Jewish character, but the most surefire way that that can happen is by not fast-tracking a two state solution by halting settlements and negotiating seriously. Every day the two-state solution grows further out of reach, until the inevitable point when Israel will be the only political entity between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. On that day, Israel will be faced with a choice: give the Palestinians a right to vote or create a state of true apartheid character. I strongly suggest that, instead of writing hyperbolic op-eds in the New York Times, Mr. Oren devote himself to getting his country out of that inevitable mess.

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Written by alexlobov

October 15, 2010 at 1:19 am

UPDATED: A Knesset bill to watch

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This isn’t getting much coverage:

The Israeli parliament’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a bill on Monday requiring a 60-MK majority and national consent on withdrawing from territory occupied by Israel in 1967.

The referendum bill on withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights and East Jerusalem mandates that any government decision be brought before Israeli citizens in a referendum, Israeli news site Ynet reported. [Ma’an News Agency]

I don’t know what the likelihood is that a bill like this would pass but the fact that it might see the light of the Knesset is troubling. Firstly, it damages the potential of success for a future Israeli-Syrian peace track. By putting a plot of land viewed widely by Israelis to be a key strategic advantage to a populist referendum it harms any opportunity of future Israeli governments easily returning it to Syria.

Most pressingly, what this bill essentially achieves is yet another barrier to a two state solution and an independent Palestinian state. By putting in place further political roadblocks, it makes it easier for far right populist politicians like Avigdor Lieberman to manipulate both public opinion and votes in the Knesset and further the two state impasse. Once again, one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan becomes ever more inevitable.

Update: One of the smartest Twitter users in the Middle East, @Elizrael, points out that there is already such a law in place for the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied after the Six Day War in 1967 and annexed in 1981 with the Golan Heights Law. This action is not recognised internationally and is still considered occupied territory, as per UN Security Council Resolution 242 which remains in force to this day.

The bill that @Elizrael refers to also appears to be called the “Golan Heights Law” and was proposed by Likud MK Silvan Shalom. Any return of the Golan Heights was to require a 50% special majority of Knesset members (61/120) as well as a majority in national referendum. This was a move by the right to preempt any move by Barak to hand the Golan back to Syria, as negotiations at that stage were considered quite advanced. Incidentally, one piece of evidence indicating that Israel’s current path of discriminatory lawmaking is not that recent an event, Likud MK Uzi Landau advocated excluding Israeli Arabs from such a referendum on the grounds that it would be unfair to have Arabs voting on a proposal to hand back Arab land. On March 1,2000, the Knesset gave the bill preliminary approval. (1)

Unfortunately, I can find no further evidence or information on the interwebs about this bill, or whether it was passed. If anyone hears of anything, let a brother know. According to @Elizrael, “The Golan law was passed, however, it needs additional legislation of how to conduct the referendum, which wasn’t passed. The additional legislation has been delayed for years (including by Bibi now) because it can cause problems with the US. This means that the current law will also never see the light of day.”

All this makes for some interesting food for thought.

1. The only thing I could find via google on this bill came form Steven K. Maize’s 2006 book, “Israel’s Higher Law”. Page 215.

Crisis in Silwan – Is this the Third Intifada?

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”]

The Old City of Jerusalem saw fresh violence yesterday, sparked by the killing of a Palestinian man (later revised to two Palestinians dead when a second succumbed to his wounds)  in the largely Arab Silwan district of occupied East Jerusalem. Palestinians took to the streets and the resulting clashes with police left at least 10 Israelis, including a policeman, and 2 Palestinians wounded, though figures are still not concrete. Here are a few reports of the incident, where the details are, as usual, contested.

The UAE’s Gulf News reports:

Israeli authorities said the guard, who provided government-funded protection for a small Jewish colony in the Silwan district, opened fire on dozens of Palestinians who had blocked and stoned his car before dawn.

“It was his life or theirs,” said Ariel Rosenberg, spokesman for Israel’s Construction and Housing Ministry.

Israel’s Ha’aretz reports:

The security guard told police that he was driving through the town alone and stopped at a gas station, despite the guidelines which forbade him from stopping in the local stations. The guard added that he feared that he would be abducted after several Palestinians blocked his car.

Palestinian News Agency Ma’an reports:

Director of the Wad Hilwa Information Center Jawwad Siyam said an Israeli security guard opened fire at the four men, who were driving through the area at 5 a.m., chasing them down an alley. One of the injured remains in critical condition, the director said.

Israel National Police spokeswoman Loba Samri told reporters at the scene that Sarhan was known for participating in protests and demonstrators, offering a different account of the events leading to his death.

Samri said the guard had crashed his car in the area after which the four began pelting him with stones near one of the local settlers’ homes. The guard then opened fire, killing one, she said.

Israel’s Jerusalem Post reports:

The guard, fearing for his life, allegedly opened fire with his personal firearm at a group of rock throwers and killed a resident. Police found two knives and screwdriver on the body of the victim, who had a previous criminal history and was known to police.

The stark contrast in the reporting is obvious, as usual, and a further reminder of how difficult it is to know the truth during these conflicts when reading reports by the major media outlets. As Daniel Siedemann and Lara Friedman write for Americans for Peace Now:

This account raises immediate questions, including the most obvious one: why was he going alone, in the wee hours of the morning, to a small Palestinian gas station in this area – something that according to press reports his own security protocols forbid?  His account is also challenged by reports from Palestinians on the ground that the guard actively pursued and only then shot the Palestinians who allegedly threw stones – an account that contradicts the claim that the use of lethal force was in self-defense.

Journalist Joseph Dana was at the scene throughout and was very informative via Twitter. Dana also has a lengthy report up at Electronic Intifada about the incident:

“At 3:30 or 4am I heard some noise outside of my window,” Silwan resident Abdallah Rajmi told me as we stood on a narrow street in the middle of a battle between young Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli occupation forces from the Border Police. “I thought it was a simple drunken fight but then I heard a lot of noise coming from the people involved and my neighbors began waking up.”

Silwan is a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, near the walled Old City, and is the target of an ongoing Israeli government plan to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes and replace them with Israeli settlements and a Jewish-themed park.

Rajmi recalled the events as tear gas and rocks were being thrown from both sides onto the alley where we were standing. “At this point I went to my roof to see what was happening and I saw three settler guards with ‘small weapons’ approach a group of young Palestinian men,” referring sarcastically to the guards’ large Uzi assault riles. “The guards began shooting the men and everyone in Silwan woke up.”

At this point, we had to move to the entrance of Rajmi’s house because a storm of rocks started to rain down on us and the Border Police began to use rubber-coated steel bullets.

Dana continues to describe the situation in the aftermath of the killing:

This situation continued for five hours throughout Silwan. Pockets of stone-throwing here and there while tear gas covered the whole village as a form of collective punishment. Eventually, the funeral march began with calls of “God is great!” and every resident of Silwan came to the street to join the procession. As the funeral march wound its way through the narrow streets, people began attacking every settler house, car or bit of infrastructure in its path. Eventually, at the entrance of Silwan right next to the entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, and the “City of David” settler complex, the crowd exploded with rage and full-scale destruction began. Windows were smashed in the front of the City of David building and Israeli Border Police cars were flipped over and set on fire.

As the group moved closer to the al-Aqsa compound, a number of public buses from the Israeli company Egged were on the road. Angry Silwan residents expressed their frustration and began to destroy every window and surface of the buses possible. At one point, people entered the buses in order to rip out their seats. This happened while the bus driver was still inside. The procession reached the al-Aqsa compound and the tension died down but news agencies are now reporting that stone throwing from the al-Aqsa compound plateau began when the funeral was over and Israeli troops had entered the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

Philip Weiss’ account can be read at Mondoweiss.

Incidents like this should not be taken lightly This has the potential of sparking a serious crisis. It’s precisely relatively small incidents like this that build up into huge snowballs of violence and spark intifadas. The West Bank, particularly occupied East Jerusalem and the Old City, are dangerous powder kegs and serious steps need to be taken to preserve some modicum of peace. Siedemann and Friedman once again on what those steps should be:

The government needs to communicate clearly with Israeli security forces on the ground in Silwan and make clear to their commanders that their goal must be to contain the event with minimal confrontation, and that use of force must be truly used only as a last resort.

Israeli security forces on the ground must intervene to ensure that Silwan settlers and their supporters (and their security personnel) do not act on the ground to increase tensions, particularly in light of this evening’s Erev Sukkot celebrations at the Western Wall and in the Silwan settlements (the eve of the Sukkot is a major celebration).

The Prime Minster’s office should go out swiftly and on the record expressing regret over the loss of life, and assuring a prompt impartial investigation.  Given recent actions of the Israeli Police leadership and the Attorney General in Silwan, this cannot be another routine investigation and cannot be left in either of their hands.  Rather, this must be an impartial, independent investigation will be genuine and address the fears and concerns of the Palestinian residents.

Jerusalem is still on high alert with checkpoints set up in several neighbourhoods, particularly around the Old City, as well as Al-Isawiya, and the Shu’fat refugee camp, where clashes had spread the night before. The Israeli presence in Silwan is also testament to how seriously the situation is being taken and what sort of force the Israelis intend to use.

”]A continuation of protests and possible rioting is predicted in Jerusalem tonight, Joseph Dana will once again be there, as will journalist Lisa Goldman and they will hopefully keep us updated via Twitter. Follow them here and here.

Written by alexlobov

September 24, 2010 at 3:32 am

Lebanon in the event of an Iran strike

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This piece was originally published at NOW!Lebanon, titled “Lebanon in the event of an Iran strike

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of discussion in US foreign policy circles about the potential for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Much of this discussion has been focused around Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy and alarmist cover story for The Atlantic Magazine about the likelihood of such a strike happening within the next 12 months. However, no discussion of an Israeli, or indeed American, strike on Iran can ignore the unavoidable involvement of Lebanon, and the subsequent impact on the country.

Goldberg interviewed around “forty current and past Israeli decision-makers” as background for his piece, but many of them remain anonymous, and those who are named appear to contribute little different to what we already knew: Israel considers Iran an “existential threat” and is very worried, and all options are always on the table, some of them more likely than others. Thus, the motivation of Goldberg’s sources must be better understood. Why would Israeli decision makers be telling Jeffrey Goldberg that there’s a good chance of an Israeli strike on Iran? Because they understand Goldberg’s influence in Washington, and they want to mainstream the idea of not only an Israeli strike, but a potentially pre-emptive one from the US. This story has already had a broad ripple effect in the political media ecosystem, having been expanded into a fully-fledged debate on The Atlantic website and picked up by other outlets and blogs alike. This process helps an idea gain a legitimacy it didn’t have before the original big story dropped.

While, of course, such a story alone cannot be blamed for a military strike, in many ways, this process is reminiscent of similar discussions in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq war, during which Jeffrey Goldberg played a remarkably similar role. In 2010, the potentially disastrous consequences of such a strike by the US, many of which would also eventuate in the case of an Israeli one, cannot be easily dismissed, and some are even mentioned by Goldberg himself: a closing of the Straits of Hormuz; a massive spike in the price of oil, exacerbating the global recession; destabilisation of the Gulf region; deadly reprisals from Iranian-sponsored terrorist outfits abroad; a nail in the coffin for the Iranian “Green Movement;” and a shoring up of sympathy for Iran’s regime internationally. Most alarmingly, Iran’s actual pursuit of nuclear-weapons capacity, both the details and progress of it, are still in doubt. A strike would, much as it did with Israel’s strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, impel Iran’s regime to redouble its efforts to reach such a capacity.

The consequences of a strike on Iran for the fragile détente between Israel and Hezbollah are unpredictable at best and a powder keg at worst. “Israel or the United States cannot just bomb Iran and (expect) things to continue normally,” Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, told Reuters in March. “Any attack on Iran could ignite the whole region and the assailant will pay a heavy price whether it’s Israel or the United States.”

Cross-border rocket reprisals from Hamas and Hezbollah are widely expected in the case of a strike on Iran, but the extent of the potential conflict cannot be precisely anticipated. Many analysts already believe that the next war between Israel and Hezbollah is a matter of when, not if, and there are plenty of potential excuses for war already. One major cause for concern is the exploration of Tamarand Leviathan,two recently-discovered gas fields that could, as estimated by the US partner in exploration Noble Energy, contain up to 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. The maritime boundary between Israel and Lebanon is not well defined, and Beirut has also taken steps to begin off-shore exploration. Natural resources aside, Hezbollah’s steady rearmament since 2006 and Israel’s continued manned overflights over Lebanese territory, both in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, are reason enough for a major conflict to be sparked by either side.

Concerning Hezbollah’s rearmament, as noted by Daniel Kurtzer in his July report for the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, the party has improved both the quantity and quality of its weaponry since 2006, although it is unclear exactly by how much. Since Gabi Ashkenazi’s ascendancy to IDF chief of staff, Israel has also maintained that it is far more prepared today to fight a war with Hezbollah than in previous years. As repeatedly noted in Kurtzer’s report, Israel has not only levelled at Hezbollah the as-yet-unproven charge of acquiring Scud missiles from Syria, but also prepared for it, as well as the strategic threat from Syrian M-600 rockets or even advanced surface-to-air missiles, such as the S-300, which Israel considers a “red line.”

What this indicates is that Israel takes the threat from Hezbollah very seriously, and would be keeping this threat in mind in accompaniment to any potential strike on Iran.

If Goldberg’s story, particularly its many statements from Israeli officials, is to be viewed largely as an Israeli PR exercise, then Israel probably wishes to allow time for the off chance that the Obama administration will conduct a US strike on Iran, something Israel almost certainly prefers. The administration is in no hurry. As reported in the New York Times last week, administration officials believe that there is roughly a year before Iran achieves “breakout” nuclear capacity, or the time it would take to convert low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade.  Iran’s distance from real nuclear-weapons capacity, and Israel’s current wariness of an immediate military conflict with Hezbollah indicate that a strike would likely occur toward the end of Goldberg’s proposed 12-month window, if at all.

No mistake should be made about the consequences for Lebanon. Benjamin Netanyahu has already made it clear that, as a result of Hezbollah’s inclusion in Lebanon’s cabinet, the whole country would be held responsible for attacks on Israel. This is an apparent extension of Israel’s supposed “Dahiyeh Doctrine” to cover not only southern Lebanon but the country’s institutions and infrastructure on a national level, bringing with it alarming possibilities stemming from Israel’s destruction of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

Obama does not have the stomach for the initiation of another major conflict, but only time will tell whether Israel is prepared to put aside concerns of a complicated entanglement with Hezbollah, along with the other host of issues mentioned above, and actually execute a strike on Iran unilaterally. The possibility for unmitigated disaster is great, and hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

How far away is the next Israel-Lebanon war?

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United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) commander General Claudio Graziano awards medals to members of the peacekeeping force in Southern Lebanon | GETTY Images

This is a question that has been discussed for years, arguably since the last open conflict in 2006 ended in an Israeli withdrawal and an expanded UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) mandate to keep the peace in the southern part of the country. That conflict may have ended but its after-effects linger. Long after the cluster munitions fired from both sides settled into the earth, many of them remain unexploded and continue to kill civilians. Long after the withdrawal, the near-universal consensus that Israel was not the clear ‘winner’ it intended to be and the Winograd Commission’s findings were published, Israeli embarrassment at not having been able to ‘win’ simmers and the conflict festers.

Most commentators believe that a new conflict (though the two countries are still technically at war) is a matter of when not if. Note this interesting discussion on the Qifa Nabki blog (an excellent point of reference for Lebanon, for the uninitiated) with Nicholas Noe, founder of The Middle East Wire,

The roots of the conflict are broad. Hizbullah is only gaining in power and prominence in Lebanon. It has a ready supply of arms, funding and is gaining legitimacy across the sectarian divide in Lebanon. Many Lebanese perceive Hizbullah as the dominant military power in Lebanon and the only power capable of defending Lebanon against Israeli aggression. Israel, particularly its right-wing-stacked political climate, cannot cope with a resurgent, popular and increasingly assertive Islamist opposition on its Northern border. This, along with its less than impressive display in 2006, are a cause for embarrassment among Israeli war hawks.

Factor in the continued aggressive moves by Israel in Lebanon and you already have a veritable powder keg. For example, Israel continues to operate manned overflights in Lebanese air space, in violation of UNSCR resolution 1701 and international law generally. Or take Israel’s continued occupation of several disputed areas on the border between Lebanon and the (equally occupied) Golan Heights.

Recent news is only set to aggravate tensions. Clashes have broken out along the border between UNIFIL and local villagers, reportedly unhappy with military exercises being performed and the perceived ‘pressure’ on Hizbullah from the international community over an alleged Scud rockets transfer (that is far from proven) and its ongoing arms buildup.

More threateningly, ongoing exploration of the Tamar and Leviathan gasfields has become a real cause for concern since it was estimated that they may contain up to 35 years of Israel’s current consumption of natural gas and may even make it a net exporter. The territoriality of the fields is disputed by Lebanon which says that they may also be part of its own natural waters. This was followed by Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau’s comments to Bloomberg last week that Israel would use force if necessary to defend its right to develop and produce the fields. [via FP’s Oil & Glory]

The reality is that Israel’s infrastructure advantage means that they are far better positioned to develop and explore these fields than Lebanon. Also, the Western backed coalition, led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, that holds a tenuous grip on power in Lebanon, is unlikely to do anything real to challenge Israel on its hegemony over the gasfields. Hizbullah, which dominates the country’s opposition bloc, is likely to make a real issue of this.

Given that squabbles over natural resources are a perfect pretext for countries to go to war, it’s difficult to see how this news makes war even remotely avoidable. As Nicholas Noe puts it to Qifa Nabki, linked above, the only foreseeable thing that could stop this are “some bold moves by the Obama administration in the next year.” Given the Administration’s recent history in the region and its many policy failures to date, this eventuality seems rather unlikely indeed.

Written by alexlobov

July 6, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Turkey & NATO are not to be trifled with

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NATO

Turkey has called an emergency meeting of NATO to discuss the attack on the aid flotilla, JPost reports (does anyone else find it funny that this was posted under Arts & Entertainment on JPost?):

NATO called Tuesday for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation” into Monday’s Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that ended with the deaths of nine activists.

Representatives of the alliance’s 28 nations met on Tuesday to discuss the incident. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen demanded the immediate release of the detained civilians and ships held by Israel.

Turkey called the emergency meeting, but its representative did not demand that the alliance take collective action against Israel, said a diplomat who attended the talks.

This is important because Turkey could have tried to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, this is because as mentioned in this interpretation of maritime law, “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.”

NATO’s calls for an impartial investigation follow the UN Security Council’s calls for one earlier in the day.

It should be noted that Turkey also threatened yesterday to send more boats but under the escort of the Turkish Navy. If Turkey were to actually make good on this particular threat then we the stakes would be raised dramatically. Israel would either have to face an embarrassing backdown on their blockade or attack Turkish ships, which would precipitate a full-scale war and an invocation of NATO Article 5. If such a thing were to actually eventuate, NATO, of course, would not participate in an Israeli-Turkish war but its refusal to do so would also deal the organisation a death blow.

There’s a great little analysis of a potential war between Israel and Turkey over on Newshoggers, but, as the writer Dave Anderson himself concludes, such a war makes no sense for anyone right now. Moreover, I’m sure that Obama will talk Turkey out of doing anything even remotely provocative, given how desperately his administration is still trying to grasp at the straws of indirect peace talks.

There are some very interesting thoughts on Turkish-Israeli relations here:

But this attack really puts the Turkish generals in a box. They had been the faction largely driving the Entente. And now the AKP can continue to implement its soft-shoe version of Islamism in Turkey–as the secularists don’t have an ultimate trump card in the military. This has long been a project of the AKP, to chip away at the strength of the generals.

Turkey will probably draw closer to Syria–after all it doesn’t need Israel to pressure Syria to kick out the Kurds as it did back in the late 90s. This benefits Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. I’d also say much of this is largely a consequence of our invasion of Iraq, too.

So, in this action Israel has done the following: put America and NATO in a very difficult place. It’s emboldened the Islamists in Turkey and weakened the generals in Ankara. It has also forced Turkey closer to Syria.

Quite the strategic win for the Israeli strategic genius, ain’t it?

The author makes a very good point. Turkish-Israeli relations have been pretty messed up since Cast Lead and this is pretty much going to destroy them altogether for a long time. Apart from personal ideology, Erdogan will be under far too much domestic pressure to even consider any positive moves towards Israel. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Israel should beware. Turkey is not to be trifled with.

Bonus: MV Rachel Corrie, an Irish ship, is heading towards Gaza. The Irish Foreign Minister has requested that Israel allow it through the blockade. Israel has said that it will also intercept it. Will it also be raided? Presumably the occupants of the ship, five Irish and five Malaysian nationals are prepared for such an eventuality. Let’s hope there is no violence but watch closely what Israel does. Will it again pre-empt the ships arrival by raiding it in international waters? Will it send commandos again? And will an attack on an Irish vessel precipitate a broadening of the already extensive diplomatic crisis?

Written by alexlobov

June 2, 2010 at 4:04 am

Updates: Aftermath of flotilla attack during the second day

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Israeli forces approach one of six ships bound for Gaza yesterday. Photograph: Pool/Reuters Hat-tip: Guardian

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.

and

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.