Friday, June 4, 2010
The Israeli Navy forces’ deadly flotilla raid shook the world and created broad condemnation of Israel this week. According to the latest account, nine people were killed, dozens injured and hundreds detained, only to be released when Israel was given stern warnings by Turkey.
There are a number of reasons that made the world’s public opinion rapidly build against Israel over this particular incident.
First, the Israeli administrations of recent years have gained, with their various policies on Gaza, the hostility of public opinion across Europe and certainly in the Muslim world, mainly through mass media and the Internet. The Gaza blockade, which has been going on for more than three years since Hamas took control, and Operation Cast Lead, which was conducted in December 2008 and resulted in the killing of more than a thousand Gazans, were only the two biggest building blocks that helped quickly gather the stormy outcry this time over this flotilla raid.
However, late Thursday, maybe for the first time, the Netanyahu government showed signs of realizing the destruction it has done to its own cause as well as Palestinians and decided to review its blockade regime and start softening it. Let us hope there will be a more constructive administration in Jerusalem in the coming weeks and months.
When the deadly confrontation happened, mobilized mainly by Turkey’s active or aggressive diplomacy and loud condemnations, most countries made up their minds quickly and passed judgment to blame Israel. Because nobody has to be a military expert to understand that the ships could have been prevented from going to Gaza by many other ways, without any killing. Prime Minister Netanyahu can claim all he wants that the whole world is against his country, a claim he indeed made during his first public appearance following the clash, when he ended up accusing the whole world of “hypocrisy.” When we simply look at today’s isolated countries, we see that all of them have similarly hostile and enemy-focused worldviews. There should be a lesson just there.
One of the biggest losers in this latest fallout is the U.S. administration. This week marks the first anniversary of the then-historic, nowadays looking mostly theatrical, Cairo speech that was given by U.S. President Barack Obama. In that speech, Obama promised to mend ties with the Muslim world by taking bold steps for the Israeli/Arab conflict.
So, in a quest for a new Middle East policy, but not much of a comprehensive one by Obama’s own account in a Time magazine interview a couple of months ago, the U.S. president put forward a complete settlement freeze as a precondition for the peace process to start and repeatedly displayed tough love for the Netanyahu government. For about a year, Obama exhausted nearly all of his time, political capital and energy in confrontations, mostly public ones, to show he is determined and different.
Once Washington realized that the midterm elections are nearing and big losses in both houses of Congress inevitable, the Obama team decided to make a sharp U-turn to close ranks with Israel’s friends in the U.S. capital and not risk further tension with America’s closest ally in the Middle East. Netanyahu was in the White House only a month ago, where he was met with a cold shoulder, snubbed for an Obama family dinner and received no photo opportunity. Only a little more than one month later, this time through White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s invitation, he was getting ready to arrive at the White House to start a honeymoon period, if only he had not botched the flotilla crisis.
The flotilla crisis came right about the time that the White House made a decision to warm relations with the Israeli government and its friends in Washington. Obama does not only need Netanyahu for the reasons above, but he needs Netanyahu to be able to go on with the indirect talks. Otherwise, an administration that has acknowledged the Arab/Israeli peace as a foremost objective on its foreign-policy radar, would end up looking like a complete failure after a year and a half, draining its credibility in the region.
At this particular juncture and critical point for the Obama administration, when viewed from the Middle East, its legacy is about to disappear forever due to not being able to get anything right.
Early this week, on Tuesday, when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited Washington for a day, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones spent an extraordinary long time meeting with him. Turkey has been the most discussed foreign country in Washington since it helped broker a deal with Iran three weeks ago.
Gen. Jones, however, was hosting also another foreign delegation in the White House on the same day, assembled by Israel’s Washington Ambassador Michael Oren and Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Uzi Aden. It is hard to speculate how Mr. Jones dealt with two almost-enemy countries on the same day, except the fact that we know the Israeli delegation spent about four hours in the White House without receiving any criticism about their actions during and after the flotilla raid.
For months, many Middle East analysts and Jewish intellectuals have been arguing that if the current Israeli administration keeps on with their policies on the occupation, blockade and settlements, Israel will enter a total isolation zone in which it will earn itself a lot of unwelcoming countries near and far. Following one of the saddest incidents in relations between Turkey and Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean, it is safe to say that Israel has sped up to reach that isolation zone.
When I voiced the opinion about the looming flotilla crisis last week, I predicted that the Israeli leader would have enough international-affairs reading to handle the flotilla crisis and use his scheduled, then postponed, meeting with the U.S. president to spank Turkey, while giving smiley pictures to mark his start of a honeymoon with Obama. I made a mistake. I couldn’t predict his administration would have processed the crisis by choosing the worst-possible careless and incompetent way.
Netanyahu also succeed in making Turkey look like a radical Arab country, stuck with a “with us or against us” mentality. It is still not clear how much Turkey’s public opinion has changed over a week while viewing the world politics, how many hundreds of thousands of youngsters in Turkey decided this past week that the Jewish people and the Americans are their enemies. One would only hope that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s and Minister Davutoğlu’s repeated fuming statements will not at some point spiral out to coil the emotions of Turkey’s Mediterranean youth to make them hate-mongers while viewing the “others.”
About everything the Israeli government did last week worked against its case, helped to increase radicalism in the Muslim world and was detrimental to regional peace.
If nothing else, Israel helped the Turkish administration make a better case for its regional-power aspirations to steer a more conservative and Muslim nationalist country.
In brief, a great manmade disaster, that Israel created.