A feeling of pervasive sadness and, of course, obsession with the news. There are ways to spin this (as always) to make the world’s treatment of Israel seem unfair, since (as always) it is unfair. There are certainly ways to explain it that exonerate the naval commandos, if not their high commanders.
But there is no way to spin it that makes it any less of a tragedy for all concerned—most of all for the dead and their families; but second most of all, for Israel. Nor is there any way to spin it that makes it anything less than a victory for Hamas.
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few days, Israeli navy commandos boarded six ships in a flotilla of self-styled peace activists, bound for Gaza with ten thousand tons of mostly innocuous supplies, in international waters. The operation was five sixths successful; crews and passengers on five of the six ships complied with Israeli warnings, were escorted to the port of Ashdod, held for a day or two, and released, while their cargoes were inspected and (with some exceptions) prepared for shipment to Gaza.
But that’s not the five sixths that matters. On the sixth ship, the commandos were set upon as they descended from their helicopter, beaten severely with metal rods and bats, thrown from the upper to the lower deck or into the water, knifed, and/or shot. They defended themselves, and at least nine of the six hundred civilians on the ship were killed, many more wounded.
Videos prove that this was the way events unfolded, and that the crude weapons were at the ready on the ship. Clearly the activists, or more likely some subgroup of them, had been thoroughly prepared. They had their little arsenal, and they had live-streaming video broadcast on Al-Jazeera almost in real time—showing their side of the story of course. This was a classic, planned provocation of the strong by the weak, and it worked like a charm.
As Haaretz put it, Israel walked right into the trap set by the activists. Perhaps they had ties to Hamas and even Al-Qaeda, implausible as the latter connection seems. It doesn’t matter. The world only sees, hears, and feels bleeding civilians, engaged in a humanitarian effort to break the siege of Gaza.
For now, Israel has secured the blockade, a battle won. I hope this is a very important victory, because the likely price of it includes:
–the final nail in the coffin of its special relationship with Turkey, long a natural ally and a trump card in the Islamic world;
–condemnation by France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, and countless other nations across the globe;
–embarrassment, once again, of the United States, by far Israel’s best friend, but a friend whose patience cannot last forever;
–the burden placed on Jews throughout the world of defending, again, tactics that most people find indefensible;
–the likely postponement of organized international action against Iran to stop its nuclear program, an existential threat to Israel;
–and most important, a massive strategic defeat in the war for the hearts and minds of all humanity, and a big victory for the enemies of Israel and the Jews.
There is no blame, in my view, for the naval officers and sailors. They warned the crews of the six vessels loudly and clearly that they would not allow them to approach the Gaza Strip; they described exactly what they were going to do, which was what they in fact did with five of the ships, their passengers, and cargoes. On the sixth they were assaulted by violent mobs that greatly outnumbered them. They had a right to self-defense.
Does this matter to the world at large? No.
Therefore, Israel has two choices. One is to say, We’ve always stood alone (a dangerous falsification of history) and The world will hate us no matter what we do (most countries that counted loved Israel in 1947, 1967, 1973, and 1993) and We can only rely on God (God, Israel should have learned, helps those who help themselves, and not just with guns).
Choice number two is not to jump when the world says jump. But it’s also not to turn a deaf ear to the world’s concerns. I leave it up to Israel to decide how to listen. But stonewalling is a default to option one above, which will not work much longer. And the clock is ticking.