Monday, May 31, 2010

Gaza Flotilla in Context

The end of the story is that the attempt to divert a Turkish ship from breaking Israel's blockade of Gaza was a fiasco. Israel churned out video and testimony showing that the boarding force thought it was facing a ship full of naive Western Hamas supporters intent on grandstanding, while in reality it was a ship of Turkish and Arab thugs eager to participate in the war against the Jewish State, as if this would somehow win us the case. It won't.

It will of course be important widely to disseminate these videos and reports, so as to bolster the base (in which spirit, I'm linking to Solomonia who seems to have the single best one-post roundup, while Elder of Ziyon has a raft of interesting posts reflecting his trawling of Arab sources. Many others also did fine work). Yet let us not delude ourselves: the operation was a failure. It caused a tidal wave of condemnation of Israel; it may yet lead to harmful diplomatic fallout; and while it achieved the narrow goal of upholding the blockade, it strengthened the resolve of our enemies, and enhanced the distaste many observers feel towards us.

It may have been justified, but it wasn't wise. Most people will ask what Israeli troops were doing on the ship in the first place, thus canceling the impact of all those videos, and they'll ask why there's a blockade on Gaza that anyone needs to break, thus accepting the basic premise of the flotilla's organizers.

We need to step back and remind ourselves of the broad picture of the concentric circles at whose center we live.

The outer circle is the utter hatred large swathes of the Muslim World bear towards the idea and reality of a Jewish state. As a demonstrator in Istanbul shouted, there can be no Jewish state in the Arab world: what bothers him about the siege of Gaza is that Jews are in the position to impose it, not it's particular details. (The irony of Turks hating Jews for infractions of human rights or international law is striking).

The next circle are the Westerners of various stripes who also wish Israel gone, and reject the right of the Jews to be a nation. Many of the hate-motivated Muslims are willing or eager to engage in violence. Most of the Westerns haters aren't. They prefer to spew their malice at places like the Guardian, as documented daily by CiFWatch, or at many similar cesspools. Some, however, go further: Gerta Berlin, for example, a spokesperson of the Free Gaza Movement which collaborated in launching the flotilla, tells proudly that she's been active in Palestinian causes since the early 1960s, when Gaza was occupied by Egypt, not that she cared. She and her ilk are enemies of Israel, and will hi-jack whatever narrative holds out promise of damaging Israel. Today it's Gaza, before that it was Jenin, and next it will be... whatever.

Then there's the very large circle of cynics idealists and the lazy. The cynics are epitomized by, say, China. The Chinese don't care about international law or morality. They care about power and China. When working with Israel fits their purposes they'll do so gladly; when not, not. In neither case will they be motivated by the conditions in Gaza, to which they are utterly indifferent unless there's an angle for Chinese profit.

The idealists are the opposite of the cynics: they truly believe that post-WWII humanity lurched into a new historical era of dwindling nationalism, growing universalism and international institutions, and receding violence. Many take the profound insight of the Enlightenment, that all Men can recognize common truths through rational inquiry, and pretend it means that all men will, or that rational inquiry will lead all men to the same positions.

The lazy are the multitudes who live far from the genuine trouble spots, and pretend they aren't there; indeed, they insist they aren't there, or aren't genuine, lest they be called upon to act. Many of the lazy are so existentially lethargic they can't even be bothered to have children, since the raising of them would be such a hassle.

Of course many people manage to combine cynicism with idealism and laziness, but that's a topic for a book, not a blog post.

Most people in the three groups are not against Israel in any active way, and some even like Israel (in a lazy way). Yet they all find Israel ever more troublesome: the cynics, because Israel's actions interfere with business; the idealists because Israel insists on living in the wrong narrative; and the lazy because - oh, why don't the Israelis resolve their pesky issues and get on with life?

None of this is novel. Being horribly out of sync is what Jews do; the present bout has the magnificent advantage that it's being enacted from a position of strength.

There's a circle of people who deeply support Israel; most of them, oddly, are non-Jews who care about Israel's existence and well-being, or who recognize the forces arraigned against Israel as their own enemies. For them Israel is a focus of intense interest, not an anecdotal story on the edge of their world. In America they may even be the majority – but no-where else.

Then there's the inner circle, the one Israelis and their neighbors live in. All the others are constructs, words. This one is real. Actions have palpable consequences; wrong decisions make people die. In this inner circle, Israel accommodating itself to a Palestinian state in the 1990s causes a bloody war in 2000-2004. Moving out of Lebanon in 2000 set the stage for a bloody war in 2006. Ending that war with UNSC resolution 1701, which called for Hezbullah to be disarmed and created international mechanisms to ensure it, enabled Hezbullah to quadruple its arm caches so the next war will be far bloodier. Moving out of Gaza in 2005 caused the rise of Hamas, violence, a nasty war in 2009, and a worse one further on. Real people really die because of these things.

Israel will not disappear, not now, not later. It is one of the most vital places on earth, bursting with creativity and hugely committed to success; this is also one of the better moments in 3000 years of Jewish history – a rather glum statement, that, but true. Yet Israel is not being wise, as the case of the flotilla shows.

We all know that the threat from Hezbollah is greater than from Hamas, yet we don't blockade Lebanon. The price would be too high, so we grimly prepare for the next war in the hope that being prepared well enough will postpone it for a while, and in the meantime it's not an international detriment; on the contrary, perhaps we gain a measure of goodwill that we'll cash in on eventually. So why blockade Gaza? Is the blockade essential? Six months from now, or six years, we'll lift it, and Gaza will still be full of people who fervently wish for our destruction, just like in Lebanon: nu? At that point the defunct blockade will no longer be essential?

Some military actions will always be unavoidable. Do we do our very best to ensure that when we apply force, we're doing so in the most brilliant way possible? Have we thought out every scenario, and formulated a response to every counter move our enemies will make? Couldn't we could have silently jammed the propellers of those ships, leaving them dead in the water and begging us to save them from the blistering heat? Instead of heroic victims they'd be the world's laughing stock. I'm a mere blogger, not a decision maker, so perhaps there were reasons not to go that way: but were all options considered? Was the fiasco we ended up with the sole alternative? We handed our enemies an epic propaganda victory on a silver platter: that can't have been the best option?

Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Jazeera, the Guardian and Greta Berlin: these are our sworn enemies and there's nothing we can say that will reconcile us with them. Every action we take against them, however, must be calibrated – to the limited degree possible – to harm them, not enhance their position.

The cynics, the idealists and the lazy are not on our side, but nor are they inevitably our enemies. While we must not harm ourselves to attract their approval, we must vigilantly do our utmost to craft reality so it plays to our benefit, not our detriment. Defiance may be gratifying, but it's not always intelligent.

The decision to use measured force to block the flotilla was reasonable, if one assumes the blockade is essential, and if it could be done with no fanfare. The blockade, however, probably isn't essential, and the fanfare was what the organizers craved. Sadly, we're promoting their interests, not ours.

After millennia of powerlessness, the Jews have trained themselves to be among the world's best warriors: this is a source of pride and satisfaction, not something to apologize for. Now we need to learn the art of manipulative politics and refined scheming, of effective propaganda and cynical posturing, all while never losing that military prowess. We need the appearance of being right as often as possible, not only the conviction of it; and we need to achieve this by the standards of the cynics, the idealists and the lazy, not by our standards.