Israeli military spokespeople seem to have a recurring position — just shut up and listen to the military. Everything will be ok.
Once you unpack some of the assumptions in their communications narrative, the conflation becomes untenable. At some point, human rights matter, red lines get crossed and reality sets in. It becomes easy for the world to tune out Mark Regev.
Only in the bubble world that is the Israeli public sphere, could a disproportionate military action take place with nothing but stunned silence. The vast majority of the Israeli public sides with the military public relations campaign that began their talking points by calling the international flotilla an ‘armada’ and derided activists as being ‘linked to terrorism.’ Blocking aid to Gaza, for Israel, is really about Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Unfortunately, for Israel, no credible human rights organization agrees with their position. The choking off of Gaza has been an unmitigated human rights disaster.
But, this time, the criticism of Israel wasn’t coming from its usual detractors. This time, it was from Turkey — a trusted ally, sophisticated diplomatic player, a trusted confidante of Israel in the region — and a prospective EU member. Binyamin Netanyahu, who has built his entire political career by driving a right wing wedge in to Israeli society, has almost singlehandedly backed Israel in to a corner. Leading American strategists are actually getting to the point of realizing that Israeli self-interest is actually detrimental to American interests in the region.
Barack Obama delivered another disappointing and tepid response — not unlike the era of the George W. Bush Administration. Perhaps it was a strategic communication to act as leverage on the Israeli leadership to once again engage in a peace process. But no one is buying it. What is clear is that Netanyahu needs a grand gesture to get out of the corner he is leading Israel towards.
Provocation is what activists do — it is meant to bring out the failures in one’s adversaries and hypocrisy of their methods. But sending armed military to board a ship in the dead of night, was a grave and deadly miscalculation. It was a complete disaster as a military operation.
Who authorized such stupidity? The front bench of the Likud-led Israeli cabinet are right wing zealots. Defense Minister Ehud Barak should also bear full responsibility for this mishap.
Writing in Haaretz, Gideon Levy derisively observed the self-fulfilling prophecy in Israel’s approach: “Netanyahu said the whole world is against us. Wasn’t he right? He also said we live under an existential threat. Isn’t it beginning to look like that? Give it another minute and Turkey will be at war with us too. Netanyahu said there’s no chance of reaching an agreement with the Arabs. Wasn’t that spot on? Our prime minister, who saw danger lurking in every alleyway and enemies waiting around every corner, who has always taught that there is no hope, who has drummed into us that we shall forever live by the sword (just as his father the historian taught him), knew what he was talking about.”
There are many sad realities of Israeli nation building. Everyone in a position of power in Israeli society has served in the Israeli military. The Israeli military is the most powerful force shaping the country at a cultural level. The military culture has so distorted the strategic thinking of the Israeli leadership that great leaps of logic are parts of its rationalization on matters of human rights. Israeli exceptionalism, the idea that Israel writes its own rulebook, is a well orchestrated construction.
The Israeli public relations campaign has been on full throttle the past few days. But this time, just like all the other lines that have been delivered by military spokespeople over the years, rang hollow, the meaning carved out, empty of substance.
Even the centrist journalist Aluf Benn wrote in Haaretz, “The attempt to control Gaza from outside, via its residents’ diet and shopping lists, casts a heavy moral stain on Israel and increases its international isolation. Every Israeli should be ashamed of the list of goods prepared by the Defense Ministry, which allows cinnamon and plastic buckets into Gaza, but not houseplants and coriander. It’s time to find more important things for our officers and bureaucrats to do than update lists.”
The Turkish Prime Minister didn’t mince words by calling Israel’s actions”an act of state terrorism,” and the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in its statement that “this deplorable incident, which took place in open seas and constitutes a fragrant breach of international law, may lead to irreparable consequences in our bilateral relations.”
Unless there is a major shift in Israeli policy soon, we just may be witnessing the tipping point where Israel’s allies will fundamentally reorient their positions towards Israel. There is just too much a pattern of deadly, abusive behavior. The facts on the ground speak for themselves.
What is troubling is the desire for military victories in Israel. The failed 2006 War with Hezbollah in Lebanon was directly connected to the overwhelming Operation Cast Lead that came after. So it would not be a stretch to suggest that there will no doubt be another Israeli offensive in Gaza in the next few years. The Israeli military needs victories.
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