Israel's Actions on the High Seas: Part Justified and Part Chutzpah

The facts are under investigation, and time will tell which side was "legally" within its rights under international law. But legality rarely trumps public perception, and perception, not legal treatise, influences public opinion.
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There is an ominous shadow looming over Israel's recent international missteps. The global rush to judgment against Israel's interdiction of the Turkish ferry "Mavi Marmara" represents an important barometer of Israel's decaying public diplomacy.

In less than six months, under its truncated Likud government, Israel has managed to alienate its most important regional Muslim ally, Turkey; angered the United Arab Emirates with the botched assassination saga in Dubai; endured expulsion of diplomats from Australia and the United Kingdom -- two of Israel's greatest friends; accorded Hamas' supporters a public relations bonanza, and kicked settlement construction sand in the eyes of Vice President Biden.

For good measure, Israel's actions may undermine efforts to muster sufficient international support to have the United Nations impose the type of crippling economic sanctions against Iran that could mean the difference between a chastised Iran or an Iran with a nuclear bomb.

This is not a winning hand, chaver!

Israel's official reaction to the debacle on the high seas is part justified and part chutzpah. Part justified because the flotilla's organizers were offered a peaceful detour away from confrontation and rejected the offer preferring violence to score points at the expense of exposing innocents to unnecessary injury and death.The ringleaders on the ferry were akin to anarchists trying to provoke the police into a confrontation with a peaceful demonstration. Part chutzpah because Israel could have disabled the ferry's engines instead and towed the ship to shore instead of putting their soldiers and the protesters in harms way.

The facts are under investigation, and time will tell which side was "legally" within its rights under international law. But legality rarely trumps public perception, and perception, not legal treatise, influences public opinion.

Some of the defiant "in your face" statements to the crisis emerging from members of Israel's right wing coalition are troublesome. They are unhelpful to Israel's cause. Indeed, egged on by Israel's now indicted foreign minister, spokesmen for Israel's ultranationalist parties are all too primed to toss overboard with reckless abandon the value to Israel of its friends and allies to score debating points at home.

Like flotsam and jetsam, they devalue the importance to Israel of world opinion, its ties to Israel's most important regional allies, and the incalculable value of Israel's strategic partnership with the United States. They disparage President Obama, his Chief of Staff when visiting Israel, and gleefully humiliate those who dare to disagree. Enough is enough!

That leaves me with a sinking feeling about Israel's international condition.

The continued humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now front and center again in Arab media -- stoking more perilous anger and resentment. And the last thing that Israel needs now is more regional isolation and more Arab anger which diverts attention away from Iran's illegal nuclear ambitions. Does that not matter to Israel's ultranationalist settlement leadership?

The flotilla fiasco camouflages a more fundamental issue that defies easy resolution: the plight of Gaza's 1.5 million citizens caught in the vice between their unlucky choice of leadership and their inability to force their recalcitrant leaders to compromise with their Fatah compatriots to find a way out of their plight. Gaza's beleaguered civilians have a human right to have unfettered access to everyday goods, including all the things we take for granted: food, medicine, and the right to travel.

But make no mistake about it Hamas is callously using Gaza's hapless civilians as human shields to further its terror against Israel. They deserve release from this bondage not because it suits Hamas but because the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is simply unacceptable from any perspective. It would be a travesty if in the maelstrom of this mess Hamas is absolved of any responsibility for the plight of its wards.

The challenge to the Palestinians, to Israel, and to the rest of the world is how to chart an end to the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while preventing Hamas from rearming and re-launching its terrorist missiles against Israel. Gaza's population is paying too high a price for the stalemate to continue indefinitely.

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