Israeli Attack on the Aid Flotilla – A Decisive Shift in the Middle East Balance of Power

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Context

250_Turkish_FlotillaThe world was in shock on May 31st, after Israeli troops boarded a flotilla carrying around 700 activists bound for Gaza, and over 10,000 tons on aid for the poverty-stricken Gaza strip, killing at least ten on board. Although Al Qaeda has served the purpose of destruction and fissures in the Islamic world, Israeli attack has caused some sense of unity in the Islamic world, with Turkey taking charge.

This Analysis of Perception and Perspective looks how the Israeli attack has been viewed in the Islamic world and its wider implications.

Analysis

The lead ship, the Mavi Marmara, of the Turkish ‘Freedom Flotilla’ which left Cyprus with six ships carrying much-needed medical supplies, food and building materials was boarded early Monday morning, while still in international waters, by armed Israeli soldiers. Communication lines were blocked on the ship, and mobile phones of the passengers were confiscated. There are two accounts as to what followed:

Israel claims that their soldiers were attacked by the passengers aboard the ship, and acting in self defense, the Israeli commandos opened fire, killing ten people by some reports, 19 by others.

Passengers of the Freedom Flotilla tell that the Israeli soldiers operated a ‘shoot to kill’ policy, according to reports in the UK Guardian, and the findings of the autopsies carried out on the Turkish men killed are rather in support of this:

“A 60-year-old man, Ibrahim Bilgen, was shot four times in the temple, chest, hip and back. A 19-year-old, named as Fulkan Dogan, who also has US citizenship, was shot five times from less that 45cm, in the face, in the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back. Two other men were shot four times, and five of the victims were shot either in the back of the head or in the back, said Yalcin Buyuk, vice-chairman of the council of forensic medicine.”

The UK Guardian, June 4, 2010

The fallout from the Freedom Flotilla incident is still reverberating in the international arena. Israel maintains that it acted in self defense, and has even released video footage of the boarding, showing close ups of a sling shot and jars of marbles, as proof that the passengers were armed. Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Danny Ayalon was quoted as saying: “We do not need to apologize for defending ourselves. The armada of hate and violence is merely one manifestation of the constant provocation Israel faces.” Israel clearly sees itself as the victim in this situation.

The international community by and large has condemned the Israeli actions as extremely unnecessary and contemptible use of force against civilians, whether armed or unarmed. Every country has been forced to take a very hard introspective look at their relationship with Israel, as public outcry has turned markedly against the Jewish state. Let’s take a look at how the chips have fallen:

The US

350_Turkey_MapThe US is a long-standing supporter of Israel, and is generally very quiet or circumspect when it comes to issues of Israeli breaches of human rights in Gaza and the West Bank. The May 31st Security Council Presidential statement condemning the attacks and calling for an independent investigation has been supported by the US, however they have not joined the other members of the Security Council in calling for an immediate end to the Gaza blockade. Hilary Clinton, in a statement on June 1 further stated that the US supports an Israeli investigation that ‘meets the criteria’ laid out in the UN Security Council statement. Supporting the perpetrator conducting its own investigation into its own crime has raised more than a few eyebrows internationally. The US has been careful to make plain that it regrets the loss of life, but offers no other censure than that, and will remain a supporter of Israel’s.

Turkey

Israel’s actions have rent asunder the good relationship it had developed with Turkey over recent years, and many people are still puzzling over why it would perpetrate an act that would so obviously result in souring relations with Turkey. Turkey and Israel share military and economic ties to the tune of more than 3 billion annually-the Freedom Flotilla incident has put an absolute end to that. Turkey ordered home its diplomatic representatives in Israel, and Israel similarly recalled the families of diplomats in Turkey. Perhaps the Israeli’s perceptions of Turkey had altered since Turkey played a leading role in negotiating the nuclear swap with Iran, and so the relationship no longer mattered, but all, at this stage, is still conjecture as to why Israel destroyed such a beneficial relationship. This incident may be the nail in the coffin for Turkey’s western-looking orientation, with a shift in policies centering around fellow Muslim nations in the Middle East, as well as Russia and further east to China a distinct possibility.

Egypt

Egyptian relationships with Israel have come under the public eye once more, as Egyptian policies were complicit in the Gaza blockade that prompted the Freedom Flotilla in the first place. The only border not under total Israeli control around Gaza is that with Egypt, and Egypt has cooperated with Israel in maintaining the blockade against Gaza by sealing its border. While the border blockade is deeply unpopular with the Egyptian public, the government kept it in place partly because it feared the Hamas leadership in Gaza, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood group that originated in Egypt, and has caused considerable trouble for the Egyptian government. Bowing to public pressure since the Freedom Flotilla incident, Egypt has opened the Rafah border to Gaza, allowing select food and medical items to go into Gaza, and Palestinians with special permits, such as students and those in need of medical attention, to use the crossing. Any closing of the border is expected to spell political disaster for the Egyptian government, as the public ire from the Freedom Flotilla incident has been enormous.

Iran

Iran is perhaps an overlooked beneficiary of the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla. The government has of course decried the attack on the aid ships as ‘despicable’ and ‘unjustifiable’ but in quiet is surely breathing a small sigh of relief, as it has also taken the international focus off of Iran and the looming new round of sanctions, and squarely onto the situation in Gaza. Both Israel and the US have been the strongest voices calling for action against Iran, and now both states are somewhat discredited by the Flotilla incident-Israel for undertaking it in the first place, and the US for being so unwilling to actually take a stance against Israel in the face of such behavior.

AfPak Region

The Israeli actions have of course created great public outcry in the AfPak region, where sentiments against Israel are strong. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister shot back at the international outcry against the Israeli action by saying “in the past month alone, 500 people were killed in various incidents in Thailand, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and India, while the international community remained silent and passive, and generally ignored the occurrences, while Israel is condemned for unmistakably defensive actions”. India was of course upset to be lumped in with Pakistan in this statement, which was later amended by Mr Liebermen: “Israel stands hook, line and sinker behind India in its struggle in South Asia…We hold nothing against friendly countries like India for criticising us. The mention of India is a human error.” However, it should also be mentioned that the Indian Ambassador had earlier attended the session of Turkish Parliament in which Erdogan commented on the flotilla incident.

This show of support from Israel to India is very likely to only inflame enmity between India and Pakistan, who have in recent days likened the Taliban’s indiscriminate killing of civilians in Pakistan with the Freedom Flotilla incident.

Conclusion

The Israeli army is now set to award one of the soldiers, reportedly responsible for seven of the deaths aboard the lead ship of the Freedom Flotilla, with a medal of valor. This in every way speaks of the strong conviction Israel holds that it was in the right in its actions aboard the aid ship. Israel have very much drawn a line in the sand, and shouted in Bush-like rhetoric, “You’re either with us, or against us.”

PoliTact believes that the May 31st incident and its aftermath represents a decisive shift in the Middle East balance of Power and Turkey has gained over the Arabs. The arrival of another aid ship Rachel Corrie on June 5th, proves it’s the beginning of events that would not conclude with end of Gaza blockade. Israeli actions have caused an irreversible moral dent to the perception of Islamic world for the war against terror. Additionally, the use of indiscriminate force against civilians have lead to parallels been drawn between Al Qaeda and Israel, discrediting both.

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