The international reaction to the events surrounding the Gaza flotilla this week reflects the growing divide between the real strategic situation facing the Middle East, and a strange “virtual” conflict conjured up by Islamist propagandists for consumption by their Western dupes. The emergence and proliferation of this latter perception is testimony both to the tireless, skillful and fervent activity of Islamist ideologues and organizations, and to the profound credulity of considerable sections of Western public opinion.

What happened on the flotilla is a product of the growing Islamization of regional politics and, it appears, the failure of Israeli planners to develop a coherent response to this. The Turkish IHH group (Insani Yardim Vakfi – Humanitarian Relief Foundation), which sponsored the Mavi Marmara, is a grouping connected to the global Muslim Brotherhood. Going back to the 1990s, it has engaged in facilitating the journeys of young Islamists to some of the hottest fronts of the international jihad: to Afghanistan, and before that to Chechnya and Bosnia.

Like other organizations associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, IHH is openly and unambiguously opposed to the existence of Israel, and is keen to assist Islamist organizations seeking to destroy it.

IHH has read the zeitgeist of the early 21st century well. It seeks to combine a superficial commitment to “human rights” and the mantle of victimhood, with support for Islamist militancy against the West. These aspects, and the contradiction between them, have been very much in evidence this week.

Journalists who covered the previous “aid convoy” to Gaza – George Galloway’s over-ground Viva Palestina extravaganza last year – were among the groups least surprised by the week’s events. On that convoy, there was a very notable divide between young, Western leftist participants, and a hard-core group of Turkish Islamists, who openly proclaimed their commitment to jihad and fighting Israel. The Turkish Islamist contingent was there courtesy of IHH.

The latter group were centrally involved in the clashes with Egyptian security forces on the southern Gaza border at that time, in which one Egyptian policeman was killed. Western participants in the convoy, some of whose genuine naivete and out-of-placeness in the Middle East cannot be overstated, were afraid and depressed by their unexpected companions.

It remains a mystery as to how the Israeli authorities remained unaware of this very significant divide between the participants in the flotilla. The Turkish Islamists came to fight in an ongoing conflict whose aims and dimensions they understood with perfect clarity. This may be ascertained by their preparations, their actions and by statements made by them prior to the events.

AT FIRST glance, it appears that simple ignorance of this situation led to the inadequate planning that resulted in what happened on the ship. In the usual Israeli fashion, poor preparation was to some degree offset by the rapid adjustment and skillful performance of the naval commandos. Still, it is to be hoped and expected that the following item of knowledge will now penetrate the awareness of the security establishment: What took place on the decks of the Mavi Marmara was a skirmish in the Israel-Islamist conflict.

The meeting between the ambitions of Islamist states such as Iran from above, and the genuine and massive energies from below that are being generated by Islamist movements form the engine behind this conflict. The Hamas enclave in Gaza is the distant, furthest west outpost of the Iranian-led regional Islamist bloc.

The IHH activists wanted to open the sea road to Gaza. Their purpose was not humanitarian. As has been seen, the Hamas authorities have rejected the rapid entry into the Strip of the paltry aid brought by the convoy. Rather, it was strategic. They hoped to break Gaza’s isolation, and allow the blighted Strip to flourish – as an armed camp pointed at the Jewish state and as an example of Islamic governance.

They have not yet succeeded in this. They have, however, scored an achievement in their accompanying goal of deepening the diplomatic solitude of Israel.

Such were the plans of the Islamist element on the Mavi Marmara, and of the IHH organizers behind them.

In much of the West, there is a flat refusal to engage with or internalize this reality. Instead, an avalanche of copy and media coverage was generated by the events in which Israel’s concerns were seen as utterly inexplicable, the Islamist militants on the ship were depicted as peace-loving humanitarians and it was suggested that sanctions against Israel would be the best way to solve the problem.

What is perhaps chiefly ironic in the situation is that the Western lack of awareness of what is really taking place in the Middle East may even have been mirrored by the Israeli planners who failed to note the difference between Islamist militants and Western fellow travelers. But whether or not that was the case, the Western response to these events reflects a profound disconnect between perception and reality in relation to the region. The establishment of this disconnect is one of the chief strategic achievements of the Islamist side.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Iran, the chief beneficiary of Western and Israeli confusion, this week announced its determination to continue enriching uranium to 20 percent and beyond. Iranian official Ali Asghar Soltanieh casually dismissed the possibility that proposed sanctions would divert Teheran from its course. He also refused to commit to abandoning enrichment, even if the proposed Turkish-Brazilian fuel swap deal were implemented.

This item was buried at the bottom of the front page on the Reuters Web site, below a report of a cyclone off the coast of Oman. The main headline, at the top of the page and accompanied by a large photograph, was on Binyamin Netanyahu’s opposition to an international inquiry into the Mavi Marmara events. The news agenda suits the aims of the Teheran regime and its allies perfectly. The real business proceeds quietly, while the world remains diverted by the noisy sound and light show 1,500 kilometers to the west.

The writer is a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.

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