The stolen mathematics matriculation exam could have asked the following question: If a group of ships carrying anti-Israel activists and wanted Hamas terrorists are on their way to Gaza from Turkey, how long does it take for Israel to get attacked in the foreign press?

The answer would obviously be no time at all.

As happened when civilians were killed by an Israeli air strike on the village of Kafr Kana in the Second Lebanon War and when a UN compound in Gaza was hit during Operation Cast Lead, the IDF waited too long to tell Israel’s side of the story.

Only after hours of images that made Israel look like the clear aggressor did the IDF release video clips proving that it was IDF soldiers who were attacked indiscriminately on the Mavi Marmara ship, and not peace activists. As in those earlier incidents, the videos were released too late to make any difference.

The clips came out just in time for the 8 p.m. news, which likely helped reassure Israelis that we were in the right. But preaching to the converted does not help in a conflict that is being fought on the battleground of international public opinion.

Even if the IDF was absolutely right to board the ship where it did and to open fire when it did, and Israel was 100 percent blameless, it does not matter, because perceptions are more important than reality.

And the reality now is that Israel is in for a tough time.

Proximity talks with the Palestinians could be stopped, Israel’s relations with Turkey could be unfixable, and the clear sailing many Israelis thought they were facing internationally after a very difficult period has been hit by a storm cloud that won’t go away any time soon.

Just when it looked like Goldstone was forgotten, relations with the US had improved significantly and the diplomatic process was on track, the blockade in Gaza has become a top issue around the world and Israel is back in its all too familiar place up against the wall.

Efforts will now be made to minimize the damage, while Hamas will try to keep Monday’s events in the news. Another ship is due later this week and lessons will have to be learned.

The blame game has already begun, with ministers in the inner security cabinet and Netanyahu’s associates revealing that the IDF had assured them there was no chance of violence, and one intelligence chief letting it be known after the fact that he had opposed the maneuver.

No matter who is at fault for the misfortune in the Mediterranean, the victims are clear: Israel’s fragile image and the Palestinian people in Gaza, who have once again been used by their purported friends but not really helped at all.

If the Arab League and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decide to suspend the proximity talks, hope for the Palestinians in Gaza will only drift farther away.

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