Israel likely lost the battle over the flotilla of international aid ships on their way to the Gaza Strip even before the activists left their home countries and gathered in Cyprus late last week.
From a global media perspective, the story is pretty clear. Hundreds of international activists, some of them parliamentarians from Europe and Israel, are trying to bring thousands of tons of supplies to the Gaza Strip, and Israel is stopping them.
For the international media and its consumers, the reasons behind Israel’s decision do not make much of a difference, since what Israel is doing fits the way it is already widely perceived – as a violent aggressor abusing a weak and poor Palestinian people.
In its defense, Israel, this time, did not stand by idly as it was slammed throughout the world. It launched a diplomatic initiative aimed at explaining to the world why it planned to stop the ships.
First, it made the claim that the Gaza Strip was not suffering from a humanitarian crisis and that the thousands of tons in supplies that the ships were carrying were not really needed, since it was all already supplied to the Palestinians by Israel. The IDF went so far as to invite media down to the Kerem Shalom crossing to videotape the hundreds of trucks that transfer supplies daily from Israel to Gaza. At the same time, Israel offered to transfer the shipments on the boats to the Gaza Strip after they were unloaded at the Ashdod Port and inspected.
Next, it tackled the delegitimization effort. Stories were leaked by the government to the press about the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Turkish organization that is behind the flotilla, described as a “radical Islamic organization” that was outlawed by Israel in 2008 for allegedly serving as a major component in Hamas’s global fund-raising machine.
In addition to this effort, the long-standing claim was restated that if this flotilla were allowed to enter Gaza, it would open the door to unsupervised shipments that could contain not just flour, cement and medical supplies but also explosives, Kalashnikov rifles and Iranian-made, long-range Fajr-5 missiles.
In the end, though, none of this official Israeli counter-effort will really make a difference, since what will ultimately determine the impact of the flotilla saga will be the pictures and videotapes published and broadcast around the world.
All that is needed for the flotilla to “succeed” is a single picture of an Israeli soldier applying a headlock to an international activist. And no matter how hard Israel tries to block broadcasts from the ships, the pictures will get out. Facebook and Twitter are already full of snapshots, around-the-clock updates and even a live streaming video.
Israel had other options. One was to stop the ships far out at sea,
inspect them, maybe even arrest a terror suspect or two if there were
such aboard, and then let the ships sail freely into Gaza.
Another option was to simply let the ships through unchecked. In the
absence of intelligence indicating that the ships were carrying arms,
the risk might not have been that great. Yes, it could have paved the
way for additional flotillas, but all of these could be inspected by
the navy, which would be tasked with ruling out the possibility that
arms were being smuggled in by sea.
Let’s not fool ourselves. Even if Israel allowed these ships and all
such ships to dock in Gaza City’s harbor, it would still be accused of
laying siege to the Palestinians in the Strip since, albeit along with
Egypt, it controls the land crossings.
In the end, after all, the flotilla is just another chapter in an
international campaign to chip away at Israel’s legitimate right to