Rattling the Cage: Let the flotillas through

ByLARRY DERFNER
June 23, 2010 22:21

If we forcibly stop the ships, it’ll be an even greater victory for the Islamists and an even worse humiliation for Israel.




Julia, one of two ships planning a blockade-bustin

Lebanon Flotilla 311. (photo credit:Associated Press)

The Iranians say the ship Infants of Gaza is due to sail on Sunday, carrying humanitarian aid and 10 pro- Palestinian activists to the Gazan shore.

The Lebanese say two more relief ships, one of them carrying just women passengers, will leave soon for Cyprus and go on from there to Gaza.

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Israel has sworn to stop the ships, saying Gaza cannot become an “Iranian port.”

Navy commandos are preparing to face suicide bombers.


I feel another fiasco in the making, only this time we’re in much worse shape because we’re still reeling from the one with the Mavi Marmara. So if these Iranian and Lebanese ships come sailing toward Gaza, I say we let them through.

It’ll be a victory for Iran, Lebanon and Hamas and a humiliation for Israel, as well as for the moderate West Bank Palestinians. The problem is that if we forcibly stop the ships, especially if there’s bloodshed, which there well may be, it’ll be an even greater victory for the Islamists and an even worse humiliation for Israel and the West Bankers. There’s a clear downside to ending the blockade, but there’s no future at all in maintaining it.

THE FOLKS on the flotillas have discovered our weak spot. They’re attacking us at our least defensible point – our control over the Palestinians and their coast in Gaza, which the world opposes. These flotillas are turning our own military power against us. There are more relief ships getting ready to go to Gaza than there are captains to steer them – and the passengers will be not only Islamists, but also many decent, reasonable people, including Jews, who believe they’re doing what’s best for Palestinians and Israelis both.

“The experience of the Free Gaza Movement over the past few years, which sent half a dozen boat expeditions to deliver humanitarian aid to Gazans, suggests to many that in-your-face confrontation is the most effective way to challenge Israel and force it to change its policies,” Rami Khouri, the liberal editor-at-large of Lebanon’s Daily Star, wrote on Wednesday. “I suspect that the Free Gaza Movement’s siege-breaking ships will go down in modern history as critical elements in the struggle for justice in Palestine, aiming for conditions that allow Jews, Christians and Muslims... to live in this land with equal rights.”

I seriously doubt that the Iranian and Lebanese ships will be carrying weapons of war to Gaza; their sponsors say they’re sending humanitarian aid, and it would be a huge embarrassment for them to be caught red-handed by Israel, and they know there’s a very good chance they’ll be caught. So in all likelihood the ships’ cargo will make life a little less harsh for Gazan civilians without making Hamas and the other terrorists there stronger militarily.

It’s not worth stopping them, not at the price of another political debacle and another round of bloodshed. Wars have started over much less, and I don’t think we want to go to war over our so-called right to blockade Gaza.

And if this means that future ships will be bringing weapons of war to Hamas? The terrorists are already bringing in thousands of long-range rockets through the tunnels. We have to face the fact that if we go on putting our knee in the Palestinians’ spine, sooner or later we’re going to face new wars in Gaza and the West Bank, and we will be fighting from an ever-declining political position. The only way to avoid such a future is by ending the occupation completely.

I wish it could be done in a way that didn’t enhance Hamas’s prestige, that instead strengthened West Bank leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, but the current Israeli government is too arrogant for that.

Still, Abbas’s Fatah movement [to which Fayyad has never belonged] bears at least as much blame for Hamas’s rise. If Fatah had run the West Bank and Gaza decently instead of like a trigger-happy mafia all those years, Hamas never could have become so popular.

Meanwhile, we’re left trying to convince the world that the people behind these flotillas are Islamic terrorists who want to destroy Israel. Over and over, without end, we run the videos of the mob on the Mavi Marmara attacking our paint-gun-armed commandos with metal rods and knives.

The problem with Israel’s case, though, is that in view of the balance of power, these Turkish IHH guys were David and the Israel Navy was Goliath. It’s hard for people to side with Goliath, even if this particular David happens to be a jihadist. It’s even harder when the IHH’s David isn’t flying the flag of jihad, but the flag of freedom for Gaza, which, after all, is unfree.

OUR NEW PR line is that since we now allow virtually unlimited civilian goods to pass into Gaza by land, we can convince the world of our right to go on blockading Gaza by sea.

“We have taken away from Hamas the ability to blame Israel for harming the civilian population, and have received international legitimacy for continuing the security blockade of Hamas,” declared Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

First of all, Netanyahu can call it a blockade of Hamas, but it’s also a blockade of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million people. Second, the ships coming from Iran and Lebanon will almost certainly be carrying humanitarian aid alone. Third, Israelis may believe that everything’s fine in Gaza now that coriander, pasta, etc. are coming in, but the rest of the world knows Gaza is still a horribly deprived, war-ravaged country that needs all the help it can get. Fourth, since Israelis don’t put much faith in Netanyahu’s word these days, nor in the word of anybody else in the government, why should foreigners believe Israel has stopped harming Gaza’s civilian population? There’s one more reason I want Israel to let the ships through: I’d feel safer if this government, as a matter of principle, tried to take as little action as possible. On everything, even the little things, but certainly on something with as much potential for catastrophe as a confrontation at sea with ships from Iran and Lebanon.

The idea of this government deciding matters of life and death, of war and peace – if that doesn’t scare you, it should.

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