Success on the seas

The handling of the 'Amalthea' provides a lesson.

311_Mavi Marmara side (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_Mavi Marmara side
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The docking in El-Arish last Wednesday of the Libyan Gaza-bound “aid ship” marks – from the Israeli perspective – a desirable ending to another maritime provocation. In our circumstances, nothing is ever guaranteed outright, but this may signal a new approach following the Mavi Marmara fiasco. This latest installment in what doubtlessly is an ongoing saga may just possibly indicate that operative conclusions have been drawn from what went wrong last time.
It’s clear such stunts will continue. Every last drop of propaganda-profit will be squeezed out before these ships are abandoned in favor of new ploys.
The handling of the Amalthea provides an object lesson in just how to crisis-manage such challenges.
The approach may not always work. Much, crucially, depends on the degree of aggression and malice onboard. But some of the practicable rules followed in this case will be applicable henceforth.
Most prominent in the new approach is the resort to diplomatic channels. The advantage is twofold: world opinion is put on notice that Israel wishes to avoid confrontation without sacrificing its vital security interests. Simultaneously, indirect contacts are utilized to avoid confrontation, and lead to the sort of compromise that redirected the Amalthea to Egypt.
In a sense, Israel came out having its cake and eating it too. It deterred the Libyans without resorting to violence – and without the attendant bad press.
It’s obvious that, this time, the legal ramifications of blocking foreign intruders were taken into account. Hence the decision not to engage the Amalthea in international waters. The Libyans were shadowed and warned throughout, but they weren’t to be physically thwarted unless and until they were out of international waters.
THE ROLE of the Cuban captain also needs to be focused upon. The Mavi Marmara incident had shown ship owners that they have much to lose when collaborating in the Hamas-inspired campaign to embarrass Israel and create a false façade of starvation in Gaza. The Mavi Marmara isn’t back in the business of making money for its owners. It’s still moored at Ashdod Port and there is no telling when it will be released.
This certainly is another potent weapon in Israel’s hands and one which should not be relinquished too quickly.
The combination of military deterrent and diplomatic action had already proved itself in the cases of the Iranian and Lebanese/Iranian-proxy boats.
Although the intelligence services continue to keep watch for the possibility of such sailings, it wasn’t for nothing that they “rescheduled”/called off their much-touted plans.
Likewise, the outcome of the Libyan episode is nothing to downplay. Potentially the Libyans are no less dangerous. Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi now serves as Arab League chairman and apparently feels obliged to prove that Arabs can outdo anything the Turks boast about. He cannot let Ankara’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan become the new Muslim super-hero.
Hamas, for its part, has every incentive to escalate the “nautical intifada.” This is a surefire popularity booster in the Palestinian context as well as in the domestic contexts of assorted Arab states. The approaching month of Ramadan is only likely to raise flotilla-fervor and its demagogic value.
Hamas needs to crush the Israeli blockade to facilitate large-scale rearmament. This isn’t only an anti-Israeli gambit but one calculated to give Hamas the upper hand against Fatah. That is why Hamas refused to accept the Egyptian-brokered truce with the PA recently. This is all about creating a viable Iranian outpost in Gaza. And that is something Egypt also wishes to foil.
The way in which the Libyan maneuver was resolved serves all anti-Hamas/Iran forces in the region. With that in mind, the El Arish solution sets an important precedent for Israel, one it can cite as a workable solution and one which demonstrates Israel’s disinclination for belligerence.
The very establishment of this precedent will hopefully reduce at least some of the pressure on Israel – and take some of the wind out of the sails of Hamas and its well-wishers abroad.