The stakes are more than very high.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his cabinet this week that “the world is beginning to become aware” of what really happened in the “flotilla incident” in which nine of the “activists” trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza were killed. Namely, that the “activists” on the Mavi Marmara—actually “martyrdom”-seeking jihadists tied to the terror-linked IHH organization with some sort of backing from the Turkish government—fell upon inadequately-armed Israeli soldiers with knives, clubs, iron bars, and guns and forced them to fight for their lives.
Is Netanyahu right that this accurate picture of the events is sinking in? True, Vice-President Joe Biden said Israel “has an absolute right to deal with its security interest…. It’s legitimate for Israel to say, ‘I don’t know what’s on that ship. These guys are dropping eight—3,000 rockets on my people.’” The Washington Post asked why Israel was taking all the blame and called for Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s role in the incident to be probed. Prospective Republican presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Liz Cheney both came out solidly in defense of Israel.
But, even if some understand that last week’s round of media and diplomatic Israel-bashing over the affair was again baseless and slanderous, it still appears to be too little, too late. There have already been reports, and concerns, in Israel that the next flotilla might be escorted by Turkish naval warships, or include Erdogan himself as one of the passengers. This week Iran, too, is getting into the act, with one report claiming Tehran is already planning to send two aid ships to Gaza, and Ali Shirazi, representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini within the Revolutionary Guards, saying that “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards naval forces are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.”
Bluff? Threats made to keep Israel off balance and keep the spotlight off Iran’s continuing progress toward nukes? It’s impossible to know at this point. But what is clear is that the radical bloc led by Iran—which also includes Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah and, increasingly, Turkey—feels all the more emboldened by its successes and by Western weakness. To those successes—which include, along with Iran’s unimpeded nuke program, the ongoing, extensive armament of Hezbollah—can now be added igniting another storm of Western fury at Israel over last week’s incident, which included the usual professions of “shock” by Western leaders, the usual pounding of Israel in the Western mainstream media, the usual cooperation by Western countries with anti-Israeli votes in the Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the Obama administration’s repeated calls—steeped in contempt for Israeli democracy—for an Israeli investigation of the flotilla incident with “international components.”
The West will have to decide whether it wants to keep encouraging the radicals or finally start discouraging them. Regarding Turkey itself, Israeli analyst Efraim Inbar notes that “support in public opinion for [Erdogan’s] ruling Islamic party is in decline.” If that trend persists, as Inbar points out, a new government could well emerge in Turkey’s July 2011 elections—and that could be precisely why Erdogan is now trying to whip up the masses by upping the ante with Israel. When the result of the flotilla-ploy against Israel is that the West indeed turns in wrath upon the Jewish state, it paints Erdogan as a hero in many Turkish eyes and only bolsters the extremist, anti-Western proclivity.
More generally, one doesn’t have to have excessively fine instruments to detect the escalating saber-rattling against Israel by the Iranian-led bloc, with Turkey now adding its voice emphatically. An armed challenge to Israel’s blockade of Gaza could be the match that lights the fuse. Even if some Western leaders appear to regard Israel as a burdensome rogue, not really worth sticking up for, they would have to think about what such a Middle Eastern conflagration would mean for stability, oil availability and prices, and the like. The sides are heavily armed and the stakes are very high.
Standing up for Israel, imparting the sense that it has Western support, calms the winds and keeps war at bay. Raging against Israel for killing nine jihadists in self-defense is a way of telling the radicals that it’s open season.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com.