Freedom Flotilla Imprisoned

In Politics on May 31, 2010 by Filmosaur Tagged: , ,

The overnight storming by Israeli forces of the of the Mavi Marmara passenger ferry, which was leading a six ship flotilla loaded with peace activists and aid supplies, and with the announced intention of running the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, has provoked widespread condemnation of the Israeli action, which resulted in at last report sixteen deaths and the impounding of all the ships in the flotilla. This is very likely precisely what the backers of this rather transparent attempt to provoke Israel were hoping would occur.

Israel as a regional power has time and again proven itself too strong to confront successfully in open warfare. From the War of Independence in 1947-8 to the conflicts with its neighbors in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1978, 1982, and 2006, Israel’s military has shown itself to be highly effective. It outclasses its rivals in virtually every measurable category of military competence. So its enemies have done what those who find themselves overmatched usually do: they have changed their approach to minimize the strengths of the their rival while maximizing their own ability to act. This is a typical strategy of insurgencies: create conditions that weaken the stronger power over time by seizing the initiative and presenting a set of choices that leave the dominant power no good options. Inevitably, when pushed, the stronger power must act or surrender its position, but the consequences of even the best option serve to weaken it indirectly, usually in the eyes of the international community. As noted by Sun Tzu, “(t)hose skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform.”

The Free Gaza Movement, which organized the so-called “Freedom Flotilla”, has taken measures to ensure maximum international discomfort for the Israelis. Not only has it placed Israel in the difficult position of either abrogating its own blockade, which would undermine its claims of legitimacy, or using force to halt ostensibly peaceful protest, which seems like substantial overreaction. Further, two of the ships it has employed in this effort are U.S.-registered and -flagged, which, as the FGM press release of 30 May 2010 notes, “means they are U.S. territory.” Clearly trying to deepen the already significant rift between the United States and Israel, the document goes on to state that “we expect the U.S. government to intervene if U.S. property is wrongly confiscated by Israeli authorities as they have threatened” and encourages readers to contact the U.S. State Department.

Strategically, FGM has succeeded in further isolating Israel and minimizing the value of those measures of power that make it dominant in the region. What remains unclear, however, is what other groups or powers may have had a hand in this. The most compelling question is to what extent Turkey was involved. Relations between Turkey and Israel have been in rapid decline of late, and it is worth noting that FGM is based on Cyprus, from where the ships sailed, and that most of the activists aboard were reportedly Turks (the originally planned point of departure was the Greek side of the island, where Greek members of parliament were scheduled to embark but prevented from doing so by their government). Even if the Turkish government had no direct involvement whatsoever, its relations with Israel will likely be among the most directly and negatively affected by this confrontation.

For all of its tactical and operational dominance, Israel’s hands are strategically tied by the ease with which its opponents can employ a far greater array of non-military options to force Israel to respond militarily or to acquiesce politically. Targeted terrorism and indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah serve a similar function, though with neither the finesse nor the effectiveness of ostensibly peaceful political resistance.

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