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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"What was Israel thinking?"

Stephen Walt, of Walt/Mearsheimer fame, unsurprisingly uses the commando raid on a terrorist-aligned ship as more ammunition to sever the US/Israeli alliance.

Notwithstanding his factual errors (saying that enforcing a legal blockade in international waters is illegal, for example) he asks a basic question that has not been adequately answered yet by the Israeli government:

My first question when I heard the news was: "What could Israel's leaders have been thinking?" How could they possibly believe that a deadly assault against a humanitarian mission in international waters would play to their advantage?

Notwithstanding his inflammatory spin (it was obviously not intended to be a deadly assault, the deaths are directly attributable to deadly force being employed by the "humanitarian mission," and it was not a humanitarian mission to begin with but a political one) the basic question remains. And the question makes sense - if you assume that PR is the uppermost consideration for Israelis.

However, this was not a PR game. This decision to enforce a blockade on Hamas is essential and lifesaving.

Back in 2002, Israel intercepted the Karine A ship filled with weapons meant for Palestinian Arab terrorists. At the time Israel still had troops on the ground in Gaza, but the way that the weapons were going to be smuggled was through small inflatable canisters released by Egyptian and perhaps Lebanese "fishing boats."

In other words, the sea is the best way to smuggle in large quantities of arms meant to destroy or terrorize Israel.

This was not the only time that Iran attempted to smuggle weapons to Hamas or Hezbollah by sea. An Iranian arms ship was destroyed, probably by Israel, off the coast of Sudan last year.

In early 2009, the Cypriot navy intercepted an arms shipment from Iran meant for Hamas.

And late last year, in an event that the world has forgotten with astonishing speed, the Francop vessel filled 500 tons of weapons meant for Hezbollah, disguised as civilian cargo, was intercepted.

In other words, the Israeli blockade is the only way to prevent Iran or Syria from illegally shipping in mass quantities of the next generation of weapons to Hamas.

This is not about PR - it is about a real need for defense. The "humanitarian aid" workers will say publicly when asked that they believe that Hamas has the absolute right to acquire whatever weapons it desires - and to use them.

The Francop episode also underlines how easy it is to hide weaponry as innocent commercial goods.

From a public relations perspective, Israel was doomed at the start, something that the flotilla organizers gloated about. The decision to stop any direct shipping lanes from the world to Hamas is not a PR decision but a sound defense decision, one that must be upheld in order to save lives.

The priority of the world should be how to get a terrorist group out of power in Gaza so that a blockade is not necessary. Somehow, that is no longer a priority for anyone except Israel.

As soon as Israel allows Hamas to have its own independent means moving goods in and out of Gaza, Gaza turns into the same heavily armed Iranian satellite state that southern Lebanon has turned into - under the noses of thousands of UNIFIL observers.

Sorry, but Israel is not going to outsource its defense given what happened to Lebanon. PR is important, but stopping Iran from establishing a beachhead in Gaza to surround Israel from the north and the south is a bit more important.

It just so happens that a slow-moving commercial vessel filled with cement and consumer goods, headed towards a place whose government extols suicide terror as the ultimate goal,  is the best delivery mechanism for an Iranian atomic bomb.

(h/t J. E. Dyer)