With literally the entire world reacting with outrage over Israel’s deadly military attack on a peaceful convoy bringing desperately needed aid to Gaza, and even the feeble U.N. managing to wring out a painstaking statement condemning unnamed “acts” that led to the deaths of civilians, and calling for the release of prisoners and an impartial investigation into the attack, which took place in international waters, against civilians, doesn’t the U.S. risk draining what influence it still has in the world by seeming to be the only ones to believe Israel’s ludicrous defense that 30 peace activists armed with piping and slingshots put its trained military commandos in mortal peril, or even worse, this morning’s ridiculous paintball defense? After all, why should anyone listen to a United States that cannot be bothered with the deaths of innocent civilians, including citizens of an allied country (Turkey) and the detention of its own citizens following a legally dubious, violent raid at sea?
Clearly, the Americans shaped the tepid U.N. statement to ensure that even now, Israel remains unassailable by its world critics. The U.S. statements almost directly mirror what came out of the U.N.:
From the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Obama, in a phone call with Mr. Netanyahu, expressed regret at the loss of life and “expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible,” a White House spokesman said.
“We…expect that the Israeli government will conduct a full and credible investigation,” said State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley.
And from the U.N.:
“The Security Council deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting form the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza. The Council, in this context, condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and many wounded, and expresses its condolences to their families.
“The Security Council requests the immediate release of the ships as well as the civilians held by Israel. The Council urges Israel to permit full consular access, to allow the countries concerned to retrieve their deceased and wounded immediately, and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the convoy to its destination.
“The Security Council takes note of the statement of the United Nations Secretary-General on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and it calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.
And in fact, it turns out the U.S. blocked Turkey’s request for an international inquiry at the U.N., preferring to let the Israelis investigate themselves. But the U.S. government can’t end or reverse Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation. It can’t stop Turkey from sending its Navy to escort the next flotilla, which could precipitate and even graver international crisis (Turkey is a member of NATO, with all of the mutual defense obligations that implies…) or from cutting its diplomatic and military ties to Israel, which badly needs friends in the region. America can’t stop Egypt from opening its border to Gaza. And we can’t stop the world from seeing what it sees. This is a serious test for the Obama administration, and whether it has the capacity to demonstrate whether the U.S., or Israel, the big brother in this relationship. As Israel grows more isolated diplomatically, it stands to reason, that so do we. The Iranian regime, which still has adherents in the region, is already laying the blame for the attack on the U.S. and President Obama (not surprisingly. That’s kind of what they do.) Much worse are the rising condemnations of the attacks by NGOs, protesters around the world, including in Europe, many Israelis themselves, Israel’s supporters and virtually every one of our allies, who have been much more strident in their language than the blanderies coming out of Washington. As Jerusalem Fund Executive Director Yousef Muayyer put it at Politico, some facts in this incident are indisputable:
First, this was a long organizing and publicized civilian mission to break the siege of the Gaza Strip that Israel has enforced to collectively punish 1.5 million civilians. The siege is widely seen as having little effect on Hamas and understood by most analysts to be counterproductive. International NGOs have clearly documented the humanitarian crisis resulting from the siege.
Second, armed soldiers from one of the strongest militaries in the world descended on a civilian passenger ship from helicopters and navy boats, armed to the teeth. The Israelis do not dispute that the ship never entered Israeli waters.
The result was several dead civilians only days after their foreign minister clearly stated they would stop the ship “at any cost.” The sequence of events once the armed Israeli soldiers boarded the ship do not matter, they should not have boarded a civilian ship in international waters to begin with.
Of course, Israel’s reflexive defenders in the U.S. will continue to do so (Peter Beinart being a notable exception lately.) But some point, the U.S. administration is going to have to show some leadership here, or step aside and cede it to the E.U.
Meanwhile, this thing is only getting worse. Israel confirmed it conducted an aerial attack on Gaza today, saying it was in retaliation for rocket fire. And Turkey, after canceling planned military exercise with Israel, announced it would resume those exercises … with Syria.
And from Foreign Policy comes word that following the deaths of its citizens and attacks on its flag ship, Turkey is prepared to treat Israel no longer as an ally, but rather as a rogue state:
Hints of this change are clear in Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s words describing the attack, “state terrorism”, and from Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s speech at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) declaring that “the difference between a state and terrorists is blurred.” These two examples, along with the public outrage expressed through day-long-street protests all around Turkey, testify to the fact that relations between Turkey and Israel will be different from now on. The Turkish side considers Israel as a real threat to regional peace. As a state that commits what Turkish officials call terrorist attacks, attacks civilians indiscriminately, lies openly, and sees itself above the law, Israel has exhausted its legitimacy in Turkey. Under these circumstances, it will be virtually impossible to discuss the Iranian nuclear program without discussing the road map of how to dismantle Israel’s nuclear weapons. Any issue in the region will be discussed through the assessment of Israel as a threat to regional security and peace.
When I say Turkey will imply that “all options are on the table,” I do not mean that Turkey will wage a war against Israel. However, more dangerously, Israel will be seen as a state against which one should protect itself and should consider any possible action because of its unlawful and rogue character. This will have an immense effect on the security architecture of the region unless Israel reconsiders its own security perspective and starts dealing with its neighbors in a manner in line with the international law. It is, however, sad to see the initiatives and perspective of Turkish foreign policy sabotaged by the consequences of the Israeli aggression.
And Andrew Sullivan notes something I was wondering too: where is TNR? And Sullivan, who has provided some of the best writing and updates on this crisis over the last couple of days, posts a critical link to Jake Tapper’s reporting, that there will, as usual, be “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel on the flotilla attack. Fail.
The final line from the above-reference Foreign Policy piece is telling:
This last aggression will be remembered as a turning point in Turkish-Israeli relations, creating a new security dynamic in the region. This new direction will prompt Turkey to look to the White House to shoulder some of the burden in creating lasting peace in the region. However, this time, if the White House continues to drag its feet and rejects taking any responsibility over this latest Israeli aggression, it will trigger a ripple effect, further reducing the legitimacy of the US in the Middle East.
And that, folks, is where we’re headed.