Add The Flotilla to the List of Political Blunders

Israel's botched attempt to board and control the 'Freedom Flotilla' in international waters is another example of poor decision-making

As I try to digest the volumes of ‘spin’ that has swallowed the tragic events yesterday, I am immediately struck by two points.  First, both sides – the pro-Israel folk and the pro-Palestinian folk – are desperately trying to score PR points.  The pro-Israel gang is trying to link the activists to terrorism and claim the brutality of the activists made victims out of the IDF; the pro-Palestinians are skimming over the violent actions by the activists.  The truth is somewhere between the two, but it seems like no one is looking at both sides.  Commentary that is typically pro-Israeli is only citing IDF sources and other Israeli hardliners; pro-Palestinian commentary is only looking at other authors and politicians who have a history of pointing to Israeli flaws.

[tweetmeme] Unfortunately, it seems that pro-Palestinian is the same as anti-Israel and pro-Israel means anti-Palestinian.  This is a false choice.  Although I was somewhat disappointed by the meek response from the White House, I do applaud its decision to wait for more evidence before making conclusions.  Ditto for the UN.  Though I hope that Washington and Brussels make some very clear statements once they decide on a truth.

Secondly, regardless of how you view yesterday’s tragedy, it is clear that this is going to be a PR disaster for Israel (despite the intense effort to downplay the deaths).  That the events occurred in international waters and that the Israeli navy refused to follow protocol in dealing with the ships (warning shot across bow, disabling engines…) are going to seriously hurt Israel’s defense.  The damage is done, but it reminded me of how atypically poor Israel has been lately in controlling the PR game; or rather, how many poor decisions Israel’s political elite have made lately.

Here is Robert Fisk in the Independent (Britain).  While I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the article, his discussion of recent Israeli blunders is interesting.  I would add the 2008/2009 Gaza war to the list as well – though that was initiated under a different administration.  The list makes you wonder if PR consequences are even discussed in Tel Aviv any more.

Diplomatic storms

*Goldstone report, November 2009

Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 with the declared aim of halting rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the three-week conflict along with 13 Israelis. The South African jurist Richard Goldstone’s report into the conflict found both Israel and the Hamas movement that controls the Strip guilty of war crimes, but focused more on Israel. Israel refused to co-operate with Goldstone and described his report as distorted and biased.

* The al-Mabhouh assassination, January-May 2010

Britain and Australia expelled Israeli diplomats after concluding that Israel had forged British and Australian passports used by assassins to kill a Hamas commander in Dubai. Israel has neither confirmed or denied a role in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his hotel room in January. Britain said such misuse of British passports was “intolerable”. Australia said it was not the behaviour of “a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship”.

*Settlements row, March 2010

Israel announces plans, during visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden, to build 1,600 homes for Jews in an area of the West Bank annexed by Israel. The announcement triggers unusually harsh criticism from the United States. Washington said it damaged its efforts to revive the Middle East peace process. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the project was an insult. Netanyahu said he was blindsided by planning bureaucrats and apologised to Biden. Today’s meeting with Barack Obama at the White House, called off by Mr Netanyahu so he could return home to deal with the flotilla crisis, was supposed to be another part of the fence-mending between the two allies.

*Nuclear secrecy, May 2010

Israel, widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, has faced renewed calls to sign a global treaty barring the spread of atomic weapons. Signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) last week called for a conference in 2012 to discuss banning weapons of mass destruction throughout the Middle East. The declaration was adopted by all 189 parties to the NPT, including the US. It urged Israel to sign the NPT and put its nuclear facilities under UN safeguards.

Furthermore, as a note, reports are saying that during a protest against the attack yesterday an American citizen, Emily Henochowicz was shot in the face with a teargas container and is undergoing surgery to have her eye removed.  This, of course, was probably an accident, but it is being reported that the IDF soldier deliberately fired the cannister at the protesters – a charge against Israeli protest-control that is not new.  Regardless of the soldier’s intentions, this is, again, not helping Israel.  Let’s hope Emily’s surgery is successful.

Photo from The Nation

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