I have had many discussions with various folk – Western and Arab – about the best way for the pro-Palestinian factions to move forward after the disaster of the Flotilla. Many have agreed that if international activists were to continue sending ships full of aid backed by diplomatic pressure, the illegal blockade of Gaza would have to be lifted eventually. The big question for many people, though, was how much could Israel do while maintaining the important support of the UNSC veto-happy Americans. The firs aid convey was backed mainly by the Turks – an incredibly important strategic ally for the US, but the Americans still worked for Israel in the UN and was practically silent in response to the deaths (including 1 American).
Israeli justifications – bought and eaten up by many Americans – focused around the aid Flotilla being organized by and aiming to support terrorists. Hamas and Al Qaeda, they said, were behind this violent attempt to attack Israel. Of course, Al Qaeda was not behind the Flotilla (Israeli officials recently admitted as much) and the aid and political goals of the Flotilla were meant to help the people of Gaza – not the Hamas government. Despite all this, some Americans rushed to Israel’s defense, repeating Israel’s terrorist claims (though, fortunately, many Americans saw through the smokescreen).
[tweetmeme] It seems as though the world is ready to try to bust the blockade again, sending more ships with more aid out of concern for the welfare of the Palestinians trapped in Gaza. What is unfortunate, though, is the actors involved in the possible second Flotilla. Lebanese non-governmental agencies are planning to send more aid ships as early as this weekend. The new aid efforts are organized by Reporters without Borders and the Free Palestine movement, with the full backing of Hezbollah. It is unknown if Hezbollah members will be aboard and, if they are, it should not matter. The problem is that participation by Hezbollah – a group that Israel and the US both consider to be a terrorist organization – will provide even more ammo for Israeli justification. While the ships will undoubtedly have humanitarian and legal political goals in mind, Israel will be sure to quickly denounce the effort as terrorist collaboration between Hezbollah and Hamas.
Turkey – although not considered a rogue state and still extremely important for the US – has won few fans in American and Israel this past week for its strong words following the first Flotilla. In addition to demanding a public apology and threatening to break diplomatic ties with Israel, the country has expressed frustration and anger at the American’s weak response and is considering sending the Turkish navy to accompany the next aid flotilla. If this occurs, the US – as a member of NATO with Turkey – would be legally required to defend the Turks against an Israeli attack. Naturally, the US will do everything in its power to convince Turkey not to send its navy. Turkey’s actions and words this week have led some in America to lump the country together with Syria and Iran as the new Middle Eastern ‘axis of evil.’
Speaking of the Iranians, the Iranian Red Crescent Society is organizing its own Flotilla of aid to fly under the Iranian flag to Gaza. The group plans to send two ships with supplies and aid workers to Gaza by week’s end. It was initially thought that the ships would sail under the flag of an intermediary country, but in the end, the Iranian flag will be flown. A previous Iranian aid ship was denied entry into Gaza by the Israeli navy. Perhaps more important than the fact that Iran is perhaps Israel’s worst enemy and a common scapegoat in America is that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has pledged that it will accompany and support the aid ships.
Considering that Israel imposed the blockade initially to prevent weapons from Iran entering Gaza, such a move by Iran would be highly provocative. The Israeli decision to send three nuclear equipped submarines to international waters outside of Iran and the American decision to push a fourth round of international sanctions on the Persian country should indicate that any effort by Iran to break the blockade will be viewed negatively as an act of state aggression by the US and Israel.
The pro-Palestinian community won the PR battle over the first Flotilla thanks mostly to the over aggression of the IDF and the pure cause of the activists. Although the organizers were clear that the convoy had a humanitarian goal (to deliver aid) and a political goal (to break the blockade), the international community still saw the activists as trying to accomplish just goals through non-violent means. If the world sees a second Flotilla trying to carry out the same just goals, but backed by the Turkish navy (everyone but America seems to back the Turks), Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, international opinion could greatly differ from the first effort.
Peaceful attempts to break the blockade by unarmed activists from around the world is much easier to support than two navies (seen as unnecessarily provocative), a terrorist group and a rogue state. Such an aid convoy would be seen (correctly or erroneously) as attempting to start a conflict with Israel. If this happens, all international sympathy for the Palestinians would evaporate and the pressure on Israel would subside.
If the US supported Israel passively after the first Flotilla, they would definitely and actively come to Israel’s defense during the second. If the second Flotilla consists of war ships and Iranian and Hezbollah activists, sending more aid ships would be a bad idea for anti-blockade PR and, possibly, regional peace.
Photo from Al Arabiya