Forget Turkey and Iran, Let the US Navy Break the Blockade

If the US navy broke Israel's blockade, it would boost Obama's ratings in the Arab world, but demonize him in Israel (and the US)

[tweetmeme] After Turkey and Iran have offered up their navies to accompany future aid ships attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, it is clear that something needs to happen.  Israel seems increasingly intent on keeping the blockade in order to guarantee its right to blockade people – although it is clear that the blockade is achieving nothing but misery.  Turkey and the rest of the world is growing more restless in pushing for the end of the blockade.  Sending the Turkish navy or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to break the blockade would inevitably turn a bad situation worse.

What should the US do?  Stephen Walt thinks that Obama should get the US navy to break the blockade.  It would help Obama’s (and America’s) image in the Middle East – where, one year after the President’s Cairo speech, he looks like Bush III to many Arabs; it would relieve the suffering in Gaza; and it would make Israel seem more flexible and ready for peace.  From Walt:

In short, using American power to end the blockade of Gaza could be a win-win-win for everyone. The United States (and Obama himself) would demonstrate that we really did seek a “new beginning” in the Middle East, and correct the impression that the Cairo speech was just a lot of elegant hooey. Israel’s security concerns would be addressed, it would look flexible and reasonable, and we would be providing Netanyahu with an easy way to extricate himself from a position that is increasingly untenable. (It’s one thing for him to lift the blockade himself, but quite another to do it at Washington’s behest). And of course the long-suffering population of Gaza would be much better off, which should make us all feel better.

It is certainly an interesting proposition and, as Walt notes, the US would probably not even need to foot he bill, as global humanitarian agencies would jump at the chance.  There are a number of problems with this suggestion, though.  First, it would force at least minimal interaction between the US and Hamas – something that Walt sees as a good thing.  Though I agree that engaging Hamas is a good idea, it will never happen – much less in conjunction with an action that many will see as abandonment of the Israeli state by Obama.

Secondly, the PR gained through such an action would be directed mostly at Arabs.  Though regaining the trust of the Arab world is needed (most people I talked to here have zero faith in Obama), undertaking a US naval/humanitarian/blockade-busting mission would be an overly dramatic way to show Israel that the US doesn’t agree with the blockade (does it agree?).  If the Obama Administration believed so firmly in the need to break the siege of Gaza, why wouldn’t the US simply use its diplomatic power to force the Israeli government to lift the blockade?  It would do far less damage to the US reputation in increasingly conservative Israel while accomplishing the same goals (perhaps without the nice photo-ops).

Furthermore, such a US action would inevitably empower the right-wing conservatives in Israel and make a lasting peace with Palestine even more difficult than it is now.  Walt’s idea (never mind getting approval from the rabidly pro-Israel US Congress) would necessitate an Israeli reassessment of the function and efficacy of the blockade.  Remarks by Israeli officials following the Flotilla disaster show the chance of that happening are very slim.

I like Walt’s idea.  It will never happen and arguably never should.  It is overly dramatic, unnecessarily risky and relies on a number of next-to-impossible things occurring (sounds like the plot line for a bad spy movie).  But, then again, I am a sucker for drama and something needs to happen.

Photo from CBC

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