Israeli naval commandos storming the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of a relief flotilla piloted by pro-Palestinian activists. Photo from The Guardian
An Israeli raid on a pro-Palestinian relief flotilla has backfired terribly, in part because the convoy was traveling with the support of Turkey — until very recently one of Israel's staunchest allies — because the raid killed 10 activists and, lastly, because the raid happened on international waters.
Foreign Policy sums it up in a post entitled, accurately, Why the Gaza boat deaths are a huge deal:
While we don't yet know all the facts, the apparent killing of at least 10 people aboard a ship bound for Gaza with humanitarian aid already has all the hallmarks of a massive public-relations disaster.
It does sound like there might have been some kind of violent response from the activists on the boat, and the Israeli military is claiming its forces encountered “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs."
But the international response has been swift. Turkey has recalled its ambassador and warned of "consequences," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for an investigation, European governments have expressed shock, and I imagine thousands of outside observers like me are wondering just what possessed the Israeli government to risk such an outcome when it sent naval commandoes to board the vessel.
As Haaretz's Amos Harel puts it, "The damage that Israel has caused itself internationally can hardly be exaggerated." Harel warns that the rumored presence of an Israeli Arab activist among the victims could lead to riots and perhaps even "a third intifada."
Another liberal Haaretz commentator, Bradley Burston, comments, "We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel's Vietnam."
When Turkish leaders are calling the Israeli actions "state terrorism," something that would have been unthinkable as recently as 2008, you know the diplomatic shit has hit the fan.
What we may be witnessing is the fracturing of the web of alliances and support that's allowed Israel to maintain its current position for some time.
Israeli leaders, whether politicians like David Ben-Gurion or military commanders like Moshe Dayan, understood that Israel's power vis a vis other nations depended both on a measure of firm diplomatic support and a very well-trained, advanced army.
However, the newer leadership of Israel seems to essentially believe that military power alone is enough to preserve their state's authority. That is always a mistake, and dangerous one. Botching relations with an important ally like Turkey so thoroughly would have been nigh-unthinkable even under comparative hard-liners like Ariel Sharon or Menachim Begin.
What will emerge from this fallout? I don't know, but unless this storm is quickly put down, Israel will emerge a radically different country, both in its internal battles and its position in the world.