Speaking before a parliamentary committee about last month’s Israeli raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which killed nine and injured over 60 international volunteers, a senior Israeli intelligence official warned that “[e]vents [like this] are likely to go out of control and the situation could deteriorate to extreme scenarios”.
The official was no other than Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad, Israel’s foremost external intelligence agency. To some extent, Dagan’s “extreme scenario” is already materializing. The raid’s outrageous death toll forced Egypt, whose secular authoritarian government is a sworn enemy of Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, to temporarily open its borders with the Strip, in an attempt by Cairo to escape the wrath of public opinion. The shock over the deaths of the Turkish activists prompted even Fatah, the Palestinian group in charge of the West Bank, which is entangled in a bitter civil war with Hamas, to announce the dispatch of a high-level delegation to Gaza in order “to reconcile with Hamas” in the aftermath of the Israeli naval assault.
Moreover, the botched raid seriously harmed Israel’s relations with the European Union and further deteriorated its relations with Australia. It also caused the outright termination of Israel’s diplomatic contacts with a number of non-Western countries that used to be among the Jewish state’s closest international friends in the not-too-distant past. They include Turkey, South Africa, Ecuador and Nicaragua, all of which have now suspended their diplomatic ties with Israel.
The bloody outcome of the raid has even stigmatized Israel’s relations with the United States, traditionally the Jewish state’s international patron. It is true that no other country in the world, with the possible exception of the United Kingdom, could have gotten away so lightly with killing an American citizen and forcibly abducting several others, including a former diplomat, in international waters. Not only that, but Washington predictably blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli Navy’s raid on the flotilla. And yet the international outcry that followed the attack, and the wedge that it drove between the US and its valuable Middle Eastern ally Turkey, fits into the broader pattern of steadily worsening US-Israeli relations in recent years. Speaking to the Knesset on the day after the raid, Mossad chief Dagan said it was obvious to him that “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden”, and that the decrease of Israel’s importance to Washington will continue to influence “Israel’s difficulty in diplomatic maneuvers”.
Furthermore, there is reason to believe that, in association with recent high-profile scandals involving Israeli intelligence activities in the United States (particularly the cases of Lawrence Anthony Franklin and Stuart David Nozette), last month’s Israeli raid may cause a shift in voter and elite opinion in the United States to further-irritate the Obama administration. In turn, this could potentially “open the way to a new US-Israeli relationship disadvantageous to Israel”.
It is clear even to a novice strategist that the mission of the Free Gaza Flotilla was not only humanitarian, but also –perhaps even primarily– political. Its organizers aimed to raise international awareness of the Gaza blockade, by provoking a brutal response by the Israeli military. The aim was thus to challenge Israel’s self-projected image as a civilized, responsible and democratic nation, and ultimately help isolate the Jewish state from the world community in general and the West in particular. The brutal Israeli raid on the flotilla, which one former Mossad case officer characterized as “stupefying”, has achieved just that. The atrocious death toll numbers and the abduction and harsh treatment of volunteers forced the world community to consider the Palestinian issue through an internationalized prism, something that has not been witnessed since the First Intifada of the 1980s.
Much of this will undoubtedly depend on the tactical maneuvers of the pro-Palestinian movement and –especially– Hamas itself. It is indeed difficult to overestimate the current momentum of pro-Palestinian sentiment around the world. The Facebook membership of the ÍHH, the Turkish-based charity that organized the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, grew from around 18,000 to nearly 150,000 in the days after the Israeli attack, while the Free Gaza Movement reports record interest in its activities. Since the current Israeli government appears to be firmly entrenched in its hardline policy, it would appear that the most effective tactic for Palestinian leaders would be to support the intensification of nonviolent attempts to challenge the Gaza blockade by land, sea and even air. Any return to violent tactics, no matter how tempting for some of the more hardline Palestinian groups, would severely limit the immense public relations victory that Israel handed over to the Palestinian cause on May 31.
About the author: Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis has been teaching and writing on the politics of espionage and intelligence for over ten years. He is Senior Editor of intelNews.