Someone apparently had an extra bowl of Cheerios this morning:
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Israel’s attack on the Gaza aid flotilla has increased the chances of war in the Middle East, in a BBC interview on Wednesday. Assad said that Syria was working to prevent a regional war but he added that there was no chance of a peace deal with the current Israeli administration, which he called a “pyromaniac government”.
The rhetoric keeps ratcheting up as if various Arab factions are trying to talk themselves into testing Israel again. It’s been a while, but the in the past the results have been uniformly bad for the Arab nations.
But there has been a recent change. Turkey is now talking tough as well. And, add in Iran’s attempt to ingratiate itself with the Arab world and suddenly it’s a little different ballgame.
Turkey’s inclusion against Israel in the rhetorical wars now being waged has encouraged many Arab pundits to hail the Turks and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as the much awaited “leader” of the movement against Israel. One writer hailed him as “more Arab than the Arabs” while criticizing Arab leaders as too passive.
There have been huge pro-Turkey rallies in Gaza, Beruit and Damascus. Recently, text messages from viewers displayed on Al-Jazeera TV during a June 4th Erdogan speech in Konya, some of which said: “Erdogan, you are king of the Arabs,” and “Son of the sultans, you have restored the glory of the Ottomans.”
Hizbullah considers Erdogan the new rock star of anti-Israeli leadership, and some Gazans are naming their children after him.
What Turkey and Erdogan have apparently managed to do, according to one writer, is bring those who have rejected Hamas and Hizbullah because of their Iranian ties on board in a unified “Islamic” effort to confront Israel:
“Unlike the Palestinians and many Arabs who support Nasrallah, large groups had yearned for a leadership unconnected to Iran or the new jihadi Shi’a… They rejected Hamas and accused the Palestinian jihad movement of being an instrument of Shi’ite Iran. Now Turkey has emerged to compensate for the incapacity of the leaders of the Arab regimes.
“Erdogan [has emerged as a figure] whose portrait can be displayed in homes, on billboards, and on cars. When all is said and done, the integration into the resistance movement of those who [had] hesitated is now being achieved through the gate of Islam.
Turkey seems to have finally rejected the west and put to rest its desire to be a part of it. Although it retains NATO membership, it appears to have no further interest in the EU. Turkey also appears to be again casting its eyes in the direction of its past glory – the Ottoman Empire. Certainly it isn’t pretending it would again rule over all of its former territories, but Turkey seems to feel it could be a major if not the major influence in the area of the Middle East. One sure way to work toward that goal is to take on Israel.
While it publicly claims it is still a secular nation ruled by secular institutions, this latest situation with Israel and Turkey’s reaction are all Islamic and designed to appeal to the Islamic world in general and the people of the Middle East specifically.
This is one of the conflicts that is brewing on the horizon. It is a new twist in a very old situation. But it promises real trouble if not addressed and defused quickly.
Of course, that will take leadership, not apology tours. I’m not sure that the US is up to the job. And I think the reason we’re hearing all this from Turkey now is they sense that is the case.
Well I’m pretty sure Iran is just horrified at the new sanctions – the toughest ever as our president claimed.
“With time, we got a resolution that we felt was very meaningful and credible and significant,” said Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations. “But had we wanted a low-ball, low-impact resolution, we could have had that in a very short period of time.”
Good thing they went for the brass ring and didn’t take a low-ball, low-impact resolution, by gosh. I mean, check this beauty out:
The main thrust of the sanctions is against military purchases, trade and financial transactions carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls the nuclear program and has taken a more central role in running the country and the economy.
Right – so now they’ll set up front companies and do their business through willing countries like Turkey, Brazil and Venezuela. Moving on:
The sanctions tighten measures previously taken against 40 individuals, putting them under a travel ban and asset freeze, but adds just one name to the list — Javad Rahiqi, 56, the head of the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center.
Whoa – they added one person to the sanctions of travel bans and asset freezing for a total of 41? My goodness, the humanity. That has a terrific chance of stopping any nuclear program dead in its tracks.
The sanctions require countries to inspect ships or planes headed to or from Iran if they suspect banned cargo is aboard, but there is no authorization to board ships by force at sea. Iran has also proved itself adept at obscuring its ownership of cargo vessels.
So, wait, other countries can try to inspect Iranian ships they suspect of carrying banned cargo, but they cannot use force to board that ship. In other words, all the Iranian captain has to say is “no” and refuse to allow them on board, and the “inspection” is over? Thank goodness they didn’t go for low-ball, low-impact sanctions. They’d have probably allowed the Iranians to board the inspecting ship.
Another aspect of the sanctions bars all countries from allowing Iran to invest in their nuclear enrichment plants, uranium mines and other nuclear-related technology, and sets up a new committee to monitor enforcement.
Well there you go – the one positive aspect of this whole thing: the UN has managed to form yet another committee which will offer employment to a plethora of 3rd world diplomats who might otherwise have to do something useful to earn their keep without it.
The almost childlike belief by this administration that it can accomplish anything through the UN, especially stopping Iran from achieving a nuclear device, is incredible on its face. But to think the list of “sanctions” above equals “tough” is mind-boggling.
There is no appetite among the 3rd world to punish Iran in favor of the US’s policy desires. And especially now that they see a weak horse in charge here. The Obama administration can call this anything they want, but calling them “tough sanctions” is embarrassing. Thank goodness they didn’t opt for the low-impact, low-ball option. I’m sure that included a strongly worded letter.
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the employment numbers, and Turkey’s seeming intent to provoke a conflict with Israel.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.
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And the tensions are ratcheted even higher. Turkey’s PM is talking about visiting the Gaza Strip (one would assume he’d appeal to Egypt for passage into the area rather than trying to run the blockade) and now Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is being offered as an escort to any wanna-be blockade runners.
“The naval wing of the Revolutionary Guard is ready to assist the peace flotilla to Gaza with all its effort and capabilities,” Khamenei’s Revolutionary Guard spokesman Ali Shirazi stated. “If the Supreme Leader issues an order for this then the Revolutionary Guard naval forces will do their best to secure the ships,” Shirazi said. “It is Iran’s duty to defend the innocent people of Gaza.”
A couple of points. This isn’t coming from Ahmadinejad. This is coming from Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the offer, per Reuters, was made today in an interview). So this should be viewed with much more credibility, since Khamenei is where the real decision making rests with the Iranian regime.
Second point – it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Iran attempted such a thing. It would help their relations with the Arab world, it would divert attention to their favorite external enemy (besides the US) and, if they can provoke violence, further alienate Israel. It might also help them avoid really harmful sanctions. What are the lives of a few Revolutionary Guard naval forces with that sort of beneficial pay-off in the offing?
And make no mistake, Iran would be throwing their lives away. I’m not sure what the Revolutionary Guard thinks they could do alone against the entire IDF (air and naval forces), but my guess is if they opened fire on an Israeli vessel it would end up being a short, nasty and very one-sided battle affair. Having total air dominance of the area where the fight would take place, as the Israelis most likely would, tends to make the outcome almost pre-ordained – and perfect for Iran.
Depending on how the world (and media) views the outcome (and my guess is that in certain parts of the Arab world, the story would be written before the battle was ever waged) Israel might end up winning the kinetic battle handily and losing the broader media and opinion war.
Whether or not such an escort ever comes to pass, I think Iran sees a real win-win for them developing in this situation. Consequently, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them try to mount such an operation.
As the story continues to unfold, all sorts of questions come to mind.
What is up with Turkey and why are they keeping this so hot? It’s prime minister has recently said:
“Now Israel has shown to all the world how well it knows how to kill,” he said. “People were killed and badly wounded, some from shots, even when bound. How human is this? There is no other way of explaining this to the world. All states condemn it, but this is not enough, we need results. People around the world need to know that one day justice will be revealed. If Israel does not immediately free all the detainees and wounded, the rift in relations with it will widen.”
Yet it has become clear that the boat was loaded with agent provocateurs from the Muslim Brotherhood whose sole intent was the initiation of a violent confrontation with Israeli forces. And, in fact, one of the “humanitarian agencies” represented on the flotilla is a Turkish Islamist group who advocated the overthrow of the Turkish government back in 2000.
So why is that government being so strident and confrontational? Don’t forget too – Turkey is a NATO member. Are we going to be faced, at some point, with choosing to support a NATO member or Israel?
And speaking of Israel, it appears that much of the country is upset with the raid and its outcome. Not so much in sympathy with the Islamists killed, but because it was so poorly thought out and executed. It was, as many are characterizing it, an ambush, and the Isrealis seemingly went into it blindly and were obviously unprepared (you don’t take a paintball gun to a real fight).
Jeffrey Goldberg sums up the feeling in Israel today:
There’s real pain in Israel today, pain at the humiliation of the flotilla raid, pain on behalf of the injured soldiers, and pain that the geniuses who run this country could not figure out a way to out-smart a bunch of Turkish Islamists and their useful idiot fellow travelers. And no, there is no particular pain felt for the dead on the boat; the video of those peace-seeking peace activists beating on the paintball commandos with metal bars pretty much canceled out whatever feelings of sympathy Israelis might have otherwise felt. Plus, most Israelis are aware, unlike much of the rest of the world, that these ships were not on a humanitarian mission, but a political mission, one meant to lend support to Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, so you might have to excuse Israelis for not sympathizing overly much.
There’s more specific “shame and embarrassment” as well. Goldberg goes on:
About that shame and embarrassment: I just met with the son of a friend who serves in an elite Israeli army unit, one very much similiar to Flotilla 13, the Naval commando unit deployed so disastrously against the anti-Israel flotilla, and he explained the shame this way: “These soldiers are the best we have. We are Israel’s deterrent. People in the Middle East need to think we are the best, and we are the best, except that when we’re sent into situations without any intelligence, without any direction, with paintball guns instead of sufficient weapons, with no understanding of who we’re fighting. Then we’re going to have a disaster. These commandos were beaten with pipes! They came onto the deck (of the ship) one by one down a rope and they were beaten by a mob! Commandos!
It is indeed obvious, with the normal benefit of hindsight, that the plan was ill conceved and poorly executed. And, as this friend of Goldberg points out, most of that can be attributed to insufficient, bad or totally inadequate intelligence.
But that begs the question, “why”? This flotilla hasn’t been any secret and it certainly seems many news organizations were gathering information about it. It seems almost inexplicable why the much vaunted Israeli intelligence network wasn’t on top of this or, if they were, how they got it so very wrong.
I don’t care who you are, or how good you are, when you piece-meal your force into a situation where the enemy contols the ground you’re going into, you’re screwed. And to add to the problem, you have a force inadequately armed for the situation (it is obvious by the fact that they were armed with paintball guns that they expected to meet little if any resistance) and an ROE tailored to a completely different situation.
Then there’s the public relations side of this fiasco. However right the Isrealis were in trying to stop these ships from running the blockade, with the deaths involved, they end up on the predictable short end of the PR battle.
And, as is now beginning to play out, there’s even a symbolic side to this that, per some critics, to which the Israelis government should have been more sensitive:
Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Moshe Ya’alon are supposed to know history. They are supposed to know there was no greater mistake than that of the British with regard to the illegal immigrant ship Exodus in the summer of 1947. The brutality employed by the British Mandate against a ferry loaded with Jewish refugees turned the regime into an object of revile. It lost what is now called international legitimacy. British rule over the country ended just 10 months after the Exodus fiasco, The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara was no Exodus. It carried not Holocaust survivors but provocateurs, many of them extremists. But a series of baseless decisions on the part of the prime minister and the ministers of defense and of strategic affairs turned the Marmara into a Palestinian Exodus. With a single foolish move, the Israeli cabinet cast the Muslim Brotherhood in the role of the victim and the Israel Navy as the villain and simultaneously opened European, Turkish, Arab, Palestinian and internal Israeli fronts. In so doing, Israel is serving Hamas’ interests better than Hamas itself has ever done.
There’s your “sad but true” statement of the day. That is what most of the rest of the world will compare it too. It will also grant “victimhood” to those killed even if it was the intent of those “victims” to martyr themselves. And the hypocritical Arab world will latch on to that publicly while privately celebrating the deaths.
As one of the flotilla participants, Muslim Brotherhood member of its Egyptian Parliamentary bloc is quoted as saying in March of this year:
“A nation that excels at dying will be blessed by Allah with a life of dignity and with eternal paradise.”
And that was precisely their aim and the outcome. The death cult of radical Islam doesn’t deplore death, it welcomes it and celebrates it. But they also knew the predictable outcome of such “martyrdom” via the world’s reaction to them if they could provoke those deaths.
Now we have to see how this all plays out – but for right now, Israel has put itself between a rock and a hard place in a surprisingly un-Israeli fashion.
There is a lot more information that needs to come out about this thing, and I’m disturbed that numerous reports show this so-called “Freedom Flotilla” in international waters when Israel boarded, but I’m not prepared to go all Andrew Sullivan on it.
If the flotilla was indeed in international waters, then the Israelis had no business on that ship. That said, what I’m not seeing in most of the reports are facts. I’m seeing a lot of emotional statements and conjecture and posturing by various politicians and nations.
What I’ve been able to discern at this point is Israeli Commandoes descended on a ship full of “peace activists” whose only supposed desire was to run the Israeli blockade and deliver supplies to Gaza – or so their story goes. As I read more an more about it, it seems less and less likely that those “peace activists” were from the MLK/Ghandi wing of the organization.
In fact, growing evidence is they were from a much less savory part. As the commandoes descended by fast roping on to the deck, armed with paintball guns (and sidearms, holstered), they were set upon by the peaceful folks trying to make it to Gaza.
Let’s step back a moment – Israel absorbs about 6,000 rockets a year, most from the Gaza area. They’re obviously getting their arms by some route and Israel takes a keen interest in where. I can’t imagine why. So they’ve attempted to cut the sea-borne supply line with a blockade. But the blockade doesn’t prevent the delivery of aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. It’s not like they turn it all away. In fact, this flotilla is simply another attempt among many past attempts. Yid with a Lid explains:
Every few months, a flotila of boats head toward Gaza with the purpose of convincing the world press that Israel is the evil empire. Usually what happens is Israel stops the boats, directs them to an Israeli port,and Israel delivers the aid though a land route (once it was checked for weapons). Israel has a convoy delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza on a daily basis. In fact Israel transfers about 15,000 tons of supplies and humanitarian aid every week to the people of Gaza.
That’s how the necessities of survival have dictated it is done – if you want to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, head for the Israeli port. Mission accomplished – unless you’re an arms smuggler or looking for a fight. And it appears, more and more, that’s precisely what this flotilla was looking for – and got. It also appears the escalation of respose was probably warranted given the “peace activists” continued attacks. Here’s why:
Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one, yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly, yet they attempted to fight back.
However, to their misfortune, they were only equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, such as the ones held in Bilin. The paintballs obviously made no impression on the activists, who kept on beating the troops up and even attempted to wrest away their weapons. One soldier who came to the aid of a comrade was captured by the rioters and sustained severe blows.
The commandoes were equipped with handguns but were told they should only use them in the face of life-threatening situations. When they came down from the chopper, they kept on shouting to each other “don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” even though they sustained numerous blows.
Video has emerged of the commandoes being attacked with metal pipes, clubs, bats and the like. There’s also a shot of one commando being thrown over the side of one deck and landing on another, to be set upon again. Obviously the paintball gun didn’t have the desired effect. But their ROE (Rules of Engagement) said, no use of firearms unless their lives were under threat.
OK, so now what? Well, step two was to attempt to break up the attackers with stun grenades:
The forces hurled stun grenades, yet the rioters on the top deck, whose number swelled up to 30 by that time, kept on beating up about 30 commandoes who kept gliding their way one by one from the helicopter.
You’re probably saying, “but wait, these are Israeli commandoes and they were some activist rabble. The odds were pretty even. Why didn’t the commandoes just take them?” Because when you fast rope in one-by-one into a crowd of 30, it is pretty hard to get any sort of cohesive unit action going, especially when you’re set upon individually. You’re fighting for your safety from minute one.
Anyway, stun grenades didn’t disperse them, so what was the next step? Well, it was actually dictated by the “peace activists” when they disarmed and threw the commando I mentioned above over the side. It all went downhill from there:
Only after this injury did Flotilla 13 troops ask for permission to use live fire. The commander approved it: You can go ahead and fire. The soldiers pulled out their handguns and started shooting at the rioters’ legs, a move that ultimately neutralized them. Meanwhile, the rioters started to fire back at the commandoes.
“I saw the tip of a rifle sticking out of the stairwell,” one commando said. “He fired at us and we fired back. We didn’t see if we hit him. We looked for him later but couldn’t find him.” Two soldiers sustained gunshot wounds to their knee and stomach after rioters apparently fired at them using guns wrested away from troops. During the commotion, another commando was stabbed with a knife. In a later search aboard the Marmara, soldiers found caches of bats, clubs, knives, and slingshots used by the rioters ahead of the IDF takeover. It appeared the activists were well prepared for a fight.
I don’t know how “well prepared” they were, but they certainly had crude weapons (the slingshots were using glass marbles which can, at close range, kill if they hit the right spot) and a will to attack the Israelis.
None of this, by the way, excuses the Israelis from boarding a ship in international waters (if that is indeed the case). They need to answer for that. International waters makes this an illegal raid. According to reports the flotilla was intercepted 65km of the Gaza coast. But the contiguous zone is only 24 miles or 38.6km off shore.
Within this zone, a coastal state can stop and inspect vessels and act to punish (or prevent) violations of its laws within its territory or territorial waters.
However, it also seems clear that this particular flotilla was in the business of trying to provoke violence and succeeded. As the claims and counter claims come in and the usual absurd posturing takes place about the deaths caused in this incident, remember this sequence of events and what prompted what happened on board the Marmara. Certainly one can sympathize to an extent with the peace activists who actually do want to see the people of Gaza receive humanitarian supplies. And one can also get their back up at armed men attempting to prevent them from doing so freely.
But you also have to keep in mind what happens from Gaza all too many times during each year. And you have to keep in mind that self-defense is also a right. I’m sure the “peace activists” will claim they were only defending themselves and their property, and in this case, it appears to be a valid claim. However, it seems clear from the videos that they’re intent on doing a little more than just defending themselves against paintball gun wielding commandoes. And it is just as clear from the ROE and the sequenced or phased response that the Israelis had no intention, upon landing on the ship, of killing or injuring anyone.
But this is now a full-fledged international incident with all the insanity those sorts of things normally bring to the fore (NATO is meeting about this? Really? And Turkey is threatening to escort another flotilla with its navy? Oh great, that’ll lessen tensions – maybe NATO does need to meet.).
Stay tuned for more.