Wednesday, June 02, 2010

More on the high seas incident

The Israeli attack on the aid flotilla to Gaza remains the big story. The consequences of this action will roll on for a long time. The are some pieces that casts some light on the situation.

At Brian's Coffeehouse, Brian insists that the interpretation of events not get lost in irrelevant details:
In the wake of yesterday's assault on the Gaza aid flotilla, the most important tactic of Israel's defenders, including the American government, has been to focus on the details of the events which transpired aboard the Mavi Marmara in the early stages of the confrontation. The Israelis argue that their military was pursuing something like peaceful crowd control until they were attacked by activists aboard the ship, and pointing to the two seriously and eight lightly injured soldiers, insist they fired in self-defense.

The Israeli preference, in other words, is to have a discussion about rules of engagement. In attempting to focus the international discussion there, they are also implicitly asking their critics to somewhat carelessly accept the premise that the flotilla represented a force which required a military assault in international waters....

Despite half-baked claims to the contrary, this was not, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed today, "a violent force", and the Israelis have apparently found no weapons to trumpet before the cameras. Instead, they have found a bunch of humanitarian aid which they are allegedly transferring to Gaza themselves. I would love for someone to examine that situation, and determine how much of it was in violation of Israel's draconian blockade of the territory, and consequently how dangerous it can really be if Israel's now just passing it on.

For the real story here is not about a military confrontation at sea, but about an ongoing siege the consequences of which for the Gaza Strip have been well documented elsewhere. If Israel were just checking ships and convoys for weapons and then waving them on, this flotilla would not have existed. The violence yesterday was but an extension of the ongoing violence of siege which does not protect Israel, but makes Gaza into a giant internment camp in which conditions are becoming increasingly desperate. In this context, who did what to whom once the Israeli assault was in progress simply doesn't matter.
Yesterday I saw an American make the point that even Egypt is involved in the blockade of Gaza. As if he saw the same footage, Juan Cole illuminates the difficult position the Egyptian government finds itself in. This is a good introduction to the anomalous position that Palestinians hold in the Arab world:
Although Egypt is widely criticized for mainly keeping the Rafah crossing closed or open only for short periods, Cairo is forced into this arrangement by its peace treaty with Israel and its dependence on the US for $2 billion a year in various sorts of aid.

Were Egypt to defy Israel’s blockade for a long period of time or let in forbidden materials, the Israelis would almost certainly just bomb the entrance. Egypt’s government deeply dislikes having to remain silent in the face of Israeli provocations, as Khalid al-Shami pointed out in Tuesday’s al-Quds al-Arabi. But in fact Egypt could do nothing in the face of such an Israeli military action, being constrained by its treaty obligations and by its close alliance with the USA.

But keeping the border this open holds dangers for Egypt itself. Cairo fears that at some point Israeli foreign minister and leader of the far rightwing Yisrael Beitenu party Avigdor Lieberman will make good on his threats of ‘transferring’ the Palestinians. Egypt is determined that Israel will not resolve its Palestinian problem by expelling them to Egypt as refugees in the Sinai Peninsula. (Likely the Israeli shooting-fish-in-the-barrel war on Gaza in winter 2008-2009 was in part intended to provoke a panicked exodus of Palestinians into the Sinai, but Egyptian military forces prevented any such thing from occurring).

Egypt deeply dislikes the Hamas party/ militia and would not want to be in the position of allowing its influence to spread among bedouin and others in the Sinai region. Such Hamas influences are already blamed for terrorist bombings at Red Sea resorts earlier in this decade.

More to come, undoubtedly.

Image: the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, 2008?

1 comment:

  1. The Arab world is not yet reaping their reward for their own disenfranchisement of the Palestinians.