The attack in the international waters of the Mediterranean in the early hours of May 31 by an elite force of the Israeli navy
on the Mavi Marmara civilian ferry crammed with more than 700
international activists, including several Americans, carrying 100 tonnes
of cargo including concrete, medicines and children�s toys, and leading five
smaller vessels of the Free Gaza Flotilla, which left eight Turks and a U.S.
citizen of Turkish origin dead and wounded several others, has cornered the
United States in a defensive diplomatic position to contain the regional and
international fallout of the military fiasco of the �Operation Sky Wind� its Israeli
regional ally launched against the flotilla; it �puts the United States in an
extremely difficult position,� Marina Ottaway wrote in a report published by Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace on May 31.
Containing angry Arab reaction and adverse repercussions on
Arab-U.S. relations was most likely on the agenda of U.S. Vice President Joe
Biden�s meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort of
Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday. However, Biden is the least qualified to allay Arab
anger for being the most vocal among U.S. officials in �legitimizing� Israel�s
blunder. The Gaza flotilla episode has dispelled
the benefit of doubt the Arab allies have given to President Barak Obama�s
promises of change in U.S.
foreign policy in their region. To regain Arab confidence, it needs more than
U.S. official visits, whether by Biden or by a better choice, because at the
end of the day politics is not about �good intentions,� but is rather about
�good deeds,� according to the Egyptian veteran political analyst Fahmy
Despite a pronounced belief to the contrary by U.S. Senator
Kerry, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the head of Israel�s Mossad, Meir Dagan, was more to the
point when he said last week that �Israel
is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.� Earlier
this year CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus told the Senate Armed
Services Committee that �Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the
strength and depth of U.S.
partnerships with governments and peoples in CENTCOM's area of operations and
weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.� Israel seems
determined to complicate Petraeus� mission further.
Washington has found its diplomacy faced with an Israeli
fait accompli to be involuntarily embroiled in what the Israeli media harshly
criticized as a tactical failure, which engulfed the U.S. administration in the
roaring Arab and Muslim anger to be accused of being a partner to the Israeli
adventure, thus fueling anti-Americanism in the same arena where the
administration is doing its best to defuse and contain the anti-Americanism
that was escalated by the invasion of Iraq in 2003, i.e. among U.S. regional
allies. Once more, the Free Gaza Flotilla episode �will raise questions-not for
the first time -- over whether (Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin) Netanyahu can
be a dependable partner for the United States,� Michele Dunne wrote in a
Carnegie Endowment report.
Ironically, the fiasco of the Israeli �Operation Sky Wind�
has created a snowballing conflict not between Israel and its self-proclaimed
arch enemy Iran, but with Turkey, traditionally Israel�s only regional friend,
a key regional power, a NATO member, a U.S. ally and a hopeful of EU
membership, as well as with the U.S.-allied camp of Arab and Palestinian
moderates, whom both Israel and the United States endeavor to recruit in a
unified anti-Iran front and who are their partners in the U.S.-sponsored
Arab-Israeli �peace process, which Washington is now weighing in heavily to
resume its Palestinian-Israeli track.
Israel is not making U.S. life easier in the region.
�That's it, Israel.
Put your best friend on the spot, with stupid acts of belligerency, when
hundreds of its sons and daughters are dying fighting your avowed enemy. It is
time Israel realized that it
has obligations to the United
States,� wrote Anthony Cordesman, an analyst
at the mainstream Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington
(CSIS). Stephen Walt, a Harvard international-relations professor and co-author
of the 2007 book, �The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,� agreed. Professor
of International Relations at New York University, Alon Ben Meir, concluded in
American Diplomacy on May 10th: �The Netanyahu government seems to miss-assess
the changing strategic interests of the United States in the Middle East,
especially in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.�
However, official Washington so far acts and speaks in a way
that would contain adverse fallout of the Free Gaza Flotilla episode on
bilateral relations with Israel, otherwise it would make a bad situation worse
if one is to remember that the episode made Netanyahu cancel a summit meeting
with Obama - after he was forced to cut short his visit to Canada - that was
scheduled specifically to mend bilateral fences. But the motion which was
unusually �personally� presented to the Israeli Knesset by the opposition
leader, Tzipi Livni, for a no-confidence vote in Netanyahu�s government on
Monday because, as she said, �the current government doesn�t represent the
State of Israel to the world� and hurts �ties with the United States� made
public what the U.S. administration has been trying to keep away from the
spotlights. Trying to defuse the repercussions of Israel�s
blunder, the U.S. leaned on Israel �quite a lot� to release hundreds of
Turkish peace activists who were on board of Mavi
Deputy Under Secretary for public diplomacy Selim Yenel told The Jerusalem
Post on Thursday. Fueling anti-Americanism among Arabs and Muslims is
absolutely not in the interests of the United States, but this is exactly
what current Israeli policies boil down to. Soaring Israeli-U.S. relations
further was the first casualty of the Israeli attack.
regional strategic plans was the second U.S. interest threatened by the
attack. Both sides of the Arab and Turkish-U.S. alliance find themselves now on
the opposite side of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which was on the verge of an
historic breakthrough on the basis of the U.S.-sponsored so-called �two-state
solution,� which enjoys the support of the major world powers thanks only to
all of them being on the same side. The U.S.-led Middle
East camp seems now fractured and divided. The opposite camp led
by Iran and Syria seems
more confident and united. The U.S.
position is weaker and their stance is stronger. Washing seems to loose the
initiative in the region to its adversaries thanks to Israel initiating a conflict with U.S. moderate
allies. For Israel and its U.S. advocates
this should flash a red light.
In this context, U.S. presidential peace envoy to the
region, George Mitchell, who unfortunately was already in the region trying,
unsuccessfully yet, to overcome the adverse reaction of these same allies to
other Israeli blunders, should have lamented his Israeli bad luck and regretted
his mission. General Secretary of the Arab League, Amr Mousa, said that �everything�
is now left �hanging in the air,,� including mainly the Palestinian-Israeli
�proximity talks,� the focus of Mitchell�s mission.
In the wider context, the emergency meeting of the Arab
foreign ministers in Cairo on June 2 was in
direct opposition to the U.S.
stance vis-�-vis the Israeli attack, in terminology, perspective and demands,
but specially as regards the U.S.-Israeli justifications for continuing the
blockade of Gaza.
To make their message for lifting the siege clear, Mousa was scheduled to visit
Gaza next week.
Without naming the U.S.,
they stressed that the continued support to Israel �by some states� and giving
�immunity� to its disrespect of international law �in a precedent that
threatens the whole international system . . is a big political mistake.� They
reiterated that the Arab Peace Initiative �will not remain on the table for
long.� 60 percent of Arabs now believe Obama is too weak to deliver a peace
agreement, according to a recent poll conducted by YouGov and quoted by The Christian
Science monitor on June 4.
The Arab hard core of the U.S. assets of moderates is the
six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC); in a statement, they condemned the
attack as an act of �state terrorism.� Kuwait,
a member, stands among them as an instructive example of how Israel is
fueling anti-Americanism. This country which hosts some twenty thousand U.S.
troops on reportedly one third of its territory in support of the U.S.-led
�Operation Iraqi freedom� had sixteen of its citizens on board of the Israeli -
attacked Mavi Marmara. In
response, in a vote by consensus the Kuwaiti parliament in which the cabinet
ministers are members recommended withdrawal from the Arab Peace Initiative.
With Iran across the Gulf
and the explosive situation across its northern borders with Iraq, the echo
of General Petraeus� warning reverberates louder here.
Thirdly, the Israeli attack has split the Turkish and U.S.
NATO allies into opposite sides of the international ensuing divide. Ankara found itself in a head to head diplomatic clash not
with Israel, but with the U.S. in the United Nations Security Council, the
Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and the emergency meeting of NATO, where Washington acted as Israel�s mouthpiece and attorney. Turkey is now for the first time experiencing
the U.S. double standards
and pro-Israel biased policy, which the Arabs have been victims for decades. It
might be interesting to note here that both Turkey
and Greece, two U.S. and NATO allies, have set aside their
historical hostility to each other to publicly disagree with the U.S. in their defense of breaking the Israeli
siege of Gaza.
�The US response to Israel�s disproportionate use of violence
against innocent civilians constitutes a test case for US credibility in the Middle
East,� wrote Suat Kiniklioglu, the Turkish ruling party�s deputy
In the same Carnegie Endowment�s report, director of the
Middle East Program Marina Ottaway expected potential adverse repercussions
beyond the Middle East. �In addition to the
predictable Arab reaction, . . . there has been a harsher than normal response
from European countries. This could potentially reopen U.S. tensions with Europe that developed during
war and have slowly begun to heal under the Obama administration,� she wrote.
How could any sensible observer interpret this adverse
fallout on U.S. foreign
relations and on Arab and Turkish-U.S. relations in particular as only the
result of bad luck or an unintentional Israeli tactical mistake? The only other
interpretation to justify Israel�s
resort to bloody force is that Israel
could no more tolerate a regional united Turkish, Arab and U.S. peace
front, supported by the world community.
By aborting an international peace mission sponsored by moderate
Arab and regional states, Israel
sends a clear message that it wants them out of the game and prefers instead to
deal only with pro - violence players, which vindicates a popular Arab belief,
established over decades of the conflict, that Israel understands only the
language of force.
Israel knows very well that its belligerency has been all
along the main source of regional anti-Americanism. The U.S. knows it
too. Repercussions of the Israeli attack seem to hit at the heart of what
President Obama in mid-April declared as a �vital national security interest of
the United States,�
i.e. solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. By escalating militarily and responding
disproportionately, the extremist right-wing government of Israel is
premeditatedly acting with open eyes to preempt the evolution of a united
regional and international front in consensus on a two �state solution for the
conflict; the best way to split the already burgeoning consensus is to fuel
regional anti-Americanism as a tested ploy to disintegrate whatever Arab,
Turkish and U.S. front might develop to pressure it into yielding to the
dictates of peace.
U.S. traditional pro-Israel diplomacy has been all along
playing in the hands of Israeli extremists, but this time against declared
interests. Nonetheless, Washington acts as if
on intent to pursue a self-defeating policy; its biased foreign policy and
double standards are antagonizing regional allies, but more importantly
contributing to Israel�s
fueling of regional anti-Americanism.
Iran had no role whatsoever in the peaceful mission of the Gaza free Flotilla.
Spotlight was kept focused on major Turkish, Arab and European civilian peace
activists, who came from Europe, United States, Australia, and Turkey; major
Arab input came from Kuwait, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen, all of them
U.S. allies. Even Syria, which is accused of being an ally of Iran, has kept
relatively a low profile in the whole episode and had no role in the mission
either, although it spearheaded the opposition to the U.S. role in the
aftermath during the emergency meeting in Cairo of the Arab foreign ministers. Israel could in no way authentically claim the
flotilla mission had any Iran
connection to justify its high seas blunder. Neither the organizers would allow
any such role. Co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement's 69-year-old U.S.-born
engineer, Greta Berlin, was quoted by AP on June 4 as saying the group has
shunned donation offers from Iran
and said the group doesn't accept donations from radical groups or states.
Similarly, the de facto government of Hamas in Gaza
has shunned a suggestion by the commander of Iran�s Revolutionary Guards to
provide �protection� for future similar flotillas.
Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based
in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.