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Right Turn
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 09/04/2011

Israel, the flotilla and the U.N.

The New York Times reported:

A long-awaited United Nations review of Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-based flotilla in which nine passengers were killed has found that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is both legal and appropriate. But it said that the way Israeli forces boarded the vessels trying to break that blockade 15 months ago was excessive and unreasonable. . . .

While the report throws in the charge that Israeli commandos acted with excessive force, the report, as the Times notes, is “a rare vindication for it in the United Nations. A United Nations Security Council statement at the time assailed the loss of life, and Israel faced widespread international condemnation.” The report may also have a negative impact, however unintentionally, on the Palestinian gambit to obtain a declaration of statehood.

An Israeli official who was authorized only to speak on background told me: “Israel accepted the report with a few reservations. We think it is a serious and balanced report. We cooperated fully,” he said, noting that it made the results of Israel’s own internal review available to the investigators. He emphasized, “The fact that the report confirms Israel’s right to blockade Gaza and right to enforce it including in international waters are very important.” He attributed the fairness of the report to the work of Sir Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand, and Álvaro Uribe, a former president of Colombia. He also noted, “While enforcing the blockade, Israel intercepted many vessels. Never did it end up in violence” until Israeli forces were “brutally attacked.”He also observed that the report confirmed Israel’s claim that there i no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and that supplies should go through approved channels on land.

Indeed the report’s findings are remarkable considering the United Nations’ treatment of Israel over the past several decades. This statement from the report is a stinging rebuff to international efforts to brand Israel as a violator of international law: “The fundamental principle of the freedom of navigation on the high seas is subject to only certain limited exceptions under international law. Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea, and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.”

Moreover, the report rejected the notion that the flotilla was an entirely peaceful humanitarian mission. “Although people are entitled to express their political views, the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade. The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly IHH [The Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief]. The actions of the flotilla needlessly carried the potential for escalation.”

In the aftermath of the report, Turkey has, to be blunt, freaked out. On Friday the Times reported:

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would reduce its diplomatic representation in Israel to the level of second secretary — one of the lowest diplomatic ranks — and had ordered Israel’s ambassador, Gabby Levy, to leave Turkey by Wednesday. The move stopped short of a complete breach in diplomatic relations but nonetheless seemed likely to deepen the already serious alienation between the countries and to further isolate Israel in the region as Arab Spring revolts threaten to undermine other previously stable relationships there.
“All military agreements have been suspended,” Mr. Davutoglu said but added that relations could return to normal if Israel apologized for the killings of nine people on board the ship and lifted its embargo on Gaza — demands Israel has consistently rejected. Both sides, however, professed readiness for further efforts to resolve the dispute.

Plainly, Turkish authorities had oversold to its domestic audience the expected results of the report. Having been unable to extract an apology from Israel, it now is indulging in a spasm of retaliation. Noteworthy, however, is the lack of any Israeli response. To the contrary, Israel hopes that after an initial backlash, Turkey will return to a less adversarial stance toward the Jewish state. The Israeli official I spoke with said, “We hope the report will allow us to put this incident behind us and continue the important relations between the two states.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. role in this has been less than helpful, as former deputy national security advisor Elliott Abrams explains:

[I]t is clear that the U.S. government was pushing Israel to apologize. Of course, administration spokesmen will largely deny this and say they were seeking a middle ground. Probably so: that has been administration policy toward Israel for two and a half years now. The policy is not to offer strong support, but to seek a compromise between Israel and her enemies. In this case such a position was both morally wrong and dumb, if the idea was to get [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan off his anti-Israel kick and restore the good old days of warm Turkish-Israeli relations.

So what does this have to do with the Palestinian statehood gambit? Consider the report’s acknowledgment of the threat to Israel posed by Hamas terrorists:

The United Nations Charter, Article 2 (4) prohibits the use of force generally, subject to an exception under Article 51 of the Charter for the right of a nation to engage in self-defense. Israel has faced and continues to face a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. Rockets, missiles and mortar bombs have been launched from Gaza toward Israel since 2001. More than 5,000 were fired between 2005 and January 2009, when the naval blockade was imposed. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians live in the range of these attacks. As their effectiveness has increased,some rockets are now capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Since 2001 such attacks have caused more than 25 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The enormity of the psychological toll on the affected population cannot be underestimated. In addition, there have been substantial material losses. The purpose of these acts of violence, which have been repeatedly condemned by the international community, has been to do damage to the population of Israel. It seems obvious enough that stopping these violent acts was a necessary step for Israel to take in order to protect its people and to defend itself.

The report goes on to note:

It is Hamas that is firing the projectiles into Israel or is permitting others to do so. The Panel considers the conflict should be treated as an international one for the purposes of the law of blockade. This takes foremost into account Israel’s right to self-defense against armed attacks from outside territory. In this context, the debate on Gaza’s status, in particular its relationship to Israel, should not obscure the realities. The law does not operate in a political vacuum, and it is implausible to deny that the nature of the armed violence between Israel and Hamas goes beyond purely domestic matters. In fact, it has all the trappings of an international armed conflict . . . Israel was entitled to take reasonable steps to prevent the influx of weapons into Gaza. With that objective, Israel established a series of restrictions on vessels entering the waters of Gaza.

Not only is this an implicit repudiation of the premises of the Goldstone Report (which, in Operation Cast Lead, portrayed the Israelis as aggressors and Gazans as victims), but it is a powerful argument against granting the Palestinians their request for a declaration of statehood. The government of that new state is co-run by the very terrorists described in the flotilla report as waging war on Israel.

The United Nations is now going to reward Hamas with a declaration (albeit symbolic) that its unity government joins the “international community” of civilized nations? It’s of course preposterous. Neither the United Nations nor anyone else knows how, or even if, the unity government will function. What we do know is that Israel is involved (still) in an ongoing war against terrorists who target Israeli civilians in contravention of international law. Perhaps when it is Israelis’ turn to speak on the resolution, its representatives should hand the microphone over to Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Álvaro Uribe, who can read their informative report to the General Assembly.

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 09/04/2011

Categories:  Israel

 
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