Flotilla Update: Angry Turks, Petulant Hamas, And Fretting Pundits
Having already written a couple of posts about Israel’s interception of the “Freedom Flotilla” off the coast of Gaza (here and here), I suppose I’ll continue to cover developments until (1) interesting things stop happening or (2) I get bored. (If you, dear reader, are bored and think I should be writing about something else instead, do let me know.)
So… the confirmed death toll is still nine, including eight Turks and one US citizen of Turkish origin. Needless to say, the Turks are not amused. Although at least some Turkish pundits are calling for a measured approach, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc condemned Israel’s “barbarism and oppression”, and President Abdullah Gul insisted that relations between the two countries would “never be the same”. That sounds suspiciously histrionic: Canada-US relations eventually recovered from the War of 1812, and nine dead activists on a boat is pretty trivial by comparison. However, it’s certainly true that relations could worsen even further. There’s now said to be “talk in Istanbul of the Turkish navy escorting another humanitarian convoy to Gaza”, which would raise the stakes considerably.
Farooq Burney, one of the Canadian citizens who was aboard the six captured ships and has now been deported by Israel, has given his version of events to the Globe and Mail. If he is to be believed, the attack on the ships started with smoke bombs, followed by the descent from helicopters of two or perhaps three (his account was a bit inconsistent) Israeli commandos. Large groups of activists on board the ship overpowered the commandos with their bare hands, and imprisoned them “in a room”. The Israelis subsequently began shooting from the helicopters, and then boarded in force. This would seem to contradict statements from Israel that the commandos were “ambushed” with clubs, knives and even guns when they first tried to board, although Burney did acknowledge that some activists had fought the boarding party using “things that were at hand”.
The blogging MP Glen Pearson seems quite sure that the laws of the sea allow a blockading navy to enforce the blockade in international waters, as long as this doesn’t “bar access to the ports of neutral states”. This should strengthen Israel’s legal and diplomatic position with respect to the incident, although of course there’s still room for argument over whether the force used was proportionate.
Israel tried to deliver some of the aid that had been aboard the six ships, only to be rebuffed by Hamas:
According to officials in Gaza, Hamas has said it will not permit the supplies to enter the besieged territory until all detained activists are released and Israel agrees to deliver all aid consignments, including construction materials.
This sounds like a case of Hamas cutting off its nose (or perhaps the noses of ordinary Gazans) to spite its face, but the fact that Israel is withholding the construction materials that were aboard the Freedom Flotilla is telling. The Israelis have been insisting that the Flotilla was needlessly confrontational to head directly for Gaza when Israel would have delivered the aid anyway, but it now seems likelier than ever that the construction materials would not have got through had the Flotilla accepted this offer.
Much of the commentary on the interception of the Flotilla has been a predictably polarised shouting match between defenders and detractors of Israel, but I’ll highlight a couple of articles I’ve seen that have made interesting points about wider patterns that Canadians should be paying attention to. One George Burger is terribly worried about Turkey’s behaviour: he sees Turkey making “a calculated move to take over leadership of the Islamist [he probably meant Islamic] world”, and even shifting towards “classic Islamo-fascism”. There’s at least a grain of truth to this, since Turkey’s current leadership is much friendlier to Islam than the staunch secularists who were in charge for most of the twentieth century ever were, but cries of Islamo-fascism hardly seem justified. Turkey is a long way from either fascism or Islamism, and it’s hardly surprising that a Muslim country with strong historic ties to the Middle East would shift back in that direction eventually.
Terry Glavin warns that Turkish and Malaysian groups backing the flotilla are full-fledged enemies of Israel, rather than cheerful humanitarians. I suspect this is basically true, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to bother Glavin. The world is full of such enmities.
Weirdest and most wonderful of all is an article by David Goldman, accusing the activists of the Mavi Marmara of being equivalent to suicide bombers and fretting over the West’s “susceptibility to horror”. This fits in with some of my own preoccupations, so I’ll address it properly later – but for now, it’s a fun and provocative read.