Israel cannot afford to keep going it alone
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The deadly confrontation between pro-Palestinian “activists” and Israeli commandos who intercepted a flotilla of ships bound for Gaza early on May 31 changed the diplomatic climate from promising to dire.
Proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, presumably leading to a return of face-to-face negotiations, will no doubt be put back on hold.
The U.S.-Israel relationship had been steadily improving since the Biden affair last March. A White House meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, planned at least in part to demonstrate that the U.S.-Israel relationship was back on track, is now deferred, as is a rumor that Obama was to use the occasion to accept an invitation to visit Israel in the fall.
Turkey, Israel’s strongest economic partner and erstwhile military friend in the Muslim world, recalled its ambassador and threatened a break in relations with Israel. Resumption of planned joint military maneuvers with Turkey, with whom Israeli relations had begun to be revived after months of deterioration, is quite literally dead in the water.
Moderate Palestinian forces on the West Bank have little incentive to proceed with any confidence-building gestures given the widespread and immediate condemnation that Israel received throughout the world and the anger spewing forth on the Muslim street.
Now, even before there is a clear understanding of what transpired off the Gaza coast, it might be worthwhile to consider if Israel is mistakenly ignoring a fundamental component in its national security calculations.
There appears to be clear evidence that the Gaza flotilla was orchestrated largely by Turkish friends of Hamas, as Israel suspected. The “humanitarian” mission was populated by activists who have no genuine interest in a constructive dialogue and resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It was equally clear that this group was determined to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza by any means necessary, knowing that the humanitarian sympathies it would generate would far outweigh any other costs.
And yet, given the fact that Israel had sufficient time to plan for all eventualities, how could it appear to have disregarded the costs of yet another public relations fiasco? No matter how legitimate Israel’s claim might be to sustaining the Gaza blockade, it will never change the public verdict on the suffering of Gazans, nor can it persist in assuming it can operate totally alone in the world of nations.
(Even tactically, assuming that the IDF was determined to turn back the Turkish flotilla, inadequate consideration was given as to how to manage the media fallout of the intercept. Had Israeli forces gone in with embedded reporters and observers, perhaps its side of the confrontation would have gotten a better airing.)
What Israel does not need is any more isolation. It does not need to see the escalation of the campaign to delegitimize Israel fueled by its own miscalculations. It does not need consistently to force the U.S. — its only genuine, reliable supporter in the world — to go solo on Israel’s behalf, especially in a situation that should and could have been avoided. Israeli leaders cannot continue to present a face of arrogance or assume they can blithely weather another round of Israel-bashing and condemnation, however biased or disproportionate.
Israel is not a “banana republic” but a major democratic, economic, and military player. It needs to make far better calculations before it acts in non-lethal situations or precipitates another diplomatic crisis. Israel needs to comprehend that operating alone in the world with one friend plus Diaspora Jewry is hardly a formula for progress.
Regardless of the outcome of the inevitable investigations and commissions, Israel will again be looking for new friends. Its leaders and supporters need to look past damage control and “hasbara,” and focus on policies and actions that win friends and deny its enemies propaganda victories.