Commentary Magazine


The Flotilla — Why Presume There Was Another Way?

Max Boot and Evelyn Gordon are both hard on the Israeli government and military for the operation against the flotilla. Their harmonizing arguments are that Israel has little or no room for error because the international response is always going to be harsh, Israel can’t strategically or emotionally handle the consequences of international isolation, that what happened is a calamity, something should have been done differently, and heads should roll.

The problem is that this suggests that Israel had a multiplicity of options and chose the wrong one. But what if the option it chose was really the best of a whole bunch of frankly unattractive options? Had it failed to halt the flotilla, the Gaza blockade would have been publicly breached. Hamas would not only have won a propaganda victory against Israel but would have effectively put an end to the “good” Palestinian rule by Fatah on the West Bank — for Hamas would have demonstrated it could best Israel in a way that Fatah has proved singularly unable to. It is theoretically possible, as Evelyn suggests, that had its interdiction been more aggressive, with more heavily armed commandos, Israel could have taken the ship more efficiently with less bloodshed (certainly to Israeli commandos). But there’s no way to know that for sure.

Max suggests, in his Wall Street Journal piece, that maybe Israel should have booby-trapped the Marmara, the ship it boarded, while it was in port. That does sound like a juicy, Guns of Navarone–like option. But it seems to me that the public exposure of a commando raid on a ship in a Turkish Cypriot port would have had consequences vastly more dire for Israel, since it would have involved a profound violation of another nation’s sovereignty. A friend suggests that the Israelis could have worked some kind of bribery trick at the harbor in Turkish Cyprus to get the harbormaster to refuse to allow the flotilla’s exit — but if he thought of it, it stands to reason the Israelis thought of it as well and were unable to pull it off.

There’s no sense in pretending this isn’t a terrible situation. But it’s terrible not because of Israel’s action or failure to run a pristine operation, but rather because of the multi-front war against Israel in which this is but a single incident, a moment in time. Israel can and may chew itself up over it, but in doing so, it will be granting its opponents and enemies a signal victory in their war. Which is why, let’s face it, this wretchedly brilliant propaganda play was undertaken in the first place.