I wrote earlier about what Israel’s interdiction on the high seas of a ship bringing missiles from Iran to Gaza (under the obligatory cover of building supplies) means for international law. It turns out the operation had a far simpler legal basis than was previously evident: the ship’s flag state, Panama, consented to the operation.
Because a ship is legally an extension of the flag state’s territory, that state has an absolute right to consent to search on the high seas. Of course, nations have always been reluctant to allow interference with their civilian ships. Moreover, flags of convenience like Panama have about as much taste for allowing foreign security forces peeking into their ships as the Swiss have for peeking into their banks. So Panama’s cooperation is laudable. It is a happy example of a registry state taking actual responsibility for what happens under its flag, and yet another of many contradictions to the Jewish state’s alleged “growing isolation.”
Yet in contrast to the brilliant success of the naval commandoes in seizing the ship, it is a scandal that amid threats of isolation Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot personally thank Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, as an ongoing strike by Foreign Ministry workers has cancelled his Latin American visit. Regardless of the merits of the workers’ grievances, they should not feel that their mundane pay issues justify holding hostage the country’s good relations and geopolitical security.