Commentary Magazine


A Time for Choosing

In a June 18 piece, Caroline Glick outlines nicely the threat Israel faces in the coming days, as Iran, Hezbollah, and Turkey ramp up their flotilla assault. She points out that the purpose of the flotillas is to force Israel to use its military against them, and thus incur greater disapproval from the global community with each incident. What she doesn’t go on to say — at least not in so many words — is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and their backers have a very specific interim objective in mind: they want to dilute the integrity of Israel’s national security by institutionalizing multilateral vetoes over it.

Ms. Glick undoubtedly knows this. It’s worth emphasizing, however, because there is great danger in assuming that the asymmetric methods of guerrilla terrorism are evidence of random, incoherent anger. The West is particularly prone to this analytical failure. But in this situation we have special reason to recognize that a geopolitical strategy is at work: the governments of Turkey and Iran are overtly involved. Their campaign method is unconventional, but what they seek is very much a boundable, state-oriented goal. By inducing the Western nations to accept today’s circumstances as unsustainable, they want to make it the default solution to create an international “buffer,” in some minimal but expandable form, between Israel and Gaza.

Efforts to reach just this kind of solution are already underway, as the Economist outlined a week ago. Hamas is actively lobbying for such proposals, which include having a European body inspect Gaza-bound cargo in Greece, as well as Hamas operating the Gaza port “under European inspection” (see here and here). The process of internationalizing the Gaza blockade is in motion; it will gain momentum, at least in diplomatic circles, with each fresh flotilla confrontation.

As a bureaucratic solution, endowed with ostensible neutrality and the official promise of engagement, this will be attractive to many. But it’s an unacceptable outcome for Israel — not least because of the terrible record of multinational peacekeeping forces, in Lebanon and around the world, in safeguarding the interests of populations under siege. No amount of European oversight at the docks will keep arms shipments from reaching Hamas if the naval blockade is lifted. But the presence of Europeans on an international mission would constrain Israel’s options, effectively putting the EU at the table with Israel’s Ministry of Defense and giving it a vote.

These concerns, however, as significant as they are, amount to tactical considerations. The strategic danger is philosophical, striking directly at the heart of the Western concept of nationhood and national prerogative. If a sustained asymmetric assault can induce the Western powers to withdraw their support of one nation’s integrity, that approach can work against others. Internationalizing the blockade of Gaza would unquestionably amount to such a withdrawal.

There is a little time left to craft a strategy for dealing with the “flotilla Intifada,” but we are at the point of decision right now regarding what America’s objective is to be. If we don’t hew to one of our own, we will find ourselves funneled, along with Europe, into the objective sought by Israel’s enemies. Our objective ought to be relieving these flotilla confrontations of their political significance by affirming Israel’s sovereign national right to defend itself and negotiate its borders on its own terms.

There is considerably more latitude to do that than the mainstream media narrative suggests. MEMRI has an excellent summary of regional opinion this week, in which the opportunities to leverage Arab concerns about Turkish and Iranian activism stand out in neon. Egypt, particularly leery of both nations’ intentions, is also Israel’s erstwhile partner in keeping Gaza demilitarized; a reassuring approach to Cairo is where we should start.

President Obama may well have prejudiced the outcome already by telling Mahmoud Abbas that the Gaza situation is “unsustainable.” That word works expressly to the advantage of Israel’s enemies: it tells them that Obama is in their corner and singing off their sheet music. Israel’s enemies can also take heart from the American reaction to Turkey’s major military incursion into northern Iraq this week. The dispatch of hundreds of troops into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels was met with the officious explanation from the U.S. State Department that “Turkey, like any country, has the right to defend itself against terrorist organizations.” There has apparently been no call for an international investigation into the deaths of the four Kurds killed so far by Turkish forces.

There is a truth being revealed this summer about what is unsustainable, and it turns out that it’s the West’s fashionable ambivalence about Israel. The terrorists and their national backers are putting pressure directly on that weak spot in our collective posture. For all our sakes, we had better choose to affirm Israel’s rights as a sovereign nation. The one thing that is certain is that we cannot postpone that choice any longer.

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