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In The Great Flotilla Debate, The Facts Are On Israel's Side

Look, I wish the Israeli raid on the so-called “Freedom Flotilla” had ended differently. Why, I ask, didn’t Israel’s navy disable the engine of the Mavi Marmara and drag the ship into port? Who knows? The engines of the other boats were apparently disabled—or so reliable sources say.

But, frankly, when some 800 men and women, distributed over six boats after weeks and weeks of preparation, are headed towards Gaza on the wings of slogan and hysteria, you don’t take that many chances. Somebody has trouble in mind.

The first five vessels were steered quietly to the Israeli port city of Ashdod, which means that neither their passengers nor the Israeli commandos were especially provocative. The sixth ship, which had 600 activist Turkish voyeurs on board, is an entirely different story. Sponsored by an organization labeled the Humanitarian Relief Fund (I.H.H.), it is said to have ties to Al Qaeda. Which would be logical since Al Qaeda is an ally of Hamas. An intriguing tripartite liaison.

But I.H.H. is also a satrap of the ever-more-Islamist government in Istanbul, which seems, in turn, to have volunteered itself as a front for jihadism everywhere, most especially in dealing with Iran and its nuclear ambitions. There is hardly a Muslim cause that the Erdogan regime in Ankara has not taken to heart and under its belt. (Recall that Turkey kept U.S. forces from traversing Turkish soil in 2003.)

Turkey was also once an important ally of Israel, which protected it from Syrian ambitions and gave it a non-Arab friend in a sea of Arabism. Israeli commerce and Israeli military cooperation—that is, modernizing Turkish armaments and units—will not continue much longer with this still-backward country. The Israelis will be sad to lose this friend, but, in fact, they have lost it already. And this is a reciprocal loss.

It wasn’t so long ago that Turkey—Erdogan’s Turkey—aspired to membership in the European Union. They can kiss that goodbye. The Turks may now be heroes on the Arab street, but they certainly aren’t heroes in Europe’s chancelleries, which prefer controversies on paper. And, much as some E.U. states have huffed and puffed about Israel, the Union is not anxious to add nearly 80 million Muslims to what would no longer be Europe.

It rings symbolically true that the two European countries first in line to bash Israel were the continent’s prime basket cases: Greece, whose fakeries and troubles have no end; and Spain, saddled with hundreds of thousands of non-working Muslim immigrants and two ongoing separatist movements, one of which (Catalonia) has much justice on its side. Both Greece and Spain are, of course, “progressive,” which is to say socialist (and unbelievably corrupt).

In Massachusetts, where I live, one young man—an Irish-American dual national who took part in the flotilla—has become a hero. His father is Joseph Bangert, a Cape Cod resident who, according to The Boston Globe, is a retired Marine and Vietnam veteran. Under a photograph of his son, a strapping reddish-haired youth of 28, is the Globe’s caption: Bangert “said he had not spoken with his son, Fiachra O’Luain, directly and has had to rely on news reports, information on Facebook, and a YouTube video.”

What was his seed doing in the eastern Mediterranean? This was not, after all, the Easter Rebellion. He was either a fighter, in which case he might have anticipated getting hurt in the excitement. Or he was a voyeur--an idealistic voyeur, to be sure--in which case, whatever ...

The propaganda for the flotilla has been in the works for months. Most of it was simply false. The poverty in Gaza is not qualitatively greater than that of your average Arab city. (Take Cairo. Or Amman, for that matter.) The markets are full of fruit and vegetables ... and flowers. Persistent pockets of deprivation exist in the historic refugee concentrations, which the Palestinian political class maintains as evidence of the ancient wrong. And, no, nobody is building big houses ... except again the elites, to the extent that they can smuggle materiel through the hundreds of tunnels which are perhaps less corrupt than the ordinary channels of commerce.

Who is behind this overhyped mission of mercy? And who is its beneficiary? It is none other than Hamas, the Gazan outpost of the global jihad, cousin of the Taliban, second cousin once-removed of Hezbollah. Wishing Hamas well, laboring for its success, is actually a crime against the Palestinians themselves. Of course, the new realists, so-called, will now beat the drums for a “pragmatic” opening to Hamas. It is an old trope for Robert Malley and his ilk. So, over the last two days, they have returned with the same message: Hamas is the future. Soon we will hear from James Baker, James Wolfensohn, even Paul Volcker, who knows a lot about some things but absolutely zero about the Middle East.

But Hamas is the past, the ugly past of ignorance. That does not mean it has no future. Hamas is the Palestinian counterpart of the movements of dread that now course throughout the world of Islam, and against which the West and moderate Muslims are struggling. The backward Muslims were Lost in the Sacred, as Dan Diner put it in his dazzling book-long essay, subtitled Why the Muslim World Stood Still. Pascal Bruckner depicts their Western sympathizers in The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism. Read these two books and you’ll understand the desperate and comradely pity educated men and women have for pitilessness.

Sympathy for Hamas is an odd reality in the Western world, and Israel needs to puzzle over how it has lost so much ground in its struggle against Arab and Muslim barbarism. I understand that the revival of a certain chic anti-Semitism has paved the way for the grosser anti-Semites and for the Muslim phantasts who deal in torment and salvation. Among these were the voyagers on the ship of fools who, a clip from Al Jazeera demonstrates, awaited the shores of Gaza ... or martyrdom.

The front page of the Financial Times reads “Israel faces global backlash.” Turkey, it says, “calls flotilla attack ‘inhuman.’ ” This is Turkey, mind you, which can’t admit to the Armenian genocide of nearly a century ago and won’t relent on the Kurds today. As it happens, the Security Council, meeting way into Tuesday morning, passed a balanced, even judicious, resolution that was, in true meaning, at least as much a rebuke to the Turks as it was a criticism of Israel. Neither Russia nor China stood in the way—at least not in the end—of fairness to Israel. And they did not try to exculpate Hamas or the macabre joy riders, including young Fiachra O’Luain.

And I must admit that this marks a turning point in the Obama administration’s attitude to Israel. Although it made some de rigeur criticisms, it was not about to make Jerusalem a sacrificial lamb for a faltering foreign policy. Susan Rice, with whom you know I have many problems, made all the appropriate visits and phone calls—bravely, conscientiously, and wisely. Maybe it was at least as much for the Palestinian Authority as it was for the Jewish state. Or for ultimate peace, unlikely as it is. But it was. Neither did anyone walk out of the “proximity talks,” non-talks as these are. And, for this, I assume the president is responsible. Mazel tov.

In fact, many people are having second thoughts … or are freeing their initial thoughts from the tiresome orthodoxies in smart parlors.

There were several smart pieces yesterday about the flotilla fallout. One was written by Michael Sean Winters in the lefty National Catholic Reporter. It is called “Judging Israel.” And it judges the Jewish state fairly. But perhaps the most important take on the episode appeared in The Daily Beast. The piece (“Israel Was Right”) was written by Leslie H. Gelb, a senior ideas man in the American foreign policy establishment, a former New York Times columnist, and the longtime president (now president emeritus) of the Council on Foreign Relations. Writes Gelb:

Israel had every right under international law to stop and board ships bound for the Gaza war zone late Sunday. Only knee-jerk left-wingers and the usual legion of poseurs around the world would dispute this. And it is pretty clear that this "humanitarian" flotilla headed for Gaza aimed to provoke a confrontation with Israel. Various representatives of the Free Gaza Movement, one of the main organizers of this deadly extravaganza, have let it slip throughout Monday that their intention was every bit as much "to break" Israel's blockade of Gaza as to deliver the relief goods.
Regarding international law, blockades are quite legal. The United States and Britain were at war with Germany and Japan and blockaded them. I can't remember international lawyers saying those blockades were illegal—even though they took place on the high seas in international waters.

On that note, here are the relevant passages from the Helsinki Principles on the Law of Maritime Neutrality:

5.1.2 (3) Merchant ships flying the flag of a neutral State may be attacked if they are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search, capture or diversion.
5.1.2 (4) Merchant ships flying the flag of a neutral State may be attacked if they (a) engage in belligerent acts on behalf of the enemy; (b) act as auxiliaries to the enemy’s armed forces; (c) are incorporated into or assist the enemy’s intelligence system; (d) sail under convoy of enemy warships or military aircraft; or (e) otherwise make an effective contribution to the enemy’s military action, e.g., by carrying military materials, and it is not feasible for the attacking forces to first place passengers and crew in a place of safety. Unless circumstances do not permit, they are to be given a warning, so that they can re-route, off-load, or take other precautions.
5.2.1 As an exception to Principle 5.1.2. paragraph 1 and in accordance with Principle 1.3 (2nd sentence), belligerent warships have a right to visit and search vis-à-vis neutral commercial ships in order to ascertain the character and destination of their cargo. If a ship tries to evade this control or offers resistance, measures of coercion necessary to exercise this right are permissible. This includes the right to divert a ship where visit and search at the place where the ship is encountered are not practical.
5.2.10 Blockade, i.e. the interdiction of all or certain maritime traffic coming from or going to a port or coast of a belligerent, is a legitimate method of naval warfare. In order to be valid, the blockade must be declared, notified to belligerent and neutral States, effective and applied impartially to ships of all States. A blockade may not bar access to neutral ports or coasts. Neutral vessels believed on reasonable and probable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be stopped and captured. If they, after prior warning, clearly resist capture, they may be attacked.

The law is on Israel’s side. Ethics and history are on Israel’s side. Those who are on the side of Hamas are actually enemies of civilization.