Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t

Jonah Goldberg also weighs in on the IHH flotilla debacle:

Question: If Israel is always hell-bent on murder, massacres, and genocide, why is it so bad at it? If its battle plan called for a slaughter, why kill “only” nine people? Why not sink all of the boats?

… North Korea recently sank a South Korean ship. The international reaction has been muted and sober. Turkey — the Palestinians’ new champion — has been treating Kurdish nationalists harshly for generations; no one cares. The Russians crush Chechens, the Chinese trample Uighurs. Real genocides unfold regularly in Africa. Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb. Hamas is openly dedicated to the destruction of Israel. So is Iran.

And yet the only villain as far as much of the world is concerned is Israel. Always Israel.

But none of these facts matter. Indeed, it’s tiring even to recount them in an environment where big lies matters more than obvious truths, where self-defense is “aggression,” where restraint is “genocide,” and where the heirs of Gandhi wield steel pipes.

Why not sink all the boats, indeed? In for a penny, in for a pound, as the old saying goes: it is hard to see how Israel could be any more vilified in world opinion than it already is. There will be another “peace activist” armada testing Israel’s resolve before long, and perhaps Israel should make it clear in advance that this next one will be offered three choices: turn back, unload its cargo at Ashdod for transfer to Gaza, or be destroyed.

Another solution would be for some international body to assume responsibility for inspecting all vessels bound for Gaza, thereby shifting the onus from Israel. But who would that body be? The UN? Of course not. For the UN to do so would legitimize the blockade — and more to the point, it would defeat the actual purpose of the “humanitarian” mission: to give Israel no choice but to act in self-defense, and so to inflame world opinion.

Read Goldberg’s essay here.

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11 Comments

  1. Eric says

    I agree. When I first saw the reports, I thought that Israel should have torpedoed the boats.

    How could the reaction be worse?

    Posted June 4, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  2. JK says

    Just an observation from a guy who’s been on ships. Loose gear, indeed anything not properly “secured” as they say in Navyspeak, is one big no – no.

    Admittedly, I’ve not seen all the videos but from the few I have seen, it is apparent that as each IDF guy landed on deck (armed primarily with a paintball gun – against guys wearing lifejackets) was immediately swarmed by no fewer than eight swinging ‘loose gear’. The loose gear very oddly seemed to be in the form of rebar.

    Good thing those ‘passengers’ hadn’t encountered heavy seas. Still, your title Malcolm sums it up neatly, “Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.”

    As to “who” is the proper jurisdictional authority for making inspections – that would be whichever nation controls whatever transit point the humanitarians used. If it was the Suez?

    Still, satellite recon should have clearly shown that on the one ship in particular, ‘loose gear’ was present (intel failure – but thinking that in thinking of the Israelis doesn’t seem ‘likely’).

    And while I think it highly unlikely no armed Israeli ships were in the area (capable of enforcing a “Stop or…”) the IDF it “appears” was committed to a helo drop. And helos don’t carry torpedoes.

    Posted June 4, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    I think Goldberg is mistaken when he writes that the sinking of the South Korean ship led to a “muted and sober reaction.” There has been widespread condemnation, joint South Korean – American military exercises, a freeze on aid to North Korea, and so forth. Ditto for the actions of Russia and Iran. I don’t dispute that Israel is held to a different standard than other countries, or that it will be condemned for actions where other nations would get a pass. However, to suggest that other countries can literally get away with murder while the world yawns is simply untrue.

    Posted June 4, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    “I don’t dispute that Israel is held to a different standard than other countries, or that it will be condemned for actions where other nations would get a pass.”

    Well, that’s the point. What constitutes a “yawn” is something about which reasonable people may disagree.

    Posted June 4, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Permalink
  5. Kevin Kim says

    Korean anger needs to be put in the context of the almost ritualized process of NK violence followed by SK outrage. NK knows the South will never push for war, so it can afford to kill a few dozen South Koreans every year, as well as illegally cross into SK waters (I’m referring primarily to submarine incursions) over 300 times a year. Given how insane the situation is on the peninsula, the Cheonan incident doesn’t stray far from Korea’s normal. SK and international reactions to this incident don’t equate to a yawn, per se, but NK is definitely getting away with murder. Yet again. And no: you won’t see mass demonstrations against NK in the streets of Seoul — certainly nothing on the scale of anti-US demonstrations after the 2002 incident in which two schoolgirls were accidentally hit and killed by a US military vehicle. SK is loudest when it demonstrates against “enemies” who it secretly knows will do it no harm. Given all this, SK’s overall reaction to the Cheonan incident has been lukewarm: it’s just another step in the same dance.

    I tend to think the flotilla incident highlights certain parallels with the Korean situation. Even if the supplies on board the blockade runners are of the most benign nature, I guarantee that most of those materials aren’t going where they’re intended. In NK, monitoring of food aid distribution is forbidden, and most aid ends up in the gullets of party cadres and soldiers, with the rest given to the people as an afterthought. Hamas is, I would guess, little different in its priorities, even if it allows a certain degree of monitoring of distribution (does it?). Only the most naive would conclude that all Palestinian aid — or even most of it — goes where it’s intended.

    Posted June 5, 2010 at 3:43 am | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    As usual, the Economist nails it:

    http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=16274081

    Posted June 5, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    “Nails it”?

    And what about Hamas, if Israel is to lift the siege of Gaza? How should Israel handle an authoritarian movement that refuses to recognise it and has in the past readily used terror? One answer is to ask the UN to oversee the flow of goods and people going in and out of Gaza. That is hardly a cure-all, but Hamas would become the world’s problem neighbour, not just Israel’s. The Arab world must do more, pressing Hamas to disavow violence, publicly pledge not to resume the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians and revoke its anti-Semitic charter. The West, led by Mr Obama, should call for Hamas to be drawn into negotiations, both with its rival Palestinians on the West Bank as well as with Israel, even if it does not immediately recognise the Jewish state. It is still the party the Palestinians elected in 2006 to represent all of them. None of this will be easy. But the present stalemate is bloodily leading nowhere.

    “One answer is to ask the UN to oversee the flow of goods and people going in and out of Gaza. That is hardly a cure-all…”

    Yes, hardly a cure-all, even if realistic — which it isn’t, as I pointed out above. First of all, this would put the UN in the position of enforcing a blockade that most of its members feel is illegitimate. Also, this assumes, in typically naive Western-liberal fashion, that everyone in the region actually wants to foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians, when in fact the opposite is true. (I wouldn’t have thought it possible to sing “Kumbiyah” with one’s head in the sand, but I always underestimate these people.) The reality is that the more the conflict festers, the more the Palestinians can be made to suffer in a storefront window, and the more Israel is forced to defend itself vigorously and in isolation, the better the Muslim world likes it. (Notice that the aggrieved Muslim nations all around have done exactly nothing all these years to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians, save to call for the destruction of Israel.)

    Yet what does the article suggest as a solution? Naught but the purest Polyanna puffery:

    The Arab world must do more, pressing Hamas to disavow violence, publicly pledge not to resume the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians and revoke its anti-Semitic charter.

    Yeah, let’s all hold our breaths until that happens.

    The West, led by Mr Obama, should call for Hamas to be drawn into negotiations…

    Right. More talking by President Obama ought to do the trick!

    Posted June 5, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  8. bob koepp says

    No question in my mind that Hamas is the “bad guy” here, and that Israel has very good reasons to enforce the blockade of Gaza. But the way the Israelis went about stopping the “flotilla” was plain stupid.

    Posted June 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  9. the one eyed man says

    I think the starting point of any analysis of the Israeli situation starts with the fact that if the Arabs (and Iranians) were to lay down their arms, there would be peace. If the Israelis laid down their arms, they would be dead. I do not think there is an equivalence between the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ actions, and I believe that Israel should do all which is moral and legal to protect its citizens and its interests.

    Having said that, the Israeli government has been provocative, unyielding, and overly militaristic. Regardless of what one thinks about the most recent incident, I believe that its insistence on expanding settlements and its military actions in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon are both unjustified (in terms of disproportionate response) and counter-productive. Certainly they have not achieved peace or stability. Whether a more flexible approach would work is open to doubt, but it is inarguable that the status quo is not working for either the Israelis or the Palestinians.

    So what is to be done? As far as the blockade goes, multi-national forces have enforced armistices successfully many times over. Whether the UN or an ad hoc group is the right approach is a manageable issue.
    As far as the larger issues goes, I think the two state solution described in the Economist piece is the best hope to resolve the intractable issues of land, water, sovereignty, and security. Nor do I think it is unrealistic or hopelessly idealistic to suggest that the Arabs and other Muslims – or some of them, anyway – would apply the pressure on Hamas and the Palestinians which the Economist proposes. There is certainly no guarantee that they would break with precedent and act this way, but neither is there any incentive for them to do so as long as the Israelis will not negotiate in good faith, which necessarily involves compromise.

    It is not inconceivable that an American led effort using incentives and disincentives will induce the Muslim world to move in the right direction. Until the Obama administration, we have had a foreign policy which reflexively endorsed everything that Israel did, no matter what it was. I think it is fair to say that previous administrations have placed Israeli interests above American interests. Hence America abdicated its role as an honest broker by always taking one side of the argument. Perhaps that is about to change.

    The Palestinians have been living for decades in a land they believe to be theirs, which has been occupied (often brutally) by Israel. Whether it is the Israelis or the Palestinians who ought to be on the land can be argued from both sides. However, let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Palestinians are right, and the occupation of land which is putatively theirs is immoral and illegal. What then are the legitimate actions which they are entitled to take? If you support the use of force to free Iraqi citizens from a tyrannical leader, then would you also support the use of force to free Palestinian citizens from foreign occupation? I think I know what you would do if you were Israeli: continue the status quo. What would you do if you were Palestinian?

    Posted June 5, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    Peter, I agree with you on several points, first and foremost your opening paragraph:

    if the Arabs (and Iranians) were to lay down their arms, there would be peace. If the Israelis laid down their arms, they would be dead. I do not think there is an equivalence between the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ actions, and I believe that Israel should do all which is moral and legal to protect its citizens and its interests.

    I also agree that the settlement-building has needlessly fanned the flames.

    But it is hard to square your final paragraph with your first. Either one accepts Israel’s existence, or not. So what would I do, if I were a Palestinian? Well, those that want peaceful co-existence will have to work against Hamas, against jihad, and against the provocateurs and puppet-masters who seek only to prolong and exploit the tension. I am sure that is no easy position to stake out.

    But what would I do? I have no idea; I’m not a Palestinian. As you used to say: “if my Aunt Enna had tubes, she’d be a radio.” But the Palestinians, and the Muslim world generally, have had ample opportunities to work for peace, preferring instead a culture of grievance and terrorism. (I am, frankly, a bit shocked that you are seriously comparing Israel to Saddam’s Iraq, by the way.)

    Nor do I think it is unrealistic or hopelessly idealistic to suggest that the Arabs and other Muslims – or some of them, anyway – would apply the pressure on Hamas and the Palestinians which the Economist proposes. There is certainly no guarantee that they would break with precedent and act this way, but neither is there any incentive for them to do so as long as the Israelis will not negotiate in good faith, which necessarily involves compromise.

    We disagree about this; I think it is unrealistic and hoplessly idealistic. Hatred of Israel is simply too useful — and for Muslim ideologues, peace by capitulation is unthinkable. To imagine otherwise is a snare and a delusion.

    It is not inconceivable that an American led effort using incentives and disincentives will induce the Muslim world to move in the right direction.

    Conceivable? Sure. Believable? The basis of a realistic strategy for a tiny, encircled nation faced with annihilation the moment it drops its guard? Absolutely not.

    Until the Obama administration, we have had a foreign policy which reflexively endorsed everything that Israel did, no matter what it was. I think it is fair to say that previous administrations have placed Israeli interests above American interests. Hence America abdicated its role as an honest broker by always taking one side of the argument. Perhaps that is about to change.

    About to change? No, it has changed. Israel is now effectively alone. But I don’t see how it serves American interests for the only bastion of liberty and secular democracy in the Mideast to succumb to its Muslim foes.

    Posted June 5, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  11. the one eyed man says

    Hey, keep my Aunt Enna out of this. Things are hard enough for her in a wireless world (although I suppose you could say that antennas were the first wireless devices.)

    I certainly don’t mean to equate the Israelis with Saddam. The Palestinians have done plenty to put themselves in the box they are in. However, like the Iraqis, they are a downtrodden, oppressed people. One narrative of history is that they have been living for generations in land which was expropriated and then occupied by Israel, often brutally and capriciously. There are other, competing narratives as well. However, theirs has a lot of justification behind it, and it is a legitimate question to ask what the limits of action which the oppressed can take against their oppressors.

    Regarding hope and change: I have a somewhat (OK, major league) different opinion regarding progress and the improvement of the human condition. When I was growing up, the talking heads of the time were convinced that nuclear war with China and/or Russia was imminent and unavoidable (and the more hot-headed among them, such as Norman Podhoretz, urged a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Russia). We’ve pulled back from that brink. The Berlin Wall fell and the ideology of communism is discredited and, except for oddball places like Cuba and North Korea, abandoned to the dustbin of history. Elsewhere there are more democracies, and fewer tyrannies, than ever before. So progress on a large scale can happen, although there is no guarantee that it will.

    Will change occur if the Israelis, Palestinians, and other Muslims continue to be as pig-headed as they are today? Of course not. However, progress in other spheres that few would have predicted a few decades ago has changed the world, and it is not out of the question for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be managed to the point where two states can co-exist on reasonable terms.

    Posted June 5, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Permalink