Israel Blunders Into Another PR Disaster

A deadly confrontation with a pro-Palestinian aid flotilla undermines Israel's vaunted image of military and diplomatic competence - again.

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Left-wing Israelis protest the raid. Getty Images.

As the Gaza flotilla fiasco unfolds, world leaders find themselves singularly impressed by Israeli government's ability to shoot itself in the foot. In less than a day, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done more to damage Israel's image than anyone previously believed imaginable. This was inept tactics and inept diplomacy resulting in a remarkable loss of credibility.

The force of condemnation of the deadly raid in international waters on a fleet of six aid ships carrying 500 people came from virtually everywhere. Hundreds have taken to the streets from London to Amman. In Istanbul protesters smashed the windows of the Israeli consulate. Turkey has recalled his ambassador and bilateral relations between the two countries may now be irrevocably damaged. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France called Israel's use of force "disproportionate." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed his shock at the deadly raid on boats loaded with relief supplies headed for Gaza, calling on Israel to fully explain its actions. Forty nationalities were represented on the flotilla including European Parliamentarians. At last count, as many as 10 people were killed and dozens injured.

"Israel launched this operation in international waters and to a ship flagged white, which is unacceptable under any clause of the international law," said Murat Mercan of the Turkish Grand National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Commission. "We are going to see in the following days whether Israel has done it as a display of decisiveness or to commit political suicide."

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply a "premeditated" attempt to provoke the Israelis into violence. If that is true, then the protestors succeeded brilliantly. 

The result of this latest public relations disaster will almost certainly be a series of investigations and greater efforts to lift the siege of Gaza.  The European Union, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Tony Blair, British representative of the Middle East Quartet have all called for independent inquiry as to what happened.

"Once again I repeat my view that we need a different and better way of helping the people of Gaza and avoiding the hardship and tragedy that is inherent in the present situation," said Tony Blair, British Representative of the Middle East Quartet. The UN estimates that the amount and quality of food available to the estimated 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip has been severely restricted by more than 1,000 days of the blockade. According to a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization report, 61 percent of the Gaza population is food insecure. "There is a diverse range of foods available in Gaza; the problem is people do not have the means to purchase the food due to rising poverty and unemployment, now nearly 39 percent." said Sarah Leppert, FAO's communications adviser for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, Hamas, which earlier this month suffered from a severe downturn in its popularity among Palestinians, will likely gain the greatest benefit from today's events. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has already called for the suspension of peace talks. Meanwhile Israeli Arabs have called for a general strike tomorrow to protest the incident.

The raid is the most recent of some remarkable miscues out of Jerusalem. In January, Israeli intelligence operatives assassinated a Hamas operative in Dubai. Authorities in Dubai later discovered that Israeli intelligence agents stole the identities of civilians from several nations including England, Austria, Australia, France and Germany in preparation for the mission, which in turn sparked international condemnation.

Netanyahu's planned meeting with President Barak Obama on Tuesday is thankfully on hold. The meeting was meant to highlight warming relations between the US and Israel and movement towards Middle East peace. Now the US will now be forced to play its traditional role as Israel's protector in the UN - something increasingly difficult as the world moves to multi-polar diplomacy.

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