When All Else Fails

Israel vs. The World

by Zachary Fillingham, GeoM

Yesterday’s raid by the IDF on the ‘Freedom Flotilla’- an aid convoy en route to Gaza- amounts to one more diplomatic nightmare for an Israeli government that is finding itself increasingly bereft of international support.

There can be no doubt that this latest incident will harm Israel’s standing abroad. It only took a matter of hours, not days, for a long list of international condemnation to materialize. It now includes: EU calls for an official inquiry into the incident, shock and concern from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Turkey recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv, Greece pulling out of a planned joint military exercise with Israel, and an emergency session of the UN Security Council.

This latest public relations nightmare comes on the heels of a series of other Israeli image shocks. The assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubaicontinues to be a thorn in the side of Israel’s relationship with the United Kingdom and Australia. Furthermore, relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have still not recovered from high-profile rifts over settlements earlier this year.

Faced with this growing chorus of international condemnation and isolation, it’s interesting that the Israeli military chose to move on the Freedom Flotilla.  Other aid convoys, albeit smaller ones, have been allowed to break the Gaza blockade in the past, and the logistical challenge of a large-scale boarding at sea makes a botched operation a real possibility, if not the likely outcome.

It’s possible that the Netanyahu government decided to move on the convoy in response to the US government’s recent nuclear snub. Last week, the Obama administration broke a streak of implicit support for Israel at the UN by supporting a motion calling for Israel to join the NPT ahead of a 2012 regional conference for a nuclear-free Middle East. The resolution is tantamount to calling for Israeli nuclear disarmament, which would be a pre-requisite for NPT ascension.

For America to allow such a resolution to pass, let alone support it, represents a radical shift in policy. In essence, it is an attempt by Washington to wash its hands of the hypocrisy inherent to lobbying against a nuclear Iran while ignoring Israel’s nuclear program. By contrast, when similar resolutions were up for debate during the Bush administration five years ago, the American government refused to allow the inclusion of clauses regarding Israel joining the NPT or future talks on a nuclear-free Middle East.

This recent breach in UN solidarity and the international backlash that’s sure to result from the boarding of the Freedom Flotilla paint an interesting picture moving forward. It’s quite possible that the Obama administration will use this incident to show Israel and the world at large that American support for Tel Aviv is not automatic. After all, this incident is ideal insofar that the boarding took place in international waters and is not directly connected to some of the more prickly, long-term issues that plague the Middle East peace process. Thus, American condemnation won’t end up representing a powerful precedent that could haunt future governments.

Expect Washington to jump in and join the chorus of international condemnation over the attack on the Freedom Flotilla. This would continue the trend of political tug-of-war that has existed between the Netanyahu and Obama governments since the beginning of their respective tenures. In academic terms, it is a complex international power-struggle that is being played out against the backdrop of geopolitical and domestic political considerations. In simpler terms, both are trying to convince the other that they are the one wearing the pants.

Hat Tip: BLN