Ronen Bergman: Siege Fatigue and the Flotilla Mistake





[Mr. Bergman, a senior military and political analyst for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, is the author of "The Secret War With Iran" (Free Press, 2008).]

Monday's botched commando raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla has proven disastrous for Israel. World public opinion has united in condemning the Jewish state and the U.N. Security Council has already demanded an inquiry. Closer to home, the strategic alliance that Israel had painstakingly forged with Turkey is in tatters....

What makes the flotilla fiasco all the more astounding is that Israel has been preparing for this confrontation for months. It has had time to run various scenarios, and even to review strategies it has previously employed for similar events.

In 1988, 131 members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who had been deported from the Palestinian Territories following the outbreak of the first intifada intended to set sail to Gaza from Limassol, Cyprus. Their boat, called Al Awda or the Ship of the Return, was accompanied by 200 journalists.

...On Feb. 15 [1988], hours before it was due to set sail, the empty ship was blown up in Limassol harbor by a team of Mossad agents and frogmen from Flotilla 13 (the Israeli equivalent of Navy Seals). The team was led by Yoav Galant, then a young officer and today a major general in the IDF. The operation was a success. There were no casualties on either side and the PLO gave up on the idea of sailing to Gaza....

...[This time] the rhetoric from both sides—as well as the fact that the Insani Yardim Vakfi, a front group for the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood, organized the flotilla—made it clear that any attempt to take control of the vessels would almost certainly result in violent confrontation....

What we witnessed in the early hours of Monday morning was symptomatic of a new degree of fatigue in Israeli governing circles. The fact that both the political and the military authorities could sign off on such an irresponsible operation suggests that the leadership of the country has given up what it has concluded is ultimately a Sisyphean attempt to accommodate world opinion. Isolation is no longer a threat to be fought, their thinking seems to go, because Israel is terminally isolated. What remains is to concentrate exclusively on what is best for Israel's survival, shedding any regard for the opinion of others....

Israel's fatigue and deep sense of ostracism is, to say the least, unhealthy. It would be unhealthy for any country at the best of times. But it is particularly troubling when the country in question is at perpetual war, and when it is repeatedly threatened with annihilation by the leader of a country who is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. And, of course, it is profoundly disturbing when the fatigued and isolated country itself has the means to strike pre-emptively and punishingly at its enemies, including in ways from which, realistically, there may be no return.



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