Gaza flotilla: A lesson learned
June 8, 2010
The recent confrontation between the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and a flotilla of ships coming originally from Turkish ports is interesting. On one level, it was an attempt by Hamas sympathizers to break the IDF blockade of contraband weapons flowing into Gaza by confronting the IDF with violence instead of the usual grudging compliance with the IDF’s perfectly legal inspection procedures.
On another level, the use of violence to prevent the IDF from inspecting the MV Marmara is evidence of a growing contest between Iran and an Islamic fundamentalist group within Turkey for the hearts and minds of Hamas, the terrorist organization that now controls Gaza. In fact, geo-political relationships all around the Mediterranean Basin are in a state of flux.
During the Cold War, Turkey allied with NATO and the U.S. because of Turkey’s fear of the Soviet Union. At the same time, we welcomed Israel as an ally because Israel’s neighbor, Egypt, allied itself with the USSR. Thus, Turkey, Israel and the U.S. became Cold War allies and we have remained so ever since.
Now, Turkey is fearful of neighboring Iran because Turkey knows the Obama administration won’t stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power capable of establishing hegemony over the Persian Gulf and the oil of the Middle East.
Unlike Iran, Turkey is not threatening to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. So, a Turkish-controlled Hamas might be better for Israeli than Hamas under Iranian control. But the more immediate concern of Israeli is the prevention of additional rocket and mortar attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Such attacks were not supposed to happen. Israel was told by the international community to cede control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority and, thereby, swap land-for-peace. So, on Sept. 11, 2005, the IDF pulled out of Gaza. But Hamas kicked out the Palestinian Authority. Since then, an estimated 10,000 rockets and mortar shells have been launched from Gaza into Israel.
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That leaves Israeli with two options: Reoccupy Gaza or inspect all supplies going into Gaza to keep Hamas from obtaining more rockets and other weapons. Israeli has chosen to inspect rather than reoccupy.
As former British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) famously said, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Because Israel has a permanent interest in its right to self-defense, the IDF will continue to inspect on the land and on the sea.
End of story, except to say, the IDF learned a lesson: Use well-placed gunshots to disable the steering or propulsion systems of ships that refuse to put into Israeli ports for inspection or refuse to permit inspection at sea. Play hardball, not paintball.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy felt the U.S. had a permanent interest in not being vaporized by Soviet Missiles launched from Castro’s Cuba. JFK’s solution was to impose a total naval blockade on Cuba. It worked. The USSR stopped shipping missiles to Cuba and even withdrew the missiles already there.
Technically, a blockade is an act of war. JFK did not want Congress to declare war on the USSR, so JFK used the term “quarantine.” But it was still a blockade. It should be noted that the IDF’s blockade and JFK’s quarantine were similar in that Cuba was not denied “life’s necessities,” nor is Gaza. However, because Hamas has declared all-out war on Israel, the IDF’s inspection protocols stand on firmer legal ground than JFK’s blockade.
Because we are a maritime nation, the Obama administration should be siding with the Israelis and long-established maritime law. It would be hypocritical in the extreme for the U.S. to claim the right of self-defense to prevent the landing of weapons of mass destruction in this country and then deny that same right to Israel or to any other nation.
– Nationally syndicated columnist and retired Army infantry officer, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former Research Fellow at the U.S. Army War College.