Published 11:43 18.06.10
Israel is gearing up for the arrival of a number of new flotillas - representing the new strategy of using NGOs as a way of bringing down the state in the world's eyes.
By Amos Harel
Israeli authorities will spend this weekend awaiting the arrival of the next flotilla, either from Iran or, more likely, from Lebanon. Over the past few days, a few reservists from the naval commando unit have been called up for service.
For the moment, the political echelon's directive to stop the ships remains in force. It took almost a year to organize the Turkish flotilla to Gaza. If Israel had not fallen into the trap set for it by the ships' organizers, they would probably not have had enough money available from donations to launch more ships so soon. The Lebanese who are behind the new flotilla have been disseminating misinformation in an effort to disrupt Israel's efforts to intercept the vessels. Looking a bit further ahead, Israel is concerned about the month of August, when Ramadan falls this year - a propitious time for flotillas to set sail from a number of countries.
The organizers have hit on an ideal concept, which not only promises to entangle Israel again and again but makes a meaningful contribution to the ongoing effort to delegitimize the country. If Israel enjoyed a brief golden age in terms of the attitude of the international community (after the Gaza withdrawal in 2005), since Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 we have been sliding down a slippery slope.
The sharp criticism coming from European quarters, and the almost total lack of patience for Israel's side, were this month reflected both in the flotilla incident and in the most recent responses to the Dubai assassination, following the arrest of an Israeli in Poland and the expulsion of a diplomat from the Israeli Embassy in Ireland.
Under the right-wing Netanyahu-Barak government there seems to be not even the semblance of a political peace process, so it's convenient for the Europeans to categorize the conflict here as a simple colonial confrontation in which Israel, the oppressor, is discriminating against innocent Palestinians and depriving them of their rights.
In the past few years, Israeli and foreign scholars have been engaged in describing and explaining the significant change that has occurred in how war is waged. In the Middle East, at least, it seems that in recent decades, states have retreated from direct confrontation, instead leaving that task to extremist organizations, such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Al-Qaida.
The delegitimization campaign may reflect another passing of the baton, this time to civilian NGOs. There was no point in looking for smuggled missiles aboard the Mavi Marmara. The most effective weapons on the ship were the cameras and the resulting images that were broadcast to the Muslim world and to Europe. This is a new form of struggle, and Israel still hardly knows how to cope with it.
The scholars speak enthusiastically about the Middle East as a fascinating laboratory of ideas. Somehow, the whole thing looks a bit less pleasant from the viewpoint of the guinea pigs.
The real inquiry
During the week, it became clear what type of deal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak struck with the U.S. administration, in the wake of Israel's embroilment in the flotilla affair. Netanyahu and Barak fought like lions over the status and powers of the committee that has been appointed to examine the naval raid. The narrow mandate accorded the committee, with U.S. agreement, ensures that no harm will befall the two leaders.
In the second half of the deal, the security cabinet on Wednesday discussed a possible easing of restrictions on the importation of food and construction materials to the Gaza Strip. It turns out that maintaining the blockade, the essential mission that naval commandos were sent into the midst of a violent mob aboard the Marmara to protect, is no longer so essential.
Legal experts who are closely acquainted with Jacob Turkel, the retired Supreme Court justice chosen to head the committee of inquiry, say that if Netanyahu and Barak think he will be lenient with them, they are wrong. Another committee member, 93-year-old Prof. Shabtai Rosenne, also sounded lucid and articulate in a brief television interview he gave.
But how serious and thorough can Israel's decision to examine the flotilla episode be if the distinguished committee member is photographed in pajamas with a Filipino caregiver by his side?
Even after the committee's appointment, it is not fully clear whether the state will be able to prevent the use of testimony given to the Turkel committee, or to the military inquiry being headed by Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland, against the witnesses themselves in an international forum.
As might have been expected, the state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, plunged gleefully into the fray when he announced on Tuesday that he would conduct his own investigation into the raid.
With the large space that has been created between Turkel's dealing with the flotilla from the perspective of international law, and Eiland's focus on the Israel Defense Forces, Lindenstrauss may once again turn out to be the major concrete threat to the top ranks of the political and military echelons.
The state comptroller's inclination is not to launch his probe immediately, to keep witnesses from having to scurry from one forum to another. His examination of the decision-making process covers a broad swath that can include the highest levels of the IDF, should he so desire. After the Second Lebanon War, despite the appointment of the Winograd Committee, Lindenstrauss contributed significantly to clarifying the scale of the failure of the Olmert government and the IDF, in a report he drew up about the state of the home front. That report, which was far more complex than the current situation will demand, took six months to prepare; this time, the time frame is likely to be shorter.
The D'oh! Committee
The Israeli Movement for Freedom of Information has asked Turkel to ensure that the sessions of his committee will be open to the public and that its transcripts will be published. The Winograd panel fought a battle against similar requests, even against petitions by MKs to the High Court of Justice. Did the Winograd Committee live up to its commitment to the High Court to publish the testimonies it heard, after the deletion of sensitive security material?
The committee's official website carries only 30 of the 75 testimonies, and even those are heavily blue-penciled. But the site's domain name expired about a year ago. It was acquired by a group of activists conducting an online struggle against a range of phenomena, including the biometric database and harassment of children of migrant workers.
The official information from the Winograd Committee is still there, but the mode of its publication is almost entirely at the discretion of the new owners. One of the fine changes they introduced was the addition of Homer Simpson to the photograph of the Winograd Committee members. (Check it out at http://vaadatwino.co.il/ - Hebrew only. ) It's surprising that Netanyahu and Barak didn't have the same idea.