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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Israel takes on the world

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The raid on the Turkish ship has dramatically changed the diplomatic scenario. Now the focus will be on Israel as the Security Council in its emergency meeting on June 1 called for impartial investigation into the deadly incident. The Obama administration has also supported the call for investigation, 
writes Mohammad Amjad Hossain



THE Israeli raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has caused diplomatic row around the world and the existing tense relations between Israel and the United States has apparently become complicated. The scheduled talks between President Barack Obama and the Israeli Premier on June 1 on renewing the peace process in the Middle East have been cancelled because of the deadly Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound ship, which was also carrying passengers of Turkish and other nationalities. The Israeli military commando attack on the ship did not go without response. Some passengers, as reported in the news media, attacked commandos with knives, steel poles, and pepper spray.
   The ships that made up the flotilla, with about 700 passengers and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid, left Turkey last week. In defence of its ugly action, Israel claimed that it was allowed under international law to enforce a maritime blockade on international seas. Israel is now facing a difficult situation because Turkey, a Muslim country with whom Israel has been maintaining diplomatic relations, strongly condemned this act of Israel and called back its ambassador from Tel Aviv and warned of irrevocable consequences. In the parliament the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Israel of a bloody massacre. He said, ‘We see clear murders taking place, and we see an aggressive country that’s not regretting this. We are sick and tired of your lies. Be honest.’ There has been condemnation from the European, Arab and UN officials, apart from anti-Israel demonstrations from Athens to Baghdad. The United Nations Security Council at an emergency meeting on June 1 ‘deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza.’ It called for ‘a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation into Monday’s raid.’
   In contrast to forceful statements from the European, Arab and UN officials, the reaction from the United States was mute, to say the least. The White House responded by saying that Obama had held a phone conversation with the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu who expressed deep regret at the loss of lives while the State Department says deeply concerned at the suffering of civilians in Gaza it will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods to be allowed into Gaza. Neither the White House nor the State Department has spoken a word on the deadly attack by the Israeli commando on the Turkish ship which was carrying humanitarian aid. From the reaction of Obama administration it appears the trend of Bush administration has not changed with regard to Israeli aggressive nature. This is unfortunate indeed.
   Diplomatically, Israel is more isolated now than ever in its history. She is on the horns of dilemma. This incident has happened after the Israeli government was accused of using forged passports of the British, Australian, Irish, and German citizens in assassination of Hamas officials in Dubai in February this year by Mossad, a spy agency of Israel. As a result, Britain has expelled an Israeli diplomat in March and Australia followed suit in May.
   Now it is very likely that relations between Israel and Turkey, a Muslim country with which Israel has been maintaining excellent relations, will be ruptured because many Turkish nationals were killed and injured when clashes took place on board the ship between the Israeli commandos and the passengers. There is hardly any difference between piracy in Somalia and commando style attack on a foreign ship by Israeli forces in the Mediterranean Sea. In an attempt to quell the increasingly sharp international criticism and noisy debates in Turkish parliament, Israel has no other options but to release and deport dozens of pro-Palestinian activists who attacked Israeli commandos.
   The raid on the Turkish ship has dramatically changed the diplomatic scenario. Now the focus will be on Israel as the Security Council in its emergency meeting on June 1 directed impartial investigation into the deadly incident. The Obama administration has supported the call for investigation. Meanwhile, Nicaragua has decided to break diplomatic relations with Israel.
   The issue of imposing harsh economic sanction against Iran would be an issue of secondary consideration. More so, as the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty following its review conference on May 28 directed to place ‘All of Israel’s nuclear facilities under comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguard’ and to make the Middle East region a nuclear-weapon free zone, but it did not say a word on Iran. This resolution goes against Israel. Incidentally, the United States is one of the signatories among 189 countries to the resolution. This is a departure from the past practice of the United States. Since 1960 the United States has accepted Israel’s nuclear arsenal on condition that Israel would not be a threat to its neighbours.
   The European Union has urged Israel to end blockade to the Gaza strip while reciprocating the call of the British prime minister David Cameron saying that the raid was completely unacceptable. The Obama administration remains numbed on the lifting of blockade. It is interesting to note that former US ambassador Edward Peck, who was on the ship with the humanitarian group of the Free Palestine Movement, blamed the Israeli commandos for the assault. On arrival from Israel Edward Peck attended the anti-Israel protest rally on June 1 in front of the White House. All these developments apparently did not unnerve the Israeli administration as long as the United States remained on their side. Addressing the Israeli parliament on June 2, the prime minister Netanyahu, however, rejected the call for UN investigation into the incident and refused to end blockade to the Gaza strip. Egypt, however, has opened up Rafah crossing into Gaza, which has facilitated movement of Palestinians from the Gaza strip to Egypt. Possibly the hard-core stand by Israel will take the country nowhere. It would be wise if the Israeli prime minister considered suggestions given by the Washington Post in its editorial on June 1. In the words of the Washington Post ‘the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestine state. A good start would be easing restrictions on both Gaza and the West Bank, once the reactions to Monday’s events subside’.
   Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a retired Bangladeshi diplomat and former president of Nova Toastmasters International Club, writes from Virginia