Sure, you can argue that the people on the ships weren't exactly Christ-like in their embrace of nonviolence. Based on the number of e-mails I got from the flotilla organizers in the last 72 hours, they were dying for a confrontation with Israeli forces. That said, it should be possible to gain control of an unruly ship without, you know, killing more than ten people, further worsening relations with your primary regional ally, and forcing the UN Security Council into emergency session. At this rate, Israel and the Netanyahu government will be blamed for the sinking of the Cheonan and the cancellation of Law & Order by the end of the week.
Gideon Rachman thinks Israel is placing itself in an increasingly untenable situation:
There are three particular angles for the Israelis to worry about. First, that there will be some sort of new intifada. Second, the continued deterioration in their relationship with Turkey. Third, their fraying ties with the Obama administration.
My colleague in Israel, Tobias Buck, seems to rate the chances of renewed unrest in the Palestinian territories as fairly high. That would obviously be a major blow. For the last year, Israel has been quietly building a fairly decent relationship with the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank. And Hamas, bottled up on the West Bank with the connivance of the Egyptians, has also been relatively quiet....
Ironically, a sanctions package against Iran is arguably as much in the interests of Israel, as in the interests of the US itself. The US may now feel that it has to go along with a UN condemnation of Israel to preserve the chances of getting its Iran resolution through. It would be a classic Israeli own goal, if their assault on the Gaza ships sank the choices of a new resolution on Iran.
I concur with Jeffrey Goldberg -- episodes like this are exposing the lack of Israeli wisdom in thinking about its situation:
There is a word in Yiddish, seichel, which means wisdom, but it also means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance. Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a Yiddishe kop, a "Jewish head," is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way -- blunt force, for instance -- often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions....
I'm trying to figure out this story for myself. But I will say this: What I know already makes me worried for the future of Israel, a worry I feel in a deeper way than I think I have ever felt before. The Jewish people have survived this long in part because of the vision of their leaders, men and women who were able to intuit what was possible and what was impossible. Where is this vision today? Israel may face, in the coming year, a threat to its existence the likes of which it has not experienced before: A theologically-motivated regional superpower with a nuclear arsenal. It faces another existential threat as well, from forces arguing that Israel's morally disastrous settlement policy fatally undermines the very idea of a Jewish state. Is Israel ready to deploy seichel in these battles, rather than mere force?
Ha'aretz columnists are saying no -- and based on Israel's foreign policy and approach towards the occupied territories, I can't say I disagree with them. Indeed, the parallels between Israel and -- gulp -- North Korea are becoming pretty eerie. True, Israel's economy is thriving and North Korea's is not. That said, both countries are diplomatically isolated except for their ties to a great power benefactor. Both countries are pursuing autarkic policies that immiserate millions of people. The majority of the population in both countries seem blithely unaware of what the rest of the world thinks. Both countries face hostile regional environments. Both countries keep getting referred to the United Nations. And, in the past month, the great power benefactor is finding it more and more difficult to defend their behavior to the rest of the world.
The Obama administration has reacted to this incident in remarkably similar ways to China's reaction to the Cheonan incident -- with a call for more information. Rachman wonders if there will be a quid pro quo on Iran and Israel at the Security Council. I wonder if the quid pro quo will involve Jerusalem and Pyongyang.
Developing.... in a ridiculously bad way for Israel.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.