The Marmara incident in perspective

There’s plenty of hand-wringing today from Israel’s supporters about the boarding of the Marmara, and the ensuing battle. Max Boot’s column is a good example. He speculates that perhaps Israeli agents could have sabotaged the ships before they even left port. Or maybe they should have allowed the ships to be off-loaded in Gaza and then disabled them to prevent any further trips.
Boot’s alternatives don’t seem very compelling. Israel would face at least as much condemantion were it suspected of having sabotaged boats in a foreign port. And preventing one set of boats from returning to Gaza would not have prevented further instances of embargo-running.
But let’s assume, as may well be the case, that the IDF failed to pick the best option, and then failed to execute it optimally. What conclusions follow? My conclusion is that no military makes and executes decisions flawlessly and that, even if the IDF were to do so, it would still come in for harsh criticism from the usual suspects. Or, in the best case scenario, the usual suspects would hold their fire until the next time Hamas and its supporters provoked the IDF to act.
In other words, Israel isn’t being criticized because the likes of Nicolas Sarkozy are assessing its self-defense operations in good faith and finding them wanting. Rather, Sarkozy and company are finding Israel’s self-defense operations wanting because they lack good faith and are eager to criticize Israel. How else does one explain Sarkozy’s rush to claim, before any solid facts were in, that Israel used disproportionate force?
The hand-wringing is unwarranted for an additional reason — Gaza, the PA, and even Hamas represent a side-show. Israel has won this battle and the latest incident isn’t likely to overturn that result. Consider what the oft-criticized IDF and Israeli government has accomplished in the past five to ten years. It has crushed the intifada, essentially ended terrorism inside Israel, and curtailed the projectile attacks from Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israel flourishes. My wife, who used to visit the country annually to visit her father, returned this year for the first time since his death more than six years ago. She was impressed by the modernization, and enhanced standard of living, she observed.
There are major clouds on the horizon, of course. They come from Iran and from Southern Lebanon. They loom no larger today, following the flotilla diversion, than they did last week.
Some may argue that incidents like that on the Marmara will make it more difficult for Israel to gain support from the international community for taking meaningful action against Iran and/or Hezbollah. They would be mistaken. Israel has no chance of obtaining such support under any circumstances. And if it did, that would be because key members of the international community have a self-interest in seeing strong action taken against Iran. Under these circumstances, the one-off incident on the boat would not make a difference.
Any military force, if placed under frequent challenge, will make mistakes. When the force in question is the IDF, mistakes will be magnified and even non-mistakes will bring criticism. Israel’s supporters should do less fretting about this reality, and keep their eyes on the ball.
UPDATE: There is also, to be sure, the danger that Israel will be pressured into entering into a settlement with the PA that could threaten to end the current spell of relative peace and prosperity that Israel is enjoying. The incident at sea does not magnify this danger. If anything, the danger will be slightly reduced if President Obama joins the chorus of condemnation and thereby further undermines his credbility with the Israelis.
But Israel controls its own destiny when it comes to any settlement with the PA. If it enters into a bad one, Israel will have mainly itself to blame.

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