(VIDEO) What Happened? Where Should America Stand on the Israel/Turkey Gaza Blockade Clash?
The Middle East continues to be a tragic tangle. In a recent incident, a flotilla of Turkish ships claiming that they were bringing aid to the Palestinians inside the blockaded Gaza strip was stopped by the Israeli military in international waters. Israel felt it was a security risk to have these ships dock inside of Gaza and needed to determine their exact content as opposed to letting them break the security blockade without scrutiny.
Israel says it was prepared to have them dock elsewhere and bring the aid in themselves. Egypt agreed with them. Conflicting reports indicate they boarded the ships, and on one an alleged attack occurred. A struggle ensued, leaving an estimated nine dead Turkish men and resulting in the imprisonment of 300 Turks, all of whom have been now deported back to Turkey. A small handful of Palestinians who were onboard the flotilla are still being held, according to AlJazeera.
The Turks say that they were attacked first.
Both countries have issued YouTube files from the journalists who happened to be on board everyone's ships. Neither country's file is conclusive about who began the physical assaults. Here is Israel's video.
The United States has a political and ethical stake with both countries. And both countries are pressuring the United States to take sides. Turkey wants us to condemn Israel and to support an independent third party UN group to examine what happened. Israel says that there is an anti-Israeli bias in the UN and it can and will do its own investigation.
Members of the "Freedom Flotilla", the group bringing the aid, acknowledge that the effort is a direct attempt to breach the blockade. But they point to what they see as the injustice of the blockade and the very real harm being caused to people inside it.
Israel points to the Hammas and the use of ships carrying guns into the blockade to arm terrorist groups in the Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying:
It is our right according to International law to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza and that is why the naval blockade was put in place. The flotilla intended to break the blockade, not to bring in emergency supplies which we allow to reach Gaza.
If the blockade had been broken, hundreds of ships would have followed, with a scale of smuggling far greater than that possible in the tunnels. Two ships stopped in the last years -- Francop and Karine-A -- had hundreds of tons of weapons.
The Arab News reports today that an additional aid ship is on its way:
A seventh vessel with aid for Gaza was reportedly still steaming toward Palestine last night. The MV “Rachel Corrie” was apparently delayed in Cyprus for 48 hours by mechanical problems and was therefore not part of the Freedom Flotilla ... aboard her is a Nobel Peace laureate from Northern Ireland, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who has insisted that there are no arms in the cargo.
Furthermore, they ask for U.S. ssistance:
In an ideal world, the United States could send a warship to escort the Rachel Corrie safely into Gaza. It is after all only too happy to patrol the Indian Ocean to guard against Somali pirates. Why should protecting unarmed shipping on a perfectly legal voyage to Gaza be any different?
But if the blockade is broken will successive ships contain only humanitarian aid, or will terrorist-run ships that have been in those waters before return to the Gaza again?
So, as with many struggles in the past, the sides are pitched in an intense embodiment of centuries of struggles. And America? We are being asked again to pick a side, as though picking were clear in one of the most intricate webs of foreign policy known in the world. There is more than meets the eye in this and all Middle Eastern struggles. Currently, the administration is walking a fine line.
The JTA, a Jewish news site, says:
Statements from Obama administration officials suggest that they are withholding judgment until the facts become clearer, and that meanwhile, the White House wants to see an easing of the blockade that triggered the aid flotilla.
A White House statement describing Obama's call ... affirmed the importance of finding better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza without undermining Israel’s security.
Hillary Clinton walked the delicate line in this polarized part of the world. Acording to ABC news, Clinton said:
We support in the strongest terms the Security Council's call for a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation ... We are open to different ways of assuring a credible investigation, including international participation."
The Jerusalem Post reports that as of today the following has occurred:
- Egypt temporarily lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip to allow aid into the area.
- Israel transferred the humanitarian supplies aboard the ships to the Gaza Strip after inspecting the cargo. [They] transferred most of the aid which had been on the ships, with the exception of pills whose expiry dates had passed.
The Arab News adds this twist to the struggle:
- The United States and Turkey already were at odds over Iran, with Turkey and Brazil pushing a new proposed atomic fuel deal for Tehran as a diplomatic alternative to the tough UN sanctions that Washington wants. The United States has rejected the proposal as too little, too late and says the measure does not address core concerns that Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
- [Re: indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority:]Getting the two sides to revive negotiations in April after an 18-month break was the Obama administration's most tangible Middle East achievement. But expectations remain low for a breakthrough and the flotilla crisis is likely to complicate matters...Turkey would put on hold any moves to mediate restarting indirect Israeli-Syrian peace talks, which Washington sees as another crucial piece of the puzzle.
We have important friends who are fighting. One provokes the other who provokes the other. And regardless of whose side any of us takes in our own hearts and minds, it would be difficult to disagree that we are in precarious times. No decision is a simple one, and all have far-reaching implications beyond the obvious scenes of events.
How would you hope to resolve things? What is the best thing for America to do in your opinion?
~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool