“This wasn’t a Love Boat,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said overnight, in the face of growing condemnation of the deadly commando raid on a flotilla of activists challenging Israel’s navel blockade of Gaza on Wednesday. And he mounted a social media campaign to convince the world the threat was not simply to Israel but global nuclear security.
The Jerusalem Post posted video to You Tube of Netanyahu addressing the international reaction. He branded those on the boats a “vicious mob” and “supporters of terrorism” and, while expressing regret for the loss of life, “we will never apologise for defending ourselves”.
“This was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists, they weren’t peace activists, these were violent supporters of terrorism. I think that the evidence that the lives of the Israeli seamen were in danger is crystal clear. If you are a fair-minded observer and you look at those videos you know this simple truth.”
Netanyahu pleaded with the world to examine videos of the attack. A compilation of footage — titled ‘Keeping Lies Afloat’ — was posted by the government on You Tube, and linked to via Netanyahu’s Facebook page and Twitter account.
The New York Times reports the video was made by New York-based advocacy group Fuel For Truth — which states its mission as to “disseminate accurate information about Israel and the Middle East to young Americans, 18 to 34.” As the Times notes, the video employs “faux-hip lingo employed by ad copywriters who want to reach out to young people”.
Israel certainly had plenty of support on Facebook. Liliana Enachescu wrote: “I think people around the world can see the truth. We are just simple people. In fact we are the force. Tomorow we will change the politics will force media to tell us the truth.” And Mitchell Risenhoover: “Mr. Netanyahu, remember the God of Israel is on your side, and many Christians are praying for your safety and wellbeing.”
Israel is under attack from “international hypocrisy”, Netanyahu declared. His case was two-fold: the flotilla was delivering arms to Hamas, and materials to Iran for nuclear weaponry.
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“I say to the responsible leaders of all the nations, the international community cannot afford a uranium port on the Mediterranean,” he said.
Increasingly, the battle is being fought in the media. Former Netanyahu political adviser Israel Kasnett writes in the Jerusalem Post that Israel should have known the bad press was coming:
“Israel must be able to pre-empt negative PR by preparing and educating foreign governments and populations on the exact circumstances faced by Israel and the course of action that will be taken based on unfolding events. Pre-emptive diplomacy would at least minimise the harsh reaction Israel often witnesses when events take a wrong turn.”
But supporters of the flotilla say the action was about combating Israel’s “well oiled spin machine”. Lauren Booth, a journalist and campaigner who was part of the first effort to break the Gaza blockade in 2008, writes in The Guardian:
“Our mission was simply to show the population of Gaza that normal people cared about their plight; that we saw their hunger, their fear, their imprisonment, their struggle; and that we — everyday folk with good hearts — would do what we could to bring their plight to the eyes of the world.”
The attack and aftermath will reshape Middle East relations. As David Ignatius, a columnist with the Washington Post, notes: “Israel picked a fight with Turkey, a more dangerous foe than Hamas”.
“How can Israel and the United States learn from mistakes and bend this crisis toward a better outcome? The answer is to use the fact that this has become an Israel-Turkey standoff, rather than just a Gaza problem. Turkey has regional ambitions, but it isn’t a crazy terrorist enclave and it doesn’t spout Holocaust-denying rhetoric. It’s a big, strong country that wants to be a power broker. There should be a way to satisfy Turkey’s hunger for respect without weakening Israel.”
For the United States, having Israel and Turkey “at each other’s throats” is destabilising, the NY Times‘ Thomas L. Friedman writes: “We have got to move quickly to get them both back to the center before this spins out of control.”
So is Israel now a burden for the US? As Time reports, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency made that suggestion on Tuesday — as the White House stays mostly quiet on the issue. As Tony Karon writes:
“The US certainly pays a political price in the Middle East for the perception that it is avoiding criticising or pressuring the Israelis. From its failure to get the Netanyahu government to impose a settlement freeze to the likelihood that Israel will ignore Washington’s call for the Jewish state to sign on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Obama Administration has seen the Arab world rapidly lose hope in the US after the optimism prompted by the new President’s early statements.”
Meanwhile, Israel is moving to deport 618 international detainees — including four Australians — caught up in the flotilla attack. Hundreds of activists are landing on chartered flights in Turkey and Greece; Fairfax correspondent Paul McGeough and photojournalist Kate Geraghty were due to land in Turkey this morning.
Geraghty has told her employers she was tasered during the “pretty full on” attack. “It hurt and it made me feel sick,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted her as saying before boarding her flight.
Turkish activist Nilufer Cetin told The Guardian troops opened fire before boarding the Turkish-flagged ferry Mavi Marmara — contradicting Israeli claims that force was not used until the boarding party was attacked.
“It was extremely bad and very tough clashes took place. The Mavi Marmara is filled with blood,” she said. “There were sound and smoke bombs and later they used gas bombs. Following the bombings they started to come on board from helicopters.
“I am one of the first passengers to be sent home, just because I have baby. When we arrived at the Israeli port of Ashdod we were met by the Israeli interior and foreign ministry officials and police; there were no soldiers. They asked me only a few questions. But they took everything — cameras, laptops, cellphones, personal belongings including our clothes.”
Kutlu Tiryaki, a captain of another vessel in the flotilla, told The Guardian: “We continuously told them we did not have weapons, we came here to bring humanitarian help and not to fight.”
But The Times reports the Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief — 40 members were on the Mavi Marmara — has “a history of involvement in Islamic extremism around the world and has been linked with an attempted bombing of an airport in the US”.