The Israeli PR machine is already in full-press catastrophe mode, detailing the various provocations of the human rights and peace activists on the Mavi Marmara that "forced" Israeli navy commandos to open fire on European, American, Turkish, and Palestinian activists who were attempting to symbolically break the Gaza siege. As I write, news accounts of the violence aboard the Mavi Marmara are thoroughly one-sided. Israeli authorities have essentially blamed the dead activists for their own killing and in a neat historical reversal described the experience of their soldiers on the deck of the as a "lynching." We do not know the eyewitness accounts of the activists since they are being held incommunicado in the Israeli port of Ashdod. If history is a guide the Israeli military will conduct a thorough review of this morning's massacre before clearing itself on all counts and accusing any contradicting investigations of anti-Semitism.
Amnesty International had this to say following the incident: "Israel says its forces acted in self-defence, alleging that they were attacked by protestors, but it begs credibility that the level of lethal force used by Israeli troops could have been justified. It appears to have been out of all proportion to any threat posed." The body count attests to that evaluation.
Ultimately however deciding which side did what on the deck of the Mavi Marmara at 4:30 a.m. hardly matters. The responsibility for this debacle begins and ends with the senior IDF military who "planned" the early morning assault and the political leadership that OKed the operation. It's hard to believe that the humanitarian flotilla could have not been deterred or otherwise handled without recourse to a predawn helicopter raid in international waters.
This unnecessarily violent confrontation at sea is a look in miniature at the increasingly reckless rhetoric and behavior of the Netanyahu government and their possible and progressively more dangerous outcomes. Operation Cast Lead already demonstrated how far the IDF would go to ensure as few military casualties as possible and the events on the Mavi Marmara merely indicate that policy is not restricted to Palestinians. Previous killings of Westerners in nonviolent resistance to Israel policy like the bulldozing of Rachel Currie should have already made that clear.
The Netanyahu government is indifferent to international pressure regarding the Gaza siege and will likely attempt to ride out this fiasco, though outrage in Turkey, the West Bank and the European Community will make that difficult. But the ugly bloodletting on the deck of the Mavi Marmara will pale in comparison to some of the potential horrific outcomes from other confrontations currently brewing around Israel. A new incursion into Gaza is not outside of the realm of the possible. A nuclear-optional confrontation with Iran is another possibility, and let's not forget southern Lebanon, where all sides are apparently prepping for yet another war, mostly outside the attention of the international community.
President Barack Obama already confronts a horror-show of domestic and international crises to resolve, but if it is at all possible for him to turn his weary eyes from the ecological Apocalypse unfolding before him in the Gulf of Mexico, he might want to make the possibility of an actual biblical Apocalypse in the Middle East a slightly higher priority. The Gazan suffering continues unabated, and the regional and international outrage about that collective punishment grows more intense. As Netanyahu surveys an increasingly threatening horizon around and within Israel, he is apparently more inclined to ratchet up, rather than tamp down the tension. Israel has the bad intentions of its enemies to worry about; it also needs to fear the risk-taking and poor judgment of its leadership and friends. Netanyahu needs to be saved from himself, and he needs Obama's help to do it.