In the last few days, Jerusalem has been blanketed by an unusual combination of humiliation and steely determination. How is it, people here wondered aloud, that the same country that tripled its size in three lightning days in June 1967 and then pulled off the rescue at Entebbe nine years later now seems to botch everything?
We lost the 2006 war in Lebanon, believing — incorrectly — that our venerated air force could win the war from the skies. The strikes on Gaza in December 2008 were a military success, but we have utterly failed to convince the world that it was a defensive effort precipitated by eight years of Hamas’s firing Qassam rockets at us, killing and maiming and destroying any semblance of a normal life for Israelis living near the border. And then came Monday’s attack on the flotilla trying to break through the naval blockade of Gaza.
Yet, despite widespread criticism at the way the raid was conducted, few here doubted that stopping the flotilla was the right thing to do. Life in Gaza is unquestionably oppressive; no one in his right mind would choose to live there. But there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza; if anyone goes without food, shelter or medicine, that is by the choice of the Hamas government, which puts garnering international sympathy above taking care of its citizens. Israel has readily agreed to send into Gaza all the food and humanitarian supplies on the boats after they had been inspected for weapons.
Thus this flotilla was no “peace operation.” It was intended to break the blockade or to increase international pressure to end it. Its leaders, with the connivance of the Turkish government, set a trap, and Israel blundered smack into it.
But that does not make the blockade wrong. Hamas is a terrorist organization that completed its takeover of Gaza through brute force. It executes its political enemies at will. It is one of the world’s most misogynist regimes, allowing the murder of women for the slightest infraction of family honor.
Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, from Israeli territory and has held him for four years without giving the Red Cross any access to him, in violation of the most basic international standards of conduct. And, of course, Hamas openly insists that it will countenance no long-term peace with Israel; the resistance will not end, it says, until Israel is destroyed.
Like every other country, Israel has as its foremost obligation the protection of its citizens. Given that, why should it have allowed the flotilla to enter without inspecting its goods? If the United States were to impose a blockade on Iran (which seems unlikely), and another country dispatched a string of ships in a similar operation, is there any chance the United States Navy would let them through without inspection?
Israel will, of course, endure tremendous international condemnation for this week’s events. Sadly, though, we Israelis are becoming somewhat inured to such criticism. And we know that we dare not capitulate now.
It is no accident that Turkey sent the flotilla at this time. It is clearly cozying up to Iran these days, even teaming with Brazil to offer Tehran a deal on atomic fuel that would allow the mullahs to maintain their effort to build a nuclear arsenal. Ankara’s warmongering talk this week was not intended for global consumption; it was meant to show Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Turkey is playing a new role in the Middle East.
Iran finances Hezbollah and Hamas and does everything it can to weaken and marginalize Israel, inching toward its vision of a world without a Jewish state. The West has known of Iran’s nuclear intentions for well over a decade, but has effectively done nothing. Israelis understand that we — and we alone — will have to ensure our security and our survival.
The recent avalanche of international condemnation is very painful for Israelis, who remember the years in which we were seen as a beacon of democracy and sophistication in a repressive part of the world. Those days are gone, of course, because of the world’s impatience with the “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza.
Our problem is that though most Israelis want peace with two states — one Jewish and one Palestinian, living side by side — we cannot find anyone to make a deal with us. A decade ago, President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, tried, but Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, walked away. Now the supposedly moderate Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, refuses to negotiate, as of course does Hamas.
Israelis are resigned to the fact that reason will not shake the world’s blatant double standard. Our blockade of Gaza is “criminal”; yet nobody mentions that Egypt has had a blockade of Gaza in place since 2007, and has never hesitated to use lethal force against those trying to break it. Israel’s attempt to enforce a blockade becomes an international crisis, while most of the world shrugs when North Korea sinks a South Korean ship. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his willingness to sit with Fatah leaders any time, anywhere, but they insist on mere “proximity talks,” which they will probably now scuttle, using the flotilla as an excuse.
Israel’s geographic vulnerability means that we do not have the luxury of caving in to the world’s condemnation. We will have to gird ourselves for the long, dangerous and lonely road ahead, buoyed by hope that what ultimately prevails will be not what is momentarily popular, but rather what is just.
Daniel Gordis, a vice president of the Shalem Center, a research and education institute, and the author of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End.