Thursday, May 27, 2010

Brief: Israel's Stiff Response to the Gaza Convoy

May 27, 2010 | 1827 GMT

Israel’s Cabinet said it will employ force if necessary to prevent a Turkish-backed flotilla from reaching the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported May 26. The Cabinet called for Israel’s Navy to intercept the flotilla 37 kilometers (20 nautical miles) off the Gaza coast and redirect the ships to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the flotilla’s cargo and passengers will be offloaded. Israel’s stiff response to the purportedly humanitarian flotilla highlights several emerging trends in the region. First, the Israeli public appears to support its leadership’s stance on the issue, which signals an increasing disconnect between public and the international community. Much of the world is rallying around a flotilla that undoubtedly (though perhaps indirectly) serves Hamas interests, which may be leading the Israeli public to feel as if the world remains unconcerned with the fate of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit and the continual bombardment of Israel’s southern region.

Also, as Turkey emerges as a Middle Eastern power, it continues to gain popularity in the Arab world by standing up to Israel. The Israeli leadership is cognizant of this and believes that continual appeasement of Turkish demands will lead other, more hostile countries in the region to view Israel as a weak, declining power. In blocking the flotilla, Israeli officials are trying to limit the perception of Turkish influence, both on Israel and in the region. Finally, recent developments in Gaza, including the deterioration of its economy and the rise in dissidence against Hamas, have led Israel to believe the group is at a historic weak point. From Israel’s point of view, the flotilla could give Hamas a badly needed boost. Despite these trends, however, Israel may yet allow the flotilla through if it can attempt to portray it as a humanitarian gesture to the people of Gaza.

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