Wednesday, June 02, 2010

More ships heading to Gaza will be impeded.

The Rachel Corrie is an Irish-owned ship carrying 15 passengers, including a northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate.

“The government has formally requested the Israeli government to allow the Irish-owned ship... to be allowed to complete its journey unimpeded and discharge its humanitarian cargo in Gaza,” Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told members of parliament in Dublin.

Israeli Navy sources said that the ships sailing toward Gaza would be intercepted the same way the flotilla was stopped on Monday morning. “We are tracking the ships and are under orders to stop them,” a top navy officer said. According to the sources, in a future operation, the navy would use more force. “We boarded the ship [the Mavi Marmara] and were attacked as if it were a war,” one officer said. “That will mean that we will have to come prepared in the future as if it were a war.”

I frankly am baffled by this aggressive attitude of the Irish government against Israel's security interest. All ships carrying humanitarian cargo for Gaza are permitted to discharge their cargo in Israel where the goods will be trucked to Gaza after inspection for war materials and dual military use goods. It is odd for the Irish government to insist that Israel cannot inspect goods going to Hamas controlled Gaza when they know that concerns that Hamas remains committed to arming itself for future attacks against Israel are well founded. Characterizing as a "humanitarian mission" efforts that are focused on trying to deny Israel its basic role of protecting the security of its citizens by inspecting cargo heading for Gaza is dishonest.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla, said from the group’s base in Cyprus “This initiative is not going to stop, we think eventually Israel will get some kind of common sense. They’re going to have to stop the blockade of Gaza, and one of the ways to do this is for us to continue to send the boats.” This expectation for a unilateral end to the blockade of arms and dual military use material to Gaza that could end up being deployed against Israelis by the authorities in Gaza, is unreasonable. That is certainly not a humanitarian objective. For that simple reason, no matter how many ships are sent, for however long, regardless of how many women and children are irresponsibly placed on those ships, I predict that those ships will be diverted to Israel where the cargo will be inspected before any such cargo, or anyone on those ships, are allowed into Gaza. An end to the blockade is possible only in the context of a mutual agreement negotiated between Israel and the local authorities governing Gaza. Efforts to reach such an agreement with Hamas have been made in the recent past without success and may be attempted again in the future.

There are reasonable complaints that can be made against Israeli policies. Israel has prevented Gazans from importing, among other things, cilantro, sage, jam, chocolate, French fries, dried fruit, fabrics, notebooks, empty flowerpots and toys, none of which are particularly useful in building Kassam rockets. Israel bans many, but not all, exports from Gaza (flowers and strawberries, for example, have been exported). The Free Gaza Movement would have a good chance of modifying some Israeli policies towards Gaza with a more nuanced, targeted, and balanced approach. Sending the banned goods to Gaza via Israel would effectively pressure Israel to allow in those goods because they would have too much difficulty publicly justifying withholding such items. Israel apparently trucked the toys and notebooks that were on the recent flotilla into Gaza.

However, focusing exclusively on Israel and making maximum demands that are against Israel's most basic interests on false humanitarian pretenses is not likely to produce a good result for anyone. Israel found passengers without passports and carrying thousands of dollars in cash each, along with a cache of bulletproof vests and night-vision goggles, as well as gas masks, on the Mavi Marmara. Inspection is only one way that anyone can determine with confidence that the cargo and its passengers aren't transporting illicit material. The humanitarian cargo was then trucked to Gaza as Israel promised in advance that it would. If the Free Gaza Movement, which is responsible for allowing the ships to include cargo without manifests and undocumented passengers, with cargo scattered throughout each ship and not packed up in an organized fashion, thinks that Israel is criminal for insisting on taking such precautions with cargo and people being sent to Gaza then they are very mistaken.

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