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Flotilla fiasco is costly all round

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/6/2010 (2621 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TEL AVIV -- With the appointment of the Israeli Independent Public Commission, with foreign participation, to investigate the circumstances that led to the failed Israeli Operation Sea Breeze, it's time to draw an initial balance sheet of that event.

The five-member commission is chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel.

Its foreign members are Lord William David Trimble, a Northern Ireland politician and a Nobel peace laureate; and Brig.-Gen. Ken Watkin, former judge advocate general of the Canadian army. Their inclusion, at U.S. insistence, is meant to add credibility to the investigation and to secure foreign support for its findings. The commission's mandate is wide-ranging. It also includes the investigation of Turkey's involvement in violence aboard the peace flotilla's flagship, the Mavi Marmara, its actions, its participants and their identities.

Israel does not expect Turkey to co-operate with the Turkel Commission. But due to fruitful co-operation with foreign intelligence agencies, Israel assembled an impressive file about Turkey's role in Operation Sea Breeze. Based on information gathered from credible sources, it is now possible to draw a balance sheet on the gains and losses of both Israel and Turkey.

There is no doubt that Israel failed miserably in its planning and execution of the operation. Its intelligence was lacking, the operational plan was poor and the marines who boarded the Mavi Marmara were naively lured to an ambush waiting to happen. For the third time since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the Israeli army displayed much ineptitude.

The same could be said about the diplomatic consequences of Sea Breeze. Relations with Turkey were already tense since the 2008 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.

Now they are on the brink of breaking. This was avoided mainly due to immediate intervention by U.S. President Barack Obama and the discreet intervention of the CIA. Turkey's hard-line led to some muted criticism of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by his top brass. Turkish generals told their prime minister that military and intelligence co-operation with Israel is "vital" for Turkey's national interest and it should continue.

Finally -- public diplomacy. Here too, Israel failed to understand that in today's world of Internet, Facebook and Twitter, accuracy is less important than the quick dissemination of news and pictures. Thus, for more than nine hours Israel was silent, while Turkey dominated the public relations field, which brought many world leaders -- friends of Israel -- to criticize the Jewish state, even before they knew the facts. As a result, the plight of Gaza is no longer a just source of concern for Arab and Muslim countries and some peace activists. It has become internationalized and was catapulted to the forefront of global diplomacy. This easing of Hamas' isolation in Gaza is definitely a Turkish diplomatic success.

However, on the strategic level, Turkey lost. The blockade of the Gaza Strip, which was Turkey's main objective, is not lifted. Israel had shown Turkey that it was ready to pay the diplomatic price for defeating Turkey's goal in Gaza. In co-ordination with Israel, Egypt also eased some of the restrictions on travel by land from Gaza to Sinai, but it maintained the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Finally, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, conveyed the same message. In his meeting with Obama at the White House last Wednesday, Abbas insisted that Hamas should not emerge as the victor from Operation Sea Breeze.

Finally, and as a result of fast consultations among all concerned, the moderate Arab countries have now re-entered the Gaza scene, after three years of absence. They realized that their absence created a void that Turkey was trying fast to fill. It is in this context that we should see the current visit of Amr Mussa, the secretary general of the Arab League to the Gaza Strip. In his discussions with Hamas local leaders, Mussa is trying to convince them to reconcile with Mahmoud Abbas, according to the Egyptian plan. Mussa's message has also a regional meaning: It is a message to Turkey and Iran that the Sunni Arab world will never agree to a non-Arab country dominating the Middle East.

Samuel Segev is the Free Press Middle East correspondent.

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