At first glance, the takeover by the Israeli navy of the “humanitarian flotilla” heading toward Gaza is just one more of the disputed crises between Israel and its foes.
As in all previous incidents, the spiral of accusations will eventually reach bottom. While media attention will highlight the tactical events — seizure of the ships, rules of engagement, who fired first, the legal location of the incident and the other dramatic details — the rapidly expanding debate soon will reach the strategic intent of the “flotilla.”
After all the governments involved issue their condemnations and warnings in all directions, after the U.N. conferences and issues a statement and international forums mobilize to indict their predictably targeted foe — in this case Israel — the question unavoidably will be: why is there a flotilla heading toward a military zone, and what is the ultimate goal of the operation?
According to the organizers of the “Free Gaza” network which enjoys the support of Hamas and its backers in Damascus and Tehran but also of governments considered in the West as “mainstream” such as the AKP of Turkey and the oil-rich Qatar, this vast coalition of regimes and organizations assert that the aim of the 700 militants and activists was to pierce the encirclement of Gaza and lift the naval blockade of the enclave.
Hence the actual goal of the humanitarian effort is to relieve Hamas, not to ensure aid to the civilians trapped in the strip. For if aid and comfort were the sole objective of the operation, the material would have been calmly handed to the United Nations’ agencies which would have forwarded it to the network of humanitarian associations and NGOs inside the afflicted zone. Either Egypt or Israel would have checked it and would have, under international obligation, sent it across the cease-fire lines.
But the organizers of the flotilla, a vast coalition supporting the jihadist organization based in Gaza, aimed clearly at a geopolitical gain: open a maritime path for Hamas to receive strategic support from the outside and solidify its grip over the enclave.
Spokespersons for the “flotilla” would obviously deny the long-term goal and focus on the humanitarian-stated agenda. But had the architects of the initiative added a global plan to solve the crisis in Gaza, one would have given credit to the humanitarian version of the story. From Ankara to Doha, from Damascus to Tehran, policy planners are aiming at reaching “their piece” of Palestine, ironically at the expense of the Palestinian national authority.
Indeed, beyond the evaluation on tactical or legal grounds and who should be blamed, the picture on the strategic level is much more ominous.
The launching of the “flotilla” timed up with two major developments, one by the moderates in the region backed by the United States and the international community and the other by the radicals in the region led by Iran and Syria. After repeated attempts to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the table of negotiations over the past few months, Washington was close to achieving that goal with the help of moderate Arab governments and the European Union. The Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government were on their way to a sit down — direct or indirect — to proceed at an advanced stage in the process.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other players were blessing the move cautiously. But this process was moving outside the control of Iran and Syria and their protégés in Gaza.
Hence, sending activists via high seas to break the encirclement of Hamas was part of collapsing U.S. and international efforts to resume the peace talks. Indeed as we all know, once the radicals trigger (and organize) a wave of “jihadism” in the media and streets, no moderate will show up for discussions. And that’s what is happening as of today: a spiraling crumbling of the latest chance for peace talks.
This is not new: It is a modified repeat of previous manipulated incidents: The Hezbollah War in 2006, the Hamas coup of 2007, the Gaza war in 2008 and many similar successful maneuvers in the 1990s: obstructing the peace process by using militants wearing peace jackets.
But the more ominous development this flotilla is camouflaging is a real land fleet bringing missiles and advanced weapons to Hezbollah from Syria to the Bekaa Valley.
Over the past weeks reports have abounded about Iranian long-range missiles shipped via Syria to Hezbollah and satellite images have shown terror bases in the vicinity of Damascus growing under Baathist protection. As soon as the attention of the international community began to focus on the flow of strategic weapons to Hezbollah, the “brotherhood of regimes” unleashed the Gaza flotilla across the Mediterranean.
Seasoned geopolitical experts would rationally link the move to create an incident off the coasts of Gaza with the move to equipping Hezbollah with lethal missiles.
In the end we’re looking at two flotillas, the maritime one in the south being only a decoy for the land fleet to achieve its goal of war preparations, in the north.
Dr Walid Phares is the author of "Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against America."
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