Israel’s Defenders Mobilize, Threaten

by , June 03, 2010

Faced with what the Wall Street Journal calls "one of Israel’s worst international relations disasters in years," the right-wing leadership of the so-called "Israel Lobby" has been pulling out all the stops to defend the Jewish state against global outrage over its deadly seizure of a Gaza-bound vessel in international waters carrying humanitarian supplies early Monday morning.

Its biggest concern for now is to prevent the administration of President Barack Obama from distancing itself in any way — let alone joining in the almost universal condemnation — from the military operation in which at least nine civilian passengers of Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara were killed by Israeli commandos. 

"As the international community is engaged in a biased rush to judgment against Israel and a diplomatic lynching, now is the time for the United States to firmly stand with the Jewish state and its people," said Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Wednesday. 

"The U.S. must show the world that it not only supports Israel’s right to defend its borders and citizens against terrorism, but that it supports Israel’s right to protect itself from people who pretend to be ‘peace activists,’ and parade under the guise of humanitarians while supporting Hamas and violently attacking Israeli military personnel," he added. 

Indeed, even after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman publicly thanked Washington for its efforts to "water down" a statement by the president of the U.N. Security Council issued early Tuesday morning, hard- line neo-conservatives complained bitterly that Obama had betrayed its closest ally by not vetoing it. 

"So why did we agree to the presidential statement?" asked Elliott Abrams, former President George W. Bush’s top Middle Eastern aide, in an article entitled "Joining the Jackals". 

"The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob [of Security Council members who condemned the Israeli attack] because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel," Abrams, who is now based at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), wrote for the neo-conservative Weekly Standard. "…[I]t would have been simple to stop the mob had the White House wanted to." [Emphasis in the original.] 

Some neo-conservatives, whose worldview is closely aligned to that of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, even suggested that Obama’s failure to unconditionally defend Israel in its hour of need could well make the Jewish state take even more aggressive action in the future. 

"If Obama decides it is in America’s interest to make an example of Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident in order to win goodwill in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran, and Ankara," warned Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), "then he must also recognize that the leadership in Jerusalem is going to conclude that it cannot trust the United States to safeguard its security, and that therefore it must take matters into its own hands on any number of issues, not the least of which is Iran’s nuclear program." 

In effect, if the White House decides to come down hard on Israel now," he added in National Review Online, "it is the same as giving a green light for Israel to strike Iran." 

That threat was echoed in a remarkable column published by the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal Tuesday in which the author, Ronen Bergman of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, argued that the operation itself was "irresponsible" and evidence that a "siege mentality" — based on the belief that world opinion is irreversibly hostile to the Jewish state — had taken hold of the country and its governing elite. 

Citing Iran’s nuclear program, Bergman argued that such an "unhealthy" mindset "is profoundly disturbing when the fatigued and isolated country itself has the means to strike preemptively and punishingly at its enemies, including in ways from which, realistically, there may be no return." 

While neo-conservatives were warning darkly about the geo- political consequences for the administration of any distancing from Israel’s position, the Lobby’s leaders and their friends in Congress focused more on defending Israel’s version of the pre-dawn incident that took place Monday some 100 kms off Gaza’s coast. 

They insisted, among other things, that the Israeli commandos who carried out the operation, armed only with paintball rifles and handguns, acted in self-defense after coming under attack from passengers brandishing iron bars, knives, and other crude weapons. 

"Israeli soldiers had every right to defend their lives against a lynch mob attacking them with knives and clubs," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

Based primarily on a short video distributed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), this version of events, including the weapons involved on both sides, has been called into question by the testimony of many of the 600 some passengers. After being towed to Israel and held incommunicado for some 24 hours, they were deported Wednesday. 

It also failed to take into account the right of self- defense of those aboard a vessel that came under attack in international waters. "This is like a carjacker complaining to the police that the driver bashed him with a crowbar that was under the seat," noted M.J. Rosenberg, a Middle East analyst at Media Matters. 

Israel’s defenders have also tried to focus media and public attention on what they have called the "terrorist-linked, radical Islamic" group that reportedly bought the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish-based Insani Yardim Vakfi, or IHH, and helped sponsor the flotilla of eight vessels that set out to breach Israel’s three-year-old blockade of Gaza. 

According to a release put out Monday by the powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a declassified report by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after 9/11 named the IHH "as part of 15 organizations that employed members or otherwise the facilitate the activities of terrorist groups — INCLUDING al-Qaeda." 

Another AIPAC release cited testimony by a "famed French counter-terrorism investigator" that the IHH had played "[a]n important role in the al-Qaeda Millennium bomb plot" that targeted Los Angeles International Airport. 

But, while the IHH appears to have played a role in recruiting fighters in the Bosnia and Chechnya conflicts in the mid-1990s when the CIA report was written, it currently carries out relief operations in more than 100 countries, including Haiti and a number of African countries, as well as in Gaza, the New York Times reported Tuesday. And, aside from an assortment of sticks and kitchen knives, no weapons were found aboard any of the ships seized by Israel. 

Similar talking points, however, were deployed by The Israel Project (TIP), another right-wing Zionist group that mobilized its members to write emails to lawmakers and media outlets in their area calling on them to stand by Israel. In the space of two hours Tuesday afternoon, the Washington bureau of IPS received nearly 20 emails from TIP members in support of Israel’s version of the incident. 

(Inter Press Service)

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