Is the Flotilla Attack a Game Changer?

Jun 2, 10 | 7:26 AM   byMichael Wolff
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There are really not so many examples of nations firing upon ships with whom they are not at war, other than North Korea.

To take the most generous view, the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla was provoked by many different combustible factors. But even given a nasty—and purposeful—degree of intransigence on the part of the “activists,” the outcome is extraordinary. It is the result of a kind and level of exceptionalism that is at the root of the Israeli stand-off with the region and the world: Because it believes itself to be uniquely imperiled, it does not have to abide by many of the elemental restraints and PR rules that even most roguish nations are forced to follow (eg, better to have held the ship at bay until it ran out of supply than attack it).

Of course, the other reason for Israel’s exceptionalism is that the US always stands by it.

That seems pretty much to be the Obama view of Israel—and the source of his frustration with it. And, indeed, the Obama White House and, if you will, Clinton State Department, have taken a series of increasingly aggressive (or at least argumentative) stances toward Israel—so far, seemingly, to no avail.

While it is possible the raid was a cock-up, as likely it is part of a get-even-tougher Israeli get-tougher policy. The Israeli view: If the noises we’re hearing from the White House are going to mean we’ll have to back down from our tough position, let’s ratchet it up, so when we have to back down, we don’t lose any ground. That’s been Israel’s long-term policy, one that—with its settlements—has proved preternaturally successful. (This is, also, the long-term Arab policy.)

So now the ball is back in the White House’s court.

As per the Times: “While the administration’s public response was restrained, American officials expressed dismay in private over not only the flotilla raid, with its attendant deepening of Israel’s isolation around the world, but also over the timing of the crisis, which comes just as long-delayed American-mediated indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians were getting under way.”

In other words, they’re wringing their hands in the White House and have no idea what to do except to issue the strong words that American White Houses have been regularly forced to issue—to extraordinarily little effect.

Still, there are people in high American foreign policy circles who believe that the flotilla attack represents something different—that the Israelis have shown themselves to be, this time, not just their usual too-aggressive selves, but also incompetent—that is, they are no longer acting even within the logic of their own best interests; at some level, they are out of control. If so, that might mean a different sort of rules—and the rules have always run the game in the Middle East—on the part of the Americans toward their client state. The flotilla attack is a fuck-up on the part of the Israelis that could change everything.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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