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Israel's Overkill:

Massacring Peace Activists in International Waters

By Zeenia Satti

Al-Jazeerah,, June 7, 2010


Israeli naval massacre at the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is an act of “Overkill,” a calculated strategic maneuver in a volatile environment. The act has sparked an outrage in the Muslim world. This in turn will produce two distinct results. The US, and regional incumbents who are allied with the US in its battles, will find themselves at the receiving end of this renewed political rage. Israel considers the military show down between the US and the Islamic world as a strategic win for itself. The more America depletes the military potential of the regional Islamic states, the better off Israel considers itself to be in the long run.
At five o clock in the morning of May 31, Israel launched a co ordinated naval and air attack by its military forces on a peace flotilla headed for the Gaza strip with 10.000 tons of relief supplies. The Flotilla had raised its white flag as the Israeli troops landed on board. Despite that, the Israeli commandos opened fire, killing at least nine peace activists on board, and wounding as many as sixty others. There was a coordinated naval and air attack on the lead ship carrying 600 passengers. Amongst the critically wounded is Sheikh Rayed Salah, a leading peace activist and an important Arab Muslim citizen of Israel.
The Gaza Freedom Flotilla is an international aid project, aimed at defying the three years old blockade of Gaza that has led to a vast humanitarian crisis in the war ravaged Palestinian territory. The project is made of 750 high profile civil society activists from 40 countries. It consisted of seven ships, all of which were carrying relief supplies when they were attacked by the Israeli commandos. As Israel opened fire, killing indiscriminately, many of the media personnel were allowed to film the mayhem and release it to the world.
Israel’s scripted move of May 31 must be analyzed against the larger political developments in the Middle East. In Afghanistan, the Karzai government is all set to hold a peace jirga on the second of June, 2010. The Jirga is to comprise of 1600 leaders from across Afghanistan, who will try to reach a consensus on ending the nine year long conflict and discuss the shape of post war Afghanistan. President Obama does not want to enter in to a peace deal with the “Taliban” just yet. Hamid Karzai on the other hand, considers it essential. The upcoming Peace Jirga on Wednesday is largely a result of Karzai’s efforts. The meeting is to be guarded by twelve thousand security forces, which speaks volumes for the fragility of the process.  
Further East, Pakistan is engaged in its own bloody offensive in Orakzai agency in which the Pakistan army clearly has an upper hand. Pakistan plans to launch an offensive in North Waziristan as well, which will have to be soon enough, given America’s pressure. Needless to mention, the success of Pak army’s military offensive entirely depends on public support within Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular and the larger Pakistani society in general.
Within Israel and Palestine, the US envoy George Mitchell had succeeded in getting the Palestinian President Mahmaoud Abbas to agree to US mediated proximity peace talks with Israel. For the talks to succeed, Israel would have to halt the construction of settlements in Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to travel to Washington on June 9 for continuation of the peace talks. Although he has said on May 31 that there is no need to cancel the peace talks, the outrage in Gaza will likely deprive him of the public support he would have carried to the peace table had the naval massacre not taken place. The event not only complicates his political situation, it imperils the entire US effort in this direction.
In the Arabian Peninsula, Yemeni civil war, which created a humanitarian crisis of its own, entered a peace phase on May 24 when Sana, while commemorating the merger of north and south on May 22, 1990, declared an amnesty for all imprisoned southern separatists and northern Houthi rebels. In a televised speech, President Ali Abdullah Saleh expressed the hope that the freed rebels will go on to being good citizens, helping set Yemen on the road to peace and progress. While all sides in Yemen hailed the amnesty as the final step in ending the civil war that has rocked the country since 2004, the fragility of the Yemeni political landscape renders it highly susceptible to regional events. The renewed rage caused by the Israeli naval massacre on the Peace Flotilla, and the predictable Luke warm US response to the same, could rock the Yemeni peace boat once again and may even capsize it altogether. Given the massive US military build up in the Arabian Peninsula, the fires stoked by the May 31 naval massacre could very well envelope the area and draw the US troops further deep into the heated landscape.
While the public outrage caused by the act has no doubt isolated Israel, the latter is quite accustomed to periodic isolation of this nature. The international support that matters the most to Israel is that of the US. The May 31 naval massacre is not likely to swerve Israel’s pivotal support in the opposite direction. In the long run, it is the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Palestine that are going to be adversely affected by Israel’s act of overkill. The region wide public outrage will complicate the political situation of each one of the governments in the above mentioned countries. As peace processes and incumbents’ power both begin to crumble under the weight of popular fury, the US military will move in as the final arbiter of all matters political. Israel hopes to gain a long term strategic benefit from such a development.




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