After the Israeli Navy intercepted six vessels attempting to circumvent its blockade of the Gaza Strip two weeks ago and killed at least nine on board in the onslaught that ensued, international condemnation came swiftly. Israel doesn’t have to care particularly.
Fierce reactions could be expected from the Arab world. Protests broke out in different parts of Israel and the West Bank. Jewish students clashed with Muslim counterparts. Palestinian youths protesting the raid scuffled with Israeli soldiers, throwing bottles and stones at them, at a checkpoint north of Jerusalem. Iran once again promised to wipe Israel off the map.
Turkey, from whence the blockade runners had sailed, was particularly belligerent. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç described Israel’s actions as “piracy” and characterized it as “a dark stain on the history of humanity.” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu compared the attack to 9/11.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “shocked” of course and called for a “thorough investigation” as did European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton. French president Nicolas Sarkozy complained of “the disproportionate use of force” against the flotilla while countries throughout Europe demanded a thorough sit-down with their Israeli ambassadors. The United States were the only ones not to condemn the incident outright but undoubtedly, the event has further soured an already fragile relationship.
In spite of the rhetoric, Israel is unlikely to face any concrete consequences, notes Curzon at ComingAnarchy. Commentators and news outlets that are expecting repercussions are “missing the point,” he writes. “Israel today is more secure from outside threat than it has ever been in its history.”
A quick look around the region proves him right. The neighboring Arab states that have engaged Israel repeatedly in armed conflict in the past all maintain relatively stable relations with the Jewish state now.
Egypt and Jordan, while both proclaiming their support for the creation of a Palestinian state whenever it suits them, actually aren’t that concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people. Many Palestinians live in Jordan nowadays: a Palestinian state could threaten Jordan’s very existence. Egypt is as much concerned about Hamas as Israel for the organization has its roots in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, “the main domestic threat of Egypt’s current government,” according to Curzon. Naturally, it therefore sustains the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Saudi Arabia has been trying to position itself as something of a Middle Eastern peacemaker and has little appetite for saber rattling. Along with the rest of the Emirs of the Persian Gulf, the Saudis are in no position to intervene. They won’t risk undermining their prosperous position in the world economy with military action while economic sanctions against Israel make little sense: these countries hardly trade with Israel to begin with.
Syria, thanks to its ties with Iran and its funding of Hezbollah, has very little friends left in the region itself and probably won’t risk making things worse by provoking a renewed confrontation with Israel. “Damascus is ultimately focused on maintaining its influence in Lebanon,” notes Curzon, and on ensuring its economic growth which demands a certain openness toward its neighbors.
The Turkish response to the flotilla raid was somewhat unexpected, considering Turkey’s relative closeness to Israel. Curzon is right to point out that it is using the incident to greaten its political capital in the Arab world — something Thomas Barnett hinted at in the wake of the crisis. Turkey seems very aggressive all of the sudden but that has very little to do with Israel. Rather the country wants to be recognized as the Middle East’s foremost regional power lest a nuclear Iran claim that position any time soon.
Lastly, there are the Palestinians, “fiercely divided,” according to Gurzon, “geographically and ideologically,” between the moderate Fatah party ruling the West Bank and a terrorist organization in control of Gaza. The discord between the two is so intense that Fatah has essentially allied itself with Israel against Hamas and has publicly opposed to lifting the blockade of Gaza .
In the end, if we disregard Iran’s ostentatious posturing for a moment, Israel faces surprisingly few external threats. Part of the reason for Israel’s security is that time and again, it has shown itself quite capable of taking on half of the region in armed conflict. Most of the Arab world has given up on the notion that Israel will ever disappear by now. Instead, most of its neighbors are trading actively with Israel while maintaining normal diplomatic relations. Indeed, the only backlash it can expect will come from the West.