Israel Pays High Price for Attack on Turkish Flotilla with Aid for Gaza

Israel has, in effect, arrested all of the flotilla members. This means that Israel is free to spin to the news media with little correction from the other side. All the same the damage for Israel is mounting.

  • The Greek government has decided to discontinue the joint military exercise currently under way and to postpone the visit to Athens of the Head of the Israeli Air Force General Staff, which was to take place tomorrow.
  • The Turks have withdrawn their ambassador and their Foreign Minister says that relations are irreparable.
  • Netanyahu had to cancel his Washington visit that was to be a photo opportunity and “kiss and make up” session.
  • Israel’s actions were the subject of an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting. It is incumbent on Washington to thwart Israel’s international isolation and to veto anti-Israel resolutions.
  • Obama will try to distance the US from Israel in due course. What choice does he have? Israel is increasingly a millstone around America’s neck.
  • Toni Karon in Time magazine points out that the Chinese exacted a high price for joining the US in sanctioning Iran. “The Chinese government won undertakings from Washington to exempt Chinese companies from any U.S. unilateral sanctions that punish third-country business partners with the Islamic Republic.” Negotiations will now become harder and more costly for the US as the world largely sees the US effort to punish Iran to be driven by Israeli concerns. Iran hardly threatens the US.

See Jonathan Cook: 3 Facts You Need to Know About the Israeli Attack on Peace Activists on the Gaza Flotilla and analysis by Issandr El Amrani, How Israel sets the TV agenda

El Amrana writes:

“For a couple of hours this morning AJE was going from one Israeli official or commentator for another, the IDF has scheduled several press conferences, as did the Prime Minister’s office and the Foreign Ministry. They controlled the news cycle by having their message dominate the airwaves in those early hours, the TV stations — starved for content since there was a communications blackout from the flotilla ships and Israel’s military censor was no doubt squashing other aspects of the story — were running the Israeli viewpoint non-stop.”

Israel’s latest brutal blunder By Stephen M. Walt

This latest act of misguided belligerence poses a broader threat to U.S. national interests. Because the United States provides Israel with so much material aid and diplomatic protection, and because American politicians from the president on down repeatedly refer to the “unbreakable bonds” between the United States and Israel, people all over the world naturally associate us with most, if not all, of Israel’s actions. Thus, Israel doesn’t just tarnish its own image when it does something outlandish like this; it makes the United States look bad, too. This incident will harm our relations with other Middle Eastern countries, lend additional credence to jihadi narratives about the “Zionist-Crusader alliance,” and complicate efforts to deal with Iran. It will also cost us some moral standing with other friends around the world, especially if we downplay it. This is just more evidence, as if we needed any, that the special relationship with Israel has become a net liability.

In short, unless the Obama administration demonstrates just how angry and appalled it is by this foolish act, and unless the U.S. reaction has some real teeth in it, other states will rightly see Washington as irretrievably weak and hypocritical. And Obama’s Cairo speech — which was entitled “A New Beginning” — will be guaranteed a prominent place in the Hall of Fame of Empty Rhetoric.

How might the United States respond?………

Israel’s official Explanation

DEPUTY FM AYALON: Good morning, everyone. I want to report this morning that the armada of hate and violence in support of the Hamas terror organization was a premeditated and outrageous provocation. The organizers are well-known for their ties to Global Jihad, Al-Qaeda and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror. On board the ship we found weapons that were prepared in advance and used against our forces. The organizers’ intent was violent, their method was violent,…… The maritime blockade on Gaza is very legal and justified by the terror that Hamas is applying in Gaza. …… Thank you very much.

Issandr El Amrani has done some digging on the charge that Israel began to spread around several days before its bloody attack on the flotilla that IHH is linked to al-Qaida. Apparently most of the allegations about the IHH stem from an article written by a certain Evan Kohlmann, a self-proclaimed terrorism expert, back in the 1990s. Issandr notes that the IHH is legally recognized in many countries, works with other NGOs, and has consultative status with the UN.

UN: “Members of the United Nations Security Council on Monday urged Israel to lift its economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, in an emergency session to discuss the deadly Israel Navy raid on a convoy of international activists sailing to the coastal territory.

Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco said in his briefing to the UN’s most powerful body that Monday’s bloodshed would have been avoided if repeated calls on Israel to end the “counterproductive and unacceptable” blockade of Gaza had been heeded…

Adam Shapiro, cofondateur du Mouvement de solidarité internationale, qui a participé à l’opération navale, revient sur l’assaut israélien.

Q – Comment s’est déroulé l’assaut israélien contre la flottille ?

R – Selon nos informations, Israël a lancé l’assaut autour de trois heures du matin, heure locale. Un millier de soldats ont été déployés, ainsi que des navires de guerre, des hélicoptères et des avions. L’assaut a d’abord été lancé contre le bateau turc de passagers (Mavi Marmara, NDLR) qui comptait quelque 600 personnes à son bord. Les soldats y ont été lâchés à partir d’un hélicoptère. Selon nos informations, les soldats ont commencé à ouvrir le feu dès qu’il ont touché le pont.

Ya-t-il eu des avertissements ?

Le seul avertissement lancé par les autorités israéliennes était de faire demi-tour.

Le général Ashkenazi a déclaré que des activistes étaient armés.

Les bateaux ont été méticuleusement inspectés avant de quitter leur port de départ. Ils ont obtenu le feu vert pour partir, donc aucune arme n’avait été trouvée à bord. D’après nos informations, certains passagers, après que les Israéliens ont ouvert le feu, ont tenté de se défendre avec des bâtons et des barres de fer. Maintenant, je n’étais pas personnellement sur le bateau, je ne peux rien confirmer à 100 %. Mais les vidéos ne montrent aucun militant armé. Et Israël n’a avancé aucune preuve que les militants étaient armés. Et c’est à Israël d’apporter une telle preuve si elle existe.

Vous attendiez-vous à une réaction israélienne d’une telle violence ?

Nous sommes des activistes expérimentés, nous n’en sommes pas à notre première mission sur mer ou sur terre. Nous savions que les Israéliens allaient tout faire pour nous arrêter. Nous savions que des armes mortelles pourraient être utilisées par les Israéliens. Mais cela nous semblait peu probable. Les autorités israéliennes avaient déclaré que les commandos d’élite seraient envoyés sur cette opération. Si les soldats qui ont participé à l’assaut sont effectivement des commandos d’élite, alors on ne peut que conclure que l’ordre de tirer leur a été donné, car ce type de soldat ne cafouille pas.

Avant l’assaut, Israël avait dénoncé la mission comme étant un acte de provocation et mis en doute son caractère légal.

La flottille a été arrêtée dans les eaux internationales. Nous étions encore loin des eaux israéliennes ou de Gaza. Et nous avions eu l’autorisation de naviguer de la part des ports de départ. Quand les Israéliens nous ont arrêtés, nous étions dans la légalité. Par ailleurs, Israël part de l’hypothèse que son blocus de Gaza est légal pour dire que notre mission ne l’est pas. Or les Nations unies, la Croix-Rouge et beaucoup d’autres organisations ont dit que le blocus de Gaza est illégal car ce blocus est une punition collective, ce qui est illégal selon le droit international.

De nombreuses voix se sont élevées, au sein de la communauté internationale, pour fermement condamner l’assaut israélien. Que pensez-vous de ces réactions ?

De cette tragédie, nous espérons que naîtra un début de prise de conscience de la part de la communauté internationale sur la réalité du Moyen-Orient, en ce sens qu’Israël se présente toujours comme la victime alors qu’il est l’agresseur. Aujourd’hui, le potentiel existe pour une intifada globale visant à soutenir les droits des Palestiniens et à condamner l’occupation brutale israélienne.

State Dept Statement by Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC – May 31, 2010

The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in the incident today aboard the Gaza-bound ships. We are working to ascertain the facts, and expect that the Israeli government will conduct a full and credible investigation.

The United States remains deeply concerned by the suffering of civilians in Gaza. We will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods allowed into Gaza to address the full range of the population’s humanitarian and recovery needs. We will continue to work closely with the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority,….

Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion
By George Friedman for Stratfor

On Sunday, Israeli naval forces intercepted the ships of a Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) delivering humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israel had demanded that the vessels not go directly to Gaza but instead dock in Israeli ports, where the supplies would be offloaded and delivered to Gaza. The Turkish NGO refused, insisting on going directly to Gaza. Gunfire ensued when Israeli naval personnel boarded one of the vessels, and a significant number of the passengers and crew on the ship were killed or wounded.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply an attempt to provoke the Israelis. That was certainly the case. The mission was designed to demonstrate that the Israelis were unreasonable and brutal. The hope was that Israel would be provoked to extreme action, further alienating Israel from the global community and possibly driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. The operation’s planners also hoped this would trigger a political crisis in Israel.
A logical Israeli response would have been avoiding falling into the provocation trap and suffering the political repercussions the Turkish NGO was trying to trigger. Instead, the Israelis decided to make a show of force. The Israelis appear to have reasoned that backing down would demonstrate weakness and encourage further flotillas to Gaza, unraveling the Israeli position vis-à-vis Hamas. In this thinking, a violent interception was a superior strategy to accommodation regardless of political consequences. Thus, the Israelis accepted the bait and were provoked.

The ‘Exodus’ Scenario

In the 1950s, an author named Leon Uris published a book called “Exodus.” Later made into a major motion picture, Exodus told the story of a Zionist provocation against the British. In the wake of World War II, the British — who controlled Palestine, as it was then known — maintained limits on Jewish immigration there. Would-be immigrants captured trying to run the blockade were detained in camps in Cyprus. In the book and movie, Zionists planned a propaganda exercise involving a breakout of Jews — mostly children — from the camp, who would then board a ship renamed the Exodus. When the Royal Navy intercepted the ship, the passengers would mount a hunger strike. The goal was to portray the British as brutes finishing the work of the Nazis. The image of children potentially dying of hunger would force the British to permit the ship to go to Palestine, to reconsider British policy on immigration, and ultimately to decide to abandon Palestine and turn the matter over to the United Nations.

There was in fact a ship called Exodus, but the affair did not play out precisely as portrayed by Uris, who used an amalgam of incidents to display the propaganda war waged by the Jews. Those carrying out this war had two goals. The first was to create sympathy in Britain and throughout the world for Jews who, just a couple of years after German concentration camps, were now being held in British camps. Second, they sought to portray their struggle as being against the British. The British were portrayed as continuing Nazi policies toward the Jews in order to maintain their empire. The Jews were portrayed as anti-imperialists, fighting the British much as the Americans had.

It was a brilliant strategy. By focusing on Jewish victimhood and on the British, the Zionists defined the battle as being against the British, with the Arabs playing the role of people trying to create the second phase of the Holocaust. The British were portrayed as pro-Arab for economic and imperial reasons, indifferent at best to the survivors of the Holocaust. Rather than restraining the Arabs, the British were arming them. The goal was not to vilify the Arabs but to villify the British, and to position the Jews with other nationalist groups whether in India or Egypt rising against the British.
The precise truth or falsehood of this portrayal didn’t particularly matter. For most of the world, the Palestine issue was poorly understood and not a matter of immediate concern. The Zionists intended to shape the perceptions of a global public with limited interest in or understanding of the issues, filling in the blanks with their own narrative. And they succeeded.

The success was rooted in a political reality. Where knowledge is limited, and the desire to learn the complex reality doesn’t exist, public opinion can be shaped by whoever generates the most powerful symbols. And on a matter of only tangential interest, governments tend to follow their publics’ wishes, however they originate. There is little to be gained for governments in resisting public opinion and much to be gained by giving in. By shaping the battlefield of public perception, it is thus possible to get governments to change positions.

The precise truth or falsehood of this portrayal didn’t particularly matter. For most of the world, the Palestine issue was poorly understood and not a matter of immediate concern. The Zionists intended to shape the perceptions of a global public with limited interest in or understanding of the issues, filling in the blanks with their own narrative. And they succeeded…..

The Turkish Flotilla to Gaza

The Palestinians have long argued that they are the victims of Israel, an invention of British and American imperialism. Since 1967, they have focused not so much on the existence of the state of Israel (at least in messages geared toward the West) as on the oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Since the split between Hamas and Fatah and the Gaza War, the focus has been on the plight of the citizens of Gaza, who have been portrayed as the dispossessed victims of Israeli violence.

The bid to shape global perceptions by portraying the Palestinians as victims of Israel was the first prong of a longtime two-part campaign. The second part of this campaign involved armed resistance against the Israelis. The way this resistance was carried out, from airplane hijackings to stone-throwing children to suicide bombers, interfered with the first part of the campaign, however. The Israelis could point to suicide bombings or the use of children against soldiers as symbols of Palestinian inhumanity. This in turn was used to justify conditions in Gaza. While the Palestinians had made significant inroads in placing Israel on the defensive in global public opinion, they thus consistently gave the Israelis the opportunity to turn the tables. And this is where the flotilla comes in.

The Turkish flotilla aimed to replicate the Exodus story or, more precisely, to define the global image of Israel in the same way the Zionists defined the image that they wanted to project….

The Geopolitical Fallout for Israel

It is vital that the Israelis succeed in portraying the flotilla as an extremist plot. Whether extremist or not, the plot has generated an image of Israel quite damaging to Israeli political interests. Israel is increasingly isolated internationally, with heavy pressure on its relationship with Europe and the United States.

In all of these countries, politicians are extremely sensitive to public opinion. It is difficult to imagine circumstances under which public opinion will see Israel as the victim. The general response in the Western public is likely to be that the Israelis probably should have allowed the ships to go to Gaza and offload rather than to precipitate bloodshed. Israel’s enemies will fan these flames by arguing that the Israelis prefer bloodshed to reasonable accommodation. And as Western public opinion shifts against Israel, Western political leaders will track with this shift.

The incident also wrecks Israeli relations with Turkey, historically an Israeli ally in the Muslim world with longstanding military cooperation with Israel. The Turkish government undoubtedly has wanted to move away from this relationship, but it faced resistance within the Turkish military and among secularists. The new Israeli action makes a break with Israel easy, and indeed almost necessary for Ankara.

With roughly the population of Houston, Texas, Israel is just not large enough to withstand extended isolation, meaning this event has profound geopolitical implications.
Public opinion matters where issues are not of fundamental interest to a nation. Israel is not a fundamental interest to other nations. The ability to generate public antipathy to Israel can therefore reshape Israeli relations with countries critical to Israel. For example, a redefinition of U.S.-Israeli relations will have much less effect on the United States than on Israel. The Obama administration, already irritated by the Israelis, might now see a shift in U.S. public opinion that will open the way to a new U.S.-Israeli relationship disadvantageous to Israel…..

Opinion in Europe will likely harden. And public opinion in the United States — by far the most important in the equation — might shift to a “plague-on-both-your-houses” position.

While the international reaction is predictable, the interesting question is whether this evolution will cause a political crisis in Israel. Those in Israel who feel that international isolation is preferable to accommodation with the Palestinians are in control now. Many in the opposition see Israel’s isolation as a strategic threat. Economically and militarily, they argue, Israel cannot survive in isolation. The current regime will respond that there will be no isolation. The flotilla aimed to generate what the government has said would not happen. …

Israel is now in uncharted waters. It does not know how to respond. It is not clear that the Palestinians know how to take full advantage of the situation, either. But even so, this places the battle on a new field, far more fluid and uncontrollable than what went before. The next steps will involve calls for sanctions against Israel. The Israeli threats against Iran will be seen in a different context, and Israeli portrayal of Iran will hold less sway over the world.

And this will cause a political crisis in Israel. If this government survives, then Israel is locked into a course that gives it freedom of action but international isolation. If the government falls, then Israel enters a period of domestic uncertainty. In either case, the flotilla achieved its strategic mission. It got Israel to take violent action against it. In doing so, Israel ran into its own fist.

Comments (169)


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151. Nafdik said:

Almasri,

I totally agree with your comment:

“It may well turn out to be that the old arrangement under nationalism may have no future in the Arab world. We need new ideas.”

When we got our independence we looked to the Western world as the model. They had nationalism, so we decided we should have one too. Or even better let’s have three:

– Syrian
– Greater Syrian
– Arab

As well as Muslim oumma nationalism.

Of course then we have to forge a state based on a flimsy national identity. For example the Syrian Arab nationalism excludes the Kurds.

The reality is that historically we had a tapestry-like national identity, by this I mean is that we have a myriad of identities all weaved together so that identities ethnic, tribal and religious distributed throughout the land.

This tapestry is the result of the tolerent culture of the ME where many tribes have learned to live together while maintaining a strong identity. As opposed to Europe where conformance to the majority was the rule linguistically, religiously and culturally.

There is no section that can be clearly Arab, Kurdish, Sunni, etc. But in the same city you had the identities intermingled.

This makes a typical 1st past the post democracy highly divisive as it does not reflect the true make-up of the nation. If we have 60% shia and 40% sunni we might get a Shia representative win all the districts.

I think a solution is to allow for sectarian parties and to have truly proportional representation.

There is nothing wrong with sectarianism as long as the interests of all are represented and an honest dialog is engaged.

Hopefully over time policy based parties will emerge and they will draw members from multiple ethnicities and religions, but there is no need to force this prematurely upon the people.

So to be clear I am not suggesting to enshrine sectarianism in the state as is the case in Lebanon, rather to allow the people to align themselves in any shape they feel best represents their interests, and to create a democracy that is modeled on the ME multi-tribal cities.

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June 9th, 2010, 1:47 am

 

152. almasri said:

Nafdik,

How different is sectarianism from the ‘millet’ system of 100 years ago? Such system required a regional power to administer as Turkey was entrusted with it under the Ottomans. Christians and non-Christians enjoyed wide privileges under this system. But were minorities treated as full citizens under the system?

Europe had to resort to violent means sometime in its path to enforce conformance and eliminate tribalism. Even now Europe feels threatened by new forms of divisiveness precisely because of its own Democracy. That is probably the post democracy you’ve implied in your comment.

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June 9th, 2010, 7:15 am

 

153. Nafdik said:

Almasri,

A proportional democracy is in fact modeled on the millet system of the Ottoman empire. Which itself is modeled on the multi-tribe cities of the region.

The idea behind such a system is to have a state without having necessarily a nation. It is indeed post-nationalist as you describe.

It differs from the millet system in the following way: while the millet system attributed an individual to a millet that is based on his ethnicity or religion, the new system will attribute him to a party of his choice. Those who still want to have the bishop or the clan chief be their representative can vote for him, but when they feel that a non-sectarian party is more in their interest they will switch their vote.

Of course this is very similar to western democracy with the difference that geography is removed from the equation, this allows for minorities that are spread through the country in very small number to collect their votes and get a representative that defends their interests.

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June 9th, 2010, 8:49 am

 

154. almasri said:

Nafdik,

A state without a nation is not something that you can easily create or even maintain. That is why the millet system needed a regional power for administration and also as a cohesive force. We can see that happening in Iraq right now and which may well disintegrate once the American army is out.
There are several problems with this state wirhout nation concept. Where will the allegiance of its people lie? Will different groups seek protections or assisstance from other powers to advance their goals at the expense of others within the State? Could such State have an army that will act in its defense? What about the possibilities of having civil wars every few decades?

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June 9th, 2010, 10:53 am

 

155. majedkhaldoun said:

Between 1954-1958 we had democrtay in Syria.the Islamists did not hold power,there are five reasons
Religion
Economy and demand for socialism
push for nationalism
Ethnicity
Forein interventions
Nationalism won because of their connection with military officers,who were against democracy

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June 9th, 2010, 12:29 pm

 

156. majedkhaldoun said:

Israel said it will ease the siege on Gaza,IF the world will not demend international investigations.
Its a ploy.Its admition of GUILT

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June 9th, 2010, 7:41 pm

 

157. Nafdik said:

Almasri,

Your concerns are valid, and it is very hard to create a successful state when a number of nations share the land as we saw in Northern Ireland and ex-Yugoslavia.

However this is where we are, we have been placed within these borders through the forces of history.

Our attempts to redraw the borders through unions have failed. Our attempts to create a true nation inside our borders have proven very difficult. As you point out Iraq is a good example.

What I suggest is to embrace our diversity and look at it as a source of strength.

By facing our true nature, rather than hiding it under the rug we will have better chances to succeed.

Yes, it is hard to build a loyal army when there is no ‘nation’ story to back it up but it has been done successfully in the past. Look for example at the British army at the height of the empire.

In our case we will replace the ‘protector’ from being the King or the Sultan to be a the constitution that we can all respect since it respects all of us.

Of course the next question is how do we get to that state of affairs given the current polarization in our society.

I think the solution lies with the Islamist parties.

They are clearly the most powerfully opposition force to our dictators. At the same time, as Norman pointed out, they face resistance from many sources as they create a fear of a loss of personal freedoms in those who do not agree with their principles.

What I suggest is a national accord between the Islamists and the other opposition groups that lays out a framework where a democracy is protected by all the forces.

If the Islamists can convince the rest of the population that they adhere to a vision of a strong democracy and that they are ready to leave power when they lose elections, there will be a possibility of peaceful transition to democracy led by Islamist groups as they are the leading opposition force.

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June 9th, 2010, 10:56 pm

 

158. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

And now, for something completely different. Musical break.

Stanbuli, who feeds the Arabs with Sish-Kabab
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NmIaFgotNhk&feature=player_embedded

Stanbuli, the hero who shook the criminal entity
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALPbRPoHJkA&feature=player_embedded

And some sectarian love within the IDF
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDforETfMBE&feature=player_embedded

Enjoy.
.

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June 10th, 2010, 8:22 am

 

159. Badr said:

If I may add to my comment no. 126:

And Israel could relax its blockade of Gaza a little bit.

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June 10th, 2010, 3:31 pm

 

160. henry said:

Thought you guys might enjoy this review of Lee Smith’s book on Arab politics, “The Strong Horse.”

Middle East / Just the way it is
Is the fight against trans-national Islamist terror a distraction that prevents the West from the real struggle against an Iran proceeding from strength to strength?
By Jonathan Spyer

The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, by Lee Smith. Doubleday, 256 pages, $26

“The Strong Horse” chronicles both an intellectual journey and a physical one. The physical journey was that taken by the author, journalist Lee Smith, a New Yorker who set off for the Middle East after the 9/11 terror attacks on a quest to find an explanation for the carnage that had struck his hometown. This quest took the author to Egypt, the Gulf, Syria, Israel and (most centrally ) Lebanon, as he sought to delve into the dynamics of regional political culture. He studied Arabic in Cairo and made his living by writing for a variety of publications.

The intellectual journey, which unfolded parallel to the physical one, traced the author’s arc of discovery and disillusionment. He passed through initial engagement with the region’s familiar shibboleths, such as the claim of the centrality of the Palestinian problem to the region’s malaise and the contention that Western views of the Middle East must inevitably be tainted by the dread “orientalism.” Smith found his way to a subsequent full-throated embrace of Arab “liberals” and the region’s democratization project. And yet, by the end of his sojourn in 2006, the author saw the extinguishing of his early optimism regarding the likelihood of imminent regional democratization. He concluded his journey and his book with the sense that, as he expresses it, contrary to appearances, the Middle East political system was not “broken.” Rather, it was “functioning just as it always had, for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.”

The central dynamic of that system, Smith finds, is what he calls the “strong horse” principle – for which the book is named. The phrase comes from Osama bin Laden, who, after the 9/11 attacks, remarked that when people “see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” Smith understands this as representing a situation in which “political violence … is the normal state of affairs,” as rival groups battle for dominance. He refers to Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun’s concept of “Asabiyyah” – that is, the notion of history as an endless, pitiless process in which dominant groups, as they grow soft and tired, are swept away by younger, hungrier, more determined replacements.

Smith’s work acquires added complexity and depth from the sense of tragedy that underlies it. Here is an American traveler who came to the Middle East infused with his country’s optimism and belief in change and possibility. The cause of Arab liberals and oppositionists was a natural fit for him. Despite the murderous attack that spurred his journey, Smith’s attitude was one of curiosity and empathy rather than anger or desire for retribution. (Full disclosure: I met Lee Smith in Jerusalem in 2006, when he arrived in Israel having left his temporary home in Beirut because of the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. When reading his book, I discovered that he mentions me in his acknowledgements, undeservedly I think, as among his “teachers” regarding the region. )

Had Smith simply concluded from his travels that the region’s inhabitants are a cruel strain of people who must be contained, his book might be of limited interest. But Smith’s journey is more complex than that. He discovered in the Middle East much to nourish his hope, his engagement and his affection. Yet he also concluded that in the Arabic-speaking world, at least for the foreseeable future, the individuals and the forces that he likes and admires are almost certain to continue to be on the losing side. The “strong horse” principle he identifies will ensure this. The analyst in him dictates this conclusion, even if the traveler and the American refuse to accept it entirely.

Cedar Revolution

Smith notes, for example, that Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, which followed the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, ultimately foundered despite its initial successes because neither the Lebanese democracy activists nor their U.S. backers were prepared to meet Syrian violence with counter-violence. As he puts it: “Without deadly American reprisals for the Syrian regime’s violence, Lebanese democracy was vulnerable. A hundred and thirty thousand American troops stationed close to Syria’s border had helped embolden the Cedar Revolution. But without their help, the Lebanese were without a strong horse of their own, and left alone to face one of the most ruthless regimes in the region.”

Smith’s journey was varied, and his book includes a number of portraits of people and places that exemplify the ideas he discusses. During his first stop, in Egypt, he memorably made the acquaintance of a philosophy student in love with German Idealism (who tells him that “philosophy is my fundamentalism” ), the film star Omar Sharif (who jokingly asks Smith if an “orientalist fantasy” has brought him there ), novelist Naguib Mahfouz, and an alluring female Salafi (Sunni extremist ) teacher of Arabic. He draws a poignant portrait of a vanished liberal Cairo, depicting evenings spent with aging members of the city’s liberal elite. But he also seeks to engage with the nationalist and Islamist ideas that buried that elite. This engagement leads him to his first important conclusion: “Repressive violence and terror are two aspects of a political culture that has no mechanism for either sharing power or transmitting political authority … except through inheritance, coup or conquest … And so in the end, there are only two laws of Arab politics: the first is to seize power, after which political legitimacy is granted provided that the second law is observed – to maintain power.”

It is in Lebanon that the main drama of the book is played out – in terms of both its ideas and the events with which it is concerned. Smith found inspiration in the Cedar Revolution, which ended the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and in the short-lived optimism it engendered. He presents the country as the arena in which two differing ideas of the Middle East are clashing. On the one hand are the author’s friends and comrades – the Cedar Revolution activists of the pro-Western March 14 movement, with their commitment to democracy. On the other are Syria and Hezbollah, representatives of the pro-Iranian “resistance bloc” in the region.

The failure of the pro-Western movement to hold on to its gains in the face of Hezbollah and Syrian terror provided a central lesson for Smith, who came to see that in the Middle East, as elsewhere, rights exist only insofar as they can be held on to. The movement’s inability to mount an effective defense of its attempts to bring democracy and normalization to the country, in the face of the assaults from the pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian counter-reaction, offers a prime example in recent years of the failure of Arab liberalism to learn the effective practice of politics in the Middle East.

Smith left Beirut in the midst of the 2006 war, as Israeli ordnance was falling on south Beirut. He concludes that while the refusal of Arab liberals to meet force with force is “consistent, and in its way admirable,” it means that they are bound to find themselves at the mercy of “whatever strong horse was in power.”

This harsh reality digested, Smith’s task then became identifying the precise nature, strengths and weaknesses of the strong horse that is challenging the Western-led order in the region. It was this order, after all, in which Smith’s Lebanese friends had placed their trust in their attempt to build democracy in their country. And it was this order that let them down.

A central element of this book is its attempt to return the focus of debate on the region to the conflict between states. This is of particular importance to Smith, who depicts the United States as spending its energies on a fight against a chimera – trans-national Islamist terror – while in the real world, an alliance led by a would-be “strong horse” – Iran – makes gain after gain.

Smith overstates his case when he seems to dismiss too easily the truly grassroots and non-state nature of Islamist movements across the region. The ability of the Iranian regime to tap into genuinely held Islamist convictions across the region is one of its major assets. Hezbollah, Hamas, the Mahdi Army in Iraq – these are not merely creatures of the regimes that support them. Rather, they accurately represent the sentiments of large masses of individuals in their respective countries. This is precisely what makes them so dangerous.

But with this caution, Smith’s central point – that the Iran-led “resistance bloc” is the would-be regional “strong horse,” whose ambitions constitute the central challenge to the Mideast order and any hopes of building freer societies in the region – is well-taken and pertinent.

America blinded

The Middle East that emerges from “The Strong Horse” is a Hobbesian world, operating according to the harsh laws that have governed relations between states and peoples in much of the world for most of history. The author does not seek to attribute to the Arabs, or Muslims, some unique propensity for extremism and violence. Rather, he suggests that the more fortunate history of Americans has enabled them to remain blind to the dynamics of power in less lucky parts of the world. This, he suggests, is likely to produce faulty policy. His central point is thus that if progress is to be made, the rules and mechanisms governing political behavior must be understood and worked with. In this regard, he has praise for Israel, which he sees as another regional “strong horse” (though he is dismayed at the “incompetent” performance of the Olmert government in prosecuting the 2006 war ).

“The Strong Horse” is ultimately a story of lost illusions. Yet disillusionment has not led the author to abandon engagement with the region. Rather, he seeks to understand the mechanisms by which power is attained and held in the Middle East, so that the United States and the West may succeed in guarding the space in the region within which civil society and free intellectual exploration may eventually develop and grow.

Today, the challenge of what Smith calls the “resistance bloc” is growing in intensity, and its adherents are holding and expanding their position – in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. The discussion of how to identify the means to stop and reverse this process has never been more pertinent. “The Strong Horse” makes a valuable and cogent contribution to the debate.

Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

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June 11th, 2010, 2:16 am

 

161. almasri said:

Thank you Henry for letting us know through your friend Jonathan that the resistance bloc in the ME is growing in intensity. It is very reassuring for us to confirm this truth through a ‘neutral’, ’empathic’ and a ‘non-vengeful’ New Yorker Who is also taught by a zionist.
That makes us feel even more self righteous.

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June 11th, 2010, 11:02 am

 

162. why-discuss said:

Husam

Saudi who should have been the leaders of sunni moslems, have been weakened by the Ossama ben laden’s saudi taliban, by their fear of Shia Iran influence, by the habits and love of luxury and by the paralyzing effect of the extremist wahhabi sect on their human rights abuses.
Because of that they are under the ‘protection’ of the USA who could turn against them any time. They lived in that fear, so they accept just anything shamelessly.
They and another US “protected” country, Egypt were treated as half man by Bashar al Asaad and unfortunately this is what they have become.
Turkey has taken the lead of sunni moslems and that shift, in view of Erdogan positions vs Iran is very beneficial to Moslems in the region in general as it makes moderate sunnis less suspicious of Iran’s proselytic intentions.
Overall the demise of KSA as a political/religious leader in the region is a excellent thing.
It probably makes Israel and the US less comfortable as they have to deal with a more coherent and strong block and cannot count on Turkey anymore for attacking or threatening Iran.
A new positive development for the region.

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June 12th, 2010, 11:26 pm

 

163. Husam said:

WD:

I agree, Turkey, is a new play and can be positive for the region. Genuine or not, time will tell.

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June 13th, 2010, 6:35 pm

 

164. why-discuss said:

Latest smuggled video on the flotilla attack

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/11/gaza-flotilla-attack-new-video

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June 13th, 2010, 10:48 pm

 
 

166. Akbar Palace said:

Another article challenging Professor Josh’s assertion that:

“Israel Pays High Price for Attack on Turkish Flotilla with Aid for Gaza”

I say: “really”?

Lawmakers Threaten Turkey with Reprisals Over Israel

http://congress.blogs.foxnews.com/2010/06/16/lawmakers-threaten-turkey-with-reprisals-over-israel/?test=latestnews

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June 16th, 2010, 7:04 pm

 

167. Akbar Palace said:

“Israel Pays High Price”? – Part Deux

Not as far as these gentlemen are concerned:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-06-17-column17_ST_N.htm

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June 17th, 2010, 4:29 pm

 

168. jad said:

ZIONISTS DECLARE ‘PARODY WAR’ AGAINST YOUTUBE
The zios are still crying about their video being taken down…. they tried so hard to ‘con the world’ and it backfired as are all of their efforts to discredit the Humanitarian Flotillas that have been heading to Gaza.
They have been crying that their video was not an infringement of Copyright Law as it was a parody. Now, the same group, Latma, is literally daring YouTube with another ‘parody’, just as vile as the one that was removed.
There ARE legal ways to upload a video on YouTube…. BUT we all know by now that zionism operates by its own set of rules…. most of which are illegal.
Warner Bros. holds the Copyright on the music used in ‘We Con The World’…. please note, anyone (Warner) submitting a DMCA takedown can only do so LEGALLY or they get in trouble!
Likewise, anyone doing a counter notification better damn well be willing to stand by their “parody”!
Latma has attorneys telling them it was parody. Why didn’t those friggin attorneys do the LEGAL thing and file a counter notification?!!!!!!!
Why???? Because it didn’t go against THEIR set of rules.
In the new ‘Parody’ we have President Obama singing to the tune of ‘Where Do I Begin’ (from Love Story), again a song that is protected by Copyright.
So, the new game is now called Dare….. hopefully they will lose this one as well……
Here is the new ‘comedy masterpiece’ from psycho untouchable Caroline Glick…. it’s in Hebrew with English subtitles….. the song starts at 2:25, but the whole video is worth a view.

http://desertpeace.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/zionists-declare-parody-war-against-youtube/

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June 18th, 2010, 12:00 am

 

169. Akbar Palace said:

Double Standard NewZ

I see Turkey is allowed to defend herself. 120 dead…

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100618/ap_on_re_eu/eu_turkey_iraq_kurds

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June 18th, 2010, 7:32 am

 

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