Saturday, July 2, 2011

Pyrrhus in Piraeus

Every morning numerous Israelis on the way to work listen to the two hour news bulletin on the Voice of Israel Radio. In the past few days, hearing veteran commentator Aryeh Golan one could have thought that Israel was facing a major invasion by a mighty fleet of dreadnaughts. After all, listeners were told that the Inner Cabinet is in almost continual session, and that Israel's Prime Minister, Defense Minister, Foreign Minister and National Security Council  were all working full steam. All were  exerting themselves in maintaining a very intensive contact with their counterparts in various countries, demanding and imploring them to do all in their power to stop the infamous flotilla from its its impending departure towards the shores of Gaza. And the Navy gunboats and Naval Commandos were put on full alert, all leaves cancelled and reserves called, and a special exercise held at sea with the participation of the IDF Chief of Staff in person. And last but by no means least, the famed Mossad  dispatched its best agents on unspecified hush hush missions...

Israeli diplomats all over the world were instructed to put on the back burner their other urgent job – opposing the threatening UN vote on Palestinian statehood – and concentrate on the more immediate flotilla threat. Propaganda Minister Yuli Edelstein mounted a major worldwide PR campaign over the sacks of sulfur with which activists on the boats were going to burn Israeli commandos to death. When these turned out to be non-existent, the unfazed Edelstein turned immediately to the information gained from highly reliable that known terrorists (or at least family members of terrorists, or perhaps the bosom friends of family members) were on the flotilla passenger list. And there was also the brilliant stroke of threatening any journalist found on the flotilla boats with a ten-year banning from Israel – a threat which proved a bit embarrassing when issued by the Only Democracy in the Middle East and was retracted a day later.

In fact it had been going on for months. Ship owners of whom flotilla organizers tried to lease boats came under mysterious pressures and cancelled the deals on the last moment – whereupon the organizers bought the boats outright. And then, Lloyds of London and other reputable insurance companies got letters from lawyers, informing them that insuring Gaza-bound boats would result in judicial suits about "support of terrorism". But the flotilla organizers found some insurers who were not intimidated. And the leadership of the French Jewish leadership pleased the government in Jerusalem by nearly getting a restraining order against a boat which was due to sail from Marseilles – but at the last moment the naughty boat escaped by way of Corsica.  And the State Department in Washington issued a stern warning for US citizens not to take part in the provocative voyage to Gaza, and that they might be prosecuted, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton actually stated that Israel would be within its "right of self-defense" in using force to stop the Flotilla. All of which only served the American activists all the more determined to embark on "The Audacity of Hope" and set off (a large part of them having voted for Obama in 2008 and thus having shared in getting Clinton into position to make such threats).

By some kind of deal with the Turkish Government, Netanyahu got the Navi Marmara – largest of the intended Gaza flotilla boats, on whose board last years' bloody confrontation took place – removed from the roster. But still this left ten boats, mostly on the shores of Greece, with hundreds of activists determined to go on to Gaza against all odds – from Canadians, American, Irish, Swedes, Britons, French, Germans, Italians, Australians – all signing a pledge of non- violent behavior towards their impending encounter with the Israeli commandos,  a considerable proportion of them being Jewish,  including many Israelis and former Israelis. However, Netanyahu had one string left to his bow. In a radio interview he gave "Heartfelt thanks to "My Friend,  George Papandreou, for his great efforts on our behalf" – which was certainly deserved.

George Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece, is at this moment in about the most difficult and precarious position which any head of a government can find himself – being forced to yield to brutal international pressure to sign a deal which many of his fellow Greeks regard as a frontal assault on their standard of living, as well as trampling on the remnants of their country's sovereignty. In comparison, yielding also to the pressure to make life difficult to a band of peace activists hosted in Greek territory would be small change indeed.

And so, there were weeks when Greek authorities subjected the boats to endless exhausting bureaucratic procedures, the filling of one form after another – and meanwhile, boat after boat encountered mysterious disabling accidents, seeming to be the work of expert underwater saboteurs, which were reported with glee on the Israeli media ("Ha ha ha, another boat disabled, are they not careless about the maintenance?"). And yesterday morning, Greta Berlin, spokesperson of the flotilla organizers spoke loud and clear in an interview to yet another morning bulletin of the Israeli radio: "We start feeling that we are under siege, as well as the Gazans. But let it be clear – we are determined to go. If we are given more to fill, we will fill them. If more boats are sabotaged, we will repair them. And then,  we are off to Gaza!"

A few hours after this defiant message was delivered,  Netanyahu's best friend Papandreou dropped the guise of bureaucratic minutiae and pounced – setting his own naval commandos to do the work of their Israeli colleagues, and take over the boats and brutally restrain them from setting off to Gaza, and generously take upon himself some of the anger which should have been directed at Netanyahu. And so, "The Audacity of Hope" is at this moment held up in a Greek naval base, and its captain is in jail, and protest demonstrations  take place this evening  in front of Greek embassies around the world, and the switchboard at the Washingtom embassy was blocked by incoming protest calls. Also at the Greek embassy in Tel Aviv there was a protest, with Hebrew and English signs "Let the flotilla go!" and "Stop Greek complicity with occupation and siege!" and especially "Greece, shame on you!" and some scuffles and confrontations with right-wingers who had suddenly become lovers of Greece - as a year ago they had become sworn enemies of Turkey. 

Is this the end of the story? Can Netanyahu consider himself to have gotten cheaply off the flotilla hook?  I would advise him not to count on that.  .

Report on Social TV about protest demonstration at Greek Embassy and extreme right counter-demosntration