‘Mad dog’ diplomacy: A cornered Israel is baring its teeth

Moshe Dayan, Israel’s most celebrated general, famously outlined the strategy he believed would keep Israel’s enemies at bay: “Israel must be a like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”

Until now, most observers had assumed Dayan was referring to Israeli military or possibly nuclear strategy, an expression in his typically blunt fashion of the country’s familiar doctrine of deterrence.

But the Israeli commando attack on Monday on the Gaza-bound flotilla, in which nine activists have so far been confirmed killed and dozens were wounded as they tried to break Israel’s blockade of the enclave, proves beyond doubt that this is now a diplomatic strategy too. Israel is feeling cornered on every front it considers important – and like Dayan’s “mad dog”, it is likely to strike out in unpredictable ways.

Domestically, Israeli human rights activists have regrouped after the Zionist left’s dissolution in the wake of the outbreak of the second intfada. Now they are presenting clear-eyed – and extremely ugly – assessments of the occupation that are grabbing headlines around the world.

That move has been supported by the leadership of Israel’s large Palestinian minority, which has additionally started questioning the legitimacy of a Jewish state in ways that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

Regionally, Hizbullah has progressively eroded Israel’s deterrence doctrine. It forced the Israeli army to exit south Lebanon in 2000 after a two-decade occupation; it stood firm in the face of both aerial bombardment and a ground invasion during the 2006 war; and now it is reported to have accumulated an even larger arsenal of rockets than it had four years ago.

Iran, too, has refused to be intimidated and is leaving Israel with an uncomfortable choice between conceding to Tehran the room to develop a nuclear bomb, thereby ending Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly, and launching an attack that could unleash a global conflagration.

And internationally, nearly 18 months on from its attack on Gaza, Israel’s standing is at an all-time low. Boycott campaigns are gaining traction, reluctant support for Israel from European governments has set them in opposition to home-grown sentiment, and even traditional allies such as Turkey cannot hide their anger.

In the US, Israel’s most resolute ally, young American Jews are starting to question their unthinking loyalty to the Jewish state. Blogs and new kinds of Jewish groups are bypassing their elders and the American media to widen the scope of debate about Israel.

Israel has responded by characterising these “threats” all as falling within its ever-expanding definition of “support for terrorism”.

It was therefore hardly suprising that the first reaction from the Israeli government to the fact that its commandoes had opened fire on civilians in the flotilla of aid ships was to accuse the solidarity activists of being armed.

Similarly, Danny Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister, accused the organisers of having “connections to international terrorism”, including al-Qaeda. Turkey, which assisted the flotilla, is widely being accused in Israel of supporting Hamas and trying to topple Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Palestinians are familiar with such tactics. Gaza’s entire population of 1.5 million is now regularly presented in the Israeli media in collective terms, as supporters of terror – for having voted in Hamas – and therefore legitimate targets for Israeli “retaliation”. Even the largely docile Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has rapidly been tarred with the same brush for its belated campaign to boycott the settlements and their products.

The leaders of Israel’s Palestinian citizens too are being cast in the role of abettors of terror. The minority is still reeling from the latest assault: the arrest and torture of two community leaders charged with spying for Hizbullah. In its wake, new laws are being drafted to require that Palestinian citizens prove their “loyalty” or have their citizenship revoked.

When false rumours briefly circulated on Monday that Sheikh Raed Salah, a leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement who was in the flotilla, had been gravely wounded, Israeli officials offered a depressingly predictable, and unfounded, response: commandoes had shot him after they came under fire from his cabin.

Israel’s Jewish human rights community is also under attack to a degree never before seen. Their leaders are now presented as traitors, and new legislation is designed to make their work much harder.

The few brave souls in the Israeli media who try to hold the system to account have been given a warning shot with the exile of Haaretz’s investigative journalist Uri Blau, who is threatened with trial on spying charges if he returns.

Finally, Israel’s treatment of those onboard the flotilla has demonstrated that the net against human rights activism is being cast much wider, to encompass the international community.

Foreigners, even high-profile figures such as Noam Chomsky, are now routinely refused entry to Israel and the occupied territories. Many foreign human rights workers face severe restrictions on their movement and efforts to deport them or ban their organisations. The Israeli government is agreed that Europe should be banned from “interfering” in the region by supporting local human rights organisations.

The epitome of this process was Israel’s reception of the UN report last year into the attack on Gaza by Richard Goldstone, a respected judge and international law expert who suggested Israel had committed many war crimes during its three-week operation. Goldstone has faced savage personal attacks ever since.

But more significantly, Israel’s supporters have characterised the Goldstone report and the related legal campaigns against Israel as examples of “lawfare”, implying that those who uphold international law are waging a new kind of war of attrition on behalf of terror groups like Hamas and Hizbullah.

These trends are likely only to deepen in the coming months and years, making Israel an ever greater paraiah in the eyes of much of the world. The mad dog is baring his teeth, and it is high time the international community decided how to deal with him.

About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 26 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. pabelmont says:

    Stressing International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law:

    One would like to see Israeli human rights folks, from their perspective of greater knowledge, speaking “truth to power” by speaking directly to US (and European) Jews and urging action of a political sort, such as:

    Please tell your legislators and governments and newspapers that you are Jews and you support international law in all circumstances and that — because they are illegal at international law — you condemn absolutely Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza and continuing occupation of the territories that Israel occupied first in 1967 and still occupies, including Gaza, the West Bank (including occupied East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights, irrespective of any claim Israel may have made to have “annexed” any of these territories.

    Here are facts that you should tell your respective publics: FACTS

    Here are interpretations of International Law that you should tell your respective publics: LAW

    (And, indeed, JVP and others have pretty well been saying these sorts of things and should continue in that direction.)

  2. Les says:

    The fate of Leon Klinghoffer inspired the maritime law that Israel broke

    link to informationclearinghouse.info

    how many of you remember the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro way back in October 1985?

    Four members of the Palestine Liberation Front took control of the liner off Egypt as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said.

    It was a bungled operation in which the hijackers killed disabled Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and then threw his body overboard.

    The incident created headlines around the world and polarized people over the Palestinian cause.

    It also prompted the law makers to create new legislation making it an international crime for anyone to take a ship by force.

    And this is the reason for the brief history lesson – under article 3 of the Rome Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation of 1988, it is an international crime for any person to seize or exercise control over a ship by force, and also a crime to injure or kill any person in the process.

    The treaty necessarily adopts a strict approach. One cannot attack a ship and then claim self-defence if the people on board resist the unlawful use of violence.

    In other words, according to international law, the actions of the Israeli military were beyond the law and those involved should be treated no differently than, say, the Somali pirates who are also in the habit of boarding ships by force.

    Any rights to self defence in such dramatic circumstances rests purely with the passengers and crew on board. Under international maritime law you are legally entitled to resist unlawful capture, abduction and detention.

    • potsherd says:

      There is, however, iirc, an exception for actual states.

    • lysias says:

      The murder took place in the southeastern Turkish port of İskenderun, Catholic bishop stabbed to death in southern Turkey. One wonders whether there’s any connection with the PKK Kurdish rebels’ attack on Monday on the naval base in that port, an attack that one has to suspect was coordinated with the Israelis to impede any response to the Israelis’ attack on the flotilla.

      • lysias, it appears the stabbing of the bishop was not politically motivated: the killer was psychologically troubled.

      • Les says:

        It is no secret that Israel has been working with the Kurds in Iraq. Now that Israel has made Turkey an enemy, it only makes sense that Israel would help the Turkish Kurds.

        • lysias says:

          The attack on the İskenderun naval base apparently took place two hours before the attack on the flotilla, i.e., at 2:30 A.M. If the intent was to stymie a response to the attack on the flotilla by the Turkish Navy, it was well timed.

  3. Walid says:

    Speaking of baring teeth, the Papal Nuncio in Turkey was killed today. Who would have an interest in doing it? There’s an awfully mad dog out there.

    • Frances says:

      Jesus Christ. This would be the bishop who publicly condemned the flotilla attack.

      • Walid says:

        I don’t know Frances, now they are saying his chauffeur stabbed him:

        Le Vatican est “consterné” par le meurtre de Mgr Luigi Padovese, vicaire apostolique d’Anatolie et président de la Conférence épiscopale turque (CET). Selon la chaîne d’information turque NTV, le prélat catholique, âgé de 63 ans, a été attaqué par son chauffeur et a succombé à ses blessures à l’hôpital.

        A church official in Lebanon said that the bad guys must have done it. I don’t know.

    • lysias says:

      The murder took place in the southeastern Turkish port of İskenderun, Catholic bishop stabbed to death in southern Turkey. One wonders whether there’s any connection with the PKK Kurdish rebels’ attack on Monday on the naval base in that port, an attack that one has to suspect was coordinated with the Israelis to impede any response to the Israelis’ attack on the flotilla.

    • Shmuel says:

      Not the nuncio, Walid, but the vicar apostolic. This is of course big news in Italy. He was not only a Catholic bishop, but also an Italian national. The Italian ambassador confirmed that the killer was the vicar apostolic’s driver, who has a history of “psychological problems”.

  4. Colin Murray says:

    When false rumours briefly circulated on Monday that Sheikh Raed Salah, a leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement who was in the flotilla, had been gravely wounded, Israeli officials offered a depressingly predictable, and unfounded, response: commandoes had shot him after they came under fire from his cabin.

    This is an example of a great stumbling block moving forward: the practically autonomic dishonesty of the Israeli political establishment. Recall when President Obama wanted a written response from Netanyahu on his plans for moving forward with peace talks? Israeli government officials lie, lie, lie, lie.

    • Walid says:

      There wasn’t much unfounded when Lieberman predicted his “at any cost” plan. He knew very well what was about to happen and we can say he was honest but with an honesty of the wrong kind.

  5. AnaSanchez says:

    Moshe Dayan might be Israel’s most celebrated general but he was a lousy observer of how society deals with “mad dogs” and other animal pests. In my experience, people don’t let dangerous animals roam around their neighborhoods, they call Animal Services to come and collect these creatures and take them somewhere to be destroyed. Behaving like a mad dog is not a good survival strategy for a country and I sincerely hope the Israelis are not using Moshe Dayan’s poor advice to guide their policy. It should be obvious to anyone that pissing off the rest of mankind is not going to lead to long-term security, especially when you make up less than 0.1% of the world’s population. I don’t get it; so many Nobel prizes, so many IQ points and yet so many stupid decisions….why?

    • Shmuel says:

      I don’t get it; so many Nobel prizes, so many IQ points and yet so many stupid decisions….why?

      Shhh. You’re messing up our long-standing “intelligence ambiguity” policy. When asked “Do you or do you not possess superior-intelligence capability?” we generally answer “Well, maybe we do and maybe we don’t”. It’s all a matter of deterrence you see.

      However, now that the cat would appear to be out of the bag, I guess I can confirm that many of us possess somewhat lower than average intelligence and, to be perfectly honest, Zionism was not one of our brightest ideas.

      You may attribute the above to “informed Jewish sources”.

  6. seafoid says:

    Dayan also gave some canine advice regarding the Palestinians- “treat them like dogs- those who want to can leave” he said. 62 years of that as official policy and you get Gaza. Except the “dogs” didn’t leave. And they now outnumber the “humans”

  7. DavidSiden says:

    Les, Leon Klinghoffer never tried to lynch any of the Arab terrorists on the boat. He was murdered.
    The Islamists who were on the boat Monday tried to lynch and kill the Jews. You would have been happy if the Jews were lynched on the boat.

    • Shmuel says:

      DavidSiden,

      What are you smoking (this has got to be stronger than Ziocaine)? These guys weren’t “the Jews”. They were a highly trained and armed commando squad that surrounded the Mavi Marmara with gunboats, and dropped in from a helicopter in the middle of the night – and it wasn’t for a nightcap. As it turns out, the only ones who got killed were the civilians. Must be because they weren’t as well-armed, trained and violent as their attackers. Sheesh.

    • marc b. says:

      christ on a crutch, the psychosis is building to a fever pitch. the israeli ninjas rappel from helicopter to ship, armed to the teeth, guns ablaze, and apparently assassinate a teenager, and they’re the victims. Siden and crew need a collective psychoanalytic intervention, but quick.

      • Shmuel says:

        This group psychosis reminds me of an old Israeli comedy routine, in which a thug is crying and complaining about how this guy hit him in the kneecap with his eye, bruised his fist with his jaw, etc.

  8. hayate says:

    Besides all the other reasons why the israelis did this crime – get back at Turkey for recent Iran-Turkey positive relations, deter future attempts to break the blockade – the attack on the Turks, as it does seem they were singled out for the worst of it, was to give the Turkish leadership a black eye in the eyes of their political party and perhaps create an internal rift. I’ve read of other zionist political machinations that were strategised to do similar clever disruptions of their opponents. See:

    Israel military ties threaten AKP support as Islamists call for stronger reaction

    link to hurriyetdailynews.com

    The Turkish leadership is limited in what they can do immediately since Turkey is a democracy and not an authoritarian guv where the leadership can make major policy changes overnight. Since they are limited, this is bound to create problems with those who want immediate action, but don’t realise their leaders cant give them all what they want right now for other reasons than that the leadership is being “soft on israel”. I’m writing this in a hurry, since I got to get back to work, so I hope I didn’t garble the point intended.

  9. Bumblebye says:

    Some examples of the “Mad Dogs” pups playing with their prey:
    link to youtube.com

  10. lysias says:

    Looks like Israel is indeed backing down.

    Irish Times: Israel may ease Gaza blockade after contact with US:

    IN A dramatic reversal of policy, senior Israeli ministers were last night expected to approve a proposal by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ease the naval blockade on Gaza.

    The move comes as activists on board the Irish-owned aid ship MV Rachel Corrie dismissed reports that the vessel was returning to dock and vowed to continue towards Gaza in defiance of the blockade. They expect to arrive at the Israeli exclusion zone over the weekend.

    Under Mr Netanyahu’s proposal, international inspectors would examine boats destined for Gaza to ensure no weapons were on board.

    The examination could take place either at Israel’s southern port of Ashdod or at an Egyptian port.

    So why did they have to kill those people?

    Well, at any rate, they didn’t die in vain. Their deaths accomplished something.

    • Colin Murray says:

      I hate to spoil the mood, but if I had a penny for every time the Israel government has said they ‘may’ do or are ‘considering’ something or someone has said they are ‘expected’ to do something, I would have retired years ago. Repeating what I said in an earlier comment: the Israeli political establishment lies, lies, lies, lies.