by Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
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.
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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
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
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
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
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,
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.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based
in Nazareth, Israel. 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 website is www.jkcook.net.