Eyewitnesses Confirm Israeli Gunplay;
Egypt’s lifting of the Blockade likely Temporary

More eyewitness accounts are emerging from released aid activists whom the Israelis had imprisoned.” They corroborate the videotape showing that Israeli forces were firing at the deck of the Mavi Marmura before they boarded it. The Israeli forces also broke their own rules of engagement, requiring them to shoot at the legs of resisters. They instead shot humanitarian workers in the face, shoulder and chest. It may be that such violence on the part of Israeli soldiers provoked the attack with sticks on the Israeli commandos as they landed, videotape of which the Israeli army has released.

The Israeli army is sending back home all of the kidnapped aid workers seized on the ships within 48 hours. Initially the Israeli authorities had threatened to imprison for an undisclosed amount of time those who would not sign a Hebrew-language confession. The UNSC condemnation and that of dozens of countries in the world appears to have changed the Israelis’ minds on the issue.

For an understanding of the impact of the Israeli blockade of Gaza on the health and welfare of Palestinians, see this reliefweb Q & A.

President Hosny Mubarak of Egypt ordered on Monday that the blockade of Gaza be lifted and Palestinians be allowed to buy and sell goods beyond the confines of Gaza’s borders.

Although Egypt is widely criticized for mainly keeping the Rafah crossing closed or open only for short periods, Cairo is forced into this arrangement by its peace treaty with Israel and its dependence on the US for $2 billion a year in various sorts of aid, as well as by its military weakness vis-a-vis Israel, making any other course futile.

Were Egypt to defy Israel’s blockade for a long period of time or let in forbidden materials, the Israelis would almost certainly just bomb the entrance. Egypt’s government deeply dislikes having to remain silent in the face of Israeli provocations, as Khalid al-Shami pointed out in Tuesday’s al-Quds al-Arabi. But in fact Egypt could do nothing in the face of such an Israeli military action, being constrained by its treaty obligations and by its close alliance with the USA, as well as by massive Israeli advantages in the sophistication of their military equipment and training, as was repeatedly demonstrated in the past.

But keeping the border this open holds dangers for Egypt itself. Cairo fears that at some point Israeli foreign minister and leader of the far rightwing Yisrael Beitenu party Avigdor Lieberman will make good on his threats of ‘transferring’ the Palestinians. Egypt is determined that Israel will not resolve its Palestinian problem by expelling them to Egypt as refugees in the Sinai Peninsula. (Likely the Israeli shooting-fish-in-the-barrel war on Gaza in winter 2008-2009 was in part intended to provoke a panicked exodus of Palestinians into the Sinai, but Egyptian military forces prevented any such thing from occurring).

Egypt deeply dislikes the Hamas party/ militia and would not want to be in the position of allowing its influence to spread among bedouin and others in the Sinai region. Such Hamas influences are already blamed for terrorist bombings at Red Sea resorts earlier in this decade.

Egypt recently arrested what it called a criminal smuggling ring of Hizbullah agents that had , Cairo insisted, arranged for weapons to reach Hamas via the tunnels through Egyptian territory. Egypt views Hamas as a gullible cat’s paw of Iran and a useful idiot for Hizbullah supporters. Since the Mubarak government wants to limit Iranian influence in the Levant and northern Africa, it sees Hamas through the lens of suspicion.

Egypt’s regime has been locked in a a love-hate relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood fundamentalists for decades. The Brotherhood is the largest and most credible opposition to the ruling National Democratic Party, and it is carefully curbed by the security forces (the Brotherhood currently has 80 members of parliament in the lower house of parliament, but they had to run as independents or under other party banners). On the other hand, the regime cultivates the Brotherhood to offset leftist influence (Mubarak’s government is center-right).

The Brotherhood is virulently anti-Israeli and generally sympathetic to Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood itself.

Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, is 81 and apparently in poor health, and it is likely he will pass from the political scene in the next few years. He may be succeeded by his son Gamal. But the transition period will be dangerous for the ruling party, and the Muslim Brotherhood could take advantage of the power vacuum.

The Israeli adventurism on the high seas and the way it ended badly has the potential to place the Egyptian government in a bad light in the eyes of the public compared to the Brotherhood.

Egypt responded to these pressures by opening the Rafah Gate for an ‘unspecified period of time.’ The move may mollify pro-Palestinian Egyptians and to some extent the Muslim Brotherhood. But to implement it for very long likely would indeed lead to an Israeli attack on the Rafah crossing.

For these and other reasons, the lifting of the blockade at the Rafah crossing is likely to be temporary, as long as blockade remains Israeli policy.

In the meantime, Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal wrote a letter to Mubarak complaining that the lifting of the blockade was too narrow and asking Egypt to work for a permanent end of the siege of Gaza. Turkey is also said to be pressuring Egypt in this direction. But these two cannot offset the influence with the Egyptian government of the US.

19 Responses

  1. Apparently Egypt opened Rafah for humanitarian aid cases only; for those with medical permits and such. Not for ordinary Palestinians to saunter over to Egypt to buy cigarettes. There are some curious aspects to the Egypt case. Nearly all of that two billion is military aid. The scenario: US money is building up the Egyptian military, the Muslim Brotherhood is quite popular and after the latest Israeli manifestation of hubris, probably growing in popularity, Mubarak will be off the scene in two-three years.
    The next time anyone is in Cairo, go up to the Citadel and visit the Military Museum. Most of it is devoted in great and heroic detail to Egypt’s battles with Israel. There is a constant trooping of schoolchildren. There are other memorials to the war scattered around the country, all showing the Egyptians shooting the Israelis to smithereens. Even some of the fences that surround military facilities have such scenes painted on them. There is no question that Egypt sees Israel as its only potential enemy.
    Question: Is the US really building up the Egyptian military to sometime in the future take on Israel? Sort of like the Afganistan mudjaheddin that the US armed during the Soviet period and many of whom later morphed into the Taliban?

    • Half of the US aid is military, the other half civilian. Egypt is now growing 5% a year and the US money probably helps.

      Egypt is out of the game militarily because it is highly vulnerable to Israeli attack, as Avigdor Lieberman maliciously pointed out. Since it cannot oppose anything Israel does militarily, it chooses not to let things get to the point of open confrontation lest it look weak. But it is weak, and doesn’t make Gaza policy independently. That is why raising Egypt is a red herring; Israel drives Gaza policy 100%.

      • FWIW Mubarrak was/is in Nice , co-hosting a meeting with Sarko on France Africa on Monday and , being a bit far away, he is on the fence – ordinary Egyptians were demanding the lift of the blockade and at the same time taking orders from Israel and US. The dynasty must survive according to him ………………..
        link to google.com

      • Red herring it is. The US consistently holds back military aid money if Egypt does not cooperate. In 2009 about a hundred million USD was held back because Egypt did not police the Gaza border to Israel’s and the US’s liking. In 2009 Egypt received about 1.7 billion US aid, of which 1.5 billion was military. And the aid is less every year — now why can’t the US do that to Israel.

  2. Israeli embassador to the US just dared compare this infamous raid to the fight against the Nazis during WWII…

    It’s time to expose the imposture : just like the invasion of Iraq was meant from the start to fuel hatred and fundamentalism everywhere and to justify rampant fascism at home, the worst ennemies of Israel are its own rulers.

  3. All the video’s submitted as evidence for Israeli aggression seem to have been produced, not at the time of the action but some time after. If they were recorded at the time, the sky was dark for the assault and violent boarding of the ferry. If the film recorded was in infra-red, it is curious all the weapons were heated, for visibility on the recording. Since all the passengers were said to be confined below decks at the time the hijacking of the ship was accomplished, it would be easy for others present in the Israeli forces to come aboard and act out what was seen and “documented” by the Israelis.

    The claim of gunshot wounds to boarders is another that skepticism is necessary as there was no independent witness to the wounds, either self-inflicted or fraudulently claimed. The vast history of Israeli disinformation and propaganda over decades leaves no other option than disbelief. Pathological liars as well as spots on leopards do not change.

    The protocol for boarding a ship is not what is being claimed by the Israelis, the boarders do not open fire BEFORE boarding, it is common for the captain to INVITE the officers of the inhibiting party aboard (with a small contingent), showing whatever documents and invoices necessary. The use of arms started well before such boarding party came aboard, strafing the cruise ship with live fire. This was NOT an attempt to legally board the cruise ship for legitimate purpose. Instead it was a premeditated attempt to instill fear and control over the crew and passengers aboard. This Israeli attempt to hijack, suppress and terrorize the onboard activists is another of Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity. Now the Israelis have added another crime to their history, abduction and kidnaping.

    All the same it is curious the pathological liars in Washington were about the only ones not condemning this act of war in the strongest terms. Enough said.

  4. Thanks, Prof. Cole, for giving us readers a thorough analysis of the Egyptian angle on the Gaza problem. I wonder if you could devote a blog entry sometime to possible mid and long scenarios for the Gaza strip itself.

    I was surprised on reading the latest UN Security Council statement, to see it explicitly espouses a two-state solution for a resolution of the Palestinian issue. I could imagine that if (by some miracle) Jewish settlements disappeared from the West Bank, and if (by some miracle) Israeli soldiers departed, and if (by some miracle) the new Palestinian state were allowed to build up armed forces sufficient to defend itself, then a viable Palestinian state might grow up on the West Bank.

    The situation in Gaza seems different. I presume it will always be separated from the West Bank, otherwise Israel would be split in two. As a small enclave, it would always be susceptible to intimidation from Israel, who could easily revoke work permits or cut the link to the West Bank. In fact, it would not be hard to imagine a situation where a group with some links to the Gaza strip sets off a couple of car bombs in Israel, which then replies in the usual fashion: bombing any airport in Gaza, closing all borders and putting the people of Gaza back on the Israeli calorie ration. Statehood, without a credible armed force to back it, would not help the people in Gaza one iota.

    Why, then, should the people in Gaza beg to be allowed to take part in talks about talks about a possible Palestinian state in the indefinite future that would not help them in their precarious position vis-à-vis the Israelis? I see that in the latest blockade the Israelis have acted as if Gaza waters are Israeli waters — one of the many ways Israel acts as if it owns the occupied territories. Would it not be better for the Palestinians in Gaza to argue: yes, Israelis, you own us, so we must be part of Israel. Now tear down the border posts and give us our seats in the Knesset.

    • IIRC the Gaza territorial waters contain a gas field that extends into Egyptian territorial waters. When Abbas lost the election to Hamas, he was negotiating with the Israeli’s for the development of the field, supplying Israel with fuel. Hamas became the spanner in the works on that deal, benefiting high ranking Fatah and PLO hierarchies. As a consequence, there was an immediate cordon thrown around the administration of Hamas, claiming (falsely) terrorism and denying the democratically elected government of their rightful funds. Eventually Fatah attempted a coup d’état in Gaza which they lost but remained dominate in the occupied West Bank. IIRC this information was available in The Guardian a few years ago.

  5. Thanks to A Berns for stating what and how a boarding party are “supposed” to do. I tried stating the same thing on a Salon posting and was attacked and called a “dipshit.” Forget, as I stated, the legal arguments of the Law of War whether or not Israel had the right–all experts disagree; they all agree, though, that the killing and violence violated the law. I believe that the Gaza Flotilla has found the magic to end the occupation. Compare this to the Civil Rights movement in the US. Israel is acting like racist Southern police and Klan types wanting to keep the status quo. CORE and others hit upon the strategy of recruiting white college kids. Seeing them beaten and shot brought the story to the point of change. Like the Southern cops who thought they had the “right” to kill the white kids the same as local blacks, Israeli soldiers think they have the right to treat Europeans the same way. Reports state they beat the passive passengers who had surrendered–sound familiar to those old enough to remember the scenes of the Civil Rights movement shown on TV? I was so outraged I and my wife gave money to the Flotilla. We support Israel, but this behavior has to end.

    • As one of the “white kids” who was there, I beg to differ. It was Dr. King’s courageous decision to put little black kids in front of Southern police dogs that turned American public opinion around — yours excepted apparently. If there is a lesson there, it’s a lesson for the Palestinians.

      • I am sorry to see you decided to inject a personal attack into your reply: “yours excepted apparently.” Your assumption is nobody in my family was moved to join you and nobody in my family was killed. You are also assuming I am white and everybody in my family is white. To specifically reply to your post, while participating, evidently you did not hear this statement by Stokely Carmichael: “What you want is the nation to be upset when anybody is killed, but it seems for this to be recognized, a white person must be killed.” He was angry the media had made a big deal over the murder of Rev. James Reed (white) while ignoring the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson (black). Unfair as that is, it enabled King to get his message out to a much broader audience–my family excepted to correct you.

  6. You guys must be naive to think of this “two state” solution. This solution is sane, but you need sane people carrying out sensible decisions. Israel elites have neither the capacity nor IQ to agree to a “two state” solution. Sanctions/blockades are just one part of a long process they envisage to murder Palestinians, and will eventually neutralise them completely by force.

    If you can’t see how mad they are, you wouldn’t know the mad things they will do to you tomorrow. They must be matched at every move whether international sanctions, military force etc or they will bring shame to many.

  7. I have come to the depressing conclusion in recent days that Americans do not comprehend the basic premise of international law. Which is that all men are created equal, thus they have the right to form sovereign states and that those states also have the same rights regardless of the color of those men or their language or way of dress. If there is a Dred Scott rule, then international law simply is arbitrary power.

    It wasn’t just dealing with liberals on DailyKos in recent days, liberals who regard the war on Palestinians to be sacred above all moral limits. I really tried. I even pointed out that they were calling for a lower standard to be applied to Palestinians whose original crime was to merely live on land whites wanted to take, than the US applied in 1945 to the defeated peoples of Germany and Japan who were treated according to the laws of occupation despite having voted in fascist governments that committed genocide.

    What really sickened me were comments on Yahoo stories about the fall of Japan’s prime minister because he was voted into power with a promise to reduce the number of US bases on Okinawa, my birthplace. In other words, Obama overruled the will of the Japanese people. The replies were vile beyond belief. People repeatedly claimed that the US had conquered Japan and could do what it pleased to it in perpetuity. That they were lucky we let them live at all. That they were spoiled and ungrateful. They all presumed that America knew what was best in matters of war in every corner of an Earth they despise, that it was impossible that we were making up or building up enemies to inflate the profits of our special interest groups.

    They said, essentially, what Hitler said about Germany.

    Whereas nearly every person who said they had lived in Okinawa, presumably due to military service, expressed sympathy with the Okinawan people and their rights.

    Maybe we should bring back the draft, make every testosterone-laced dumbass spend two years living off-base in several non-Western countries so they can have the experience my Dad from Jim Crow Texas had in Okinawa before he married an Asian woman. Of course, there’s the problem of the inevitable increase in rapes.

  8. Talking points deployed:

    ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN: “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. … The flotilla is an attempt at violent propaganda against Israel, and Israel will not allow the violation of its sovereignty at sea, in the air, or on land.”

    MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: “Over one hundred trucks, every day, laden with food and medicine go into Gaza. There’s no shortage of food. There is no shortage of medicine.”

    NEWT GINGRICH: “There was no humanitarian crisis; this was a deliberate political effort on the part of people who want to try to undermine the survival of Israel.”

    CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: “What exactly is the humanitarian crisis that the flotilla was actually addressing? There is none. No one is starving in Gaza.”

    via Wonkette: link to wonkette.com

  9. According to “usaid” USA has now given 28 billion USD within last 30 years to Egypt. With 14 billion USD to military (in case 50/50-rule military/civil applies) Egypt has been able to “buy” quite an arsenal of US-manufactured military equipment.

Comments are closed.