Lost at Sea, Propaganda, Perceptions, and Reality; How to Win Every Battle and Still Lose the War
I must admit, I find the case of the Israeli raid on the peace flotilla a wonderful microcosm of the whole history of Israel and its neighbours and denizens. And it’s especially an example of exceptionalism, and the dangers inherent in exceptionalism. Exceptionalism is the idea that a nation can make up its own rules in defiance of international law. To be honest, all nations and peoples can and do practice exceptionalism to one degree or another, it’s perfectly normal human psychology. IE if your kid and a neighbour’s kid are accused of something and they blame each other, which kid are you going to believe? Most parents would have a tendency to believe their own kid, this is a normal human and even mostly healthy attitude.
However, in the case of Israel and the United States, exceptionalism has reached dizzying heights. Both countries routinely make up the rules as they go. The propaganda machines of both countries are extremely adept at this, and have been for decades. It’s a fairly safe bet to say that both countries’ policies enjoy the passive support, if not active support, of the majority of their populations. And even this is not necessarily a bad thing, countries do need to act in their own interests first. The problem comes in when they have carried this to the point where their own actions are not only utterly at odds with international norms, they are blind to the damage they are doing to their own cause.
And the seizure of the peace flotilla and the death of nine activists is a wonderful example of this. What the vast majority of the supporters of Israel and the USA fail to understand, is that it doesn’t matter what their version of events was. Even if the Israeli version of events is completely accurate, and no doubt many if not most people in Israel and the USA will believe the Israeli version of events, the act was so at odds with international norms and so ignores the context of the event that internationally it is going to be viewed as a terrible crime. And this is exactly what happened in this case, the damage Israel did to its international reputation, and the propaganda value of this to Israel’s enemies is enormous.
And the real danger proceeds from here. Now if only the Israeli and American populations believed the Israeli version, and their governments were actually aware they had stepped over the line, it wouldn’t be much of a problem. However, it seems really clear that the Israeli government at least is fully confident that its actions were 100% justified. When you are absolutely convinced that what you are doing is right, even though in every measurable way the results of the action are not in your best interests, are you really acting in your nation’s best interests? It’s hard to imagine by what metric preventing a handful of militants getting into Gaza was worth the worldwide opprobrium this event generated.
If you convince yourself that everything you do is a victory, eventually you are going to lose the war. This was very much the trap the US found itself in Vietnam for example. By winning almost every major battle and dealing out bombing damage on World War Two scale, the USA convinced itself that it was “winning,” despite overwhelming (but ignored) evidence that its actions were having the opposite effect on the people whom they were trying to “save from communism.” And if you can’t recognize that one of your actions was a major blunder and that it hurt your cause, you’ve trapped yourself in a losing strategy. And this is where both Israel and the USA have lost their way, in both cases the enemy they are fighting, call it terrorism though it’s more complicated than that, has been learning from their mistakes. And the USA and Israel aren’t, they are still fighting the terrorism of 9/11 and Munich, while their enemies have adapted and are using much more effective strategies.
In other words, if this peace flotilla really was conceived and organized by Israel’s terrorist enemies, they achieved their goals spectacularly! And there’s every reason to believe that this is exactly the case, despite what many people may think, terrorists are neither stupid nor crazy. And the terrorists of the world have learned a lot of things the past few decades, they had too, they are fighting the USA and Israel. Seen any beheading videos lately? Been any bombers blowing up Israeli bakeries or buses lately? No, Hamas and others have learnt that spectacular acts of terror, especially in an international context, usually hurt their cause more than help it. So this attack was either a terrible blunder on the part of Israel, or worse, they walked into an “ambush” and did exactly what their enemies wanted them to do. If Israel and its supporters don’t understand that and continue to fight the old war, their enemies are going to be winning a lot more battles. Refusing to learn from your mistakes means that ultimately you will lose the war.
More than anything else, the peace flotilla raid demonstrates Israel has become its own worst enemy, this isn’t going to end well for them.
(The above image of the USS Liberty after the attack is Public Domain under US copyright law. Credit: USN. I used it here because one of the comments on the previous post made me laugh, a commenter claimed that the attack on the Liberty wasn’t relevant to today’s situation in Israel and Palestine. Let me see if I understand this, supporters of Israel routinely invoke events that happened three thousand years ago in defence of modern Israel and its policies, but something that happened in living memory isn’t relevant? Sorry guys, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.)