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Israel and the aid convoy: How to make enemies

The Guardian, Editorial

When sovereign states make mistakes, they promise impartial inquiries, they express remorse to the families of the bereaved, they apologise. Not Binyamin Netanyahu`s government. Almost as appalling as the commando raid itself, in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed on an aid convoy bound for Gaza, has been Israel`s official reaction to it. The policy was to shoot first and discredit the victims later. On a video posted online by the Jerusalem Post, Mr Netanyahu said: `This wasn`t a love boat. This was a hate boat. These weren`t pacifists, they weren`t peace activists, these were violent supporters of terrorism.` The government press office emailed foreign journalists a satirical clip entitled `Flotilla Choir presents: We Con the World`, before withdrawing it and saying the film`s content did not reflect the official stance of Israel. To cap it all, the Israeli prime minister yesterday rejected calls for an international inquiry.

The format of the inquiry proposed by the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon would have favoured Israel, because Israeli and US representatives would have sat alongside Turkish ones, whose nationals were the commando raid`s principal victims. The proposed chairman of the inquiry would have been the former prime minister of New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer, an expert on maritime law. No Richard Goldstone he. But even this proposal was too much for Mr Netanyahu, who along with his defence minister Ehud Barak, refused point blank to allow any foreigner to interrogate Israeli officers and soldiers.

As the Winograd commission showed in its investigation into the 2006 Lebanese war, Israeli judges are more than capable of bringing their politicians and military to book. But this is not an internal Israeli matter. The commando raid was carried out in international waters, 77 miles off the coast of Gaza, where Israel has no legal entitlement. Its fatal victims were eight Turkish and one US national, and 30 other nationalities were involved as well.

There are real questions to answer, such as testimony that shots were fired before the commandos hit the deck of the Mavi Marmara, that the victims had multiple gunshot wounds to the head, apparently contradicting the claim that commandos only fired in self-defence. There is also testimony that backs the claim that soldiers were seized and stripped of their weapons before others stormed aboard. This evidence is unlikely to be tested by an Israeli inquiry and the rest of the world, particularly the Muslim one, will conclude that it is because Israeli commanders have something to hide.

Turkey is unlikely to take the shooting of its citizens lying down. Even less so, now that the Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has branded the Turkish prime minister Reccep Erdogan an Islamic extremist. This week Istanbul will host a Eurasian security summit, attended by eight presidents, which will rapidly turn into an international forum for condemning Israel and its illegal siege of Gaza. Alienating not only 72 million Turks, but the only Muslim member of Nato, will have repercussions for Israel that spread far and wide. Day by day, Israel is isolating itself both from international law and world opinion.

The cost of underwriting the self-destructive behaviour of its strategic partner in the Middle East is starting to mount exponentially in Washington. Both Barack Obama and General David Petraeus have adversely linked the Arab-Israeli conflict to America`s own security interests. First came Mr Netanyahu`s refusal to stop construction in Arab East Jerusalem; now Israel has picked a fight with a key Muslim ally. Israel`s refusal to accept an international inquiry will only add weight to the view that it has become a strategic liability to the interests of the country that guarantees its survival. Mr Netanyahu would be foolish to assume that Mr Obama is not drawing the same conclusion.

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