Commentary by Professor Ronnie Olesker: Why the Flotilla is a Security Threat for Israel? (It’s not what you think)

Israeli officials argue that the
Blockade of Gaza is legal and that it serves the State’s security needs.
Without getting into the legality of the blockade (though dubious), the actions
taken by Israel last week against the flotilla, whether packed with an angry
mob or humanitarian peace activists, serve to undermine Israeli security, not
enhance it.

In the 1970s, Israel suffered
from tremendous international isolation. It had no diplomatic relations with
any of its neighbors. France, its former close ally, had distanced itself from
Israel after 1967. Britain too, was no longer a key ally who served Israel’s
security needs. The U.S. stood alone in its support for the Jewish state. This
diplomatic isolation in a hostile neighborhood served, in part, as the raison d’état
for acquiring nuclear weapons.

Over the last two decades, Israel
has come a long way out of its international isolation. It has established
diplomatic relations with key states, both in the Middle East and outside of it.
Most notably; Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, as well as important powers such as
China and India. While the relations with Egypt have always been strained, the
relationships with Turkey and Jordan, as recent reports indicate, have now reached
an all time low.

During the 1990s, with the Oslo
Peace Process, Israel enjoyed unprecedented diplomatic success. Nowhere was
this more evident than during Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in 1995.
Dignitaries from all over the world attended, including from Oman, Qatar,
Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia. King Hussein of Jordan gave the eulogy, calling
Rabin “a brother.” If Rabin’s legacy taught us anything, it is that diplomatic
engagement can serve a state’s security needs just as much, and often more so,
than a strong standing army.

Israel is no more secure today,
36 months into the Gaza blockade, than it was on the eve of the blockade’s inception
in June 2007. In fact, it is less secure as the diplomatic “cover” it received
from the EU and the U.S. is now slowly dissipating.

Jews in general, and Israelis in
particular, are used to isolation and persecution. But the Israeli government,
digging its heals in the sand against international criticism, is serving to
undermine Israeli security even further. Israel, now more than ever, risks
international isolation not seen since the 1970s. Israelis, like white South
Africans, reject the international community as “biased”, “hypocrite”, and off
course, the all encompassing “anti-Semitic”. Israelis are so used to their
siege mentality that it seems we are unable to move beyond the defensive
posture, which leads our governments to embark on offensive, dangerous, illegal
and destructive diplomatic fiascos such as the most recent flotilla episode.

In a globalized era, Israel can no
longer afford Ben Gurion’s famous Hebrew pun “um shmoom” (referring to the
irrelevancy of the UN) as a matter of policy-making. If, in fact, the flottila
was not a moral failing on Israel’s part, and the IDF is the “most moral army
in the world”, as Israelis often like to cite, then Israel has nothing to fear
from an internationally mandated inquiry into its actions. Its rejections of any
international investigation or review of its actions, is not only putting its
reputation on the line, but indeed its very security. Israeli policy makers
should learn from the fate of other states previously defined as “pariah” such
as South Africa or Libya, to know the tremendous dangers of raising the
proverbial middle finger at the international community. In the end, that finger
may just be cut off, along with the aid and support the U.S. still offers
Israel, and on which Israel’s long-term security depends.

If, in fact, Israel’s security interests
can be serviced by a limited blockade, engaging the international community
rather than dismissing it could better achieve those interests.