JUST so we're all straight here, right from the top: the settled-on defense is that Israel has an absolute right to blockade anyone provided Israel says it has such a right, and that, as a result, no one in international waters has a right to resist?
The world is outraged at Israel's blockade of Gaza. Turkey denounces its illegality, inhumanity, barbarity, etc. The usual U.N. suspects, Third World and European, join in. The Obama administration dithers.
And no one on dry land has a right to be critical. Particularly not the government of the United States, which has been footing the bill for these little military excursions--wholly legal, friends!--for sixty years, and which, as a result, can count the Middle East as the one great success story for its post-WWII program of nuclear proliferation and unprincipled military meddlesomeness.
But as Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes, the blockade is not just perfectly rational, it is perfectly legal.
Leslie Gelb! And by invoking the time-honored "Only Knee-Jerk Left-Wingers and the Usual Legion of Poseurs Around the World Would Dispute This" Clause of the Hague Convention of 1907, and backing up that citation with an assemblage of well-reasoned scare quotes. So, alrighty, then. I mean, anybody who takes the time to explain to me why we had to fight in Vietnam even though we didn't have a fucking hope of winning, or even defining what winning might look like, because, y'know, Communism! is the last word in international diplomacy and reasoned analysis in my book.
Of course, nothing is so simple, let alone so simple-minded: a blockade isn't "perfectly legal" just because Tina Brown pays some guy to say so; and Israel's blockade of Gaza is problematic at best, since it almost certainly hurts a civilian population out of all proportion to the "military" objective. And that's before we deal with the question of whether the conflict qualifies as "international" or not, and whether Gaza is an independent state.
In World War II, with full international legality, the United States blockaded Germany and Japan.
World War II is to the distorter of historical realities what The Near Future is to the social moralist: an easy way to make your assertions look inevitable. How 'bout WWI, where both sides claimed legal justification, and both claimed the other side was an international brigand? There's not much evidence the sinking of the Lusitania led to a great national mooting festival. I don't recall a lot of lawyerin' up over the Gulf of Tonkin Nonincident, and I don't remember anyone insisting that the Khmer Rouge had a right to seize the Mayaguez because, y'know, they said so an' stuff. The "right" to decide to do whatever you choose to do and blame it on national security is only recognized by the Court of Who Has the Bigger Battalions.
And during the October 1962 missile crisis, we blockaded ("quarantined") Cuba. Arms-bearing Russian ships headed to Cuba turned back because the Soviets knew that the U.S. Navy would either board them or sink them. Yet Israel is accused of international criminality for doing precisely what John Kennedy did: impose a naval blockade to prevent a hostile state from acquiring lethal weaponry.
Y'know, this may be a personal quirk, but if there's anything in popular legalistics I have more distain for than the Borkian idea that one can read a document--the US Constitution, say--without interpreting it, it's this: assertion of black-letter certainty one minute and the intentional blurring of legal distinction the next. Krauthammer puts that "quarantine" in parenthesis just so he won't be accused of historical ignorance; he puts it in quotes so he can ignore it anyway. And the reason "quarantine" must be grudgingly admitted is not that the Kennedy administration chose a term from its Thesaurus, but because it had to seek an alternative to "blockade", which is an act of war. And--I know this is shocking--it managed somehow to get a legal opinion that a quarantine was not, and that a quarantine was a distinctive act.
Insist if you wish that there's not a dime's difference between the two--though the United States did permit the passage of food and medical supplies into Cuba, and without shooting anyone first--but this leaves you with an even bigger problem: now your paragon of legal action is itself of questionable legality.
Look: the blockade is legal under two circumstances: if this is a so-called International Armed Conflict ("IAC" to Magnetic Diplomacy buffs), or if it's ordered by the UN, which it wasn't. No one else on the planet imagines that Gaza is a nation. There is a third possibility; Israel could conduct a blockade if Gaza were an occupied territory. But Israel doesn't want to classify it as such, because it would be required to grant belligerents rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention, instead of as unlawful combatants, or, in other words, however it damn well pleases.
Oh, but weren't the Gaza-bound ships on a mission of humanitarian relief? No. Otherwise they would have accepted Israel's offer to bring their supplies to an Israeli port, be inspected for military materiel and have the rest trucked by Israel into Gaza -- as every week 10,000 tons of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are sent by Israel to Gaza.
Why was the offer refused? Because, as organizer Greta Berlin admitted, the flotilla was not about humanitarian relief but about breaking the blockade, i.e., ending Israel's inspection regime, which would mean unlimited shipping into Gaza and thus the unlimited arming of Hamas.
If so, so what? We began this thing talking about the Legality of it all; now we're busy wiping down our fingerprints. There's no legal justification for the use of military force on unarmed civilians (sorry, "civilians with potential access to cutlery") just because you're about to suffer a black eye in Public Relations. Shipments of food and medicine benefit Hamas, too. Why not intercept those as well? We did in WWII.
Israel has already twice intercepted ships laden with Iranian arms destined for Hezbollah and Gaza. What country would allow that?
Assuming none of the others knows the distinction between Shi'a Hezbollah, and Lebanon, and Sunni Hamas, in Gaza, either, I guess the answer's None.
But even more important, why did Israel even have to resort to blockade? Because, blockade is Israel's fallback as the world systematically de-legitimizes its traditional ways of defending itself -- forward and active defense.
Yeah, poor Israel. Always so concerned with everyone else's opinions. Or, y'know, maybe this has a little something to do with the dismal showing it made in Lebanon in 2006.
Land for peace. Remember?
Yeah. From the late 60s.
Well, during the past decade, Israel gave the land -- evacuating South Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005. What did it get? An intensification of belligerency, heavy militarization of the enemy side, multiple kidnappings, cross-border attacks and, from Gaza, years of unrelenting rocket attack.
You know how you get one of those stately English lawns? First you get a piece of land, then you roll it every day for 600 years…
Same thing. Next time don't wait forty years to make a half-assed gesture you intend to abnegate militarily at the earliest provocation. Don't wait sixty years before you halfway listen to world opinion, then do as you please anyway.
Let's put it the other way 'round: when has the program of Perpetual Belligerence, Followed by More Belligerence, and if That Doesn't Work, Increase the Belligerence Level done anything for Israel? Yet people 3600 miles away never tire of it. Israel decided generations ago that all its neighbors had to accept its claims of Divine Right to the Land. They don't, and they won't, and no amount of ordnance will change that. They know Jehovah didn't create the modern state of Israel; the de facto postwar voice of decrepit colonialism did. Peace is possible in the Middle East. Not easily possible, by any means. But it sure ain't gonna come because the United States continues to fund long-range aggression on the grounds that the twenty minutes Israel once gave to considering peace initiatives didn't pan out.
The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million -- that number again -- hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists -- Iranian in particular -- openly prepare a more final solution.
Hundreds of thousands of Romani; three million Communists, homosexuals, mental defectives, and other undesirables, the first two subjected to systematic torture as well as planned extermination; seven million Soviet civilians; three million non-Jewish Poles, one million Serbs, more than a million Yugoslavs, nearly a million Hungarians. Two-and-a-half million German civilians. Half a million Japanese civilians in air raids. Four million Russian prisoners of war. Maybe as many as ten million Chinese under Japanese occupation.
In only one place are those numbers still used as grounds for Perpetual War.