Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government
official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American
Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009), a book that shows how to think about
and use power in the 21st century. He is president emeritus of the Council
on Foreign Relations

Two Palestinian militants were killed in Israel Tuesday morning after
sneaking across the border from Gaza, and Israeli security forces remain on
high alert as the international fallout from the country’s botched raid on
an aid flotilla trying to reach Gaza-during which at least nine people
died-continues. The Daily Beast’s Leslie H. Gelb says Israeli commandos
mishandled the situation, but Israel was right to storm a ship bound for

Israel had every right under international law to stop and board ships bound
for the Gaza war zone late Sunday. Only knee-jerk left-wingers and the usual
legion of poseurs around the world would dispute this. And it is pretty
clear that this “humanitarian” flotilla headed for Gaza aimed to provoke a
confrontation with Israel. Various representatives of the Free Gaza
Movement, one of the main organizers of this deadly extravaganza, have let
it slip throughout Monday that their intention was every bit as much “to
break” Israel’s blockade of Gaza as to deliver the relief goods.

The Israeli commandos who stormed the ship, where fighting erupted, badly
mishandled the situation. But theirs was a mistake in pursuit of a legal
goal, not a war crime. And as for calls for international investigations,
they represent the usual hypocritical nonsense that will go nowhere. Except
for those who routinely fool themselves about the judiciousness and
effectiveness of action by the United Nations or the European Union,
everyone understands their “investigations” will amount to nothing. Only the
United States might do something useful-if the White House would only seize
quickly the practical solution staring it in the face.

Israel has every right to protect itself under international law, including
by blockades in international waters.

Regarding international law, blockades are quite legal. The United States
and Britain were at war with Germany and Japan and blockaded them. I can’t
remember international lawyers saying those blockades were illegal-even
though they took place on the high seas in international waters. There would
be a general violation only if the hostile actions against the ships took
place in waters under the jurisdiction of another sovereign state. Thus, for
example, if the Israelis stopped the ships in Egyptian waters, that would
have been a violation.

On a more tactical level, violations could occur if the force used to block
and board were “disproportionate” to the circumstances. Those friendly to
Gaza aboard the ship claim disproportionality, but this is not supported by
the video available. In any event, and as a practical matter, no one is
going to be able to prove exactly what happened on that ship Sunday night.
Nonetheless, the overriding facts remain that Gazan leaders proclaim their
goal is to destroy Israel, have tried for years to do so by missile attacks
and terrorism, and that Israel has every right to protect itself under
international law, including by blockades in international waters.

As for what the planners of this “humanitarian” flotilla had in mind, just
listen to what the leaders of this enterprise have been saying. Greta
Berlin, a leader of the pro-Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, told The New
York Times that the Israeli claim that the people aboard the ship intended
violence was preposterous. She argued that it was inconceivable that the
civilian passengers on board would have been “waiting up to fire on the
Israeli military, with all its might.” By that keen logic, no Palestinian
ever would have fired upon a militarily superior Israeli. We seem to know

Or listen to Huwaida Arraf, one of the Free Gaza Movement leaders. She said
on Sunday before the incident that the boats would steam forward to Gaza
“until they either disable our boats or jump on board.” How on earth did she
expect that strategy would not lead to violence?

On what remains of the old Lehrer News Hour, Adam Shapiro, another Free Gaza
guy, said Monday night that the flotilla aimed to break the blockade as well
as deliver aid. Well, of course, no one asked him how he thought the
blockade would be broken without violence. It couldn’t-unless the flotilla
escaped detection. And with six ships in the flotilla, that was highly

So, the Free guys and gals achieved their real purpose-to provoke the
Israelis, hope they did stupid things (which they did by boarding the ship
with commandos who weren’t prepared to do this job), and stirred
international outrage.

Ah, the international outrage. Turks, French, all leaders large and small
condemned Israel and called for international commissions. Ban Ki-Moon, the
United Nations Secretary-General, said he was “shocked” by the attack. He
condemned the violence, and added: “It is vital that there is a full
investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place. I believe
Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”

Well, where was all that international outrage and demand for explanations
and retribution when the North Koreans sunk a South Korean ship? Where was
it when the Gazans attacked Israel? Where, when Afghan men flogged their
women for not wearing veils? Where, when Saudi Arabia funds terrorists
around the world? This international outrage is highly selective, isn’t it?
The one consolation is that the international community, such as it has
become, doesn’t get anything of value done.

Which puts matters in the American lap, as usual. There is a reasonable
solution to this terrible dilemma: The Gazan people are in need of food and
medicine, and Israel must protect itself against Gazan terrorists. President
Obama should propose this simple arrangement: First, those wishing to bring
humanitarian aid to Gaza agree to land aircraft, dock ships, and use land
checkpoints all reasonably designated by Israel for inspection of contents.
Second, Israel agrees to inspect cargoes within two to three days, and allow
all humanitarian goods to proceed to Gaza immediately.

The United States surely has the power to accomplish this. It would prevent
much needless killing and haggling-and phony posturing around the world. And
if one or both sides rejected the deal, then that one, or the both of them,
are on their own.


  1. All well and good except for the last paragraph. Huge amounts of food and medicines enter Gaza every day from Israel, whilst the Egyptian-Gaza border is closed. There is no need of a so-called "aid flotilla". Gazans in need of medical care are treated in Israeli hospitals. There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza apart from the fact that the Gazans are ruled by a bunch of thugs whom they themselves elected.

  2. I agree totally with "FromIsrael". If you read how much food, medical aid, etc. that the Israelis provide the people of Gaza you would be amazed. Why is it that the Secretary General of the UN and all the rest of them are unable to read these facts? Selective, selective, selective…that is the key word!


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