Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Lost at Sea, Propaganda, Perceptions, and Reality; How to Win Every Battle and Still Lose the War

with 22 comments

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.)


Written by unitedcats

June 7, 2010 at 7:50 am

Posted in Propaganda, Terrorism, War, World

22 Responses

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  1. In fairness, I never quoted anything from BC as support for Israel. I think that’s just as ‘irrelevant’ as the Liberty attack.

    As Israel, what would you have done with the ‘peace flotilla’? They could not let it through unchecked; that allows whatever is on the flotilla, which might very well include weapons destined for Hamas, into Gaza, and even should the contents of that flotilla be innocuous it sets a precedent that might be exploited by future ships that do contain weapons. Israel offered to divert the ships and inspect their contents before allowing them into Gaza; the proprietors of the convoy refused. Had the ships been allowed to try to run the blockade, Israel would have had the option (assuming that they refused to stop, which seems likely) of allowing them through, with the above unpalatable consequences, or more drastic military action including attack with intent to sink. Which, of course, would be an even more potent propaganda stick. It’s true that this is a potent weapon against Israel, but Israel didn’t really do anything wrong.

    Tom Dickson-Hunt

    June 7, 2010 at 12:16 pm

  2. Israel is the North Korea of the middle east.

    John Galt

    June 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm

  3. “One thing is certain: specific differences notwithstanding and adjusting mutatis mutandis for context, ideology and circumstance, Israel is the North Korea of the Middle East. Both have been in a de facto state of (undeclared) war with their closest neighbours since the moment of creation/partition. Both of are driven by extreme security rationales born of the perception of imminent threat, real or imagined. Both have gone both nuclear and ballistic. Both see conspiracy in the far abroad. Both have repeatedly practiced a remarkable disregard for international convention. Both believe that they have the moral high ground. Both use military diplomacy as the leading edge of their approach to regional conflict. Both have hawk and dove political factions (and in society) that are nevertheless united in their stand on the physical integrity of their borders. Both have larger patron states that provide them with physical and diplomatic cover. Both have hard-line zealots in positions of governmental authority. Both will kill innocents to make their point.”

    source from KIWIPOLITICO

    John Galt

    June 7, 2010 at 2:46 pm

  4. “The United States is the North Korea of North America. Both hold territory; both maintain an army; both are populated by human beings; and both maintain a governmental structure.”

    Tom Dickson-Hunt

    June 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

  5. You might have a valid point in there Tom, yes the world is populated with earthlings.. you are making some progress.

    Too bad some of those people like to oppress their neighbors and shun international law like Israel and North Korea.

    John Galt

    June 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    • Leaving aside the issues of international law, how is Israel oppressing its neighbors, again? They’re all repeatedly attacking it. Including Gaza, which though while surrounded by Israel still gets near-entire internal autonomy (again, other than in state of war) and all the humanitarian aid it needs–overland. Sorry, not getting the whole ‘oppressing’ thing here.

      Tom Dickson-Hunt

      June 8, 2010 at 7:49 pm

      • Oh? There’s another country that’s kept millions of people in stateless limbo in occupied territory for decades? When is Israel going to annex the occupied territories and make their denizens citizens of Israel? Or allow them to declare independence? Until then the West Bank and Gaza are effectively open air prisons with Israel controlling all ingress, egress, and their airspace. I agree that genocide is a ridiculous term, but as long as Israel maintains the status quo, it’s apartheid and oppression by any standard.


        June 8, 2010 at 8:35 pm

  6. I’m not a big fan of the current Israeli administration or its actions, but I think comparisons to North Korea are a bit over the top. There are certainly some parallels, but put it this way, which country would you rather visit? Israel has far more social freedom than North Korea, and at least a semblance of a secular government and judicial system. On the other hand Korea isn’t an apartheid state and doesn’t routinely wage war on its neighbours or its own population. Comparing Israel to Apartheid South Africa is a far more accurate comparison, in fact they were essentially allies because of their pariah status on the world stage.


    June 8, 2010 at 6:19 pm

  7. I plan on never visiting either place.

    Of course every situation is different. The parallels are just too interesting not to point out.

    John Galt

    June 9, 2010 at 5:32 am

    • Agreed, I almost wrote a whole blog post about it. And I may still, making historical comparisons and parallels about current events is so common that one could write a book about it. — Doug


      June 9, 2010 at 6:14 am

  8. (Missing a Reply button; this is to Doug on June 8@8:45)

    It’s unfair to call Gaza a ‘prison’ if Israel does not, in fact, restrict egress from it, which to my knowledge it does not. And either annexing the occupied territories or allowing them to declare independence would cause many more problems for Israel. Should Gaza be allowed independence, it would, predictably, immediately begin further attacks on Israel, forcing Israel to either declare war and reoccupy (leaving everything in the exact same situation, minus some number of dead Israelis and Gazans) or just sit and take it, which is not a viable option. One option I saw discussed was to allow Gaza autonomy but prevent any access to Israel from Gaza (preventing suicide bombers) and immediately target artillery fire on any launch points of rocket attacks. This might be a viable option; however, knowing the current international political situation, those security measures would immediately be denounced as equivalent to terrorism and genocide by the usual suspects, e.g. Iran, Turkey, the U.N., etc. Should Gaza be annexed, then either most of the current security measures surrounding it would remain, in which case it’s annexation only in name and wouldn’t resolve anything, or they would not, exposing Israel to unacceptable terrorist risk.

    Tom Dickson-Hunt

    June 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm

  9. I notice the blogger does not address the excellent points raised by Mr. Dickson-Hunt. Exactly what should Israel have done that would not have made things worse or led to more attacks on Israel? The comparison’s to NK are absurd? No one has threatened to exterminate the NK people, but large segments of the Arab & Muslim World have threatened Israel? Name another country that tolerates the presence of a hostile group of people that wants to kill the primary residents of the country?


    June 9, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    • The esteemed Mr Dickson-hunts points were so riddled with logical fallacies and circular reasoning that I am pretty sure the majority of my readers can see through them quite handily thank you. In fact one of the points I was making with the post is that the current Israeli administration’s self-serving propaganda has grown so divorced from reality that they have become their own worst enemy. A point that Mr Dickson-Hunt’s comment illustrates quite nicely. However, since you asked, at some point soon I will devote a post to discussing the points you and him have raised. Peace! — Doug

      Israel’s Cult of Victimhood


      June 10, 2010 at 6:06 am

      • You make assertions about my points without any support, and you have still not answered my earlier question about what you think Israel should do. What could Israel have done about the flotilla other than what it did? What would you have done, if you were in charge?

        Tom Dickson-Hunt

        June 10, 2010 at 12:14 pm

  10. Mr. Tom,

    If I were in charge of Israel, I would abide by the 1948 UN order, AND sign the Nuclear Treaty, AND obey international law, the law of the sea.

    John Galt

    June 11, 2010 at 9:37 am

    • The 1948 U.N. order, by which I assume you mean the Partition Plan for Palestine of 1947, is probably politically impossible within Israel at this time, as it would require giving up quite a bit of territory and leaving Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the middle of the Arab state. The Nuclear Treaty, by which I assume you mean nuclear non-proliferation–how would that solve any of their problems with Gaza? Or anyone, really? It would simply require them to either break the treaty or give up their nuclear deterrent, the former of which is no help whatsoever and the latter of which they will not do. International law–as I’ve pointed out rather specifically before, the flotilla raid was not in violation of international law. Are there any other incidents you can think of?

      Tom Dickson-Hunt

      June 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm

  11. Tom, your just going to keep on inventing reasons to justify unjustifiable behavior, which I see as your illness. Im sorry, your a tar baby.. read the story. Good day sir.

    John Galt

    June 11, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    • Seems to me you’re arguing from the first principle that Israel’s actions are ‘unjustifiable’, and thus because I argue that they are not, you think that I am ‘inventing reasons’ and that this is a reason itself not to take me seriously. Not so useful as an argumentation strategy.

      Tom Dickson-Hunt

      June 11, 2010 at 9:36 pm

  12. Yeah, hate to say, but the Tar baby thing has merit. Just for the record:

    1. Wait for the ships to be in Israeli waters.
    2. Don’t use Israel’s most notorious commando unit, doesn’t Israel have a Coast Guard?
    3. Don’t land in the MIDDLE of the ship, why not land at either end of the ship where they can control the situation? This more than anything else shows Israel was trying to provoke a confrontation.
    4. Don’t cut off the ship’s communication. What were they trying to hide?
    5. Don’t confiscate the protester’s film, what are they trying to hide?
    6. Allow an International investigation, the USA would make sure it was packed with Israeli sympathizers, again, what are they trying to hide?

    And if this was a deliberate “Mad Dog” strategy, time for Israel to rethink it. Yeah, no one is going to mess with a mad dog as a neighbour, but sooner or later they are going to get thoroughly sick of it and start tossing poisoned hot dogs over the fence.

    Which may be exactly what happened here, Israel’s shoot-from-the-hip approach makes them VERY predicable, and by reacting the way they did they have given the initiative to Israel’s enemies. It’s not 1948 or 1967 anymore, Israel is going to have to learn some new tricks or they will just get more isolated. Masada may be an inspiring story, but the end result for Israel was pretty ugly, maybe it’s time to try another approach?


    June 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    • I’m not sure why Israel didn’t wait until the flotilla was in Israeli waters; I would need to know the geography of the situation better. I am willing to assume that there is a valid reason. (I generally try to give Israel the benefit of the doubt, them being the ‘side’ not, as a rule, intentionally targeting civilians.) Without more knowledge than I have, though, I can’t really contest the point.

      I’m not sure if Israel does have a Coast Guard. They aren’t exactly in the same situation as the U.S., viz. huge amounts of coast and no wars; it might just make sense for them to use their Navy for what the U.S. Coast Guard might do.

      Again, not enough information. I’m prepared to assume, though, that there were valid reasons to land where they did.

      I think both cutting off communication and confiscating film are standard practice in any sort of armed action of this sort, militaries usually being the secretive types. Suboptimal, but not worth going after Israel in particular for.

      International investigation: For one thing, the US might well not do so, with Obama in office; he’s acting less pro-Israel than previous presidents. Secondly–why should there be an international investigation about this, when much worse things happen quite often without any such action? It smacks of trying to punish Israel in particular; you can’t blame them for opposing it.

      Sorry if I’m taking up too much of your time. I don’t know why I bother with arguments on the Internet, really; it’s not the most useful place for reasoned debate.

      Tom Dickson-Hunt

      June 11, 2010 at 9:44 pm

  13. “why should there be an international investigation about this, when much worse things happen quite often without any such action?”

    Yeah sure Tom, you got away with doing this to the USS Liberty, so why not again right !!

    The WORLD sees you and your ‘country’ for what it is.. a pariah state, similar in many ways to North Korea.

    John Galt

    June 12, 2010 at 7:18 am

    • I’m not sure why you call Israel ‘my’ country; I don’t live there.

      ‘Got away with’ what? What are you talking about? My point is that the outcry about Israel’s actions is vastly out of proportion to the usually-lack-of-an-outcry about much worse things. Do you have an issue with this?

      Tom Dickson-Hunt

      June 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm

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