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Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion (from STRATFOR GEOPOLITICAL)

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Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion (from STRATFOR GEOPOLITICAL)

Mensaje por glezbo el Lun Mayo 31, 2010 5:23 pm

I found this interesting article published on STRATFOR GEOPOLITICAL in reference to the recent events. I will really appreciate it if someone can translate it to spanish and post it on our forum for general information, it analyzes the facts from a different angle, VERY INTERESTING..!!

Best regards for everybody, Glezbo.

Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion

May 31, 2010 | 1828 GMT

By George Friedman

On Sunday, Israeli naval forces intercepted the ships of a Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) delivering
humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israel had demanded that the vessels not go directly
to Gaza but instead dock in Israeli ports, where the supplies would be
offloaded and delivered to Gaza. The Turkish NGO refused, insisting on going
directly to Gaza. Gunfire ensued when Israeli naval personnel boarded one of
the vessels, and a significant number of the passengers and crew on the ship
were killed or wounded.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister
Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply an attempt to provoke the Israelis. That was certainly the case. The mission was designed to
demonstrate that the Israelis were unreasonable and brutal. The hope was that
Israel would be provoked to extreme action, further alienating Israel from the
global community and possibly driving a wedge between Israel and the United
States. The operation’s planners also hoped this would trigger a political
crisis in Israel.

A logical Israeli response would
have been avoiding falling into the provocation trap and suffering the
political repercussions the Turkish NGO was trying to trigger. Instead, the
Israelis decided to make a show of force. The Israelis appear to have reasoned
that backing down would demonstrate weakness and encourage further flotillas to
Gaza, unraveling the Israeli position vis-à-vis Hamas. In this thinking, a
violent interception was a superior strategy to accommodation regardless of
political consequences. Thus, the Israelis accepted the bait and were provoked.

‘Exodus’ Scenario

In the 1950s, an author named Leon
Uris published a book called “Exodus.” Later made into a major motion picture,
Exodus told the story of a Zionist provocation against the British. In the wake
of World War II, the British — who controlled Palestine, as it was then known —
maintained limits on Jewish immigration there. Would-be immigrants captured
trying to run the blockade were detained in camps in Cyprus. In the book and
movie, Zionists planned a propaganda exercise involving a breakout of Jews —
mostly children — from the camp, who would then board a ship renamed the
Exodus. When the Royal Navy intercepted the ship, the passengers would mount a
hunger strike. The goal was to portray the British as brutes finishing the work
of the Nazis. The image of children potentially dying of hunger would force the
British to permit the ship to go to Palestine, to reconsider British policy on
immigration, and ultimately to decide to abandon Palestine and turn the matter
over to the United Nations.

There was in fact a ship called
Exodus, but the affair did not play out precisely as portrayed by Uris, who
used an amalgam of incidents to display the propaganda war waged by the Jews.
Those carrying out this war had two goals. The first was to create sympathy in
Britain and throughout the world for Jews who, just a couple of years after
German concentration camps, were now being held in British camps. Second, they
sought to portray their struggle as being against the British. The British were
portrayed as continuing Nazi policies toward the Jews in order to maintain
their empire. The Jews were portrayed as anti-imperialists, fighting the
British much as the Americans had.

It was a brilliant strategy. By
focusing on Jewish victimhood and on the British, the Zionists defined the
battle as being against the British, with the Arabs playing the role of people
trying to create the second phase of the Holocaust. The British were portrayed
as pro-Arab for economic and imperial reasons, indifferent at best to the
survivors of the Holocaust. Rather than restraining the Arabs, the British were
arming them. The goal was not to vilify the Arabs but to villify the British,
and to position the Jews with other nationalist groups whether in India or
Egypt rising against the British.

The precise truth or falsehood of
this portrayal didn’t particularly matter. For most of the world, the Palestine
issue was poorly understood and not a matter of immediate concern. The Zionists
intended to shape the perceptions of a global public with limited interest in
or understanding of the issues, filling in the blanks with their own narrative.
And they succeeded.

The success was rooted in a
political reality. Where knowledge is limited, and the desire to learn the
complex reality doesn’t exist, public opinion can be shaped by whoever
generates the most powerful symbols. And on a matter of only tangential
interest, governments tend to follow their publics’ wishes, however they
originate. There is little to be gained for governments in resisting public
opinion and much to be gained by giving in. By shaping the battlefield of
public perception, it is thus possible to get governments to change positions.

In this way, the Zionists’ ability
to shape global public perceptions of what was happening in Palestine — to
demonize the British and turn the question of Palestine into a Jewish-British
issue — shaped the political decisions of a range of governments. It was not
the truth or falsehood of the narrative that mattered. What mattered was the
ability to identify the victim and victimizer such that global opinion caused
both London and governments not directly involved in the issue to adopt
political stances advantageous to the Zionists. It is in this context that we
need to view the Turkish flotilla.

Turkish Flotilla to Gaza

The Palestinians have long argued
that they are the victims of Israel, an invention of British and American
imperialism. Since 1967, they have focused not so much on the existence of the
state of Israel (at least in messages geared toward the West) as on the
oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Since the split between
Hamas and Fatah and the Gaza War, the focus has been on the plight of the
citizens of Gaza, who have been portrayed as the dispossessed victims of
Israeli violence.

The bid to shape global perceptions
by portraying the Palestinians as victims of Israel was the first prong of a
longtime two-part campaign. The second part of this campaign involved armed
resistance against the Israelis. The way this resistance was carried out, from
airplane hijackings to stone-throwing children to suicide bombers, interfered
with the first part of the campaign, however. The Israelis could point to
suicide bombings or the use of children against soldiers as symbols of
Palestinian inhumanity. This in turn was used to justify conditions in Gaza.
While the Palestinians had made significant inroads in placing Israel on the
defensive in global public opinion, they thus consistently gave the Israelis
the opportunity to turn the tables. And this is where the flotilla comes in.

The Turkish flotilla aimed to
replicate the Exodus story or, more precisely, to define the global image of
Israel in the same way the Zionists defined the image that they wanted to
project. As with the Zionist portrayal of the situation in 1947, the Gaza
situation is far more complicated than as portrayed by the Palestinians. The
moral question is also far more ambiguous. But as in 1947, when the Zionist portrayal
was not intended to be a scholarly analysis of the situation but a political
weapon designed to define perceptions, the Turkish flotilla was not designed to
carry out a moral inquest.

Instead, the flotilla was designed
to achieve two ends. The first is to divide Israel and Western governments by
shifting public opinion against Israel. The second is to create a political
crisis inside Israel between those who feel that Israel’s increasing isolation
over the Gaza issue is dangerous versus those who think any weakening of
resolve is dangerous.

Geopolitical Fallout for Israel

It is vital that the Israelis
succeed in portraying the flotilla as an extremist plot. Whether extremist or not, the plot has generated an image of Israel quite damaging
to Israeli political interests. Israel is increasingly isolated
internationally, with heavy pressure on its relationship with Europe and the
United States.

In all of these countries,
politicians are extremely sensitive to public opinion. It is difficult to
imagine circumstances under which public opinion will see Israel as the victim.
The general response in the Western public is likely to be that the Israelis
probably should have allowed the ships to go to Gaza and offload rather than to
precipitate bloodshed. Israel’s enemies will fan these flames by arguing that
the Israelis prefer bloodshed to reasonable accommodation. And as Western public
opinion shifts against Israel, Western political leaders will track with this

The incident also wrecks Israeli
relations with Turkey, historically an Israeli ally in the Muslim world with
longstanding military cooperation with Israel. The Turkish government
undoubtedly has wanted to move away from this relationship, but it faced resistance within the Turkish military and
among secularists. The new Israeli action makes a break with Israel easy, and
indeed almost necessary for Ankara.

With roughly the population of
Houston, Texas, Israel is just not large enough to withstand extended
isolation, meaning this event has profound geopolitical implications.

Public opinion matters where issues
are not of fundamental interest to a nation. Israel is not a fundamental
interest to other nations. The ability to generate public antipathy to Israel
can therefore reshape Israeli relations with countries critical to Israel. For
example, a redefinition of U.S.-Israeli relations will have much less effect on the United States than on
Israel. The Obama administration, already irritated by the Israelis, might now
see a shift in U.S. public opinion that will open the way to a new U.S.-Israeli
relationship disadvantageous to Israel.

The Israelis will argue that this is
all unfair, as they were provoked. Like the British, they seem to think that
the issue is whose logic is correct. But the issue actually is, whose logic
will be heard? As with a tank battle or an airstrike, this sort of warfare has
nothing to do with fairness. It has to do with controlling public perception
and using that public perception to shape foreign policy around the world. In
this case, the issue will be whether the deaths were necessary. The Israeli
argument of provocation will have limited traction.

Internationally, there is little
doubt that the incident will generate a firestorm. Certainly, Turkey will break
cooperation with Israel. Opinion in Europe will likely harden. And public
opinion in the United States — by far the most important in the equation —
might shift to a “plague-on-both-your-houses” position.

While the international reaction is predictable, the interesting question is whether this evolution will cause a political crisis in Israel. Those in Israel who feel that international isolation is
preferable to accommodation with the Palestinians are in control now. Many in
the opposition see Israel’s isolation as a strategic threat. Economically and
militarily, they argue, Israel cannot survive in isolation. The current regime
will respond that there will be no isolation. The flotilla aimed to generate
what the government has said would not happen.

The tougher Israel is, the more the
flotilla’s narrative takes hold. As the Zionists knew in 1947 and the Palestinians
are learning, controlling public opinion requires subtlety, a selective
narrative and cynicism. As they also knew, losing the battle can be
catastrophic. It cost Britain the Mandate and allowed Israel to survive.
Israel’s enemies are now turning the tables. This maneuver was far more
effective than suicide bombings or the Intifada in challenging Israel’s public
perception and therefore its geopolitical position (though if the Palestinians
return to some of their more distasteful tactics like suicide bombing, the
Turkish strategy of portraying Israel as the instigator of violence will be

Israel is now in uncharted waters. It does not know how to respond. It is not clear that the
Palestinians know how to take full advantage of the situation, either. But even
so, this places the battle on a new field, far more fluid and uncontrollable
than what went before. The next steps will involve calls for sanctions against
Israel. The Israeli threats against Iran will be seen in a different context,
and Israeli portrayal of Iran will hold less sway over the world.

And this will cause a political
crisis in Israel. If this government survives, then Israel is locked into a
course that gives it freedom of action but international isolation. If the
government falls, then Israel enters a period of domestic uncertainty. In
either case, the flotilla achieved its strategic mission. It got Israel to take
violent action against it. In doing so, Israel ran into its own fist.

Reprinting or republication of this
report on websites is authorized by prominently displaying the following
sentence at the beginning or end of the report, including the hyperlink to STRATFOR:

"This report is republished
with permission of STRATFOR"
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