Aluf Benn / Turkey can take credit for ending Israel's blockade of Gaza
It is now clear, even to Israel's leaders, that the Turkish flotilla - despite activists' deaths and not having actually reached Gaza - accelerated policy change in Gaza.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan can claim a big check mark for himself, despite the Turkish flotilla not having reached Gaza and nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara ship having been killed during the raid in May. Erdogan achieved his goal: He collapsed the Israeli siege on "Hamastan." The cabinet announcement on Sunday put an end to the three-year-old civilian blockade on Gaza, initiated when Hamas took power.
The second person to take credit for Israel easing the siege on Gaza is U.S. President Barack Obama. The White House made an announcement praising Israel's new policy toward Gaza, stressing that Israel responded "to the calls of many in the international community" – or, in less diplomatic language, Israel succumbed to the unbearable pressure and preferred to open the crossings and allow the transfer of civilian goods and building materials rather than absorb additional condemnation or worse.
Netanyahu must now explain why he waited until Israel became entangled in the flotilla affair instead of announcing an ease on the blockade several weeks ago. Netanyahu has an explanation, which he will likely offer the Turkel committee probing Israel's actions in the raid: Israel undertook a new examination of the blockade before the flotilla set sail and he supported the policy approved on Sunday from the outset.
Netanyahu said during a hearing that took place before the flotilla that there must be a change in Israel's Gaza policy, and instead of having a list of goods allowed into the strip, which has existed until now, there must be a list of what is forbidden. Furthermore, Netanyahu told the hearing that barring toys and other civilian goods into Gaza does not pressure Hamas, but rather erodes Israel's interests, namely, preventing arms smuggling into the territory and holding the moral high ground.
Netanyahu also estimated that the blockade does not help abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, as it creates a moral asymmetry: Hamas can use the suffering caused by the siege to justify Shalit's ongoing captivity and lack of visitation. Shalit's release depends on other factors.
In life, however, it's not enough to be right or to appraise a situation correctly. Timing is equally important. Israel's political echelon did not rush to change its Gaza policy, nor did it ever assume that the flotilla raid would end with the deaths of nine Turks. The hearings were conducted slowly, the siege continued and now it is clear, even at to Israel's leaders, that the Turkish flotilla accelerated the decision to change policy in Gaza.
Now Israel awaits future flotillas aimed at breaking the blockade and hopes that easing the siege will grant it diplomatic coverage to stop them. But even if the most positive scenario takes place, the government has lost points and Netanyahu comes off as a leader who makes decisions only under enormous pressure and after paying a heavy political price.
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