Exit Strategy: Lifting the Gaza Blockade

Instead of insisting on continuing a failed policy , Netanyahu should pull himself together and minimize the damage of Israel's flotilla raid.

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Like a robot lacking in judgment, stuck on a predetermined path - that's how the government is behaving in its handling of the aid flotillas to the Gaza Strip. The announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the security cabinet meeting Tuesday that the blockade of Gaza will continue and that Israel will keep on using force to prevent ships from entering Gaza's port suggests that the foolishness continues and no lessons have been learned from this week's incidents.

Palestinians at the Gaza border fence, June 2, 2010Credit: AP

The Netanyahu-Ehud Barak government is oblivious to the impact of the failed takeover of the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara, which ended with the killing of nine passengers. It is oblivious to the international condemnation of this country's actions - Israel once more finds itself isolated. Most serious of all, it is oblivious to the damage it is causing to Israel's strategic interests.

The lethal operation is making it difficult for the U.S. administration to rally a majority in the UN Security Council for new sanctions against Iran and is eroding the international front against the Islamic Republic, which the United States has put together with great diplomatic effort. The naval operation challenges the negotiations with the Palestinians and weakens the bargaining ability of Netanyahu vis-a-vis U.S. President Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The operation also ruins essential relations with Turkey and will cost Israel in lost tourists and export deals.

Instead of taking the initiative and developing a political exit strategy from the crisis, Netanyahu and Barak are digging themselves deeper into the quagmire. The government apparently believes its own public relations, according to which Israel was the victim of "Al-Qaida supporters." If this is the case, it must immediately dismiss the heads of the security and intelligence services who failed to issue warnings in time and did not prepare accordingly to meet this new and dangerous enemy. How does Israel plan to deal with the Irish ship the Rachel Corrie, which is on its way to the Gaza Strip? Will it also argue that the Irish government, which has given this ship its backing, is a member of Al-Qaida?

Instead of insisting on continuing a policy that has failed, Netanyahu should pull himself together and minimize the damage of the naval operation. He must appoint a commission of inquiry that will investigate what happened and lift the damaging and unnecessary blockade on the Gaza Strip, while developing a response to arms smuggling. Statesmanship is measured by the ability to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Netanyahu and Barak, who dragged Israel into a foolish struggle of prestige with Hamas and its supporters, erred by selecting a violent and damaging form of action. They failed in this week's test of statesmanship.

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