Bradley Burston
Haaretz (Opinion)
June 27, 2011 - 12:00am

Friends of Israel, countries and individuals that sincerely wish Israelis well, should send a message this week: Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Barak, for your sake, for Israel's sake, let the flotilla sail to Gaza.

Do the right thing this time. Let it go.

Many other challenges are vying for your attention. You have yet to forge a coherent policy regarding the September Palestinian UN initiative. Five years to the week that Hamas captured Gilad Shalit in Israel and brought him to Gaza, the terms of a possible exchange deal deserve close attention.

Protests in Syria and across the region have altered old alliances and spawned new overtures. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken his seat as the acknowledged new dealer of record at the Mideast poker table, a man whose hand could tip the balance regarding Damascus, Beirut and Tehran together.

This time, do the unexpected thing. Do Israel a favor. Let them go.

You know that the flotilla is a test for Israel. You believe that it's a test of your ability to stop the boats before they reach anchor in Gaza. You see it as a test of your ability to keep the siege of Gaza in place, and to fight against the delegitimization of Israel. It's a test of the siege, all right, but not at all the test you think it is.

What this truly is, is the latest in years of tests of Israel's ability to act in its own rational self-interest. It's a test to see if the government will expend time and thought on bringing an end to the siege of Gaza, rather than devoting cabinet meetings, military mobilizations and bizarre media exercises to a flotilla confrontation, relating to the mashat as if it were the battle of Midway.

Once again, as it did a year ago, in making a decision to fight the flotilla, Israel is defending not itself, but the siege. This, at the expense of its own international standing, at the expense of its very freedom to defend itself.

There is nearly nothing which more effectively delegitimizes Israel - and makes Israel look more like an uncaring blockhead state - than does the siege of Gaza. The siege benefits Hamas in a thousand ways and Israel in none. But there is one thing that does the work of delegitimization even better: attacking civilians in order to protect the siege.

Enter the 21st century. Before it's too late. You're not young commandos anymore. Grow up. Do your nation a favor - act your age. The flotilla is not a terrorist fleet. It is not an arms shipment. The flotilla is, however, a statement about Israel, a judgment of its policies, and, in the end, the verdict will come directly from you.

The cargo of the flotilla consists of this message: Israel is callous, brutal, insensitive to civilians, heedless of human rights, wholly in the wrong. Last year, from start to finish, all the proof of this that the flotilla organizers and participants needed, was supplied by you.

It's not too late this time. Last time, you shrugged off the flotilla as unimportant, then, back flipping from blunder to blunder, leapt blindly into a decision of rash incompetence that proved lethal.

Had you simply listened to Army Radio a day before the 2010 flotilla bloodshed, you would have heard MK and ex-IDF chief spokesman Nachman Shai describe his worst nightmare scenario: a raid in which IDF troops - inadequately prepared, sent in because the government related seriously to the flotilla only at the last moment - might open fire on peace activists, aid workers and dignitaries aboard the flotilla.

As, in the end, they did. Nine dead. Israel dishonored, disgraced. Defeated. At its own hands.

Israel can no longer afford the reflex to label anyone doing anything of an anti-Israel nature a terrorist, and to declare all those who fall into that category a legitimate target. Nor can Israel allow itself the continuing corrosion - to Israel, as well as more than a million Gazans - of the siege of the Strip.

This government, already under attack for more than a dozen bills bending the principles of democracy, cannot prepare for the 2011 flotilla by telling the foreign press corps - in a Sunday Government Press Office statement that all but drools in its desperation to proclaim the siege legal - that "participation in the flotilla is an intentional violation of Israeli law and is liable to lead to participants being denied entry into the State of Israel for ten years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions."

Now, Mr. Prime Minister, you are reported to be reconsidering the press decision. There's time, as well, to rethink boarding the flotilla.

Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Barak, the flotilla is very much a test of Israel. You invest a great deal of thought over Israel's capabilities of deterrence. You expend enormous effort in seeking ways to combat delegitimization. This time, show strength. Let Israel pass the test. Let the flotilla sail to Gaza.


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