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There Is a Method to Israel's Madness

A new Middle East is being born - and there seems to be only one place for Israel: isolation. With that comes an inevitable, somewhat crazed approach to diplomacy.

Why would Israel, in a deliberate and methodical operation planned over a week in advance - according to statements by senior Israeli military commanders made in Hebrew-language media days before the attack - target an unarmed ship on a humanitarian mission flying the flag of Comoros? (Unlike Turkey, Comoros is a party of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over war crimes committed on vessels of member states.)

Why would Israeli commandos shoot nine unarmed activists dead with nine millimeter bullets at close range, between the eyes, in the top of the head, in the back of the head, in the chest, in the back, and in the legs - including an American citizen? (The final death toll may be 15, as six activists are still missing; Israeli army radio reported 16 dead early last Monday when the attack took place on the Mavi Marmara, a part of the Free Gaza flotilla.)

How could Israel think it would get away with it by censoring video and photos - and then getting away with it all over again by refusing an international, independent commission to investigate the incident and subsequent cover-up?

Why, geopolitically, would Israel declare war on the de facto international community - from Muslim nations to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member-countries to global public opinion?

Is this merely a case of a "dysfunctional government", as Bradley Burston wrote in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz? And strategically speaking, is there any method behind the madness? Or is the method actually the madness?

Be afraid, be very afraid

There may be a very simple answer to all these questions: fear.

Let's survey Israel's possible motivations. A key Israeli motive to attack the humanitarian flotilla was to send a "signal" to Turkey about the Brazil and Turkey-mediated Iran nuclear fuel-swap deal - as its success pre-empted Israel's pleas for a military strike on Tehran's nuclear facilities. Israel wants conflict between Washington and Tehran - and that means using the Israel lobby in Washington to sabotage US President Barack Obama's half-hearted attempts at finding any sort of agreement with Tehran over its uranium-enrichment program.

Israel wants a weak Turkey - out of the loop both in the Middle East and the European Union (EU). Turkey is an emerging, key regional power now with good, stable relations with its neighbors. Turkey is key for the US: 70% of all supplies for US troops in Iraq go through the Incirlik base in Turkey. Turkey has troops fighting the US war in Afghanistan. Not to mention that Turkey - in Obama's own terms - represents the key bridge between the West and the Muslim world.

The White House gave a wimpy response, "The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy." This was also Washington's signal to Turkey that the Brazil-Turkey mediation on the Iran nuclear fuel swap deal was not exactly welcome.

Iran agreed last month with the leaders of Brazil and Turkey to send most of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey to be held in escrow pending delivery of fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor.

As much as Israel wants Turkey immersed in deep trouble with both Syria and Greece, and fighting a nasty internal Kurdish problem, Ankara is not exactly trembling because of Israel's "message". In terms of conventional military strength, Turkey is ahead of Israel itself; and moreover it is a very important US NATO ally.

Another key Israeli motive was to undermine and in fact abort any possibility of meaningful peaceful negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians - and to cut Turkey from the loop. Turkey is very much involved in the Palestinian tragedy. It is trying hard to breach the gap between Fatah and Hamas. A key Israeli aim appears to be to sabotage any Turkish-led peace initiative to solve the Palestinian problem that includes the essential provision of a fully denuclearized Middle East - anathema to (undeclared) nuclear power Israel.

To round it all up, there is the crucial element of fear itself. As the once-fabled Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have struggled in battles with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and Hamas in Gaza in 2008, they have had to come to grips with the fact that their tanks are now vulnerable to Russian-made rocket-propelled grenades; their ships are now vulnerable to Hezbollah's made in China missiles; and their planes will soon be vulnerable to Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles.

The new axis in town

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