Few people in the West really had any idea of what was going on in Afghanistan prior to the 2001 invasion, but among those who did there was little doubt that we in the free world (a term that, for convenience, we will consider to include the USA) had a duty to do something to help the Afghans. Many of us still believe that our military need to remain there, no matter how hopeless it seems and no matter how many are killed, until the day comes when we can be sure that the moment we leave the Taliban will not once again sweep across the nation, as withdrawing at any other time will condemn millions of innocent people to a life of suffering, inequality and violence.
Now imagine, if you will, that several organisations have linked up and organised a load of boats which they've loaded with cargoes they insist are humanitarian aid being sent to the Afghan people who are unfortunate enough to live in an area still controlled by the Taliban. Imagine also that one of the groups responsible for the flotilla claims itself to be a human rights and aid charity but has on a number of occasions been linked with the Taliban. Would the coalition allow that flotilla to dock and offload the cargo without first having a damn good look to make sure there wasn't any guns or bomb-making equipment hidden in among the food and medicine?
Of course they wouldn't. They'd diplomatically invite the flotilla to dock in a coalition-controlled port where their own forces could carry out a search. If the organisers of the flotilla refused this invitation, what would happen next?
Well, it's obvious really, isn't it? The US Navy would board the boats quicker than you can say "American imperialism." You know what we're getting at here so we won't insult our readers' intelligence by spelling it out.
Cast your mind back 30 years or, if you're too young for that, look up The Troubles on Wikipedia. This was a time when the paramilitary IRA - and other groups - from Ireland regularly carried out violent attacks on British soil, killing innocent civilians, causing enormous damage and assassinating British soldiers and politicians. Small groups of Americans, unable to see through the romanticised ideal of "IRA as freedom fighters" supported the Irish terrorists both financially and by providing weapons. Fire up your mind's eye once more (it's OK, we'll be finished soon and you can switch off your exhausted imagination and go and watch TV/put your Playstation on instead) and imagine that these groups of Americans have sent a flotilla of ships full of what they say in food to Ireland, but the British Government have only their word that it is in fact food. Would the Royal Navy step in and board the ships before they were anywhere near Ireland? You bet they would. In fact, they'd probably not even have waited until the ships had left international waters - just like British forces sank the Argentine Belgrano although it was outside the 370km exclusion zone around the Falklands in 1982. The Belgrano incident caused quite a controversy at the time with many people in Britain and Argentina alike questioning the legality of the attack, which claimed over 1,000 lives, but in 1983 message was sent to the Argentinian Government by the British Government via the Swiss embassy in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires. It read, "In announcing the establishment of a Maritime Exclusion Zone around the Falklands, Her Majesty's Government made it clear that this measure was without prejudice to the right of the United Kingdom to take whatever additional measures may be needed in the exercise of its right to self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter." In 1994, the Argentinian Government made clear their conclusion that the sinking of the Belgrano had been a legal act of war. What does this tell us? Chiefly, that during times of war, actions that may seem unnecessarily aggressive to some take place which, due to the very nature of war, are deemed acceptable at the time.
Israel has been subjected to around 45 Qassam rocket attacks in 2010 so far. Almost 3,000 rockets were lauched during 2006 and 2007 alone, and there has been a total of some 8,600 rocket attacks since the first in 2001 and 2009 - as well as an assortment of mortar attacks, bombings, kidnappings and other violence. What we are talking about here is not a nation that wishes to make the people of Gaza suffer due to sheer racial spite, but a nation that is at war with an organisation that wishes to destroy it and murder its citizens. Neither does it want to starve Gaza's inhabitants to death - if it did, it wouldn't allow around 15,000 tons of humanitarian aid (food, medicine etc.) into Gaza each and every week as it does under the ongoing COGAT operation. Neither would it allow sick Palestinians to cross the border into Israel where they can receive medical treatment in Israel's modern, well-equipped hospitals. That's hell of a lot for one small country to provide (it's several hells of a lot more than any other Middle Eastern nation - many of which claim to support the Palestinian cause - have provided in total) and, when one is aware of this program, once cannot help but wonder if Israel might be rather glad to have someone else provide a big chunk. Actually, they were - they were more than willing to allow the flotilla to reach Gaza. In fact, they offered to support the flotilla and help it reach its target just so long as their forces were permitted to inspect the cargo and the organisers agreed to ask Hamas not to fire any more rockets. But, the flotilla refused to allow this to happen and in doing so left Israel no choice but to board the boats and check by force.
We all know what happened next. However, even the most determined Israel-hater is going to have a hard job putting positive spin on the video because it seems rather inconveniently to show clearly that IDF commandos were violently attacked the moment they set foot onboard with pipes and metal bars. It is reported that firebombs and stun grenades were also used, possibly even firearms. Nine people - though some reports are claiming 19 - ended up dead, shot with handguns says Israel, with machine guns say others. The video does show IDF personnel with guns that certainly resemble machine guns, but according to Israel these were in fact paint guns which are used by the IDF, Israeli police and many other counter-insurgency/law enforcement agencies as a non-lethal method of crowd control. Around 600 activists, from various nations, are now being held in Israeli detention centres - but hey, I'd rather be in prison in Israel than any other Middle Eastern nation. At least Israeli prisoners aren't routinely tortured and subjected to degrading, inhumane conditions.
Today, Israel faces international condemnation. But why would a country that in two decades had seen its international reputation slip from widely admired to almost universally reviled risk bruising its own image still further, especially when as a nation with little water and no oil it relies to a large extent of foreign trade and tourism for much of its annual GDP? Simple answer - it wouldn't. It appears that Israel is facing condemnation for seeking to protect itself and its people and it had no choice other that to board the boats. The people on the boats could have prevented this by allowing Israel to check for hidden weapons and banned materials such as explosives, but they didn't. They could have prevented the deaths by not turning violent when the IDF commandos boarded, but instead they savagely attacked them. It also appears that Israel did precisely what any other nation would do in the situation, but for some reason when Israel does this it can expect to be singled out for special criticism.