Monthly Archives: May 2010

Israel Interdicts Turkish Convoy: Calculations

Israel just interdicted the Turkish convoy that was headed to Gaza. This article is an unedited cut-down of the situation and possible fallout. I will likely not have time to develop it further, but that is OK because this incident will probably only be a prelude to larger shifts, much in the same way that it is the result of a few fundamental shifts itself. Expect bad writing, perhaps bad language, disorganized ideas, etc.

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Situation
A pro-Palestinian advocacy group arranged a convoy of private boats to head to the Gaza strip to deliver aide materials. Israel has the Gaza strip under naval blockade because Hamas has taken over there and continues to attack Israel. Running the blockade is something Israel told them not to do and gave permission for an alternative route for aide supplies, but the blockade runners weren’t having any of it. This is not unlike other civilian revolutionary ideas where civilians take it upon themselves to toss their bodies on the spears of whatever faction they dislike and then scream about the injustice of it all.

Details
Self-proclaimed revolutionaries seeking to go down in a blaze of glory is pretty normal and entirely un-newsworthy. This sort of behavior is fairly common for any religiously-connected group, and particularly ordinary those infected with Islam. The political side of this is where things get interesting, however.

Turkey is finally awake and trying to rise up in political importance after the last 100 or so years of total dormancy. If you recall from history class, Turkey is the modern name for the Ottoman/Byzantine/East Roman Empire. The place has a complex history but a fairly uniform geopolitical profile. Turkey happens to be afflicted with Islam at the moment, however, and this makes the rise a bit tricky as the pragmatic elements of the government that really understand geopolitical maneuver (specifically the Turkish Army, which is a highly politicized element of society) are at direct odds with the more religious elements of the government and society. But Turkey derives one great merit from this internal division: it can be interpreted as the Last Great Hope for an Islamic country to achieve lasting geopolitical significance on the same level as, say, Germany; or it can be interpreted as a secular, calculating geopolitical player which gives only lip-service to Islam. Which way one chooses to portray or interpret Turkey can comfortably be based on whichever way is most expedient for the parties involved. For example this allows Turkey to be an official military ally of Israel while at the same time being a supporter of the Gaza convoy.

Turkey is trying to take over the responsibility and influence that the US currently has in Iraq while at the same time attempting to be seen as a key factor in influencing Iran in the future. Since most of the heavy lifting is already complete in the Middle East (for now) and maintaining a large presence in the Middle East would come with significant and unjustifiable opportunity costs for the US over the long term, the US is happy to hand over its responsibilities to Turkey and thereby buy itself the freedom to focus on other areas which have been recently neglected (such as managing the recent Russian play to re-form an extended empire based on the old Soviet borders).

Turkey sees the convoy as a win-win for Turkey at the expense of giving Israel a lose-lose. Turkey can do this without lifting a finger as it is a private effort to run the Gaza blockade that is generating the situation in the first place.

At the outset the convoy was either going to make it there or not, which presented two major (and likely) outcomes and two minor (and unlikely) outcomes:

  • Major 1- The convoy makes it to Gaza after Turkey is seen exerting pressure on Israel. This would be perceived as an influential win for Turkey as a defender of the Palestinians, thus winning it many cool-points in the Islamic world and upstaging Iran as the prime anti-Israel entity.
  • Major 2- The convoy does not make it to Gaza. In this case Turkey can talk mad shit about Israel and progress the situation further, possibly arranging another convoy with official state sponsorship the next time, etc.

Either way, Turkey gets a benefit and all they have to do is talk.

Israel has a bad situation on its hands either way, however. If the convoy makes it there then Israel would be seen as weak and this would encourage further attempts at running the blockade, which would inveitably result in a mass influx of lethal cargo reaching Gaza and reigniting conflict all over again. If the convoy is interdicted then Israel is seen as being worse than a pile of assholes because “interdiction” involves military action against unarmed activists.

  • Minor 1 – The convoy organizers simply fail. Convoy dissolves due to lack of interest/balls. This almost happened. The convoy shrank from being “hundreds” of boats to eventually 7 to finally 5. But 5 did set sail.
  • Minor 2 – The decides that forcing a situation which generates further drama involving the Palestinians is less important than actually delivering supplies to the Palestinians and accepts Israel’s offer for an alternate transportation schedule and route.

These outcomes would have been funny, but once this really caught on all over Al Jazeera too many people wound up with a vested interest in seeing the convoy happen than to allow it to be cancelled.

It’s worth remembering that it’s a fair bet that there isn’t any contraband on this initial shipment of aid supplies. If interdicted the activists will want to show the world that this was a big fuss over deliveringfuckingbabyfoodholyshit to make Israel appear evil. That, in fact, is all this is about. It has nothing to do with the actual delivery of supplies. If that were the case they would have accepted Israel’s offer for an alternate transport of cargo after inspection, just like all the other thousands of tons of supplies Israel lets through monthly.

Turkey is not directly sponsoring the convoy, as this would place the state itself in direct conflict with Israel. The two are allied so this would get trickier than the Turks want it to be. In this case the Turks have a great amount of deniability, however, because technically speaking this is a Cypriot convoy, not a Turkish one. Turkey sees this as a win-win situation.

A newcomer to Earth might wonder why Israel thinks it is OK to blockade Gaza in the first place, and why they are not taking similar action against the West Bank. At this point Israel feels it is safe to cut Gaza off because for the most part the Palestinians who subscribe to a “war with Israel at all costs, murder all the Jews” philosophy are concentrated in Gaza and support Hamas there and the more normal Palestinians who are of a more pragmatic mind are now by and large loacted in the West Bank. This distinction is important to understand the Palestinian situation, because there are in fact two Palestinian situations and they are very different from one another.

All that background blah blah blah. And now on to the calculation bit…

Calculation and Outcomes
The convoy went and Israel did, in fact, decide to interdict using naval forces. Three missile boats from the Israeli Navy approached the ships in the early morning, told them to stop, got told to fuck off, and boarded the vessels. In the process of boarding people got angry, started trying to stab Israeli soldiers and got shot. At the moment I’m hearing anything between 10 and 16 people got killed and anywhere from 20 to 80 people were injured. The situation is very unclear right now, but it just happened a few hours ago and is an ongoing event, so when you read this 3 months from today don’t ding me for not having exact counts.

One might ask “How is is justified to shoot civilians while boarding?” The answer lies in the difficulty of boarding operations. Ships are fabulously tight places full of nooks, crannies, steep stairs, etc. If a large group of folks was aboard a ship and very serious about not being taken over, they could arrange some pretty serious MacGyverness, melee-weapon ambushes, barricades, etc. without much trouble. In the current scenario there we have a group of people who are likely predominantly Muslim and super Jew-haters who are naive enough to think personally being a part of this convoy was a good idea. A group of that demographic being interdicted by a group likely to consist mainly of armed Jews is bound to involve some resistance, and “no guns” does not equate to “not armed” in a practical sense. Hence the shootings.

Of course, the media is likely to start spouting all sorts of unsupported drivel about how bad the Israelis are. Al Jazeera already is, and in fact there are already riots in several countries which suffer from widespread Islam and also happen to have an Israeli embassy or consulate. It will only be a matter of time (I give it no more than 12 hours) before European governments will either have to choose to publicly condemn Israel or face backlashes from their own imported populations as well.

Israel obviously made a choice and thought about this long and hard before it did. It was forced, in this case, to directly consider the political realities and evaluate them against the facts of the situation. Its options were nothing but crap but they obviously decided that this was the least shitty of the options available. They are betting that the political pain of interdiction, while more intense, will be short-lived and act to discourage future scenarios of a similar nature (probably correct). The option of not interdicting and allowing the convoy through would encourage future situations and incidents and eventually the blockade would become meaningless, Hamas would become rearmed and regnite serious conflict, and in the end more Israelis and Gazans would get hurt — a far less acceptable outcome.

Thus the interdiction.

The way the media is getting a hold of this will be interesting to watch. Al Jazeera obviously has a vested interest in playing this up as much as possible and indeed already are. The American and European media will likely initially play their news the same way and then tone the anti-Israeli side down a bit and attempt to become more balanced (likely producing a few editorial pieces which state, essentially, the same things I’m putting out here, but in about a week or so).

Turkey will enjoy this, however, despite the fact that civilians were hurt and there was really nothing anyone could do about it other than just not entertain the idea of trying to run a naval blockade put in place by a country which is not known for leniency in security matters. Once again, however, this was all about forcing a politically difficult situation on Israel for the benefit of Turkey and not at all about delivering supplies to the Gazan Palestinians.

This situation will not just blow over, however. Very likely the fallout of this will extend far beyond the initial set of outcomes. Most critical in my mind right now are the Iranian connected reactions. As I stated above, Iran is being upstaged by Turkey here, and that is not acceptable. For this reason it is entirely likely that Iran will engineer some sort of disruption on the north end of Israel through Hezbollah. Another full-blown war is not likely because it is not yet in Hezbollah’s interest to tackle the IDF so directly just now, but anything is possible. In fact, preparations have been underway for about a year now for another conflict with Israel and despite the time not really being ripe for any side concerned, this sort of pressure from a new direction could cause other things to pop loose in ways that nobody expected.

At the very least there will be a slew of new global protests against the Israelis and their perceived supporters. The US will be extremely uncomfortable with this because at the moment the future seems to be brighter for Turkey than Israel and an empowered regional power in the form of Turkey would be far more useful to the US than an isolated and tiny Israel. Expect to see the US try to stay out of it (impossible), fail to and in the end leave enough ambiguity to not be seen as supporting Israel. This won’t matter on the Islamic street, however (which is where America really has trouble figuring out how the social media game works) because Israel is viewed as a distant US territory that just happens to be crowded with hated Jews.

Crazy world. Once again, this won’t blow over, but rather lead to some larger movements down the road… unless it fizzles, but that is entirely up to the media. The media has a vested interest in seeing this get blown up huge, though, so I seriously doubt that outcome. The average person will probably not understand how the convoy interdiction today will likely precipitate Hezbollah action tomorrow, but whatev.

Political Realities vs. Facts : The Polish Crash as a Learning Point

“The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant.” -S.M.

It is a regular experience when evaluating power relationships to find that a political reality may be contrary to the facts of a situation. Such divergence is common any time a popular misconception is so widespread that it creates its own political truth.

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One example of this is the effect of misinterpreting the holding of elections for having democracy. This quaint political reality has led to millions of dollars of annual effort being wasted across the developing world despite most developing nations only loosely adhere to their constitutions anyway. Africa is one such developing region and Zimbabwe is a showcase example of this behavior. Political realities have their own sort of power that usually trumps the power inherent to truth. This is why elections are held in Zimbabwe at all — they are important even if not for the reason that is publicly believed.

Political realities must be observed and obeyed, just like facts. Because of their basic nature political realities almost always receive far more treatment by politicians in the media than the concrete core issues do. If the power brokers of Zimbabwe were to refuse the public its chance to play out a process it anticipates participation in — even an election process that same public is suspicious of — the level of civil malcontent and international demonization would likely far exceed the levels seen over the last several years.

The key problem is that the average person simply does not have enough time to hear about more than a very few events around the world every day and take in and interpret only a very few facts about each of those. People take their hard facts through a straw. Average people do seem to find time to invent or accept conspiracy theories and over simplified interpretations to cover over the gaps in their specific knowledge of world affairs. Journalists are particularly adept at this, finding ways to write huge articles replete with semantically ambiguous blather and speculation but sparse on hard facts. Average people also often find time to go vote, join a protest or further communicate and reinforce whatever public misconception they are a customer of — after all running around the street breaking windows in Greece is a lot more fun than researching that country’s economic fundamentals.

That brings me to a situation I find very interesting today: the fallout of the Polish plane crash.
[Note: The following half of this article includes Putin image memes from across the net that represent a political reality of today, though not all represent actual truth.]

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On the day of the crash I wrote that nobody was going to believe that the Russians did not somehow cause that plane crash. This statement was completely independent of whatever facts come out concerning whether they actually did or not. I was pushing the idea that the political reality would be that the Russians killed their top opponents in the Polish government even if the fact was they didn’t. The statement of fact would have to wait until today (it turns out the case for a simple plane crash on landing is pretty solid) but the effects of the political reality took hold immediately. In a situation like this the fact does not matter, the political reality does.

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Now we have a few weeks between us and the crash, but people still refuse to accept that it was likely an unfortunate accident rather than a case of hard political engineering. The reason is that the first stories to hit public eyes is the one that sticks, and the first media stories were rampant with speculative Russian conspiracy theories so that is all that is remembered.

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Polish President literally going down in flames = Front page news
Results of crash investigation = Page 6 or so, even if the Polish President was aboard

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But let’s rewind again to the day of the crash.
Nobody knows what is really going on.

 

We only have one fact: The Polish President’s plane just crashed with scores of senior government officials on board including the most critical opponents of Russia’s regional expansion policy. And the crash happened in Russia. On the way to a Polish-Russian atrocity-remeberance/memorial event, no less. Another time and place could never be as symbolic to the Poles. This is undeniably advantageous for Russia

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At this point we have:
Truth = Unknown
Political reality = The Russians did it

There is only one actionable piece of information to be had and that is the assumption. Even if the truth were known it would not be a meaningful revelation because nobody would believe it anyway. So that still leaves only one piece of actionable information.

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I wrote at the time of the crash that the Russians should find a polite, politic and sly way of claiming credit for the crash while officially distancing themselves from it. An hour later they had already demonstrated how deft they were at this sort of image game and I updated my write-up. Medvedev appointed Putin the head of the crash investigation — giving the man who stands to gain the most from the crash the authority to sign the official record of how it happened. He then sent the head of a GRU directorate (“Ministry of Emergency Situations” — an organization created to appear like Russia’s version of FEMA) to “prepare the scene for investigation” — which sounds like a post-sabotage cover job to those who know what that ministry actually does.

To pro-Russian elements — who loved the Soviet, hate America and actually believed that Big Brother was only watching them as a protective and loving sibling — the appointment of Putin indicated that Medvedev cared so much about the crash investigation’s accuracy that he would appoint The Putin Himself to check up on it. The dispatch of a GRU chief to the scene can be seen from the same perspective as an indication that the earnest Russians were concerned with not contaminating the scene and helping out with the disaster recovery so much that they mobilized their version of FEMA to accomplish it.

Either interpretation is a benefit to the Russians. This disregard for fact and focus on political reality demonstrates how well the Russians understand the game. On the one hand it is good to be seen as a steward of honesty and regional goodwill when anything like this happens. On the other hand it is extremely useful to be seen as a scary, dominating force that will eleminate its regional opponents in permanent ways if it feels like doing so. The fearful grow more afraid and compliant for an apparent lack of alternatives, the trusting deepen their trust. It is a win-win for Russia, and that is the heart of playing to political realities and not getting wrapped around the axle about truth.

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This stands in stark contrast to the Israeli (and to some extent the American) government. They (particularly their military’s public relations department) are obsessed with truth and consistently allow their opponents to shape the media perceptions of them by refusing to make statements until after the conclusion of investigations. That is a terrible practice because it ignores the impact of political realities and focuses on the much less powerful truths of a situation.

The first one to press owns the press despite having no time to locate any truth. The last to make a statement has the most time to investigate a situation before speaking but will have no impact on the press at all — and might not even be considered newsworthy by the time he comes forward. In this example, First to press = Israel’s rivals who aren’t so concerned with truth; Last to press = Israel’s government who is obsessed with researched truth but does not understand or ignores how political realities shape the human landscape.

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Almost comical.

In somewhat unrelated news today, here is a story about the short-sightedness of populism that I find hilarious: European countries are suddenly realizing their social subsidies are unsustainable. Daily Finance version and New York Times version.

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