Well Now, That Was A Busy Weekend.

I’m not sure where to even begin. Memorial Day Weekend often means taking it slow, throwing something on the bar-be-que, and generally halting work (for the government) for three days instead of two while remembering those in uniform around the world and at home.

Instead of following the U.S. example though, the world decided to go into full-blown crises mode.

The first item on the international lips today is the Israeli commando raid which killed nine activists on the Turkish-dominanted flotilla (recorded at six ships, with more on the way), which was attempting to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip, controlled by Hamas, which is labeled as a terrorist organization. Israel defends its actions, saying that its commandos were met with violent opposition when they boarded the flagship to halt the flotilla. The activists say they were attacked. What we do know is that the flotilla was in international waters, was bringing roughly 10,000 tons of aid into the Gaza area, and was boarded by Israeli forces, and now nine people are dead, while the remaining activists on the flotilla (roughly 600) are in Israeli custody after refusing to be deported.

The UN Security Council met in special session to draft a condemnation calling an independent investigation into the incident, which is weaker than the Arab world wanted, at the insistence of the American representative to the UN – this is an example of both the problem of UN operations at the moment, and the special relationship Israel enjoys with the U.S. Turkey, Israel’s only Arab friend in the region, has recalled its ambassador and is sending planes to extract its civilians, which are to be released by the Israeli authorities.

Israel has stated that it will inspect the aid that was to be delivered by the flotilla and distribute it through its own channels, if it chooses to do so. No matter which way you look at it, Israel is in deep here. Had they managed to halt the flotilla in their own waters, with no deaths, they would have been able to say they were protecting themselves and their own interests, and the issue would have remained hot with activists, but by and large, the international community would have moved on quickly. The two biggest issues, number one being civilian deaths, and for internationalists, number two being that the flotilla was boarded in international waters, means that Israel now has a lot it has to explain before the pressure lets off. Killing civilians is always a bad way to start the day off with the press, and this is no exception. In fact, it was most likely the reason for the UN meeting and the reason why the U.S. is even letting this issue continue in the security council, it is impossible to contain or mitigate once death occurs, and protection of the instigators is politically untenable, as well as damaging to the legitimacy of an international player and mediator, such as the U.S. The second issue is that boarding a vessel in international waters without the express consent of captain and crew or owners of the vessel is an act of piracy. Had Israel boarded the vessels in its own waters, then they can claim defensive purposes, or right to inspect vessels in its territory, or any number of other accepted legal means of boarding vessels uninvited, but in international waters, states do not maintain their sovereign rights, and what could have been a legitimate maneuver is now being called into question as a violation of international law, and an act of piracy, two very serious charges for any state wishing to remain in charge of its sovereign affairs.

Whatever happens next, Israel is going to need to damage control very fast and is going to need to rely on allies in high places to help mitigate the effects of its actions.

Further reading:
Israel Holds Hundreds Seized During Raid on Flotilla (NYT)
Raid Complicated U.S. Ties and Push for Peace (NYT)
Israeli Troops Raid Aid Flotilla Headed for Gaza, Kill Nine (WaPo)
UN Decries Israeli Flotilla Raid (Al Jazeera)

Edit: on further reading, Israel followed the form of international law in declaring and enforcing international law, however, I still maintain that the IDF could have handled the situation in a much better fashion and that a raid was unnecessary, and an disproportionate response to the situation at hand. While Israel does indeed have a right to defend itself, it should learn to use the proper amount of force in response the situation at hand.

As if that wasn’t enough, Al-Queda is confirming today that its Number 3 man in operations was killed this weekend in Pakistan. Read about it here. He has probably been replaced by now, and Al-Queda is making the usual saber-rattling noise of promising more attacks, which it either is having problems putting together, or the intelligence services watching them are on the ball. Either way, this makes the seventh big win for the U.S. in terms of taking out Al-Queda brass. Several victories have been accomplished with drone strikes, as this one was, proving the effectiveness of the strategy. President Obama has made tremendous use of drone strikes, as far as number and impact go, and so far, it appears to be an effective strategy. It is getting harder and harder for Al-Queda to hide anywhere in the world, and this is a good thing for anyone who is not a terrorist. Keep up the work Mr. Obama, and whoever comes after, and we may keep Al-Queda on the run for a very long time.

If we keep going east, we hit the next world hot spot, the Korean peninsula. Never satisfied with remaining a footnote of backwater nations, North Korea continues to act belligerently, and South Korea tries to remain on guard. The North said, this weekend, that it would fire into any loudspeakers the South Koreans turned on in an expected propaganda blitz. Something which the North does very well but loves to say that its propaganda is pure fact. However, in an (un/expected) move, the South toned down the rhetoric and delayed its propaganda assault at the North. The cause? China. China has refused to make a stand against the North Koreans (their militaries have a long history of working closely together, dating back to the Korean war), and this announcement has brought pause to the South Korean government, which, while it does have the more modern and capable military, is sorely outnumbered by the North, and has a capital (Seoul) in range of North Korean artillery.

The U.S. remains firmly committed to protecting the South though, and was active this weekend in reviewing the South’s navy to address the now-apparent weaknesses which led to the sinking of a South Korean navel ship a month ago.

I would still consider the sinking to be an act of war, but the larger regional political picture has slowed down that opinion for the outnumbered South.

The Christian Science Monitor has more here
And here is an article from the NYT on Chinese options for North Korea policy (either join the North or join the UN).

The NYT provided an article here on the US plans to aid the Korean navy. The real information I found interesting though, was the breakdown chart of the two militaries – North and South Korean Military Breakdown
(image courtesy of the New York Times, originally from a South Korean White Paper)

After China, it looks like a stalemate will again be the norm on the Korean peninsula, and only if the North backs down as well. One thing is certain though, it will be a very long time before anything resembling trustworthy relations returns to the Korean peninsula.

Oh yeah, oil is still spewing into the gulf coast as well. BP has abandoned its ‘top kill’ method and is now moving on to sawing off one of the pipes to try and cap some of the oil flowing out. The company says that it is doing all its can but that the best solution, two relief wells, are still months away from being ready. The gulf coast cannot afford months more of oil seepage, not with the fragile wetlands and marshes already being threatened, and the catastrophe already beyond public belief or acceptance. BP needs to seriously step up its efforts if it wants to have any kind of good press.

Any one who wants to read the 2009 report on BP’s prepardness for a gulf oil spill can look at it online and in pdf form.

Be warned though, the report it over 500 pages long and entails a lot of technical details about the oil industry. It is good to know, however, that this has been published. How ever much it might be to the chagrin of BP at the moment.

Wow, what a weekend.

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