Gaza flotilla attack makes Obama/Israel relations more complex

the Israeli flag flapping in the wind

The Obama/Israel relationship, already compromised by prior administration decisions, has been complicated further by Israel's Gaza flotilla attack. Flickr photo.

The complicated Obama/Israel connection became even more so over the weekend. Israeli commandos raided an aid flotilla sanctioned by Turkey to break a three-year Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, a tiny territory controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The Gaza flotilla attack killed nine people, intensified the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the Arab world and provoked international outrage at Israel. Obama’s Israeli/Palestinian peace process, U.S./Turkish relations and the entire U.S. Middle East strategy will be affected by the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

The Israeli Palestinian conflict

Prior decisions by  Obama in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict  leave the U.S. with little room to maneuver after the Gaza Freedom Flotilla attack. The Washington Post reports that the White House’s cautious initial response raises questions about how much stress the already strained Obama/Israel relationship can withstand. During the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, Obama has made two unsuccessful attempts to force Israel to freeze money now loans on further settlement construction. He has sided against Israel, a country with nuclear weapons, in promoting a nuclear-free Middle East. He’s alienated Israel’s supporters in Congress and the Democratic Party. A meeting at the White House with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to iron out Israeli/Palestinian peace process issues, scheduled for Tuesday, was canceled after the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

Gaza flotilla attack a blow to U.S./Turkish relations

Obama’s Israeli/Palestinian peace process isn’t the only dynamic being tested by the Gaza flotilla attack. U.S./Turkish relations will also be affected by Obama’s ultimate response to the raid. The Associated Press reports that Turkey, a longtime Muslim ally of Israel, unofficially supported the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and a Turkish-flagged vessel was the lead boat attacked by the Israeli commandos. Most of the nine killed in the raid were Turkish. The Turks have also been fighting a Kurdish insurgency while the U.S. supports the Kurds in northern Iraq. Last, but not least, Turkey, opposed to economic sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, reached an agreement in May to take enriched uranium from Iran. A day later, the U.S. announced it was moving ahead with harsher sanctions.

Gaza Freedom Flotilla: what’s next?

A White House statement Tuesday said Obama had “deep regret” over the Israeli raid and said the president expressed “the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances” surrounding the incident. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Islamic world is angered by the overly cautious response. Obama is getting backed into a corner in a part of the world where the U.S. hopes to play an important role in making peace and halting Iranian nuclear proliferation. To achieve these goals, Obama needs Israel, he needs Turkey and he needs the support of the Arab nations in the Middle East. After the Gaza flotilla attack, something’s got to give.

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