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A chief lesson to learn from President Barack Obama's recent unwillingness to stand up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Lobby is that such timidity can get people killed.
Casualty figures are still arriving in the wake of Israel's Sunday night-Monday morning commando attack on an unarmed flotilla trying to bring relief supplies to the 1.5 million Palestinians crowded into Gaza. Already, at least nine civilian passengers are reported killed, and dozens wounded.
Seldom has an act of aggression been so well advertised in advance. Israel had made clear that it would use force to prevent the ships from reaching Gaza and heard no stern protest from President Obama, who apparently could not overcome his fear of Israel's legendary political clout.
Earlier this year, Obama did criticize Israel's continued settlement of Palestinian areas and Netanyahu's resistance to holding meaningful peace talks, but the President has failed to follow up his words with firm action or resolve. Netanyahu concluded that Israel could do what it wished, including dropping commandos from helicopters onto crowded ships and, after alleging a clash with civilians, ordering the use of lethal force.
Then, Netanyahu could expect that America's Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) with leading figures like Wolf Blitzer who built his journalistic career by working for the Jerusalem Post would finesse the murderous assault into something reasonable and possibly even tilted sympathetically toward the Israeli troops.
Early on, CNN began repeating the Israeli "explanation" for its attack on the high seas, parroting the Jerusalem Post which reported that "militants were killed" after they set upon Israeli naval commandos who boarded one of the six ships Monday morning at two o'clock.
The commandos "were met with strong resistance from men armed with bladed weapons and the situation degenerated into a massacre when one of them grabbed the weapon of a soldier and opened fire," said the Jerusalem Post, quoting Israeli military sources.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that the relief convoy organizers had a "radical Islamic anti-Western orientation," and that Israeli "naval forces were attacked with metal clubs and knives, as well as live fire," though there were no reports of Israeli deaths. The IDF statement continued:
"The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose," adding that the Navy then used riot dispersal methods, which include live fire, according to JTA, the global news service of the Jewish people.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak blamed the organizers of the convoy for the violent outcome, and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told a news conference why that was so: "The organizers' intent was violent, their method was violent, and unfortunately, the results were violent."
So, you see, the Israeli military resorted to violence only in self-defense. Right.
On Monday, President Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone about the incident. Afterwards, the White House said Obama had expressed "deep regret" over the deaths, but declined further comment, citing "the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances" as quickly as possible.
Don't hold your breath, though, waiting for the timid Obama or his Likud-leaning advisers -- much less the FCM -- to question the Israeli version.
We are likely to get an "explanation" worthy of the late Alexander Haig as to why the slaughter may well have been "justified." Haig's death in February brought to mind comments he made about a brutal incident on the night of Dec. 2, 1980, shortly after Ronald Reagan's election victory.
In rightist-ruled El Salvador, government security forces stopped four American churchwomen in their mini-van and were ordered to kill them. The soldiers first raped the women and then executed them with high-powered rifles. Reagan's foreign policy team decided to treat the rape-murder as a public relations problem, best handled by shifting blame onto the victims. And so, the women were deemed not nuns, but "political activists." (Today, "militants"--whatever that means--is often the label of choice.)