EU Foriegn Ministers make Partial Sense on Gaza, Iran / Prof.B.Rubin

Remember what I told you: if you want to know what policy is going to be, watch the governments, not the media. While the results of the EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg were far from perfect, they also show the difference between decision-makers and opinion-makers on the Middle East.

First, the foreign ministers proposed new sanctions going beyond the ones just voted in the UN against Iran's nuclear program to prohibit new investment and transfer of technology, equipment and services.

The British representative, William Hague, told the EU to take a "strong lead" on this issue. Sweden's opposition was overcome. We must wait to see the details but clearly this is a step in the right direction. Incidentally, I believe the main European states were willing to do this nine months ago but were forestalled by the go-slow U.S. policy.

Second, regarding the Gaza issue, the EU foreign ministers refused to condemn Israel and adopted a mixed package of proposals. They called for a "credible, independent" investigation of the incident with the Gaza flotilla, which leaves the door open for Israel's approach of an independent commission with two foreign observers rather than a UN-led (and inevitably wildly biased) process.

They also called for the release by Hamas of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and that the Red Cross be allowed to visit him, while recognizing Israel's "legitimate security concerns, including the need to cease all violence and arms smuggling into Gaza."

On the other side, they wanted a narrowing of the embargo on Gaza but did not define precisely how this should be done. And Tony Blair, the Quartet's Middle East said sympathetically that he expected Israel to ease the blockade soon.

The EU position also offered to help in arrangements for the crossings along the lines of its 2005 arrangements, which proved to be useless in practice though they made the EU feel good about doing something.

This is a position that Israel can live with by modifying the embargo. It is generally not realized that restrictions are constantly being revised any way. For example, Israel has agreed in connection with UNRWA to let in construction equipment and concrete for specific, supervised construction projects to ensure that this materiel isn't used for Hamas military projects.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction: Despite the intensive campaign of slander and some losses on the public relations' front, in diplomatic terms the damage for Israel of the Gaza flotilla crisis has been limited and it has won on the most essential points. Acceptable compromises can basically undercut Western governmental criticism.

What will be the response of Hamas and its supporters? More ships will arrive of two varieties. The peaceful ones will be boarded, taken into port, and their cargoes (whose small size and genuinely humanitarian portions) will be delivered to Gaza. There will be no public relations' bonus for Hamas or ending the embargo as a result.

There will, then, be more Jihadist ships, too, designed to provoke violence and create martyrs. They will be dealt with and repetition is going to expose-at least for Western policymakers-the scam that's going on and reduce its effectiveness.

I stand by my pessimistic assessment of the longer-term implications of Western policy as accepting a terrorist, genocide-goaled, Iranian client, revolutionary Islamist regime in the Gaza Strip. For the moment, however, the outcome looks like a weakened containment policy rather than the normalization that Hamas and its supporters are seeking.

The next key question is this: Will the United States and EU countries support a UN-led lynch-mob investigation or not? They may try stalling, saying that it should await the results of Israel's investigation with international observers participating.

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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