Analysis: Thanks to the flotilla, Iran off the hook again

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, June 3, 2010
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It is crucial to understand the broader strategic context of Monday's events.

The Gaza convoy was organised by IHH, a Turkish Islamist "charity" with links to al Qaida and Hamas. It had the full blessing of the Turkish government, which connived in ensuring this mission would happen. In fact, the Turkish government actively sought this crisis for domestic reasons. It wanted to bolster its Islamist credentials and mobilise crowds at a time of declining polls. It also aimed to further corner the pro-Western, secular elites that oppose the creeping Islamisation of Turkey.

As for the "peace activists", many said explicitly that they sought martyrdom and did not care about the outcome of the mission - either way, Israel would lose. But they were merely pawns in a complex game aimed at changing the regional strategic balance. Their mission was a classic diversionary tactic, sponsored and supported by a group of regional actors who are drawing ever closer together in an anti-Western alliance.

Until last week, Iran - a key sponsor of Hamas with links to IHH - was in the doghouse because of its nuclear programme. A UN draft resolution was tabled and all it needed to pass was the end of the Lebanese presidency of the Security Council, on May 31. On the same day, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued two tough reports - one on Iran's nuclear programme and one on Syria's. Some of their findings are damning.

The Iranians were in trouble - even the Russians, traditionally on their side, were inching towards supporting the resolution. Meanwhile, Moscow was unhappy with Turkey's game of brinkmanship on Iran's nuclear programme and America was seething at Syria for transferring missiles to Hizbollah in Lebanon.

Now all is forgotten. Turkey's Islamist government has cornered its opposition. Moderate Arab governments are on the defensive. Nobody is pointing fingers at Iran or its clients. Iran is not in the doghouse anymore. Israel is.

This is not to say that Israel did no wrong. On balance, Israel acted on poor intelligence and underestimated its opponents. But if anything, Israel's actions should have been more forceful. The usual sanctimony would have been poured over Israel by the usual suspects regardless, but it would have denied Israel's adversaries a tactical victory. Now they have a better strategic vantage point on the chessboard, and Israel's queen is more vulnerable.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

    Last updated: 3:07pm, June 3 2010