Is the state of Israel its own worst enemy?

Some brief thoughts on this morning’s breaking story in the Middle East.

The late Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban famously remarked that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". But it is the Israelis who never miss an opportunity to score own goals, to be their own worst enemy.

Why on earth, during a period of relative quiet in the Middle East "process" (let's be honest: it is not a "peace process"), would the Jewish state send armed Israeli commandos to attack a convoy of ships carrying aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip, and those, too, ships linked to the Turkish government, perhaps Israel's only stalwart ally in the Muslim world? (Sky News is now reporting that Israel has warned its citizens not to travel to Turkey. The end of a beautiful friendship?)

I can imagine pro-Israel lobbyists holding their heads in the hands this morning as they watch the news, wondering how they can spin their way out of this latest atrocity. Claiming, as Israel has done, that its soldiers were attacked with knives and axes will not do. Nor will unleashing the silver-tongued Mark Regev on to the airwaves as the Israelis did this morning on the Today programme, help them either. Regev has been exposed, time and again, as being economical with the truth. (On an amusing side note, if you play "Google predicts" with Regev's name, the only option that comes up in the Google search box is "Mark Regev liar".)

By the way, check out this page on the BBC website. Notice anyone's name missing from the list of international figures reacting to the Israeli attack? Yep, our new Foreign Secretary, William Hague. There seems to be radio silence from the Foreign Office. Meanwhile, according to al-Jazeera, "Turkey, Spain, Greece, Denmark and Sweden have all summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their respective countries to protest against the deadly assault."

As the Tory-supporting columnist Peter Oborne noted in his controversial Dispatches TV documentary on Britain's pro-Israel lobby, the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) group has a great deal of influence inside the party, and Hague himself has been subjected to pressure from it in the past. So perhaps, as the well-connected Tory blogger Iain Dale pointed out in a recent discussion show on al-Jazeera that he and I participated in, our Foreign Secretary intends to be "much more pro-Israel than his predecessor David Miliband".

Let's see . . .

UPDATE: Here is William Hague's official statement (via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website):

I deplore the loss of life during the interception of the Gaza Flotilla. Our Embassy is in urgent contact with the Israeli Government. We are asking for more information and urgent access to any UK nationals involved.

We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way, because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations. It will be important to establish the facts about this incident, and especially whether enough was done to prevent deaths and injuries.

This news underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza, in line with UNSCR 1860. The closure is unacceptable and counterproductive. There can be no better response from the international community to this tragedy than to achieve urgently a durable resolution to the Gaza crisis.

I call on the Government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians.

I like the line about "the loss of life", as if the people on those ships died in a natural disaster, or from heart attacks, rather than from Israeli gunfire. Notice also that Hague's first criticism is, implicitly, of the people who were killed ("We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way...") Pathetic.

UPDATE 2: The US blogger Glenn Greenwald gives his take on the attack here. He writes:

It hardly seemed possible for Israel -- after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade -- to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes. But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least ten people, Israel has managed to do exactly that. If Israel's goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it's hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.

He adds:

The one silver lining from these incidents is that the real face of Israel becomes increasingly revealed and undeniable. Not even the most intense propaganda systems can prettify a lethal military attack on ships carrying civilians and humanitarian aid to people living in some of the most wretched and tragic conditions anywhere in the world. It is crystal clear to anyone who looks what Israel has become, and the only question left is how will the rest of the world -- beginning with their American patrons -- will react.

I wouldn't have used the phrase "silver lining" but, nonetheless, he has a point.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Here's something the political class has completely missed about Brexit

As Hillary Clinton could tell them, arguments about trade have a long, long afterlife. 

I frequently hear the same thing at Westminster, regardless of whether or not the person in question voted to leave the European Union or not: that, after March 2019, Brexit will be “over”.

It’s true that on 30 March 2019, the United Kingdom will leave the EU whether the government has reached a deal with the EU27 on its future relationship or not. But as a political issue, Brexit will never be over, regardless of whether it is seen as a success or a failure.

You don’t need to have a crystal ball to know this, you just need to have read a history book, or, failing that, paid any attention to current affairs. The Democratic primaries and presidential election of 2016 hinged, at least in part, on the consequences of the North American Free Trade Association (Nafta). Hillary Clinton defeated a primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, who opposed the deal, and lost to Donald Trump, who also opposed the measure.

Negotiations on Nafta began in 1990 and the agreement was fully ratified by 1993. Economists generally agree that it has, overall, benefited the nations that participate in it. Yet it was still contentious enough to move at least some votes in a presidential election 26 years later.

Even if Brexit turns out to be a tremendous success, which feels like a bold call at this point, not everyone will experience it as one. (A good example of this is the collapse in the value of the pound after Britain’s Leave vote. It has been great news for manufacturers, domestic tourist destinations and businesses who sell to the European Union. It has been bad news for domestic households and businesses who buy from the European Union.)

Bluntly, even a successful Brexit is going to create some losers and an unsuccessful one will create many more. The arguments over it, and the political fissure it creates, will not end on 30 March 2019 or anything like it. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.