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.
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.