On 31 May, Israeli troops raided a flotilla of ships, backed by Turkey to bring ‘humanitarian aid' to the Gaza strip, which is being strangled slowly by Israel's blockade. The results were extremely shocking: marines from one of the best equipped and most highly trained armies in the world killed a number of unarmed members of the flotilla, most of them Turks. The Israeli authorities, as cynical as ever, claimed that they acted in self-defence against militants armed with iron bars and Swiss army knives....
There has been a whole polemic about the real number of victims, with many witnesses saying that there were more than the nine killed and sixty injured (many of them still in Israeli prisons) originally claimed, and that some of the wounded were thrown overboard. But whatever the actual numbers, the violence of the Israeli army was totally out of proportion to the real ‘threat' posed by the convoy.
To justify this raid, Benyamin Netanyahu declared that Israeli soldiers "were mobbed, they were clubbed, they were beaten, stabbed, there was even a report of gunfire. And our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives, or they would have been killed". At the same time he claims that "We want to move as quickly as possible towards direct discussions because the kind of problems we have with the Palestinians can be resolved peacefully if we sit down together round the table". Such statements are pitiful and the State of Israel is making itself look ridiculous in front of the entire ‘international community'.
Meanwhile, continuing in this brazen manner, the head of Gaza District Coordination office, colonel Moshe Levi, said: "The flotilla is provocative, the humanitarian situation there is good: there is no lack of humanitarian products in the Gaza Strip". Levi claimed that access is denied only to products that could help the terrorist activities of Hamas.
The Palestinian population, hostage to war
1.5 million people live in the 378 square km of the Gaza strip. They are forced to wash and cook in used, soiled water, often to drink it as well; they are subjected to regular bombardments by the Israeli army, which tests its drones and its most up-to-date weapons on the area. The rubbish bins are so full that, in what passes for schools in the area, children are being taught how to recycle rubbish into toys - to reduce the amount of rubbish piling up everywhere, to keep the kids occupied and to help them earn a few pennies in the local economy.
Whether in Gaza or the West Bank, the soil and the sub-soil and thus underwater springs are heavily polluted. First of all because waste water is not being treated, and secondly because of the residues of thousands of tons of phosphorus bombs and low-grade uranium and about thirty other kinds of toxic heavy metals which Israel has been raining down for years. The bodies of the victims of the offensive on Gaza in January 2009 showed high levels of uranium, zinc, mercury, cobalt and other carcinogenetic products. For many years, agricultural production has been irreversibly contaminated as have the few trees the army has not burned down with white phosphorus. All this has given rise to numerous cancers, renal problems and deformed births. This is the dramatic humanitarian situation facing those who live in Palestine. They are hostage to all the warring cliques that have fought over the region for decades. Expecting each day to be worse than the one before, anger is growing among a generation of young people who have only known the Israeli occupation. For many of them, a favourite ‘pastime', for lack of any other perspective, is to throw stones at Israeli troops or enlist as suicide bombers for the terrorist groups.
Turkish imperialism fans the flames
What happened on 31 May was a new episode in a war that has been going on for over fifty years, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but also and above all between the various powers, large or small, who have an interest in the region or in supporting this or that faction.
The main organisation behind the flotilla was the IHH, an Islamist charity that is very well implanted in Turkey in the districts controlled by the AKP, the Islamist party that has been in power since 2002; and the Turkish state provided its services to the IHH to equip the flotilla. The IHH is an organisation close to Hamas. It even has an office in Gaza and has organised other convoys to the Palestinian territories.
Thus, this ‘humanitarian convoy' was also acting in a provocative manner and it was receiving a lot of media publicity. Israel was thus faced with a dilemma; either let the boats pass through and thus concede a victory to the Islamists of Hamas, or intervene by force and assert its will to maintain complete control over the Gaza strip. For the Israeli government, this was to be an exemplary show of force. But its net result was to further isolate the Israeli state on the international stage. It all ended up very badly for the credibility not only of Israel but also its main backer, the USA.
The USA's diminishing political credit, especially in the Arab world, was dealt another blow by this fiasco. It was only able to come out with a feeble protest against the actions of its principal ally in the region. As for the vision of a pro-American Greater Middle East from North Africa to Pakistan, as dreamed up by George Bush, who saw himself as some kind of latter-day Lawrence of Arabia, all this has simply melted away.
The Turkish state has played a preponderant role in this affair. To all intents and purposes it organised the ‘humanitarian initiative' of the flotilla, and following the raid we have had some very aggressive speeches and threats from Ankara. Prime Minister Erdogan said that "the actions of Israel should not go unpunished. The international community must act". More recently, Turkey has threatened to cut off diplomatic relations with Israel. Turkey is of course pretending to be helping the Palestinians, but its present stance is dictated entirely by its own imperialist interests.
Up till recently, Turkey was one of Israel's rare allies in the Muslim world. Today it is presenting itself as leader of the war chorus against Zionism. It is doing this because it wants to play a more important role in the Middle East as the loss of US authority pushes the lesser states to seek a new place in the games of imperialism.
The Iran-Syria axis, which has been an important source of support to Hizbollah and Hamas, is now being joined by Turkey - a Turkey that is looking with growing disfavour on the idea of independence for Iraqi Kurdistan and on US support for the Iraqi Kurds, as well as for the Iranian Kurds. To rein in the imperialist ambitions of Ankara, the US is also giving greater latitude to the Turkish Kurds, especially those closest to the east of Anatolia, whom Turkey has been trying very hard to subdue. The USA's current policy is creating a rapprochement between Turkey, Syria and Iran, all the more because these three countries have been kept out of any decision-making with regard to Iraq, whether we are talking about the invasion in 2003 or the management of the crisis there today and in the future. What's more, joining up with this axis gives Turkey a shot of oxygen in the face of the European Union's reluctance to accept its request to become a member.
The Middle East, a vultures' nest
To this new axis must be added Russia, which has been only too willing to offer its services to counter the big US bully. Russia has played a key role in the decision of these three states to intensify cooperation, open their borders and liberalise trade among themselves. Ankara and Moscow have also abolished the need for visas between their countries. A Turk can now enter Russia without any formalities, something he cannot do either in the US or the EU, even though Turkey is a member of NATO and a candidate for the EU. Moscow is also acting as a go-between for Hamas and Fatah, and, better still, is selling them RPG missiles and S-300s which can be used to pierce Israeli tanks (they will also be sold to Iran for use against any future American bombardments). The Russian companies Rosatom and Atomstroyexport have just completed a civil nuclear power station in Iran (at Bushehr) and are discussing the construction of new ones. They are also going to build a 20 billion dollar plant in Turkey. Stroitansgaz and Gazprom are going to ensure the transport of Syrian gas towards Lebanon, now that Beirut has been prevented by Israel from exploiting its important offshore oil reserves. But Russia has above all consolidated its military position by establishing a new naval base in Syria. This will allow it to re-establish a presence in the Mediterranean which it lost in the wake of the collapse of the USSR.
Threats against Iran
The US retreat from Iraq is not finished, while the war in Afghanistan goes on and on, and has spread to Pakistan. Iran today is more and more in the US' line of fire. As one failure follows another and both Israel and the US become more isolated, history is accelerating. Things that seemed unlikely a year or so ago are now becoming more tangible. Two weeks after the attack on the IHH flotilla, there has been no attenuation of warlike tensions, despite Israel's pledge to ease the blockade of humanitarian goods bound for Gaza. Far from it: 12 US warships are heading for the Persian Gulf via the Suez Canal, while several Israeli nuclear submarines capable of hitting any target in Iran are making for the same destination. For the moment these are just gestures aimed at backing up Obama's speechifying against Tehran. But the international context is such that we cannot exclude the possibility of things slipping out of control, or even a more ‘planned' episode which would equally be a product of capitalism's delirious slide towards war.
 The weapons, especially drones like the Heron, which Israel has been selling to the European Union or the USA for the war in Afghanistan, or those which were used in the war between Georgia and Abkhazia in 2008, are advertised as having been "war tested", i.e. in the occupied territories
. What's more, at the economic and even at the military level, Israel is now taking on the role of champion of Iraqi Kurdistan, thus making it a direct rival of Turkey.
. The attack on the flotilla also meant that the second summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, so dear to the French president, was postponed until November. Among other things this Union advocates Israel being integrated into the task of keeping the peace in the Mediterranean. The first summit was completely undermined by the Israeli attack on Gaza. The French right is certainly one of the stupidest in the world.
 The ‘energy war' is taking on an increasingly dramatic tone around the question of Iran and this is forcing Washington to make further mistakes. Tehran has signed an agreement with Pakistan, worth 7 billion dollars, launching the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan. This project goes back 17 years but has so far been blocked by the US. Despite this, 900 of the 1500 km of the pipeline have been completed, going from the South Pars gas field to the frontier with Pakistan, which is going to build the remaining 700 km. This energy corridor will, from 2014, bring 22 million cubic metres of gas from Iran to Pakistan. China is also ready to import Iranian gas. The China Petroleum Corporation has signed an agreement with Iran worth five billion dollars to develop the South Pars gas field. For Iran this is a strategically important project: the country possesses the second biggest reserves of natural gas after Russia, and they are largely waiting to be exploited. With this energy corridor to the east, Iran could get round the sanctions being demanded by the US. It does however have a weak spot: its biggest gas field, the South Pars, is offshore, situated in the Persian Gulf. It is thus vulnerable to a naval blockade, which the US could impose by calling on the sanctions agreed by the UN Security Council.