Apologizing for Obama’s Serial Apologies

by David Solway

The next president will have to embark once again on a worldwide “reset” campaign, apologizing to America’s allies for the shabby treatment meted out to them by Obama.

As we all know by this time, judging from President Obama’s junket behavior and his endless nostra culpae, America is probably the most flawed, aggressive, and insensitive nation on the face of the earth, bar none. It is guilty, we’ve been informed, of harboring the mistaken notion of historical exceptionalism, which it supposedly does not merit. It is guilty of imposing its imperial will on other countries and peoples without regard for their economic well-being and without the slightest consideration for their cultural structures, beliefs, and presuppositions. It has identified as an “axis of evil” nations which may have had legitimate grievances. It has been, apparently, a blundering hegemon riding roughshod over the planet, prosecuting wars it had no business starting in the first place, alienating nations it could have dealt with diplomatically, and wreaking misery and havoc when, with both insight and foresight, it might have brought peace and mutual understanding among needless belligerents. It has a dark past to purge and much to apologize for. So goes the current presidential narrative. And under Obama, it has indeed apologized, and done so with a vengeance, presumably redeeming its sullied image for all posterity.

Thus Obama has apologized to the UN for America’s propensity to “act alone” rather than take the road of multilateral consultation, a claim which is patently false. Obama has apologized to Europe for failing “to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world” and for being arrogant, “even derisive.” Obama has apologized to Islam for having misprised, neglected, or demeaned the Muslim world and for grinding the umma beneath its colonial boot, and is now seeking pardon in the hope of restoring the harmony of “20 or 30 years ago” — which of course never existed. Obama has apologized to Turkey for “difficulties” and “strained” trust over “these past few years” — the same Turkey that is moving inexorably into the Iranian orbit of influence. Obama has apologized, through State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, to Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi for offensive remarks clumsily delivered. Dispatching his adviser Valery Jarrett to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Obama has apologized by proxy to the entire planet for America’s role in the economic meltdown. Obama effectively apologized to Japan for the way in which the war in the Pacific theater was brought to an end. Obama has apologized to Russia by other means, offering to press the “reset” button, as per the hapless Hillary Clinton. Via his mouthpiece Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, Obama has apologized to China, perhaps the world’s worst human rights offender, for Arizona’s entirely legitimate new immigration law. Obama’s Magical History Tour shows no sign of ever folding its tent and returning, however belatedly, to the real world or to the realm of national dignity.

When Obama is swept from office in 2012, as he surely will be if the American people still retain a femtogram of good sense, a Republican president will have his or her work cut out for them. Be it Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin or — who knows? — the very impressive Tom McClintock (sanely refusing to apologize to Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who objected to the Arizona immigration law, but administering a thorough dressing down instead), a major rehabilitation effort will be necessary. For the new president will have to embark once again on a worldwide “reset” campaign, apologizing to America’s allies for the shabby treatment meted out to them by the former president.

He (or she) will need to apologize to Honduras for Obama’s backing of mini-Chavez, would-be dictator Manuel Zelaya who attempted to steal a country. He (or she) will need to apologize to Poland and the Czech Republic for Obama’s broken promises and his crude mishandling of the anti-missile program. He (or she) will need to ask forgiveness from the Iranian people whom Obama abandoned in the midst of their bloody uprising against a repressive and violent regime. He (or she) will need to soothe the ruffled feelings of the British electorate for having insulted their prime minister with the meager gift of unplayable CDs and for returning the bust of Winston Churchill. And he (or she) will need to make amends to Israel for Obama’s inexcusable conduct toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and for putting all the onus for the success of the so-called “peace talks,” whether “proximity” or “direct,” — or the blame for their failure — on the Jewish state while giving the Palestinians every benefit of the doubt and pandering to their insatiable demands.

This will be no easy task as the abjection of apology does not befit a great and admirable nation, but Obama has left his successor no choice but to apologize, both for his orgy of apologies to America’s enemies and competitors and for his churlish betrayal of America’s allies and friends.

When the business of restitution is accomplished, enemies put on notice and friends restored to their proper place, and once the United States is prepared to resume its former pre-eminence and proud stature as the world’s best arbiter and as Abraham Lincoln’s “last best hope,” apologies can cease altogether — except, perhaps, for the apology the American people should make to themselves and to their children for having elected the most feckless and damaging sorcerer’s apprentice of a president in the storied chronicle of the republic.

David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity, and is currently working on a sequel, Living in the Valley of Shmoon. His new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, has just been released by Mantua Books.

Pro-Terrorists Continue With Their Death Wish…

JERUSALEM (AP) – Pro-Palestinian activists sent another boat to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and Egypt declared it was temporarily opening a crossing into the Palestinian territory after a botched raid on an aid flotilla that ended with Israeli soldiers killing nine activists.

The raid provoked ferocious international condemnation of Israel, raised questions at home, and appeared likely to increase pressure to end the blockade that has deepened the poverty of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the strip. Turkey, which unofficially supported the flotilla, has led the criticism, calling the Israeli raid a “bloody massacre.”

The pro-Palestinian flotilla had been headed to Gaza with tens of thousands of tons of aid that Israel bans from Gaza. After days of warnings, Israel intercepted the flotilla under the cover of darkness early Monday, setting off a violent melee that left nine activists dead and dozens of people, including seven soldiers, wounded. Most of the dead were believed to be Turks.

Israel said 679 people were arrested, and about 50 of those had left the country voluntarily. Hundreds who refused to cooperate remained jailed and subject to deportation.

Israel says the Gaza blockade is needed to prevent the Iranian-backed Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into the Jewish state, from building up its arsenal. It also wants to pressure Hamas to free an Israeli soldier it has held for four years.

Critics say the blockade has failed to weaken Hamas but further strapped an already impoverished economy. It also has prevented Gaza from rebuilding after a devastating Israeli military offensive early last year.

Egypt, which has enforced the blockade with Israel since Hamas militants seized control of Gaza three years ago, said it was opening the border for several days to allow aid into the area.

The governor of Egyptian’s northern Sinai district, Murad Muwafi, said it was a humanitarian gesture meant to “alleviate the suffering of our Palestinian brothers after the Israeli attack.”

Hundreds of Gaza residents quickly gathered at the border. A steady stream of cars with suitcases on roof racks headed toward the border. Some families carrying packed luggage headed to the border by foot. Hamas police with assault rifles patrolled nearby to maintain order.

“We are working to help residents take advantage of this opportunity,” said Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ihab Ghussein. “We hope it will be open all the time, not just as a response to yesterday’s events.”

Greta Berlin said the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla, would not be deterred and that another cargo boat was off the coast of Italy en route to Gaza. A second boat carrying about three dozen passengers is expected to join it, Berlin said. She said the two boats would arrive in the region late this week or early next week.

“This initiative is not going to stop,” she said from the group’s base in Cyprus. “We think eventually Israel will get some kind of common sense. They’re going to have to stop the blockade of Gaza, and one of the ways to do this is for us to continue to send the boats.”

Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion

By George Friedman

On Sunday, Israeli naval forces intercepted the ships of a Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) delivering humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israel had demanded that the vessels not go directly to Gaza but instead dock in Israeli ports, where the supplies would be offloaded and delivered to Gaza. The Turkish NGO refused, insisting on going directly to Gaza. Gunfire ensued when Israeli naval personnel boarded one of the vessels, and a significant number of the passengers and crew on the ship were killed or wounded.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply an attempt to provoke the Israelis. That was certainly the case. The mission was designed to demonstrate that the Israelis were unreasonable and brutal. The hope was that Israel would be provoked to extreme action, further alienating Israel from the global community and possibly driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. The operation’s planners also hoped this would trigger a political crisis in Israel.

A logical Israeli response would have been avoiding falling into the provocation trap and suffering the political repercussions the Turkish NGO was trying to trigger. Instead, the Israelis decided to make a show of force. The Israelis appear to have reasoned that backing down would demonstrate weakness and encourage further flotillas to Gaza, unraveling the Israeli position vis-à-vis Hamas. In this thinking, a violent interception was a superior strategy to accommodation regardless of political consequences. Thus, the Israelis accepted the bait and were provoked.

The ‘Exodus’ Scenario

In the 1950s, an author named Leon Uris published a book called “Exodus.” Later made into a major motion picture, Exodus told the story of a Zionist provocation against the British. In the wake of World War II, the British – who controlled Palestine, as it was then known – maintained limits on Jewish immigration there. Would-be immigrants captured trying to run the blockade were detained in camps in Cyprus. In the book and movie, Zionists planned a propaganda exercise involving a breakout of Jews – mostly children – from the camp, who would then board a ship renamed the Exodus. When the Royal Navy intercepted the ship, the passengers would mount a hunger strike. The goal was to portray the British as brutes finishing the work of the Nazis. The image of children potentially dying of hunger would force the British to permit the ship to go to Palestine, to reconsider British policy on immigration, and ultimately to decide to abandon Palestine and turn the matter over to the United Nations.

There was in fact a ship called Exodus, but the affair did not play out precisely as portrayed by Uris, who used an amalgam of incidents to display the propaganda war waged by the Jews. Those carrying out this war had two goals. The first was to create sympathy in Britain and throughout the world for Jews who, just a couple of years after German concentration camps, were now being held in British camps. Second, they sought to portray their struggle as being against the British. The British were portrayed as continuing Nazi policies toward the Jews in order to maintain their empire. The Jews were portrayed as anti-imperialists, fighting the British much as the Americans had.

It was a brilliant strategy. By focusing on Jewish victimhood and on the British, the Zionists defined the battle as being against the British, with the Arabs playing the role of people trying to create the second phase of the Holocaust. The British were portrayed as pro-Arab for economic and imperial reasons, indifferent at best to the survivors of the Holocaust. Rather than restraining the Arabs, the British were arming them. The goal was not to vilify the Arabs but the British, and to position the Jews with other nationalist groups whether in India or Egypt rising against the British.

The precise truth or falsehood of this portrayal didn’t particularly matter. For most of the world, the Palestine issue was poorly understood and not a matter of immediate concern. The Zionists intended to shape the perceptions of a global public with limited interest in or understanding of the issues, filling in the blanks with their own narrative. And they succeeded.

The success was rooted in a political reality. Where knowledge is limited, and the desire to learn the complex reality doesn’t exist, public opinion can be shaped by whoever generates the most powerful symbols. And on a matter of only tangential interest, governments tend to follow their publics’ wishes, however they originate. There is little to be gained for governments in resisting public opinion and much to be gained by giving in. By shaping the battlefield of public perception, it is thus possible to get governments to change positions.

In this way, the Zionists’ ability to shape global public perceptions of what was happening in Palestine – to demonize the British and turn the question of Palestine into a Jewish-British issue – shaped the political decisions of a range of governments. It was not the truth or falsehood of the narrative that mattered. What mattered was the ability to identify the victim and victimizer such that global opinion caused both London and governments not directly involved in the issue to adopt political stances advantageous to the Zionists. It is in this context that we need to view the Turkish flotilla.

The Turkish Flotilla to Gaza

The Palestinians have long argued that they are the victims of Israel, an invention of British and American imperialism. Since 1967, they have focused not so much on the existence of the state of Israel (at least in messages geared toward the West) as on the oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Since the split between Hamas and Fatah and the Gaza War, the focus has been on the plight of the citizens of Gaza, who have been portrayed as the dispossessed victims of Israeli violence.

The bid to shape global perceptions by portraying the Palestinians as victims of Israel was the first prong of a longtime two-part campaign. The second part of this campaign involved armed resistance against the Israelis. The way this resistance was carried out, from airplane hijackings to stone-throwing children to suicide bombers, interfered with the first part of the campaign, however. The Israelis could point to suicide bombings or the use of children against soldiers as symbols of Palestinian inhumanity. This in turn was used to justify conditions in Gaza. While the Palestinians had made significant inroads in placing Israel on the defensive in global public opinion, they thus consistently gave the Israelis the opportunity to turn the tables. And this is where the flotilla comes in.

The Turkish flotilla aimed to replicate the Exodus story or, more precisely, to define the global image of Israel in the same way the Zionists defined the image that they wanted to project. As with the Zionist portrayal of the situation in 1947, the Gaza situation is far more complicated than as portrayed by the Palestinians. The moral question is also far more ambiguous. But as in 1947, when the Zionist portrayal was not intended to be a scholarly analysis of the situation but a political weapon designed to define perceptions, the Turkish flotilla was not designed to carry out a moral inquest.

Instead, the flotilla was designed to achieve two ends. The first is to divide Israel and Western governments by shifting public opinion against Israel. The second is to create a political crisis inside Israel between those who feel that Israel’s increasing isolation over the Gaza issue is dangerous versus those who think any weakening of resolve is dangerous.

The Geopolitical Fallout for Israel

It is vital that the Israelis succeed in portraying the flotilla as an extremist plot. Whether extremist or not, the plot has generated an image of Israel quite damaging to Israeli political interests. Israel is increasingly isolated internationally, with heavy pressure on its relationship with Europe and the United States.

In all of these countries, politicians are extremely sensitive to public opinion. It is difficult to imagine circumstances under which public opinion will see Israel as the victim. The general response in the Western public is likely to be that the Israelis probably should have allowed the ships to go to Gaza and offload rather than to precipitate bloodshed. Israel’s enemies will fan these flames by arguing that the Israelis prefer bloodshed to reasonable accommodation. And as Western public opinion shifts against Israel, Western political leaders will track with this shift.

The incident also wrecks Israeli relations with Turkey, historically an Israeli ally in the Muslim world with longstanding military cooperation with Israel. The Turkish government undoubtedly has wanted to move away from this relationship, but it faced resistance within the Turkish military and among secularists. The new Israeli action makes a break with Israel easy, and indeed almost necessary for Ankara.

With roughly the population of Houston, Texas, Israel is just not large enough to withstand extended isolation, meaning this event has profound geopolitical implications.

Public opinion matters where issues are not of fundamental interest to a nation. Israel is not a fundamental interest to other nations. The ability to generate public antipathy to Israel can therefore reshape Israeli relations with countries critical to Israel. For example, a redefinition of U.S.-Israeli relations will have much less effect on the United States than on Israel. The Obama administration, already irritated by the Israelis, might now see a shift in U.S. public opinion that will open the way to a new U.S.-Israeli relationship disadvantageous to Israel.

The Israelis will argue that this is all unfair, as they were provoked. Like the British, they seem to think that the issue is whose logic is correct. But the issue actually is, whose logic will be heard? As with a tank battle or an airstrike, this sort of warfare has nothing to do with fairness. It has to do with controlling public perception and using that public perception to shape foreign policy around the world. In this case, the issue will be whether the deaths were necessary. The Israeli argument of provocation will have limited traction.

Internationally, there is little doubt that the incident will generate a firestorm. Certainly, Turkey will break cooperation with Israel. Opinion in Europe will likely harden. And public opinion in the United States – by far the most important in the equation – might shift to a “plague-on-both-your-houses” position.

While the international reaction is predictable, the interesting question is whether this evolution will cause a political crisis in Israel. Those in Israel who feel that international isolation is preferable to accommodation with the Palestinians are in control now. Many in the opposition see Israel’s isolation as a strategic threat. Economically and militarily, they argue, Israel cannot survive in isolation. The current regime will respond that there will be no isolation. The flotilla aimed to generate what the government has said would not happen.

The tougher Israel is, the more the flotilla’s narrative takes hold. As the Zionists knew in 1947 and the Palestinians are learning, controlling public opinion requires subtlety, a selective narrative and cynicism. As they also knew, losing the battle can be catastrophic. It cost Britain the Mandate and allowed Israel to survive. Israel’s enemies are now turning the tables. This maneuver was far more effective than suicide bombings or the Intifada in challenging Israel’s public perception and therefore its geopolitical position (though if the Palestinians return to some of their more distasteful tactics like suicide bombing, the Turkish strategy of portraying Israel as the instigator of violence will be undermined).

Israel is now in uncharted waters. It does not know how to respond. It is not clear that the Palestinians know how to take full advantage of the situation, either. But even so, this places the battle on a new field, far more fluid and uncontrollable than what went before. The next steps will involve calls for sanctions against Israel. The Israeli threats against Iran will be seen in a different context, and Israeli portrayal of Iran will hold less sway over the world.

And this will cause a political crisis in Israel. If this government survives, then Israel is locked into a course that gives it freedom of action but international isolation. If the government falls, then Israel enters a period of domestic uncertainty. In either case, the flotilla achieved its strategic mission. It got Israel to take violent action against it. In doing so, Israel ran into its own fist.

Obama tells Netanyahu on phone: We need raid ‘facts’ ASAP

Photo by: Pete Souza

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER

US President Barak Obama postpones Oval Office meeting with the prime minister, presses for IDF flotilla-raid details, expresses “deep regret at loss of life.”

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday after the latter cancelled a planned Oval Office meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

During their 15-minute conversation, Obama conveyed his understanding for Netanyahu’s decision to return immediately to Israel from Canada and not stop in Washington following the deadly clash between the IDF and activists trying to break the Gaza blockade earlier in the day.

The two leaders also agreed to reschedule their meeting at the first opportunity. “The president expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals,” a statement put out by the White House read. “The president also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible.”

The visit had been expected to reaffirm the strong US-Israel relationship after weeks of tension and provide a public welcome to Netanyahu after his nighttime White House visit in March was conducted under a total media blackout. It was to come in the midst of nascent proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians as the US sought to build momentum to move to direct negotiations and ahead of a high-profile visit of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House next Tuesday.

“It shows how hard it is to purposefully change the momentum” in Middle East peace-making, Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies noted. “Even when you try to build small steps to change things, the waves come crashing down.”

He also assessed that in contrast to the Europeans, who already were using the incident Monday to reinforce calls for an end to the Gaza blockade, the Americans would want to have a fuller grasp of the situation before reviewing Gaza policy.

“On the American side there’s going to be a real desire to understand what happened,” he said.

Israel Prime Minister Gives ‘Full Support’ to Military in Gaza Flotilla Raid

May 31: This video image released by the Turkish Aid group IHH purports to show Israeli soldiers aboard a military vessel in international waters off the Gaza coast surrounding a Turkish ship

Associated Press

JERUSALEM

Israel’s prime minister has expressed his support for the military’s actions in a deadly raid against an aid flotilla sailing to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says he spoke Monday to top Israeli diplomatic and security officials by telephone from Canada and voiced his “full backing” for the military.

Commandos stormed six ships carrying hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on an aid mission to the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens after encountering unexpected resistance as the forces boarded the vessels.

The operation in international waters off the Gaza coast was a nightmare scenario for Israel that looked certain to further damage its international standing, strain already tense relations with Turkey — the unofficial sponsor of the mission — and draw unwanted attention to Gaza’s plight.

White House spokesman Bill Burton, speaking on the eve of a meeting that President Barack Obama had scheduled at the White House with Netanyahu, said the United States “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” in the incident. Netanyahu announced Monday he would cancel his White House visit to deal with the crisis.

Burton also said that administration officials are “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy.” The United States, among others, has been trying to restart direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, but progress toward this achievement has lagged severely in recent months.

SLIDESHOW: World Responds to Israeli Gaza Flotilla Attack

The tough Israeli response also drew condemnations from Turkey, France and the U.N.’s Mideast envoy, while Greece suspended a military exercise with Israel and postponed a visit by Israel’s air force chief.

The U.N. Security Council announced they would meet Monday afternoon to discuss the attack.

About 10,000 Turks also marched from Israel’s Consulate in Istanbul toward the city’s main square, shouting slogans denouncing Israel. The protesters earlier Monday tried storm the Consulate building but were blocked by police.

In response, Israel advised its citizens Monday to avoid travel to Turkey and instructed those already there to keep a low profile and avoid crowded downtown areas.

The Israeli ambassadors in Sweden, Spain, Denmark and Greece were summoned for meetings, and the French foreign minister called for an investigation. Activists from all of those European countries were on board the flotilla. In neighboring Jordan, hundreds demonstrated in the capital Amman to protest the Israeli action and demand that their government breaks diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

There were conflicting accounts of what happened early Monday.

An Al-Jazeera reporter on one of the Turkish ships said the Israelis fired at the vessel before boarding it. The Israelis, who had declared they would not let the ships reach Gaza, said they only opened fire after being attacked by activists with sticks, knives and live fire from weapons seized from the Israeli commandos.

“On board the ship we found weapons prepared in advance and used against our forces,” declared Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon.

“The organizers’ intent was violent, their method was violent and the results were unfortunately violent. Israel regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome.”

Israeli security forces were on alert across the country. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli “aggression,” declared three days of mourning across the West Bank and called on the U.N. Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency sessions on the incident.

Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the rival Hamas government in Gaza, condemned the “brutal” Israeli attack and called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene.

The activists were headed to Gaza on a mission meant to draw attention to a 3-year-old Israeli blockade of the coastal territory. Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, violently seized the territory. Critics say the blockade has unfairly hurt Gaza’s 1.5 million people.

“It’s disgusting that they have come on board and attacked civilians. We are civilians,” said Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza movement, which organized the flotilla. She spoke from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus and said she had lost contact with the flotilla.

Before the ships set sail from waters off the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus on Sunday, Israel had urged the flotilla not to try to breach the blockade and offered to transfer the cargo to Gaza from an Israeli port, following a security inspection.

Israeli naval commandos stormed the ships in a predawn raid while they were in international waters after ordering them to stop about 80 miles from Gaza’s coast, according to activists.

A Turkish website showed video of pandemonium on board one of the ships, with activists in orange life jackets running around as some tried to help an activist apparently unconscious on the deck. The site also showed video of an Israeli helicopter flying overhead and Israeli warships nearby.

Turkey’s NTV showed activists beating one Israeli soldier with sticks as he rappelled from a helicopter onto one of the boats.

The al-Jazeera satellite channel reported by telephone from the Turkish ship leading the flotilla that Israeli navy forces fired at the ship and boarded it, wounding the captain.

“These savages are killing people here, please help,” a Turkish television reporter said.

The broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, “Everybody shut up!”

The Israeli military said troops only opened fire after encountering unexpected resistance from the activists. Activists attacked troops with knives and iron rods, and opened fire with two pistols seized from the forces.

A total of five soldiers were wounded, two seriously, including at least one hit by live fire, the army said. Two of the dead activists had fired at soldiers with pistols, the army said.

“They planned this attack,” said Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitch. “Our soldiers were injured from these knives and sharp metal objects … as well as from live fire.”

The violent takeover threatened to deal yet another blow to Israel’s international image, already tarnished by war crimes accusations in Gaza and its blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory.

It occurred a day before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss the Middle East peace process.

The ships were being towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, and wounded were evacuated by helicopter to Israeli hospitals, officials said. One of the ships had reached port by midday.

There were no details on the identities of the casualties, or on the conditions of some of the more prominent people on board, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 85.

Satellite phones on board the ships were turned off, and communication with a small group of reporters embedded with the Israeli military was blocked.

The Free Gaza Movement is an international group of pro-Palestinian activists that claims the blockade, imposed three years ago after the militant Islamic Hamas group overran Gaza, is unjust and a violation of international law.

Organizers included people affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group that often sends international activists into battle zones, and the IHH, a Turkish aid group that Israel accuses of having terrorist links.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the Israeli raid and said it was summoning the Israeli ambassador for an “urgent explanation.”

Hasan Naiboglu, the Turkish maritime affairs undersecretary, told the Anatolia news agency that Israel had jammed communications with the ships. He accused Israel of violating international law by carrying out the raid in international waters.

Turkey had unofficially supported the aid mission and has been vocally critical of Israeli military operations against Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel’s Ynet news website said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called Turkish officials, including the defense and foreign ministers, to discuss the raid.

The United Nations expressed “shock” and condemned the killings. “We are in contact with the Israeli authorities to express our deep concern and to seek a full explanation,” said a statement from the highest-ranking U.N. official in the region, Robert Serry.

The flotilla of three cargo ships and three passenger ships carrying 10,000 tons of aid and 700 activists was carrying items that Israel bars from reaching Gaza, like cement and other building materials.

This is the ninth time that the Free Gaza movement has tried to ship in humanitarian aid to Gaza since August 2008.

Israel has allowed ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers in January 2009.

The latest flotilla was the largest to date.

NKorea warns of war if punished for ship sinking

By JEAN H. LEE and HYUNG-JIN KIM

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Tensions deepened Thursday on the Korean peninsula as South Korea accused North Korea of firing a torpedo that sank a naval warship, killing 46 sailors in the country’s worst military disaster since the Korean War.

President Lee Myung-bak vowed “stern action” for the provocation following the release of long-awaited results from a multinational investigation into the March 26 sinking near the Koreas’ tense maritime border. North Korea, reacting swiftly, called the results a fabrication, and warned that any retaliation would trigger war. It continued to deny involvement in the sinking of the warship Cheonan.

“If the (South Korean) enemies try to deal any retaliation or punishment, or if they try sanctions or a strike on us …. we will answer to this with all-out war,” Col. Pak In Ho of North Korea’s navy told broadcaster APTN in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang.

An international civilian-military investigation team said evidence overwhelmingly proves a North Korean submarine fired a homing torpedo that caused a massive underwater blast that tore the Cheonan apart. Fifty-eight sailors were rescued from the frigid Yellow Sea waters, but 46 perished.

Since the 1950-53 war on the Korean peninsula ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas remain locked in a state of war and divided by the world’s most heavily armed border.

The truce prevents Seoul from waging a unilateral military attack.

However, South Korea and the U.S., which has 28,500 troops on the peninsula, could hold joint military exercises in a show of force, said Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank.

South Korean and U.S. officials also said they are considering a variety of options in response to the warship’s sinking, ranging from U.N. Security Council action to additional U.S. penalties.

The exchange of war rhetoric raised tensions, but the isolated communist regime – already under international pressure to cease its nuclear weapons program – often warns of dire consequences against South Korea or Washington for any punitive steps against it. Its large but decrepit military would be no match for U.S. and Korean forces.

The impoverished country is already chafing from international sanctions tightened last year in the wake of widely condemned nuclear and missile tests. U.N. sanctions currently block funding to certain officials and companies, while North Korea is barred from exporting weapons and countries are authorized to inspect North Korean ships suspected of carrying illicit cargo.

South Korea “will take resolute countermeasures against North Korea and make it admit its wrongdoings through strong international cooperation,” Lee said during a call with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the presidential office said. Lee convened an emergency meeting for Friday.

The White House called the sinking an unacceptable “act of aggression” that violates international law and the 1953 truce. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama declared his support for South Korea, calling North Korea’s actions “inexcusable.”

China, North Korea’s traditional ally, called the sinking of the naval ship “unfortunate” but stopped short of backing Seoul.

Pyongyang continued its steadfast denials of involvement in the sinking.

“Our Korean People’s Army was not founded for the purpose of attacking others. We have no intention to strike others first,” Col. Pak, the naval spokesman, told APTN in the North Korean capital. “So why should we attack a ship like the Cheonan which has no relation with us, no need to strike it and we have no significance in doing so.”

North Korea’s powerful National Defense Commission warned the South against provocative acts near their border, and urged the U.S. and Japan to “act with discretion,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch monitored in Seoul.

North Korea has waged a slew of attacks on South Korea since the 1950-53 fighting ended, including the 1987 downing of a South Korean airliner that killed all 115 people on board.

Pyongyang has never owned up to the attacks.

North Korea also disputes the maritime border drawn unilaterally by U.N. forces at the close of the Korean War, and the waters have been the site of several deadly naval clashes since 1999.

Detailed scientific analysis of the wreckage, as well as fragments recovered from the waters where the Cheonan went down, point to North Korea, investigators said.

The bending of the ship’s keel backs the theory that an underwater torpedo triggered a shockwave and bubble effect that tore the ship apart, the report said.

The report also cites fractures on the main deck, statements from survivors and a sentry on a nearby island, and fractures and lacerations on the remains of deceased sailors.

Pieces of the torpedo “perfectly match” the schematics of a North Korean-made torpedo Pyongyang has tried to sell abroad, chief investigator Yoon Duk-yong said.

A serial number on one fragment is consistent with markings from a North Korean torpedo that Seoul obtained years earlier, Yoon said.

“The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine,” he said. “There is no other plausible explanation.”

At Seoul’s main train station, scores of people watched raptly as the investigator laid out the evidence against North Korea.

“I’m afraid,” said Naima Vela, 26-year-old student from Italy. “I still have a month or two to stay in Seoul and I don’t know if I should.”

Near the Demilitarized Zone, tourists peered across the border into North Korea.

“As a mother of a boy who is serving his military duty right now, I don’t want a war to break out,” Jeon Bok-soon said in Paju as she looked across the border into North Korea.

“However if (North Korea) keeps mentioning war, I think we should also show our strong military power,” she said.

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington, Jay Alabaster in Tokyo, Kelly Olsen and Claire Lee in Seoul, and Chi-Chi Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.

Sources: US to join advisory group with anti-Israel past

Associated Press

The Obama administration is preparing to join an international advisory group that the United States generally has shunned due to fears it would adopt anti-Israeli and anti-Western positions, US officials said Wednesday.

The officials told The Associated Press the administration plans to announce as early as this week that it will begin a formal relationship with the Alliance of Civilizations.

The five-year-old, UN-backed organization aims to ease strains between societies and cultures, particularly the West and Islam.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the decision publicly.

The Bush administration boycotted the group when it was founded in 2005 over because it feared the group would become a forum for bashing Israel and the United States. Those concerns were magnified a year later when the alliance released a report that officials in Washington said unfairly blamed Israel and the United States for many of the world’s problems.

Since President Barack Obama came into office last year, the United States has opened the door slowly to informal dealings with the alliance, including attending some of its meetings as an observer.

‘More positive approach’

The United States has yet to join the alliance by becoming a member of its “Group of Friends,” countries and organizations that have lent their names and support to its goal of countering the rise of religious extremism and cultural polarization.

The decision to join grows out of Obama’s desire to broaden US participation in international groups and improve its standing among Muslims.

Earlier moves have included Obama’s thus far failed outreach to Iran and Syria, his speech from Egypt last year to the world’s Muslims and the US decision to join the much-criticized UN Human Rights Commission.

The United States also participated in preparatory meetings for a UN conference on racism that the administration ultimately boycotted because of its expected anti-Semitic position.

The US had been the only member of the Group of 20 major advanced and emerging economies to refuse to join the friends group, which now includes 118 countries and organizations.

Many nations in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia are members along with multilateral blocs including the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Israel and the United States have been among the conspicuous holdouts.

The officials said earlier fears about the “imbalances” in the group, which was set up by Spain and Turkey, had been dealt with after the United States expressed “serious concerns” about the 2006 report.

That report focused on the Middle East and identified Israel’s “disproportionate retaliatory actions in Gaza and Lebanon” as a main cause of Muslim-Western tension.

The officials said the administration had been assured by its current leader, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, that it would take a “more positive” approach to its work.

The officials said they had consulted closely with Israel on the decision to join the alliance. Israel has no plans to join, diplomats said.