Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.
Part of me very much wishes to believe this is all a viral marketing effort leading to a forthcoming episode of Portlandia where they go to Israel. It is almost that surreal, but in a somewhat entertaining manner.
Shurat HaDin — an Israeli “lawfare” group that set up legal roadblock after roadblock against “Gaza Freedom Flotilla II” last year — has for several years offered tours of Israel that take in the sort of sights a military fanboy would love, from Hezbollah watching on the Lebanese border to visiting the IAF units that carry out targeted killings and viewing military trials of alleged Hamas operatives (that was part of the 2011 trip). Also, there is a BBQ. The one-week trip costs around US$3,000 and is billed as “Taking it to a Whole New Level,” “The Ultimate Mission to Israel”.
No argument here.
As a sometimes-national security blogger, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was curious about this sort of combat voyeurism and how it might speak volumes about the further militarization of Israeli society, though a friend’s perhaps uncharitable assessment is that most of the people who do go on these trips are not Israelis, but IDF fanboys from the U.S. (the works of Tom Clancy were mentioned in passing in the discussion). In that case, these trips say more about the way the IDF is perceived in both countries than anything else.
Here’s this year’s agenda. As you can see from the screenshot, I mentioned the Gaza flotilla to start with not just because it’s Shurat HaDin’s claim to fame in the U.S. media (its charity work in Israel and lawsuits against terrorist financiers not being well-known outside of the country) but because, apparently, one of this year’s highlights is a trip to the undisclosed naval base where the Israeli navy is holding flotilla ships it’s impounded. It’s not clear which ships they’re referring to, but since only a single ship from the 2011 effort reached Gazan waters, I imagine they are also referring to ships from the 2010 effort.
I guess it’s really only fair that the lawfare group be allowed to tour these prizes — the navy might have actually boarded and impounded the ships in both cases, but Shurat HaDin made their job so much easier the second time through its pressure campaign against the organizers and the Greek government. With one exception, a French boat, none of the second flotilla’s ships made it further than Greek territorial waters.
I imagine anyone who might be linked to the IAEA is not allowed to go any further than the gift shop when the group makes a stop at the Research Center for Atomic Energy (do you think one can buy plausible-deniability Jericho missile keychains there?). I’d have to say that this year’s most questionable whistlestop for Shurat HaDin is the opportunity for ticket holders to visit a Druze village that has apparently become home to a number of refugees fleeing Syria’s nascent civil war. With several Syria events planned for the trip, apparently, I guess there is not much concern over that conflict escalating in the Golan Heights area.
You all probably think I’m appalled with many aspects of this itinerary — no, not the BBQ, obviously, the gawking at refugees, yes — yet I must look for the silver lining, and to me that silver lining is the timing of the summer’s venue, July 9-16.
Why is this cause for cautious optimism? Because some informed comment has determined that if Israel is going to attack Iran this year, it will almost certainly be before the end of this summer. Surely this indicates that war with Iran is unlikely in the tour organizers’ minds who, based on where they’re getting to go, must have their fingers on the pulse of the security forces (who are generally not as sanguine about the prospect of war with Iran as Ehud Barak appears to be).
And while Netanyahu might be an overly rude guest — just ask Obama — he does not seem to be an overly rude host (he hasn’t expelled Gideon Levy or the Arab minority yet). Surely, he would not risk waging war with Iran and inconveniencing Israel’s most gung-ho tourists?