The Israel Defense Forces' lethal attack May 31 on ships 75 miles out in the Mediterranean Sea in international waters, carrying foreign activists with humanitarian gifts for blockaded Gazans, has provoked a firestorm of international fury and anger within Israel itself.
At least nine people are dead, more are wounded, and an estimated 500, including a reported nine Americans, are still being held in Israeli detention. IDF special operations forces boarded the ships from American Blackhawk helicopters early Monday morning. Those on board one of the six ships resisted the attackers, Israeli soldiers opened fire in what they claim was self-defense, and the casualties occurred.
So far the U.N. Security Council has condemned the attack and called for an impartial inquiry into it. Criticism of the raid is vigorous in Israel itself. Anti-Israel demonstrations have occurred in New York and in a range of cities in Europe and the Middle East. President Barack Obama has expressed regret at the loss of life. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, scheduled to meet with Mr. Obama in Washington this week, canceled his visit to return home.
Other, political casualties of the affair are still being counted. Indirect "proximity" talks between Israelis and Fatah Palestinians, with the United States in the middle - in the person of former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, U.S. special envoy to the Middle East - were in the process of getting off the ground. There was hope that they would evolve eventually into direct, face-to-face talks, even though the omission of Hamas, which rules Gaza, from them always put prospects in question.
It is difficult to imagine that those talks can now proceed in the wake of the May 31 attack. Even Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, who want the talks, will find it difficult to proceed given what has occurred.
A second victim of the May 31 incident is likely to be what was a reasonable relationship between Israel and Turkey, one of its few Muslim friends. The two countries had ambassadors in each other's capitals, there is some $2 billion in annual trade between them, and Turkey has served as an intermediary between Israel and Syria on the future of the Golan Heights.
The ship where the deaths occurred was Turkish, the humanitarian aid group sponsoring the project was based in Turkey, and many of the dead, wounded and imprisoned civilians are Turkish. Turkish officials have termed the Israeli action "war crimes" and "inhumane state terrorism."
A third possible victim of the incident will be general, tacit international acceptance of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, with the impact that it has on the lives of the some 1.5 million Palestinians jammed into that small, poor piece of real estate.
The question that Israelis themselves are asking now is whose idea the attack was. It somehow seems improbable that the country's leadership would have authorized an action of this sort with such high political costs after reflection. There is clearly more that needs to emerge, especially in Israel itself, before Israelis, as well as the world, will be able to move on from it.