The captain expressed his satisfaction over the hospitality. He had, however, one request: Would the Navy agree to supply him, as a gesture between sailors, with a case of vodka? Since that incident several years ago, the Navy is very careful about hurting Turkish sailors' feelings. The permits were given. The vodka was issued. And so, what began as a heroic operation, Entebbe on the sea, ended with a modest case of vodka. Great joy.
If only it were like that. Monday's event at Eilat's military port was an almost accurate repeat of the event held in honor of the seizure of the Karine A arms ship, in January 2002. A display of weapons on the platform, for the foreign press, embassies' military attachés and the public opinion at home. A speech by the prime minister, throwing harsh accusations at Iran, the weapons' supplier, and at the Palestinians, its clients, and not forgetting to mention the apple of his eye: The settlements.
But the differences are so big. The main enemy at the time was Yasser Arafat. Prime Minister Sharon wanted to banish him from Ramallah, and used the capture of the arms ship and Arafat's false excuses as leverage; President Bush took Sharon's accusation very seriously. He didn't let him banish Arafat, but he stopped believing him. The ship's capture worked, and Sharon had good reasons to celebrate all the way from Eilat.
The main enemy today is Iran. Israel's claims against it are founded. Netanyahu sees the battle against it as his life's mission. He invests and invests and invests, warns and warns and warns, speaks here and speaks abroad, and the world refuses to be impressed. The world refuses to be impressed because the world is opportunistic, selfish and tired, and so are its leaders. In practice, the world has come to terms with Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state. That's the reality, and Israel's prime minister, in spite of his proven rhetorical skills, is failing to change it.
Some of the responsibility for this awkward situation falls on Netanyahu's shoulders after all. Years of winks, zigzags and talks about the Palestinian issue from both sides of his mouth have taken their toll. It's easy for leaders of Western countries to ignore his cries, although they are being voiced in clear English.
In Karine A, 50 tons of weapons and ammunition were seized. Quantity wise, the display was more impressive. The Klos-C cargo is of better quality. Forty long-range rockets are not a trivial thing. I asked one of the foreign reporters, a representative of a British newspaper, how he would summarize what he saw. He said it was a powerful picture. It illustrated to his readers that the whole of Israel faced a concrete threat on a daily basis.
Churchill in Eilat
But Netanyahu is only marginally interested in the threat from Gaza. His target is Iran. The fact that the West, not to mention the East, is unwilling to listen to him drives him crazy. From speech to speech he raises his tone. If they didn't listen to him when he spoke quietly, perhaps they'll listen when he protests vigorously.
Iran, the big Satan, is now being joined by Europe, the little Satan. A hypocritical Europe, a prude Europe. He is personally attacking Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign minister, without mentioning her name. "We witnessed smiles and handshakes of the West's representatives with the heads of the Tehran regime while these missiles were being unloaded in Eilat," he says. Iran is not condemned, or barely condemned, but Israel – "if we build a balcony in Jerusalem, we hear loud condemnations from the international community."
He is as harsh in English. He accuses the world of "self-deception." Rouhani, he says, is just a public relations agent. The real Iran is the Iran of Khamenei, the supreme leader.
And then he shares an apocalyptic prophecy with the world. Iran will be able to equip the next containers with "nuclear suitcases," he says, and send them to any place in the world… Iran is planning intercontinental missiles which will threaten the Western population.
When I heard him I asked myself what he expects us, Israel's citizens, to do following his remarks. Should we dig a fallout shelter in our apartment building's backyard? Should we try to have foreign passports issued? Become Muslims? Does this cry have any purpose?
I was reminded of Churchill, the man Netanyahu wants so much to resemble. Churchill warned his country and the world against Nazi Germany, and the world, complacent as always, refused to listen. When Churchill's warnings were verified, he was called to lead Britain to victory.
But if Netanyahu's cries are verified, he won't have a country to lead. From his fallout shelter, under the entrance to Jerusalem, he will shout, "Told you so, told you so" – and on top there won't be a single living Israeli who will be able to tell him, "That's right, well done."
Without a purpose, from speech to speech he is increasingly becoming a Steinitz. Digging and digging, grinding and grinding, being right and being right, yet justice refuses to show up.
The Chinese lead seal
Two notes at the margins of the Eilat event: First of all, the ship's weapons containers were locked with lead seals of two types: Iranian seals and Chinese seals. Colonel Assaf, an Intelligence Directorate official who presented the containers, explained that the seals which had the Chinese code engraved on them were also locked in Iran. I warned him that China was one of the prime minister's priorities at the moment. He understood the warning. When he presented the containers, he said politely: "Iran and another country."
Moreover, the M-302 rockets, the more significant catch in the ship, are Chinese rockets. They were manufactured in Syria with Chinese approval.
Secondly, not many foreign reporters arrived in Eilat on Monday, certainly in comparison to the event celebrating Karine A. There is, of course, a general drop in the interest the world is showing in the Middle East, and a general shrinkage of the global media industry. Beyond that, the enthusiasm over the capture of a ship is limited. It is more or less similar to the enthusiasm over a report on an incident between two Korean ships, one from the south and the other from the north.