Over the weekend, Iran’s foreign ministry decided it would be a peach of an idea to send an Iranian Red Crescent flotilla to Gaza. If the flotilla reaches the shores off Gaza — and check out a Middle East map and you’ll see that Tehran is going to need some “local help” so it doesn’t have to head around the Horn of Africa — it could create an international firestorm that makes the fallout from the first flotilla look like a three-year-old’s birthday party.
To the casual observer, the Iranian Red Crescent may seem like a harmless international charity intent on do-gooding. It is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the world’s largest humanitarian network.
But lest anyone think the Iranian Red Crescent is an independent charity that has made a humanitarian decision to send the flotilla to Gaza out of the goodness of its heart, click here. That’s the Google translation of the announcement of Abolhassan Faghih’s appointment as the Iranian Red Crescent’s president by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What’s more, the decision to send the flotilla was likely made within the halls of the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran. Does that sound independent? Indeed, it’s almost certain that Ahmadinejad is using this flotilla as a direct extension of Iranian foreign policy.
And if the situation isn’t handled with extraordinary deftness, it could just spark a war.
Imagine the scenario: An Iranian-backed flotilla attempts to capitalize on the public relations “success” of last week’s tragedy. Israel, having dug its heels in on the naval blockade while sending mixed messages on the humanitarian issue, calculates that the last thing in the world it needs is to hand Iran a propaganda victory. After all, the Israel Defense Force just took out a handful of alleged terrorist divers off Gaza, which is a fair indication that the beating they’ve taken in the international press after last week isn’t going to make them back down.
In the face of impending physical confrontation, Tehran, as we’ve seen far too often over the last year, has little concern for the lives of its own citizens and encourages the flotilla onward. Israel fires. Tehran responds. The situation escalates … you can imagine the ugly fallout.
For the mullahs in Tehran, the situation is a win-win no-brainer. Either breaking the Israeli blockade or having its citizens die at Tel Aviv’s hands would be a massive propaganda victory that could potentially rally disaffected Iranians around the president. And if the situation becomes violent and Iran looks like a victim, it could decrease pressure within the UN Security Council for nuclear sanctions.
If we look purely at the strategic implications of the Red Crescent flotilla, the only way to diffuse the situation is to make aid in Gaza a non-issue. That’s why in light of the obvious humanitarian crisis afflicting Gaza’s citizens, Israel needs to facilitate a massive injection of aid into the strip.
And it better do it quickly. After all, were Iran to somehow fail, someone else would just send another flotilla soon.
Photo credit: Indigoprime’s Photostream