The Chicago Tribune has an excellent editorial in today’s paper explaining how the efforts to turn the “humanitarian” flotilla into a ship of martyrs doesn’t exactly pass the smell test and why they have elected not to join in the condemnation of Israel. 

The more we learn about this incident, though, the more it looks like a setup designed to provoke or embarrass Israel.  Video shows the Israeli commandos were surrounded and attacked as they reached the ship’s deck. The Israelis tried to avoid a lethal confrontation. Israeli officials reportedly offered the vessel the same deal that was accepted by at least one previous flotilla – divert to the Israeli port of Ashdod and unload the cargo for inspection. As long as the cargo doesn’t contain weaponry, it will be shipped into the Gaza Strip by land.

The leaders of the protest group were intent on breaking the blockade. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Monday that the group has close ties to Hamas and to other terrorist groups, including al-Qaida.  The bloody confrontation has prompted international calls for Israel to abandon its embargo of Gaza. Remember, though, why Israel restricts the flow of goods into Gaza.

Hamas, which is backed by Iran, controls Gaza and has used that control to lob missiles into Israel. Hamas has pledged never to recognize the Jewish state. Its goal is to destroy Israel.  Hamas leaders refuse to abide by diplomatic agreements reached by Palestinian negotiators with Israel. Hamas won’t join Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in indirect peace talks with Israel.

Last year, Hamas provoked a three-week war with Israel by firing dozens of rockets in a two-day period. Gazans suffered heavy casualties as Israel retaliated to halt the rocket attacks.  Israel does allow food, medicine, fuel and other staples into Gaza. It is delivering the goods carried by this flotilla. But Israel restricts supplies that can be used to construct rockets, underground bunkers and weapons factories.

Hamas would like nothing better than freer borders for arms shipments. Right now it has to smuggle arms via tunnels dug under the border with Egypt. The Egyptians sometimes can be persuaded to look the other way, but Egyptian authorities also crack down from time to time and destroy the tunnels.

This is turning into a diplomatic debacle for Israel. On Monday, Egypt opened its border with Gaza to deflect criticism of its role in the Israeli embargo. That’s an invitation for weapons smuggling. More ships are headed into international waters near Gaza, apparently to provoke another confrontation.

Pardon us, though, if we don’t join the condemnation. Israel has a right to defend itself and a keen interest in preventing arms from reaching Gaza. There’s a nasty neighbor in control of that territory, just a short-range rocket away.