Israel found itself goaded into the interception of the lead vessel, a Turkish-flagged cruise ship far out in international waters. When the ship's passengers armed with clubs and bottles viciously attacked the Israeli commandos who had rappelled onto the deck, the soldiers fired, killing 10, most of them apparently Turks. The ships were taken to an Israeli port where the 700 protesters were given a choice of deportation or prison.
Israel had attempted to defuse the flotilla operation by offering to let the ships unload their supplies in Israel, where the Israelis would screen them for military contraband - something they were no doubt full of - before shipping them on to Gaza.
But simply delivering the supplies was not really the point of the exercise. What happened next was: An incident that would provoke near-universal condemnation of Israel and its blockade. (Never mind that Egypt is also blockading Gaza.) Few bought the Israeli government's justifiable argument that this was somehow self-defense. Mildest in its reaction was the United States, with the White House - no great friend of Israel under the Obama administration - calling it a "tragedy."
Turkey denounced the interception as "inhumane state terrorism," recalled its ambassador to Israel, canceled planned joint military exercises and called for a special U.N. session. This may give Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Islamist prime minister, the pretext he seems to have been seeking to step back from Turkey's position as Israel's closest Muslim ally. Greece, in a rare show of solidarity, also pulled out of joint military exercises with Israel. It's further proof that in many corners of the world, irrational hatred of Jews and Israel trumps all other concerns.
At least five European nations called in Israeli ambassadors to demand an explanation. France's foreign minister said he was "profoundly shocked by the tragic consequences."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew home from Canada, forcing cancellation of a kiss-and-makeup meeting Tuesday with Obama, a session intended to warm up frosty relations and restart direct Mideast peace talks.
Israel has imposed its blockade on Gaza ever since relinquishing that territory in 2007. Hamas has repaid Israel's generosity by using Gaza as a launching pad for rocket attacks on Israeli towns and defenseless civilians. Food, medicine and electricity continue to be allowed into Gaza under the blockade.
Unfortunately, Israel can do no right in the court of public opinion. Countries and leaders who have stood mute even as North Korea sunk a South Korean naval vessel in an unprovoked attack, killing 46 sailors, wasted no time in lambasting Israel's role in Monday's incident.
As for those in this country eager to criticize Israel, consider how the U.S. might react if the Taliban were to somehow try to sail a convoy of ships bearing "humanitarian" supplies into a port just over the Mexican border, say, Vera Cruz. What would we do if our Coast Guardsmen or SEALs were attacked with knives, pistols and steel rods as they boarded the ships?
The answer is that we would do just as Israel has done - and would be fully justified in doing so.