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Israeli Raid on Ships Complicates Middle East Peace Efforts

Israel's deadly raid on a flotilla of ships trying to break a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip appears likely to complicate U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to reinvigorate peace negotiations in the Middle East. Analysts say Monday's violence, which killed at least nine pro-Palestinian activists, has inflamed passions in the Arab world and beyond, while creating a crisis in Israeli-Turkish relations.

Middle East analysts say the timing of the commando raid on the Gaza-bound ship containing humanitarian aid is bad both for Israel and the United States.

Middle East expert Steven Cook discusses about the affect of the attack on peace process:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled plans to come to Washington Tuesday to meet President Obama at the White House.

The attack also comes as American-mediated indirect talks between the Israelis and Palestinians are just getting underway.

The blockade has been in effect since the violent takeover of Gaza by the militant group Hamas in 2007 and is designed to stop weapons smuggling and rocket fire into the Jewish state.

A spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, Mark Regev, says the naval blockade is necessary to protect the nation. "If there were not be that naval blockade, you would have a steady inflow of such dangerous weapons in the Gaza Strip and they would end up being shot at Israeli civilians. So for Israel I don't think I am overstating the case when I say the naval blockade is a matter of life and death," he said.

Israel says its commandos opened fire on activists after they were attacked with knives, iron crow bars and gunfire.

Reva Bhalla, a senior Middle East analyst for the private intelligence firm STRATFOR, says the pro-Palestinian activists in the flotilla wanted to create an international incident. "Israel did, essentially, walk into this trap. It was caught between needing to maintain this blockade over Gaza and not allowing that precedent to break, and risking a major clash, which is what ensued and as a result we have a very, very messy affair," he said.

More attention is now expected on the situation in Gaza, a narrow coastal strip with 1.5 million Palestinians.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and operates independently of the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank.

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, says efforts to revive the peace process are now, at least in the short term, significantly more complicated because of the Israeli raid.

"You have a regional public opinion that is highly inflamed. If you watch the media in the region at the moment, which is highly focused on this issue, it just is shocked by what has transpired. I believe that it is going to make it very hard to get Arab support and coordination," he said.

But Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev says the incident will not have a negative impact on the peace process. "We are ready to continue the peace talks with the Palestinians. We want those peace talks to succeed," he said.

At least four Turks were killed in the Israeli raid and the action has severely strained relations between Turkey and the Jewish state.

Turkey has had close ties with Israel, but relations have been deteriorating for some time.

Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says Israel should be punished for the assault, which he called a bloody massacre.

STRATFOR analyst Reva Bhalla says Turkey is becoming a far more active participant in Middle East politics and standing up for the Palestinian cause is helping the country's image. "How far will Turkey take this? Will they actually break cooperation and relations with Israel? That is something that we really need to watch closely and two, will this Israeli government even survive this crisis?," he said.

Pro-Palestinian activists say they will make another attempt to break Israel's blockade of Gaza very soon.