Israel has invested significant “intelligence assets” into assessing who and what is on the vessels that are expected to sail soon for the Gaza Strip, so that “this time Israel won’t be surprised,” diplomatic officials said on Tuesday.
The officials said the government internalized lessons learned from both the Eiland and Turkel committees, which looked into the handling of last year’s Mavi Marmara flotilla, and found that Israel was surprised by the level and type of resistance it came up against.
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This time, the officials said, there are people whose jobs it is to ascertain who and what is going on the ships.
The officials’ comments came after security and diplomatic personnel said on Sunday that radical elements had hidden chemicals such as sulfur to be used against IDF soldiers if they try to interdict the flotilla.
In addition, officials said that there was growing concern that “hard-core” Islamic activists were intermingling with passengers on the ships who are believed to be genuinely nonviolent, and would use these passengers if necessary as “protective shields.”
In last year’s flotilla of six ships, the “hard-core” Islamic activists were concentrated on the Mavi Marmara, and were not on the other vessels. If they now “intermingle” with the passengers on the other vessels, this would “create special operational challenges” for the IDF, the official said.
Government officials said it was easier to obtain information about the ships and the passengers this time because the Greek authorities, who have come out strongly against the flotilla, have been much more cooperative than the Turkish authorities were last year.
Last year, Turkey was a main center for those organizing the flotilla, but Ankara – under a great deal of pressure from a number of different countries – stepped back this year, forcing the organizers to try to launch from Greece.
One official said the Greeks were strictly adhering to regulations regarding insurance and the issuing of permits to the vessels.
While Athens may not forbid the ships to sail from Greek ports, as Cyprus has done, “going by the book” has caused the organizers delay and considerable uncertainty.
Even with the concern that some of the activists aboard the vessels had less than peaceful intentions, diplomatic officials noted with some satisfaction that while the organizers originally spoke of some 1,500 activists intent on setting sail, in the end it appears about one-fourth of that number will try to break the Gaza blockade.
One senior Foreign Ministry official said this was due in part to the
diplomatic pressure for countries to do what they could to dissuade
their citizens from participating, something a number of countries did
by issuing official warnings.
Also on Tuesday, the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Ministry held a drill
with government and military spokespeople about how to get Israel’s
message across on the Internet in real time if the flotilla turns
violent and there are casualties.