'Navy prepared to board flotilla ships if they don't stop'

On anniversary of 'Marmara' raid, senior Navy officer says soldiers under order to use force, but objective to take over ships non-violently.

May 31, 2011 15:21
2 minute read.
Shayetet 13 Commandos.

flotilla 13 shayetet 13 311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)


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The Israel Navy is prepared to intercept and take control of ships participating in a new attempt to break the blockade of Gaza Strip, a senior navy officer said on Tuesday, one year after the operation to stop the Mavi Marmara passenger ship that ended with nine Turkish men dead.

“We will order the ships to stop, but if they don’t, we are prepared to intercept and board the ships,” the senior officer told reporters.

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The flotilla of 15 ships, organized by the Turkish IHH organization – which is outlawed in Israel due to its ties with Hamas – as well as the Free Gaza Movement, plans to set sail for the Gaza Strip late this month.

The organizers are now working to raise money to buy the ships, and they may have to delay their launch date by several days or even weeks.

Under the blockade, Gaza fishermen are allowed to sail 3 km. from the Strip, but no farther. Vessels from elsewhere are not allowed come within 20 km. of Gaza.

According to international maritime law, however, the Israel Navy is allowed to intercept and take control of a ship that declares its intention to sail to Gaza, even before it enters the area of the blockade.

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.

Benny Gantz told the Knesset on Tuesday that Israel was prepared for the new flotilla. “The IDF learned the lessons of the Marmara,” Gantz told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“The IDF will act to prevent any attempt to break the naval blockade.”

“The flotilla’s organizers want to provoke us, not to provide aid to Gaza,” he said. “There is no humanitarian crisis; hundreds of trucks of food and supplies enter Gaza every day.”

The chief of staff added that the naval blockade is supported by international law. “Recently, the UN secretary- general said the blockade is legal and the flotilla is illegal,” Gantz said.

The navy has been conducting training exercises in recent weeks in conjunction with the air force in line with the lessons learned from last year’s flotilla. Members of the Israel Police and the Prisons Service, who specialize in quelling civilian violence, will participate in the operation to stop the flotilla together with the commandos from Navy Flotilla 13, better known as the Shayetet.

The senior navy officer said Israel was preparing a number of “surprises” for the ships that are expected to participate in the flotilla.

He said soldiers were under order to use force to “neutralize” armed protesters and attackers if necessary, but that the goal would be to take over the ships nonviolently and without casualties on either side.

To prevent violent clashes, the navy has come up with ways to board as many soldiers at once onto the ships, and not one-by-one as was done last year. The soldiers have trained for a wide-range of scenarios, from passive violence to passengers who try to attack the soldiers with weapons or explosives.

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