Navy prepares to confront more ships

US: What’s important is that we don’t see repeat of 'Marmara' raid.

June 3, 2010 03:52
3 minute read.
navy commandoes

311_commando raid. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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The Obama administration has stressed to Jerusalem the need to prevent a recurrence of the deadly Israeli commandeering of a ship bound for Gaza, as other boats make their way to the area.

“What’s most important to the president is that events like the one that transpired a couple nights ago don’t transpire again,” White House spokesman Bill Burton said Wednesday. “So we are talking to our partners and are hopeful that we won’t see a repeat.”

Questions abound over planning of sea op
How Flotilla 13 seized the 'Francop'

Burton described the president as “confident that we’re having productive conversations with them” on how to avoid a similar outcome.

Still, the Israel Navy will likely choose the same unit – Flotilla (Shayetet) 13 – to lead a commandeering operation of the ships expected to try to break the sea blockade of Gaza later this week, according to defense officials.

“No other unit has the capabilities that the shayetet has in boarding and commandeering ships in the middle of the ocean,” one defense official said Wednesday. “They are the best unit for the operation.”

The unit came under criticism this week after commandos killed nine passengers during the raid of the Turkish passenger ship Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla attempting to break the blockade.

The commandos rappelled onto the boat’s upper deck and fell into what Israel has described as a well-planned lynch by a mob armed with bats, knives and metal pipes.

The navy has been tracking the two new ships – one carrying cargo and the other about three dozen passengers – as they make their approach to Israel from near Libya. Navy assessments are that the ships will reach Israeli waters toward the end of the week.

One of the ships, a private Irish 1,200-ton freighter, is named for Rachel Corrie, an American college student crushed to death in 2003 by an IDF bulldozer while protesting house demolitions in the Gaza Strip. It is carrying wheelchairs, medical supplies and concrete.

The ship was supposed to join the aid flotilla that the navy stopped early Monday, but it was delayed by mechanical problems. On Wednesday it was still several hundred kilometers west of Gaza along the Libyan coast.

Navy sources said that the commandos would be better prepared to handle potential violent resistance when boarding the two ships.

“If needed, we will be more aggressive when boarding,” one source said.

Activists agree to offer 'no resistance'

Derek Graham, an activist on one of the boats, said that all of the passengers aboard had agreed to offer no resistance if their ship were boarded by IDF soldiers. He said they expected to reach the disputed waters Friday or Saturday, and had agreed to sit down and put their hands in the air as Israeli forces approached.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told lawmakers that Ireland had formally appealed to Israel to let the ship “complete its journey unimpeded and discharge its humanitarian cargo in Gaza,” but was not optimistic this would happen.

“We’re in constant contact with the Israeli government, advising absolute restraint in regard to this particular vessel as it goes about its humanitarian purpose,” he said. “The presence of cement on board the vessel is not regarded by Israelis as a product that is simply humanitarian.”

On board the Irish vessel is Mairead Corrigan, a 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Northern Ireland whom Israel last detained and deported in July 2009 as she tried to deliver aid by sea to Gaza.

Also taking part is Denis Halliday, who ran UN humanitarian aid programs in Iraq in 1997-98 before resigning in protest of US-led economic sanctions against Iraq.

Meanwhile Wednesday, the IDF released additional footage that showed the passengers aboard the ship attacking Israeli soldiers with metal chains and stun grenades, and hosing them down with water as well.

This footage came from the ship itself, from the cameras and video recorders carried by passengers that were confiscated by the IDF.

AP contributed to this report.   

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