Washington Watch: Ships of fools

After failing to launch the sea flotilla, its organizers are now orchestrating a futile fly-in.

By DOUGLAS M BLOOMFIELD
July 6, 2011 22:35
4 minute read.
US FLOTILLA ACTIVISTS from ‘The Audacity of Hope’

US FLOTILLA ACTIVISTS from ‘The Audacity of Hope’ 311. (photo credit: Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters)

 
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There’s more to the story of this year’s would-be Gaza flotilla than friends of Hamas going for another Mediterranean cruise just to poke their fingers in Israel’s eye.

As this is being written, the ships remain bottled up in Greek harbors, stopped not by Israeli commandos rappelling from helicopters, but by something even more intimidating: squads of Jewish lawyers and diplomats.

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Israel also had help from international leaders who didn’t want to appear to be backing an international terrorist organization.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza, that was much talked about in last year’s flotilla fiasco, has greatly improved. There are no restrictions on shipments of food, medicine or humanitarian aid, and since Egypt has opened its borders, no excuses.

But the problem of smuggling weapons, drugs, munitions and terrorists remains.

Mathilde Redmatn, a senior Red Cross official in Gaza, has been quoted in Israeli media as saying, “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. If you go to the supermarket, there are products. There are restaurants and a nice beach.”

Israel wanted to avoid a repeat of the 2010 Mavi Marmara disaster, which gave Israel a PR black eye and nearly led to a full break in already-strained relations with Turkey. The Hamas-linked sponsors of the flotilla and their friends in Gaza were delighted, and are no doubt looking for another victory this year.

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Facing the loss of its Turkish ally, which had already decided to shift its focus from West to East by embracing Syria and Iran – trashing Israel to establish its bonafides with its new friends – Israel turned to improving relations with Greece, Turkey’s historic rival.

It paid off when Greek officials prevented the flotilla from leaving its waters, even arresting the American captain of one ship when he tried to sneak out of the harbor.

Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, an advocacy group dedicated to fighting terrorism “one lawsuit at a time” – wrote to maritime insurance firms and satellite communications companies warning that providing services to blockade runners could land them in US courts. The group threatened to sue them for aiding an international terrorist group.

The world’s largest maritime insurer, Lloyd’s of London, said it would not insure ships participating in the flotilla. Britain, like the United States, considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

Sponsors of the flotilla had the chutzpa to name one of their ships the Audacity of Hope – the title of a book by Barack Obama – but that didn’t stop the Obama administration from rallying opposition to the venture.

The administration called the flotilla “unnecessary,” and endorsed Israel’s efforts to “curb the illicit shipment of weapons” to Hamas-controlled Gaza. It also warned Americans aboard the ships that delivering material support to Hamas could result in prosecution.

The activists insist they have no ties to Hamas and are just concerned about the well-being of the people of Gaza. If that were true, why their silence about the lack of civil liberties, the brutality of security forces and the harsh imposition of religious doctrine on the people of Gaza? If the flotilla organizers were serious about helping the people – and not the rulers – of Gaza, they could take up Greece’s offer to deliver their goods to the Ashdod port or the Egyptian port of El Arish. The arrangement has been endorsed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Middle East Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia) and even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Even Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a friend of Hamas and visceral critic of Israel, refuses to back the flotilla. In fact, his diplomats are in New York this week trying to work with their Israeli counterparts on the wording for a UN report on the Mavi Marmara incident.

This flotilla was never a relief mission to ease conditions in Gaza. It was a purely political ploy to give aid and comfort to a notorious terrorist organization whose avowed goal is the destruction of the Jewish state. It matters not if a few Jews and fringe Israelis are on board; they don’t make the project kosher.

The campaign isn’t over. With their ships dead in the water, organizers announced a “fly-in” beginning this Friday. They say they intend to send hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to Ben-Gurion International Airport to protest the Gaza blockade and disrupt airport operations.

If they thought dealing with all those lawyers was tough, wait until they hit Israeli airport security. Start with the usual question: “What is the purpose of your visit?” That’s not your granny’s TSA, that will search a 95-year-old cancer patient’s soiled diaper while letting through a 24-year-old native of Nigeria with a pocketful of expired boarding passes in assorted names.

Even if they manage to board their flights to Israel, they will have to get past immigration and out of the airport. And there won’t be any taxi waiting to drive them to Gaza.

dmb@his.com

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