By land, air and sea

Anti-Israel flotillas and plans for mass fly-ins fizzled after Israel secured cooperation from a number of European governments to foil pro-Palestinian activists' efforts

Flotilla 521 (photo credit: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
Flotilla 521
(photo credit: Marko Djurica/Reuters)
A tandem of provocative air and sea flotillas aimed at discrediting Israel were successfully turned back by the Netanyahu government last month after security and diplomatic measures were taken based on lessons learned from other recent attempts to breach the nation’s borders.
The two separate efforts involved pro- Palestinian activists once again trying to crash Israel’s borders, one through a sea flotilla headed for Gaza and the other via a mass fly-in to Ben-Gurion Airport by hundreds of agitators who wanted to provoke a confrontation with Israeli authorities. Both initiatives were essentially foiled, however, as Israel was able to secure close cooperation from a number of European governments to stop them from ever leaving European ports.
The latest Free Gaza sea flotilla involved up to 1,500 activists who converged in Greece in early July to board ships bound for Gaza. Most admitted it was a publicity stunt against Israel, with the sea convoy carrying very little real humanitarian aid for Gaza.
But after UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon and other world leaders warned that any aid to Gaza should go through existing transit channels, the sea flotilla began to lose steam. The Greek government then decided to stop the convoy of ships from leaving port, and even arrested the captain of one ship for disobeying an order not to set sail.
Meanwhile, another 500 pro- Palestinian activists planned to board flights from across Europe and converge on Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv for a theatrical “Welcome to Palestine” demonstration in the very heart of Israel’s gateway to the world. But Israeli officials sent a black list with the names of known activists to European authorities and said these troublemakers would be immediately deported.
The move forced European governments to block hundreds of passengers on the black list, dampening the impact of the fly-in. About half were stopped by French authorities at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
In both instances, it appears that this time the Netanyahu government had done its intelligence homework on the two flotilla efforts and had engaged in an effective diplomatic campaign to thwart them. While more than 100 agitators did manage to pass through Ben-Gurion Airport and then make their way to the West Bank, they quickly provoked clashes with IDF troops at Israeli checkpoints and thereby undermined their claims to being peaceful protesters.
Following up last summer’s ill-fated Mavi Marmara flotilla, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign boasted in early June that 1,500 activists were set to sail for Gaza in some 20 vessels, but “Gaza Flotilla II” soon began to run aground.
The US and several European governments heeded an Israeli request and advised their citizens against participating in the enterprise.
Eventually, even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a public declaration that the effort was unnecessary and would only complicate an already difficult situation.
Surprisingly, the newly reelected Turkish government also pressured the radical Islamist charity IHH, the key sponsor of last year’s flotilla, to pull out.
Undaunted by these setbacks, approximately 350 activists boarded 10 small yachts and made their way to the jumping-off point in Greece. But once again, their plans hit a shoal.
A crippling strike called by Greek labor unions to protest government austerity measures meant that the flotilla boats were not able to make critical preparations. Unable to find anyone to certify their ships or even carry out necessary maintenance, the owners of some boats soon found that their insurance companies had cancelled their policies.
Then, in an act of solidarity with Israel, the Greek g o v e r n m e n t joined Cyprus in issuing orders forbidding any Gaza-bound ships from leaving port.
One boat, the Sierra Leoneanflagged Juliano, attempted to leave the port of Perama only to be intercepted, boarded and forced back by the Greek coast guard. Another French boat, the Dignity, was impounded when it arrived in Crete and attempted to refuel.
By the second week of July, most of the remaining activists had given up the effort and returned home. The sea flotilla organizers had apparently miscalculated by failing to understand that Greece and Israel have forged closer ties since Turkey turned eastward under the Islamist AKP party. Still, a few stalwarts stayed behind and tried to join the mass fly-in.
The “flightilla” set for July 8 aimed to stage an embarrassing demonstration inside Ben-Gurion and then head for the West Bank to join protests against Israel’s policies there.
Of the 500 activists planning to make the trip, over 200 were not allowed to board their aircraft in Europe.
“Charles de Gaulle Airport is under Israeli occupation,” shouted Olivia Zemour, leader of the Euro-Palestine organization, after being detained in the French capital.
Dozens more activists were intercepted at Ben-Gurion by Israeli security and quickly deported, while approximately 120 managed to get through security and made their way to the West Bank, where several promptly got into altercations with IDF troops.
Dr. Ehud Rosen, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and lecturer on modern Islam at Bar-Ilan University, explained that although the flotillas were perceived as mostly leftist European initiatives, the efforts were primarily organized and funded by militant Islamist groups.
Rosen specifically identified the UKbased Muslim Brotherhood chapter and a pan-European network of Union of Good charities affiliated with Hamas as the main organizers of the sea flotilla. From the West, the key sponsor was the farleftist International Solidarity Movement.
Rosen, who has been researching radical Islamist groups in Europe for 14 years, described the latest sea flotilla as the most serious attempt by the emerging “Red-Green alliance” to challenge Israel’s legitimacy.
“Israel needs to take this threat seriously because the Red-Green alliance is seeking two goals: to delegitimize Israel and to legitimize Hamas,” Rosen explained. “They are not huge, 3- 4,000 hard-core leftists and about the same number of Muslims working in tandem. But their power is in their organization, high motivation, funding and especially in their creativity.”
“The Red-Green alliance first formed in the wake of the 9/11 mass terror attacks,” he continued. “It was an effort to counter the war on terror decreed by President George Bush, a sort of knee-jerk reaction by both leftists and Muslims that was largely an anti-Israel and anti-American backlash.”
“This is basically an unholy alliance,” assessed Rosen. “On their most basic values and ideology, the two sides despise each other. On the Left they are mainly Marxists, and the Islamic militants detest them. But they are collaborating for now to bring about the collapse of Israel. They are also motivated strongly by anti- Americanism.”
Meanwhile, in a related development, Turkish and Israeli diplomats worked feverishly last month to negotiate a settlement of their dispute arising from last summer’s Mavi Marmara incident before the UN released its official report on the maritime affair.
Ankara in particular was anxious to hammer out an acceptable agreement so the report could be buried, since the Turkish government learned that it contained harsh criticism of Turkey for failing to prevent the flotilla from sailing, as well as upholding Israel’s legal right to impose a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The UN investigative committee, headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, also criticized Turkey for its highly politicized investigation into the incident and praised Israel for its own investigation, which it said was performed to levels consistent with international standards for fairness and integrity.
The talks eventually broke down over Israel’s refusal to meet Turkey’s demand for an official apology over the incident and the UN report was released to the public. •