Israel readies for Gaza flotilla despite IHH withdrawal

Task force created to dissuade foreign nationals from taking part.

injured soldier on flotilla 311 (photo credit: Courtesy: IHH)
injured soldier on flotilla 311
(photo credit: Courtesy: IHH)
Israel continues to prepare for the arrival later this month of a Gaza-bound flotilla, even though the highest-profile backer – the Turkish based Humanitarian Relief Foundation, IHH, with its flagship Mavi Marmara – backed out.
“We are continuing to prepare for the flotilla as usual,” said one Israeli diplomatic official. “We have not heaved a sigh of relief, but are continuing to prepare on all fronts, including the diplomatic front.”
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The Foreign Ministry has established a task force to coordinate efforts, and that task force is continuing its operations, the official said.
These efforts include persuading certain countries – such as Greece and Cyprus – to close their ports to ships taking part in the flotilla, and trying to get foreign governments to dissuade their nationals from taking part in the flotilla.
Some of these efforts seem to be paying dividends, as Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was reported to have told his parliament on Thursday that “it goes without saying that Sweden cannot give any guarantees for security for a trip of this kind.”
Bildt, who in the past has been outspoken in his criticism of Israel, was quoted as saying that according to international humanitarian law “Israel has the right to inspect whether the ships are bringing in prohibited goods.”
On Friday, Fehmi Bulent, the president of IHH, said the decision to keep the Mavi Marmara from participating was taken because it was damaged by Israel last year.
The Turkish media reported last week that the Turkish government, fresh from electoral victory last Sunday, was pressuring the IHH to back away from the flotilla.
The US, according to reports, has also been pressing Turkey to do what it could to stop the flotilla.
Informally, Israeli officials involved in the matter welcomed the decision, saying that the whole flotilla idea was a “provocation” at a time when humanitarian aid was getting into Gaza through established channels.
One official said the hope was that some of the other organizations involved in the flotilla, who have said they will carry on with plans to set sail, would be influenced by the IHH decision.
There was a sense in Jerusalem that following last Sunday’s elections, Ankara may be interested in hitting the “reset” button in its severely strained ties with Israel. One official said that while anti-Israel rhetoric was heard almost everyday in the run-up to the Turkish national elections, since last Sunday, Israel-bashing comments from top Turkish officials have been almost absent.
One official indicated that if there did indeed appear to be a new atmosphere emerging, then Israel could perhaps make a gesture of its own without “harming national interests.”
Turkey, according to another school of thought in Jerusalem, may be keen on avoiding tensions with Israel now over another flotilla because of the tense situation it faces on its southern border as refugees are coming across from Syria. There is a feeling in Jerusalem that Turkey is now looking to avoid another source of “agitation.”