Navy readies to prevent flotilla from reaching Gaza

"We are preparing for various scenarios from no violence to extreme violence," says IDF official; Netanyahu convenes security cabinet.

shayetet 13 (photo credit: IDF)
shayetet 13
(photo credit: IDF)
The Israel Navy is gearing up to stop a flotilla that plans to run the blockade of the Gaza Strip this week, amid predictions that violence will be minimal after Turkey’s IHH organization – behind the Mavi Marmara last year – withdrew from the initiative.
According to organizers, a number of the vessels – including the US ship The Audacity of Hope – are to set sail from Greece on Monday or Tuesday and then meet other ships that have already begun their journeys from France and Ireland at a rendezvous spot in the Mediterranean Sea.
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Vessels from Italy, Spain and Canada are also participating in the flotilla.
On Sunday, Greek officials blocked some of the ships from setting sail to Gaza and organizers said that they had hired lawyers who will fight the stop-order with the aim of allowing the vessels to leave harbor on Monday or Tuesday.
“We expect the flotilla to set sail later in the week,” a military source said. “We are preparing for various scenarios, from no violence to extreme violence.”
The navy and Military Intelligence are closely tracking the flotilla, as well as reports that a Jordanian ship with close to 200 Palestinian and other Arab activists might join the voyage toward Gaza.
“We are pleased that the Turks are not participating but do not yet know what to expect until we meet the ships at sea,” the military source said.
The navy plans to stop the flotilla far from Gaza, after issuing a warning that the territory is under a sea blockade.
“If the ships continue sailing after being warned, then we will have the right to stop them even if they did not yet enter Gaza’s territorial waters,” a defense official explained.
Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet for final briefings from top naval officials and security officials on the Gaza-bound flotilla.
The ministers heard intelligence reports regarding the number of vessels, the passengers on board, and what the ships are carrying. The government has declared that the flotilla will not be allowed to enter Gaza, but will rather – if necessary – be towed into Ashdod Port and the equipment on the ships impounded.
Israeli officials expressed satisfaction that Cyprus has banned the use of it ports for the enterprise, and that Greece and numerous other countries – such as the US, Canada, France and Australia – have issued strong warnings to their citizens not to participate.
Although these advisories have not prevented people from these countries from gathering to take part in the flotilla, the significance of the travel warnings, one diplomatic official said, was that they will give Israel international legitimacy to act to keep the vessels from breaking the blockade.
Before last year’s flotilla, diplomatic officials said, fewer statements against taking part were made by governments around the world, partly because the initiative was not seen as particularly significant.
The fallout from the Mavi Marmara raid, however, where IDF commandos boarded the ship and nine Turks were killed, changed the way numerous governments view the attempts to break the blockade.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, when asked how Israel will deal with foreigners who do take part in the current flotilla, said, “The same rules that applied last year still apply now: There is a naval blockade on Gaza. It is obviously forbidden to breach it. Those who do, or who manifest their intention to deliberately do so, will not be allowed to proceed and will be treated according to the San Remo Manual and relevant Security Council resolutions.”
The San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea is a codification of customary international law.
Should the vessels be towed to Ashdod Port, Palmor said, “their occupants, regardless of their profession or trade, will be treated as individuals having attempted to enter Israel illegally: They will therefore be given an opportunity to appeal, within three days, to a court of law, in order to uphold their right to stay in Israel. Should they forgo their right to appeal, they will be sent back to their country of origin without further delay, and a 10-year travel ban to Israel will be applied to them.”
Arrest and prosecution will considered by the attorneygeneral, depending on the circumstances, Palmor said.
Sources in the Shurat Hadin (Israel Law Center) on Sunday took responsibility for lodging an anonymous civil complaint against the American-flagged ship, The Audacity of Hope, Army Radio reported.
The complaint, filed to Greek harbormasters, alleged that the vessel was not seaworthy and accused the organizers sailing the ship of aiding terrorism.
Additionally, Shurat Hadin reportedly sent letters to 36 Americans planning to sail in the flotilla, warning them that their participation might violate US criminal law.