Israel urges West against flotillas

Security cabinet set to discuss easing Gaza blockade.

Gaza Flotilla 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Gaza Flotilla 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Israel has turned in recent days to a number of Western governments requesting they issue travel warnings to their nationals not to participate in additional flotillas trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza, government officials told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
According to the officials, the requests have fallen on attentive ears, especially since Hizbullah and Iran have said they will send ships of their own, something that is causing some Western governments to rethink the entire tactic.
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At the same time, however, no government has actually issued an advisory.
The security cabinet is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss both how to deal with the impending flotillas and how to ease restrictions on the goods and materials allowed into Gaza. The meeting comes amid a growing sense in Jerusalem that a decision by the government to significantly ease up on what is allowed into Gaza through land crossings would bring about more cooperation by governments in dissuading their citizens from taking part in future attempts to break the blockade.
“Where there is a will, there is a way,” one senior Israeli official said of the ability of Western governments to prevent participation by their nationals.
The significance of the travel advisories, the official said, was that the minute a country recommended, for instance, that its parliamentarians not take part in a flotilla, a parliamentarian who goes ahead and does so would be “on his own.”
That particular country, then, would be less able to come with complaints and demands against Israel after an arrest, since it had officially warned its citizens against participation.
The nationals of 12 countries were involved in the attempt by the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara to break the naval blockade.
Nine people were killed on the ship after they attacked IDF soldiers dropped on board to keep it from sailing to Gaza.
Netanyahu expresses interest in easing blockade for civilian items
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has on a number of occasions in recent days expressed an interest in easing up on civilian items allowed into the Gaza Strip, while keeping the naval blockade in place to keep weapons and terrorists out.
For the last three years, despite the objections of the US, EU and Quartet, Israel has controlled what is allowed into Gaza as part of a policy to weaken Hamas and free kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. This policy – adopted by the Olmert government – has been roundly condemned by the international community in the wake of the IDF raid on the Turkish ship.
Late Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying that the Terkel Committee, which is looking into the raid, would convene on Wednesday for what was called an “introductory meeting.”
The time and place were not specified.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss notified the Knesset’s State Control Committee that he intends to investigate the events surrounding the raid, Israel Radio reported.
His investigation will focus mainly on the government’s decision-making process, intelligence and public diplomacy.
George Mitchell to arrive on Thursday
Easing the restrictions on the Gaza Strip is expected to be a high priority item in discussions US envoy George Mitchell will hold over the next few days. Mitchell is expected to arrive on Wednesday night and hold a day of talks with Israeli officials on Thursday, and with Palestinian officials on Friday, before possibly going to Egypt over the weekend for talks there as well.
The indirect talks with the Palestinians that Mitchell is mediating have been completely overshadowed over the last two weeks by the flotilla raid and the situation in Gaza.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair, who has met Netanyahu three times in the last 10 days to discuss Gaza, said Monday after briefing EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg that he hoped the blockade would “be eased within days.” The key, Blair said, “is to shift from a list of goods that are permitted into Gaza to a list of goods that are prohibited from entering, such as weapons and combat material, so that anything that is not on the list of prohibited items is allowed to enter.
“The prohibition on the entry of weapons and combat material should of course remain in place, and Israel is justified in seeking to check items that go into Gaza to ensure that such items are kept out,” he said.
Blair said that after holding intensive talks with Netanyahu, he believed that “Israel has agreed in principle to move to such a list.”
From Blair’s comments it was also possible to conclude that Israel would likely okay the transfer of building materials such as steel and concrete into Gaza for UN infrastructure projects, once a mechanism was in place that would “ensure that the goods that enter for those projects are used for their intended purposes.”
Israel has up until now prohibited these materials from entering Gaza out of a concern they would be diverted to Hamas and used to build bunkers and factories for the manufacturing of Kassam rockets.
Israel monitoring reports of boats coming from Iran and Lebanon
Meanwhile, Israel – according to sources in the Prime Minister’s Office – was carefully following reports that boats to break the blockade would be coming from Lebanon and Iran.
“We don’t know how much of the threats are real, and how much are bravado,” one official said.
According to the official, Iran and Lebanon are “hostile countries,” and if there had been a need to intercept the Rachel Corrie ship from Ireland some 10 days ago, “how much more of a need will there be to intercept a ship from a hostile country.”
Among those threatening to break the blockade with an aid ship is a group of Lebanese women, led by the wife of an imprisoned Lebanese general.
Samar Hajj, whose husband Ali Hajj has been in jail for four years in connection with the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, declared that the female activists were “all independent women who believe in breaking the siege on Gaza.”
She stated that she and the 50 other women who had signed up as passengers on the ship Mariam – Muslims and Christians alike – were not associated with Hizbullah and had no political affiliations.
“This has nothing to do with Hizbullah, although it is an honor for us to be supporters of the resistance,” she said.
Regarding continuing fallout from the Mavi Marmara episode, there were a number of reports Tuesday that the Turkish government was weighing various measures if Israel failed to apologize.
Among the steps reportedly being considered were a downgrading, and perhaps severing, of diplomatic ties with Israel; no longer allowing Israeli ships of any kind to dock in Turkish ports; denying tourist visas to visiting Israelis; and cutting all bilateral economic, sporting, academic and cultural ties.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report from Washington.