'Iranian ships won't reach Gaza'

Gov’t likely to ok probe of flotilla raid with two int'l observers.

Gaza Sunset 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Gaza Sunset 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel said on Monday it would not let Iranian ships sail to Gaza after the Iranian Red Crescent announced it would send two vessels to the region in the coming week.
“If we didn’t let an Irish ship reach Gaza, we are certainly not going to let Iranian ships pass,” one diplomatic official said.
The official added that it was not yet clear how serious the Iranian threat was, and that there was often “a lot of bluster” coming out of Teheran.
“The Iranian regime has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and has a proven track record of supplying dangerous weapons to Hamas and Hizbullah,” the official said. “Obviously, any shipment from Iran to Gaza would be a major concern.”
Abdolrauf Adibzadeh, the Iranian Red Crescent director for international affairs, told a French news agency: “One ship will carry donations made by the people and the other will carry relief workers.
The ships will be sent to Gaza by end of this week.” The decision to send aid ships came a day after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that the Revolutionary Guards could be sent to protect ships trying to break the Gaza blockade.
"We cannot take a chance that there is weaponry on the ships."
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said such a move would pose a challenge not only to Israel, but also to Egypt, which could not be pleased at the prospect of the Revolutionary Guard sailing through the Suez Canal.
Defense officials said Israel would not allow the ships to reach Gaza.
“Iran is Hamas’s main supplier of weaponry,” one official said. “We cannot take a chance that there is weaponry on the ships.” This would not be the first time Iran sent ships to test Israel’s blockade of Gaza. In January 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, an Iranian ship was dispatched with what was claimed to be humanitarian cargo. While Israeli soldiers never boarded the vessel, the navy preventing it from reaching its destination by blocking sailing lanes into Gaza Port.
Also on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued to lambaste Israel, saying during a press conference in Istanbul with Syrian President Bashar Assad that last week’s raid on the flotilla had been a violation of international law and human values. He also urged Israel to accept an international probe into the raid.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met on Monday, for the second time in two days, with his inner cabinet, a forum known as the septet, and discussed the type of probe that would be set up to look into the raid on the Mavi Marmara last week.
Israeli investigation may be established with foreign observers
Although the Prime Minister’s Office made no official announcement, it is widely believed that the ministers agreed to the establishment of an Israeli investigative committee – and not a wider government commission of inquiry – with the participation of two foreign observers, one American and one from an unnamed country.
It is not clear who will lead the probe, but one name being prominently mentioned is law professor Ruth Lapidot. The panel is expected to question the political echelon and senior military officials, but not the soldiers who took part in the raid.
It is also expected to look at the legality of the naval blockade on Gaza, and the legality and manner in which Israel prevented the flotilla from reaching Gaza.
In the midst of a debate on the matter, President Shimon Peres reportedly told Netanyahu during a meeting on Monday that if he wanted to prevent further international isolation of Israel, moving forward on the peace process with the Palestinians would be more important than the establishment of a flotilla probe.
Jerusalem is also discussing the framework of the probe with Washington, to ensure the committee meets US requirements. The State Department stressed that it expected Israel to fulfill the obligations for a credible investigation laid out last week, though officials declined to address specific configurations.
“We expect the Israeli government to conduct a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards that gets to all the facts surrounding this tragic incident,” one State Department official said.
The official reiterated the US position that Washington was “open to different ways of assuring a credible investigation, including international participation,” without specifying which arrangement was preferred.
“We will continue to discuss these ideas with the Israelis and our international partners in the days ahead,” the official said.
“This is a very difficult situation that requires careful, thoughtful responses from all concerned.”
Israeli probe unlikely to suffice for Erdogan
The type of probe being formulated in Jerusalem is unlikely to suffice for Turkey’s Erdogan, however, who on Monday said: “If there is hatred, it is Israel’s hatred. If there is terror, it is Israel’s state terrorism.” With Assad at his side, Erdogan said Israel should “look in the mirror” for the perpetrators of terrorism, and called on the United States to “protect the honor of its own citizen.” This was in reference to one of the nine men killed on the boat, who was a dual US Turkish national living in Turkey.
In response to a question about the five Mavi Marmara activists listed by Israel as having ties to terrorist organizations, Erdogan said: “If there were any terrorists, then why were they set free?” Israel decided not to prosecute those who had been on the ships, but rather to deport them, in an effort to limit the diplomatic fallout.
Assad said the blockade of Gaza must end.
“This embargo, this blockade must be lifted, and at the same time Israeli must be placed in a cage of crime,” the Syrian president said. “It must be placed under quarantine so that it cannot spread disease to anybody.” Erdogan strongly urged Hamas and Fatah to quickly reconcile their differences at a time when Palestinian unity was of utmost importance.
“Hamas has given its consent to us to broker a dialogue,” he said. “We will also talk to Fatah and see their position.” Erdogan and Assad’s comments came on the opening day of an Istanbul summit on Asian security. Nine heads of state, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are scheduled to attend the two-day Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.
Israel is represented at the conference by its envoy in Ankara.
Israeli diplomatic officials, continuing a policy put into place immediately after the flotilla incident, refused to respond to Erdogan’s comments.
“We are not looking for a public shouting match with the Turks,” one official said. “So far, the shouting has been one-sided and we have earned respect from certain quarters in the world for showing restraint in the face of comments that can only be termed as undiplomatic.”
Flotilla humanitarian aid has not yet been transferred to Gaza
In a related development, the Defense Ministry said on Monday it had transferred all the humanitarian aid that had been on the flotilla intercepted last week from the Ashdod Port to the military’s Tzrifin Base near Rishon Lezion.
The equipment, which includes medicine that has expired, as well as used clothing, wheelchairs, couches and carpets, was being stored at the base after Hamas refused to allow it to be transferred to the Gaza Strip.
The coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, has instructed his team to hold talks with international organizations to find a way to get the supplies into Gaza.
Hilary Leila Krieger and AP contributed to this report.