Request for expanded mandate for EU, US ships to be discussed at Copenhagen conference on Gaza.
By YAAKOV KATZ, BRENDA GAZZARPublished: FEBRUARY 3, 2009 04:12Advertisement
Israel has requested that the United States and the European Union change the mandate of their fleets operating in the Red Sea and Mediterranean to allow them to board and detain vessels shipping weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, senior defense officials told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
The Israeli request will be considered Wednesday in Copenhagen at a joint US-EU conference aimed at coming up with ways to curb the flow of weapons smuggled to Hamas in Gaza.
Israel had initially deliberated on whether to send a representative to the Copenhagen talks, but on Monday officials said it was likely that a representative of the Defense Ministry or Foreign Ministry would participate.
"We need a mandate for the navies that allows them to board and seize vessels carrying weaponry for Hamas," one official explained. "The problem is that currently a country cannot just stop a ship in international waters unless it is flying that country's flag."
This legal obstacle prevented the US Sixth Fleet from stopping a suspected Iranian arms ship in the Gulf of Aden last week. The Navy was able to board the ship and reportedly discovered munitions but could not seize the cargo since the vessel was flying a Cypriot flag. On Thursday, when the ship arrived off the coast of Cyprus, it was stopped for inspection.
The Post learned Monday that the US had assured Israel it would accompany the vessel from the Gulf of Aden to the Mediterranean, as it did. Cyprus stopped the ship under pressure from the US but has yet to unload its cargo.
The same difficulty is faced by an international fleet patrolling waters off the Horn of Africa to combat pirates. According to the UN Security Council mandate, the fleet is not allowed to board seized ships or even free crews held hostage.
Israel is also hoping to extend the mandate of Operation Active Endeavor, which is a NATO project based in Naples under which Mediterranean countries share intelligence information on seas-based threats. At the moment, the mandate of the operation is to escort ships and share intelligence on potential threats. An Israeli Naval Intelligence delegation is based in Naples and participates in the program.
"There will be bureaucratic obstacles but we will also try to change Active Endeavor's mandate so it can also stop weapons smuggling to Gaza," the official said.
Egypt said it did not plan to participate in the Copenhagen meet.
"We declared our position a few days ago that this conference is unnecessary because we now have experts from France, America and Germany that are cooperating with us in our efforts to confront smuggling," a senior Egyptian official said.
"There [already] exists multilateral cooperation on this matter."
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