Conflicting reports at sea

Captain claims destination is Egypt; organizers insist it's Gaza.

Libya ship rally 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Libya ship rally 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Conflicting reports on the Gaza-bound Libyan aid ship abounded Tuesday  as the captain of the vessel and Egyptian officials confirmed it was headed to the Egyptian port of el-Arish, while the ship's organizers, the Gadhafi
International Charity and Development Foundation, insisted it was still on course for Gaza.
The CEO of the Ghadafi foundation recently stated that they "had not received any decision to change the course of the ship." The foundation acknowledged that they had "received anultimatum from Israel to leave the area tonight," but that they "would not do so."
Libyan shipowner invites IDF to boardIDF probe: Army didn't have a 'Plan B' for flotilla opAnalysis: Blockade-busting backfires

But earlier Tuesday, Egyptian

officials confirmed that the Libyan vessel requested and received permission to dock at the Egyptian port of el-Arish.

Additionally, the captain of the ship, which is carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza, told the IDF earlier that he would sail for el-Arish and not attempt to break Israel's naval blockade of the Strip.

Israeli officials are following the progress of the ship which is scheduled to pass Gaza early Wednesday morning.

The ship has repeatedly changed its intent, at times saying it was headed for Gaza, and then that it would dock at el-Arish.

The Israel Navy was gearing up Tuesday night for the planned interception of a ship. Based on the ship’s speed on Tuesday, if it decided to try and sail to Gaza, a Navy interception would take place early Wednesday morning.


On Tuesday morning, the Navy made initial radio contact with the ship and urged the captain to change his course and sail to el-Arish in Egypt. Navy missile ships were also at sea closely tracking the ship which on Tuesday evening was sailing about six knots an hour and was on a track that was 75 miles from el-Arish and 90 miles from Gaza.

21 people are on the ship from a number of countries, including Libya, Haiti, Syria, Algeria, Nigeria and Cuba. The captain, from Cuba named Antonio, spoke by radio with one of the Navy ships and said that contrary to claims by the Libyan organization behind the ship, he planned to sail it to el-Arish in Egypt.

Navy will track ship until it's clearly going to Egypt

The Navy said that it did not have intelligence indicating that the ship was carrying weaponry but was suspicious and therefore would continue to track the ship until it was clear that it was sailing into Egypt. In addition the ships at sea tracking the vessel, teams of commandos from the Navy’s flotilla 13 – known as the Shayetet – were put on standby in case they will need to seize the ship to prevent it from sailing to Gaza.

At the same time, The Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, responsible for the ship, said the Moldovan-flagged Amalthea, which left Greece on Saturday carrying 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies, refused to alter its course for el-Arish in Egypt and insisted it will steam on for Gaza.

Meanwhile Tuesday, the Prime Minister's Office went on the public diplomacy offensive against the Libyan-backed ship, drawing attention to a volunteer on the ship saying Muslims love martyrdom, and highlighting Libya's long ties to terrorism


The ship is expected to approach Israel's territorial waters on Wednesday, and Jerusalem's proactive public diplomacy is obviously intended to prepare international opinion for the likelihood that Israel will commandeer this boat, just as it did the six ships that set sail for Gaza in late May in an attempt to break Israel's naval blockade. 


Nine people on board the Mavi Marmara were killed on May 31 after IDF soldiers, dropped onto the boat by helicopter, were attacked by some of those on the ship.


The public diplomacy supplements the more traditional diplomacy the Foreign Ministry has been involved with in recent days, including trying to get the international community to stop the ship from sailing for Gaza. Jerusalem is also in real-time contact with Washington and major European capitals regarding how it plans to deal with the ship.


Netanyahu holds security consultations discussing ship

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held a number of security consultations on Tuesday discussing the matter. He was quoted as saying that there was no need for this ship, and that there was no civilian blockade of Gaza.  He said that all cargo could go into Gaza through the Ashdod port after being checked by Israel, or – alternatively – it could go into Gaza through Egypt after being checked by the Egyptians at El-Arish.


On Tuesday one of the owners of the ship, Almathea, said that the crew would unload its humanitarian goods at El-Arish if refused permission to reach Gaza.

"If this is the only option put forward by the Israeli authorities, we will choose to sail to the port of el-Arish and transfer the assistance by ground to Gaza," Greek businessman Aleksei Angeolopoulos said in an interview with the Arabic newspaper Ashraq al-Awsat.


Angeolopoulos said the ship was "carrying humanitarian aid and food and there are no weapons or prohibited materials, as claimed by Israel."

"If Israel wants, the Israeli navy is invited to board the ship and to search it so that they can see with their own eyes that it is only carrying food and allow it to continue to the port of Gaza," he said.


A spokesman in the Prime Minister's Office, said that if indeed the ship was carrying only civilian cargo, there should be no problem in it docking at the Ashdod port. "We will guarantee that all civilian goods will be allowed in," the official said. 


The information put out by the PMO on Tuesday, however, painted a picture of a ship that was interested in far more than just the delivery of rice and corn oil. 

Ship volunteer: We are not affraid of death
The packet sent by e-mail included a link to an al Jazeera report from Saturday in which a Moroccan volunteer on the ship said, "We as Muslims are not afraid of death. On the contrary, we love martyrdom [shahada]."


The packet also included a reminder that Libya's involvement in terrorist is "something well known. Everyone remembers the "Lockerbie tragedy" – where 270 people were killed when a Pan Am plane exploded in southern Scotland in 1988.  An international investigation found a direct link  between the Libyan government and the terrorist incident, and it even extradited two suspects for planning the attack."


The information also included reference to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal's view of the blockade-busting ships as an important brick in bringing about Israel's deligitimization.


"Breaking the siege is a priority and we must compel it by all means, including new flotillas which will be organized in the coming weeks and months, with the help of Allah," Mashaal said at a June 28 speech in Damascus.


"I call on the Arab and Muslim people and other lovers of freedom in the world to multiply the number of participants," he said. "Together with us, all freedom-loving people around the world have begun to understand how much of a curse Israel is to the world, to its security and interests, and to what extent it is a heavy burden on the interests of both West and East."

The information sent out by the PMO also included the cabinet decision last month to ease restrictions on what is allowed into Gaza, the Quartet's positive reaction to this step, and statements from the US State Department and EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressing concern about further ships.


The Foreign Ministry's legal adviser, meanwhile, has recommended to the IDF that for public diplomacy reasons it would be preferable to commandeer the boat once it had entered Israel's territorial waters, though intercepting it out of that 20 kilometer zone would be legal if it was clear the ship was headed for Gaza..


A similar recommendation was made prior to the last flotilla, but that recommendation  – according to government sources – was not heeded because of operational reasons. The IDF's argument in May, according to the sources, was that since that flotilla include six boats, the navy would need sufficient time to commandeer all of them and, as a result, needed to begin the job outside the country's territorial waters