Written by Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
Another flotilla to the Gaza Strip: Two ships carrying pro-Palestinian and social activists as well as media personnel set sail from Turkey on November 2 to challenge Israel's maritime closure of the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that the international community recognizes the closure as legitimate and the Palmer Report said it was a legal security measure compatible with international law.
1. On November 2, 2011, two small vessels set sail for the Gaza Strip from the Turkish port of Fethiye. The two were supposed to participate in the aborted June 2011 flotilla, Freedom Fleet 2.1 According to the organizers, the vessels should reach the Gaza Strip coast on November 4.
2. The ships are carrying 27 passengers from nine countries including crew members, pro-Palestinian activists, social activists and media personnel. Until the ships sailed the activists kept a low media profile, in our assessment in an attempt to surprise Israel (a lesson learned from the failure of the previous flotilla). The Turkish government has made sure not to identify itself with the flotilla.
3. The main objective of the flotilla, according to the activists, is to break the so-called Israeli "siege" of the Gaza Strip, claiming that it is "illegal and unjustified." The international community rejected the same claim when it was made by the previous flotilla, while a spokeswoman for the American state department said that Israel had the right to defend itself against weapons smuggling. Moreover, according to the Palmer Report, the maritime closure Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip is a "legitimate security measure" compatible with international law.
4. The Israeli navy has completed operational preparations to prevent the boats from reaching the Gaza coast. Israel has stated that any country or body wishing to transfer humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip can do so through one of the overland crossings after previous coordination with the Israeli authorities (IDF Spokesman, November 2, 2011).
5. No activists affiliated with radical Islam or terrorist operatives have so far been identified among the passengers by us (See the Appendix for information about the passengers). The passengers also claim that they are not armed. However, past experience has shown that some of the activists aboard the ships may not obey IDF orders and may use tactics of passive resistance if IDF soldiers take control of the ships. Such circumstances, which can be expected to be documented by the media, have the potential for becoming violent.
Update, November 3, 12:00 hours
6. The two boats set sail for the Gaza Strip from the Turkish port of Fethiye at noon on November 2 after a number of delays. Until they sailed, the organizers kept a low media profile, in our assessment lest the plan to leave for the Gaza Strip be prevented by Israel (a lesson learned from the previous flotilla, which did not set sail).
7. Two boats set sail, one from Ireland and one from Canada, carrying about 27 passengers. Among the passengers are crew members, media personnel and pro-Palestinian activists from Canada, Ireland, Scotland, the United States, Australia and even Israel. According to one passenger, the Turkish authorities limited the number of passengers aboard each boat to 12, with the result that most of the passengers who expected to participate remained, in our assessment, in Turkey.
8. According to the passengers, the Canadian ship is carrying medical equipment worth $30,000. They claim their main objective is to challenge Israel's "illegal" maritime closure of the Gaza Strip. According to John Mallon, an activist aboard the Irish boat, both boats were accompanied out of port by the Turkish coast guard. He added that the boats were on a humanitarian mission and intended to sail directly to the Gaza Strip without entering Israel's territorial waters (Derry Friends of Palestine website, November 3, 2011).
9. Data concerning the boats:
1) The Irish network's boat (Irish Ship to Gaza): The group from Ireland sailed aboard the Saoirse ("liberty" in Gaelic). A technical malfunction was found aboard the boat before the previous flotilla (sabotaged by Israel, according to the organizers' claims) and it did not sail
2) The Canadian network's boat (Canadian Boat to Gaza): The group from Canada sailed aboard the Tahrir, which was also supposed to participate in the previous flotilla. It is carrying passengers from many countries. A small vessel, it is 25 meters (82 feet) long and can carry 45 passengers, although in the current voyage it is only carrying 12.
Left: The Tahrir, flying the Turkish flag (ISM website, November 3, 2011). Right: One of the activists aboard the Tahrir (Democracy Now website, November 3, 2011).
10. The main objective of the current flotilla, like the previous one, is to erode the legitimacy of Israel's closure of the Gaza Strip and to hamper the IDF's freedom on action to prevent weapons and terrorist operatives from being smuggled into the Gaza Strip. That was made clear by statements made by flotilla participants, who said that their aim was "to break the siege" of the Gaza Strip and that it was "illegal and unjustified" (The website of the Canadian network, quoting activists aboard the boat).
11. The international community rejected the claim that Israel's closure of the Gaza Strip was illegal and expressed the opinion that humanitarian assistance did not have to be transferred to the Gaza Strip by means of flotillas whose purpose was to challenge Israel. The international community expressed many reservations about the previous flotilla, which contributed to its eventually being cancelled (June 2011).
12. The United States had many reservations about the previous flotilla itself and the participation of American activists. A spokesperson for the state department told a press conference that the United States was "concerned about any of our citizens involved in a situation that could be provocative, that could be dangerous."2 She noted that "if people around the world want to help the people of Gaza, we believe that the mechanisms established by both Egypt and Israel are sufficient to achieve that objective..." (ITIC emphasis throughout). She said that Israel had the right to defend itself from weapons smuggling, adding that the United States called on all sides to show restraint (US state department website, June 27, 2011).
13. The concept that Israel's maritime closure is legitimate was reinforced by the Palmer Report issued on September 2, 2011. At the center of the Report's findings is the statement that Israel's maritime closure on the Gaza Strip is a "legitimate security measure" and compatible with international law. The source of the measure, according to the Report, is the "real threat" to Israel's security from "groups of extremists" in the Gaza Strip [the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip undertake extensive smuggling of weapons, including long-range rockets, both overland and by sea].
14. As far as we know, there are no Turkish passengers aboard either boat. Huwaida Arraf, one of the organizers of the flotilla project and a leader of the anti-Israeli Free Gaza Movement (FGM) network, said that the first flotilla was perceived as Turkish because most of those killed aboard the Mavi Marmara were Turkish. She claimed that by sending the two boats the organizers want demonstrate that the effort is international, and therefore there are no Turks on either ship (Paul Murphy website, November 2, 2011). In our assessment the real reason there are no Turks and the reason IHH is not participating is that it is currently Turkish government policy to distance itself from the flotilla, (Note: IHH cancelled its participation in the previous flotilla shortly before it was scheduled to set sail).
15. The Turkish media were late (the morning of November 3) in reporting that Israel claimed the boats had received aid from the Turkish port of Fethiye on their way to the Gaza Strip. Selcuk Unal, spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry, said that the boats had informed the Turkish authorities that their destination was Rhodes and that there were no Turkish citizens aboard. He said they were flying foreign flags (one the United States and the other the Comoro Islands) and that the passengers were foreign nationals (Radio TRT, Turkish national radio, November 3, 2011).
1 For further information see the June 23, 2011 bulletin "The Upcoming Flotilla to the Gaza Strip – Update" at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/ipc_e204.pdf.
2 She later reiterated that the flotilla was "dangerous" and "provocative."
The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center opened in 2001. It is part of the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC) , an NGO dedicated to the memory of the fallen of the Israeli Intelligence Community and it is located near Gelilot , north of Tel Aviv. It is headed by (Col. Ret.) Dr. Reuven Erlich .