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Just what those methods are has not been revealed, but options for disarming the ships at sea have been discussed. Last time, naval commandos dropped down to the Mavi Marmara armed with paintball guns, unprepared for the violence reception they received. In hindsight, Colbert said, this turned out to be both “unwise” and “ineffective.”
The passengers they encountered were “violent protesters, some of them known to affiliate with terrorist organizations, who met them with iron clubs, knives, sling shots and firebombs. So they are not going to put their troops at risk in the same way.”
One option, Colbert said, is to disable the power on the ships, but if inclement weather approaches the ships would be in immediate danger without engine power. Others have floated the idea of an Israeli “counter-flotilla,” which would be peaceful and display banners calling attention to the Gaza flotilla’s illegality. That would have the effect of getting the Israeli point of view in front of the news cameras covering the event. Colbert noted the inherent hazards in such an act: the Gaza flotilla boats could attempt to ram the Israeli boats, and running boats so close together carries the risk of a crash.
Israel will also have to work out the logistics of a seeming contradiction: allowing legitimate humanitarian supplies through while taking a tough line toward those who, like last year’s flotilla, attempt to bring weapons to Hamas or resist Israel’s efforts to bring the ships into Ashdod for inspection. “I don’t think it will deter the people who want to cause Israel harm, and in fact are looking for this, they’re looking for a violent confrontation,” Colbert said.
If a ship is found to have weapons aboard, Israeli forces may disable the ship’s engine and encourage its backers to have the ship towed not to Israel, but to its point of origin—Turkey or Cyprus.
Members of the Fatah Central Committee claim they will participate as well. Senior Fatah member Nabil Shaath told a Palestinian radio service that although Fatah doesn’t control the Gaza Strip (Hamas does) nor do they have any authority over the Mediterranean from the Gaza coastline to international waters (Israel does), “we don’t need authorization to reach our homeland—not from Hamas and not from Israeli security forces.”
Through the attempt to smuggle weapons to Hamas in last year’s flotilla exercise and public remarks such as Kaya’s, the IHH has made its intentions clear, presenting Israel with an obvious security challenge as the flotilla date nears.
“We hope to see some innovative tactics [from Israel],” Colbert said.
Seth Mandel is a writer specializing in Middle Eastern politics and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Horowitz Freedom Center.
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