It was a year ago on Tuesday that Israeli naval commandos intercepted the Mavi Marmara, one of a convoy of six ships that had sailed from Turkey with the aim of breaking Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. The commandos, attacked with metal bars, clubs, and knives by a mob of jihadists from the terror-linked IHH organization, fought for their lives and killed nine of the assailants—sparking yet another round of international Israel-bashing and investigations.
Now, a year later, the same IHH is, along with the Free Gaza Movement, organizing another flotilla—and it’s supposed to set sail for Gaza toward the end of June.
On Tuesday, Israel’s Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which is connected to military intelligence, published an explosive exposé on the new flotilla. IHH leader Bülent Yildirim and another senior figure in the organization, Hüseyin Oruç, say this one will be much larger—numbering 15 ships, including the Mavi Marmara again, and a total of 1500 passengers.
As with last year’s flotilla, the non-Turkish contingent can be expected to consist of leftist-NGO and other Western fellow travelers of the jihad, largely under the Free Gaza Movement’s aegis. Yildirim says members of Arab parliaments and anti-Israeli “Jews from around the globe” will also be on board.
The IHH claims that this time none of the passengers will have weapons, and that it is prepared for UN or European observers to inspect the flotilla’s cargo. The Meir Amit Center expresses “skepticism,” noting that
for the previous flotilla IHH also claimed that the luggage of the passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara had been inspected by the Turkish authorities as they boarded the ship in Istanbul. In reality, the “inspection,” if it was indeed carried out, was meaningless, because many weapons were loaded aboard the ship, as was military equipment and tools for making improvised weapons.
Some other reasons for skepticism that this new flotilla will be a pacific one:
• Shaheeds. In its major propaganda campaign for the new flotilla, the IHH has been “glamoriz[ing] the memory of the nine shaheeds… killed aboard the Mavi Marmara [last year], and instilling hatred for Israel.” Yildirim has also “made various incendiary speeches in which he stressed IHH’s determination to proceed with the flotilla, even at the price of additional shaheeds.”
• A “surprise.” In speeches, IHH members have also warned Israel that there will be a “surprise” this time. The Meir Amit Center thinks this could refer to a plane being sent to Gaza. “In a speech [Yildirim] gave on April 7, 2011, at a memorial service for the…Mavi Marmara [operatives], he said that the Gaza Strip would also be reached by air” and that “the organization was in the process of acquiring a plane[.]”
• The nature of the IHH. As the Meir Amit Center noted in an earlier bulletin, the IHH is a radically anti-Western, Islamist group “which in the past provided support for the global jihad.” In a May 5 press conference with other Turkish Islamist organizations in an Istanbul suburb, the IHH denounced the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States. In a speech two months before the embarking of last year’s flotilla, Yildirim said: “the United States is killing Muslims…. NATO forces are killing Muslims…. China is killing Muslims…. Israel is killing Muslims…. A Muslim cannot be defeated by oppressors and infidels…. The day we agree to be the slaves of the West [is the day] we taste defeat…. If the owners of Al-Quds [Jerusalem] are Muslims, control of the world will be in Muslim hands.”
Israel is indeed not counting on any pacifism from the next flotilla. Israeli media have been reporting that Flotilla 13—the same naval-commando force that boarded the Mavi Marmara last year—has called up all of its reserves and been training intensively with the air force to confront the new threat. On Tuesday, it was further reported that Israel is preparing “surprises” of its own, and that—while the goal is to take over the ships nonviolently—“soldiers were under order to use force to neutralize armed danger and neutralize attackers if necessary.”
As Israeli chief of staff Benny Gantz noted, “The flotilla’s organizers want to provoke us, not to provide aid to Gaza. There is no humanitarian problem; hundreds of trucks of food and supplies enter Gaza every day.” Gaza’s situation was further eased by Egypt’s opening of the Rafah crossing this week, and the sole purpose of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is to stop weapons from reaching Hamas, the anti-Israeli terror organization that runs it and repeatedly shells Israeli communities.
Israel has been striving hard to drive those points home on the diplomatic front, and so far with some success. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked governments to discourage activists from launching the new flotilla, and the United States and the European Union have also come out against it.
And where is Turkey in all this? The answer is that Turkey is not only doing nothing to discourage the venture but is, in effect, the force behind it.
As the Meir Amit Center notes in the same exposé, the “IHH and the flotilla project receive political, propaganda and logistical support from the Turkish government[.]” In a TV interview on May 21, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated that “Turkey will give the necessary response to any repeated act of provocation by Israel on the high seas.” There could be no clearer endorsement of the new flotilla than that open threat.
If the expanded, 15-ship flotilla sails as planned, then, the stakes will be high. Turkey, which not long ago had close strategic ties with Israel, has under the Islamic AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan been moving steadily toward hostility. With Israel also facing threats from civilian marches and a hostile post-Mubarak Egypt, its immediate environs are potentially explosive. Strong Western backing for Israel in defending itself against this second Turkish flotilla would send the right signal of resolve against the mounting jihadist tide. But it is hard to be optimistic.