Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Israel prepping to block next Gaza flotilla


On the anniversary of its deadly takeover of the aid flotilla to Gaza, in which nine Turkish activists died in a confrontation with navy commandos, Israel is preparing to block the next flotilla as well.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel prefers a diplomatic move to thwart the flotilla expected at the end of June, but if necessary would exercise force against anyone who tries to disobey the navy’s orders and head to Gaza’s shore.

The Israel Navy has held takeover drills and mobilized reserve combatants, on the assumption the large number of vessels (about 15 ) planning to take part in the flotilla will require reinforcements. The preparations include intelligence surveillance, based mainly on open communications and Internet sites.

The navy is focusing on riot-control measures this time, saying they will use force as a last resort.

Israeli defense sources said recently that despite addressing flaws in the previous flotilla takeover, there is no alternative to taking over the boats and protesters by force – barring an agreement that would cancel the flotilla.

Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi testified before the Turkel committee investigating the flotilla and said that if necessary, sniper fire would be used to take down violent protesters. This would prevent face-to-face clashes that hold a greater risk to soldiers’ lives.

The Turkel committee in February published the first part of its report, which on the whole justifies Israel’s position and conduct. The report upholds Israel’s argument that it was permitted to impose a blockade on Gaza and exercise force to prevent uncoordinated ships’ entry. Two foreign observers took part in writing the report.

The committee is still hearing testimonies regarding the way Israel investigates warfare incidents.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is expected soon to publish his own report on the flotilla. Lindenstrauss examined various aspects, from ministerial and military decisions during the preparations for the flotilla to presenting Israel’s position abroad.

Immediately after the flotilla incident Israel changed its position dramatically regarding the amount and extent of goods allowed into the Gaza Strip. Egypt’s decision to reopen the Rafah border crossing as of last weekend removes the rest of the coordinated siege both states had imposed on Gaza.

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