Israel is increasing efforts to prevent the “Freedom Flotilla III” from leaving Greece for the Gaza Strip, senior government officials said Tuesday. The flotilla evokes memories of the May 2010 incident in which Israeli soldiers were attacked by Turkish militants when they boarded a vessel that sought to break the blockade of Gaza, resulting in clashes that killed nine Turks and led to the deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations.
The flotilla is headed by the Marianne of Gothenburg, a Scandinavian boat, which has so far traveled from Sweden through the waters of Norway, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, before arriving in Greece on Sunday. It plans to set sail to Gaza on Wednesday and is supposed to be joined by at least two other boats along the way, making up a flotilla. Organizers claim the ship seeks to deliver medical equipment and solar panels to Gaza.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported Monday that the Israeli Navy said it would intercept the flotilla should it attempt the breach the maritime blockade of Gaza. Israel is pursuing various ways to prevent the flotilla and has appealed to the countries whose flags the boats are sailing under, in order to clarify that their nationals are intentionally heading to a conflict zone.
While Israel will not allow any vessel to reach Gaza’s shores, it has no issue with the delivery of humanitarian aid, as long as the shipments are first inspected to ensure that they do not contain equipment that can be used by the terrorist groups operating out of the coastal enclave.
Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dr. Dore Gold sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in protest of the flotilla, writing that it “may have dangerous ramifications, with the sole purpose of creating a provocation that would be in violation of international law.”
“The maritime blockade was imposed as a legitimate defense measure to prevent weapons from [arriving] in the Strip by sea, and its implementation meets international law requirements,” Gold wrote. “Unfortunately, the blockade proved necessary given terrorist organizations’ attempts to smuggle weapons [into Gaza] and harm Israeli civilians. Israel has a basic obligation to protect its citizens and prevent weapons from reaching Gaza terrorists.”