Gaza flotilla flops

This year's anti-Israel hate fest at sea is being sunk by countries that once backed it. Emanuele Ottolenghi from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explains why.

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The Mavi Marmara
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Emanuele Ottolenghi
On 8 July 2011 09:56

What a difference a year makes. The 2010 edition of the Gaza Flotilla ended in failure for Israel and victory for the international coalition of pro-Palestinian organisations.

First, there were casualties -- nine Flotilla activists dead, dozens wounded, plus seven Israeli commandos injured.

Secondly, there was massive diplomatic fallout – Israel’s relations with Turkey were further strained; the UN launched an investigation; and Israel was loudly condemned in Europe. Thirdly, Israel had to ease its restrictions on Gaza – a sign that the Israeli government had caved in to the pressure brought to bear by the pro-Palestinian activists who, last but not least, saw the PR success of the action as vindication for their strategy, and encouragement for more in the future.

The 2011 edition, by contrast, is ending in failure for the activists. Nearly two weeks after the scheduled departure of the new flotilla, most ships are still docked in Greece and unable to leave due to a blanket prohibition from Greek port authorities.

The few ships that have tried to leave were quickly blocked by Greek coast guard boats and returned to harbour. Many activists, discouraged by what is going on, are leaving disappointed, and so are the journalists. Turkey, meanwhile, is not participating. It looks like the flotilla will never set sail.

What happened?

The first indications that the flotilla might run aground even before sailing came from Turkey, last year’s instigator and sponsor of the Mavi Marmara provocation that eventually led to the loss of life at sea on May 31, 2010.

Despite its continuing hostile rhetoric against Israel, the Turkish government has clearly used its influence on the terror-linked Islamic charity involved with the flotilla, the IHH, to defuse another potential showdown with Israel.

Last April, the IHH announced it was postponing the 2011 flotilla until after Turkey’s June 12 parliamentary elections.

The announcement revealed two inconvenient truths for Turkish Prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan: first, that all previous claims about there being no link between the IHH and the government were false; and second, that the possible fallout from a new flotilla incident was not judged to be favourable for Erdogan’s re-election bid.

So why then, once Erdogan had secured a third mandate, did the IHH pull out altogether and why has Turkey done an about turn on the flotilla more broadly?

Events in the wider region may provide the answer. The potential spill over effect for Turkey from the turmoil in Syria could be one reason. The Turkish authorities may have sensibly calculated that there is now a good case for cooling off tensions with Israel. Also, the opening of the Egypt-Gaza border means that there is no reasonable case to be made that Gaza is sealed off from the outside world anyway.

Nonetheless, Turkey could still have let the flotilla run its course and washed its hands of any responsibility just like it did last year. So, again, why did Turkey change its mind?

One can only speculate, but two additional, UN-related issues come to mind.

The first is the position taken by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on the flotilla – that aid should reach Gaza through existing routes.

The second is the impending release of the UN report into last year’s flotilla – an investigation which, according to leaks, has reached four conclusions: one, that the blockade is legal; two, that Israel used excessive force; three, that the Israeli investigation was sound and impartial; and four, that the Turkish one was unreliable, politically driven and partial.

This will be embarrassing enough for Turkey, but it would be much worse if Ankara were embroiled in yet another round of anti-Israel posturing at the time the report is released.

Overall, these factors make any state support for another flotilla untenable and explain Turkey’s orderly retreat.

With Turkey unwilling to play along and a coming UN report endorsing Israel’s blockade as legal, the Greek government similarly had enough cover to go after the boats and their activists. If the blockade is legal for the UN, blocking the flotilla in Greece is just as legal.

Angry flotilla participants have variously blamed the Greek government for preventing their departure – with one activist bordering on the usual anti-Semitic imagery and saying that Greece caved in to Israel due to its economic circumstances.

The idea that helping Israel against the flotilla could bring financial respite to the Greek economy is ludicrous – Israel would have to single handedly control the IMF, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank– and possibly the Bundesbank too – in order to deliver the additional help that Greece may need to avoid default.

That this idea was voiced at all reveals the activists’ conspiratorial mind set.

This, and the fact that they refused the compromise offer made by the Greek government to transport their aid on their behalf either to Ashdod or El-Arish, are ample proof that the flotilla movement is driven by hatred and only interested in confrontation with Israel, not the well-being of the Palestinians.

No surprise there for many readers of the Commentator. But how refreshing to see that, in 2011, even countries formerly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause like Greece and Turkey, seem to have finally recognised the futility and recklessness of such adventures.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

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