The Turkish government sent a secret message to Jerusalem Monday, May 24, threatening reprisals if the Israeli Navy prevents the “Freedom Flotilla” of nine boats from reaching the Gaza Strip on May 27 for the avowed objects of breaking Israel’s blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory and delivering humanitarian aid. [debka.com, may 24, 2010].
Debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that the Turkish message was an ultimatum to Israel threatening retaliation against Israeli interests. It is backed by the unreported presence of one or more helicopters on one or more of the Turkish vessels for challenging Israeli Air Force support for the naval blockade. [debka.com, may 24, 2010].
On May 14 the Rachel Corrie set sail from the port of Dundalk in Ireland, the first ship of the aid flotilla for the Gaza Strip organized by a coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations in Europe and Turkey. On May 22 the Mavi Marmaris set sail from the Sarayburnu (Seraglio Point) port in Istanbul. It is the first of three Turkish ships planning to sail to the Gaza Strip (the other two cargo ships set sail from Turkey Sunday, May 23). The ships will rendezvous en route off the coast of Cyprus with vessels from the UK, Greece, Algeria, Ireland, Sweden and Kuwait and from there sail to the Gaza Strip, arriving between May 26 and 28, where they will anchor in the Gaza harbor which has been deepened by the de facto Hamas administration to be able to receive them. [ITIC, may 26, 2010].
The ships and passengers: A total of nine ships are expected to arrive off the Gaza shore, carrying between 800 and 1000 passengers from 40 countries (according to some reports more than nine ships may arrive). The Turkish ship is expected to carry 600 passengers, most of whom boarded in Antalya. They include members of parliament, human rights activists and media correspondents. There is also a group of Israeli Arabs, one of whom, sheikh Ra’ed Salah, participated in the launching ceremony at the port in Istanbul (Ma’an News Agency, IHH website, May 20, 2010). [ITIC, may 26, 2010].
The venture, on behalf of the Turkish-based Humanitarian Aid Foundation is sponsored personally by Prime Minister Recep Erdogen. This foundation is quietly sponsored by Turkish intelligence and all its operations, including the Gaza flotilla, the most ambitious yet for breaking the Israeli blockade on Gaza – drawn from the prime minister’s office in Ankara. [debka.com, may 24, 2010].
- According to reports, the places vacated by activists who canceled their participation will be taken by foreign correspondents and media personnel in order to broaden coverage of the event. The media covering the event from the decks of the ships include Al-Jazeera TV, Reuters, BBC Radio, Euro News, representatives from Bulgarian and Czech TV and a large number of correspondents from international newspapers and news agencies (Ma’an News Agency, May 20, 2010).
- Jamal al-Khudari, head of Hamas’ “Popular Committee for the Struggle against the Siege,” said that it planned to send 100 small Palestinian boats to receive the flotilla when it arrived off the coast of the Gaza Strip, part of the media pressure Hamas intends to exert on Israel. The boats will fly Palestinian flags and those of the countries participating in the flotilla, and their passengers will include the heads of the Committee, jurists and groups of observers. Some of the boats will be allocated to journalists, media representatives and photographers. [ITIC, may 26, 2010].
Israel has imposed a 20-nautical mile closure on the Gaza coast and vowed to prevent the Turkish-led flotilla from entering port. A fleet of private Israeli vessels is on its way from the Herzliya marina to protest its arrival. They are flying banners protesting eight years of Gaza missile fire against Israel and photos of kidnapped soldier Sgt. Gilead Shalit, held for four years. [debka.com, may 24, 2010].
Our sources report Erdogan has approved a plan of action whereby when Israeli warships and naval commandoes board the vessels to prevent them reaching Gaza, the helicopter carrying the leading activists will take off, fly over their heads and land in Gaza. The assumption is that the Israeli Air Force will not dare to intercept the helicopter and bring it down while still offshore for fear of an international outcry against a purported humanitarian mission. [debka.com, may 24, 2010].
Jerusalem has not yet replied to the Turkish ultimatum. It is standing fast as yet – barring provocations or shooting from the convoy to gain media attention – by the decision to block the flotilla’s entry to a Gazan port. The vessels will be diverted to an Israeli port, if necessary by Israeli naval units boarding them, and the people aboard detained at a special camp thrown up to house them.
The cargo will be unloaded and, if it contains no materials usable for Hamas’ military effort against Israel, trucked to the Gaza Strip and handed over. [debka.com, may 24, 2010].
Ankara is perfectly aware that Israel does not object to overland deliveries of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Its “Freedom Flotilla” is therefore aimed solely at breaking the blockade thrown up around the terrorist enclave by Israel and Egypt. [debka.com, may 24, 2010].