The IHH, or Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, announced today that it will not participate in the flotilla to Gaza planned for later this month for “technical” reasons.
The Turkish authorities have apparently declined to give the Mavi Marmara — the same ship that sailed to Gaza last May, and on which nine people died in clashes with Israeli commandos after it ran the blockade — the necessary approvals for a repeat visit.
Huh. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu just finished telling UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that no democracy has the authority to prevent activists from challenging an allegedly illegal blockade.
Well, maybe this has nothing to do with behind-the-scenes strategic recalculations. Free Gaza says the IHH is redirecting its attention to the (genuine) humanitarian crisis on the Turkish-Syrian border. (If that were really the motivating factor in its cancellation, I’d expect the IHH to come out with it directly. It would certainly boost the IHH’s credibility as a humanitarian organization.)
Meanwhile, Shayetet 13 — the commando unit of the Israeli Navy that conducted the raid last year — held a major drill on Wednesday in which it rehearsed responses to a variety of scenarios, ranging from sit-ins to gunfights. They are also preparing for the possibility that some of the ships might be booby-trapped, and that they might contain not only activists but armed mercenaries. The unit has improved its command and control capabilities and upgraded its filming equipment, as well as its methods of getting video from the ships to the IDF spokesman’s office.
This year’s flotilla was intended to involve 25 or so ships, but only 10 are officially scheduled to sail. As the IHH is a driving force behind the whole flotilla-to-Gaza movement, it’s possible that there will be follow-on cancellations. Free Gaza insists they’re coming to Gaza no matter who pulls out.