More on Flotilla fiasco from Netanyahu and from Ehud Barak

Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s testimony before Israel’s non-IDF commission of inquiry into the Flotilla fiasco that Netanyahu yesterday called a “maritime incident” that: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed visibly unprepared for his public testimony before the Turkel Committee yesterday – hesitating over key details, evading questions and finally [later] publishing three statements clarifying and even denying what he had said just hours earlier … [The committee is headed by former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel.] But while his [Netanyahu’s] opening address, in which he enumerated Hamas’ crimes and Israel’s attempts to persuade the Turkish government to stop the flotilla, went smoothly, the subsequent questions – on issues such as the government’s decision-making process, Israel’s intelligence on the flotilla and Netanyahu’s personal responsibility for the incident – showed no evidence of these preparations. He refused to answer six questions entirely, saying he would do so only at a closed hearing.  And he said he didn’t know the answers to many other questions – such as how much humanitarian aid was entering Gaza before the raid.   But the Turkel Committee’s spokesman, Ofer Leffler, said Netanyahu did answer all six questions in his subsequent closed-door testimony, and had promised to respond in writing to those to which he did not know the answers yesterday”.

Ravid wrote that when asked who decided on the raid, “Netanyahu replied that it was the Israel Defense Forces’ decision”…

Continue reading More on Flotilla fiasco from Netanyahu and from Ehud Barak

Cyprus?

According to my first morning sms, the Lebanese Transport Minister has told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation that the two boats planning to sail to Gaza — the Lebanese Flotilla — have been given permits to go to Cyprus.

He indicated that it will then be up to Cyprus to decide if these Lebanese ships can go to Gaza!

But, haven’t we just been through that?

Cyprus didn’t want to encourage the last three Free Gaza expeditions to sail, once the massive IDF Operation Cast Lead was launched against Gaza (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009):
X.) Free Gaza’s Dignity was rammed by Israeli warships on 30 December 2008, and limped to a Lebanese port for months of repairs. A formal Israeli naval blockade was declared on 3 January 2009 (just as the ground operation phase began).
Y.) Saying “We had no choice”, Free Gaza’s Spirit of Humanity decided on its own to turn around, “to save lives”, on 15 January 2009.
Z.) Then, after the Gaza war, Free Gaza’s Spirit of Humanity tried again, in June 2009. This ti.me, the ship was boarded and forced to go to Ashdod port, where the activists on board were detained for about ten days then deported, while its cargo was offloaded, some (maybe most) of it was sent into Gaza under Israeli procedures via Israeli-controlled land crossings.

Cyprus tried the same thing Lebanon is doing now — banning ships from leaving its ports if the declared destination was Gaza (which, the Cypriot government said, standing on a fine technical point, was not a real harbor).

So, the latter Free Gaza expeditions gave another destination.

When the Freedom Flotilla was moving, the Cypriot government finally issued a formal decision banning the ships from leaving its harbors if their destination was Gaza, because of the formal declared Israeli naval blockade.

Six ships in the Freedom Flotilla [formed by an expanded coalition including Free Gaza; Free Palestine (a group which split from Free Gaza due to siome ideological or tactical dispute); the European Campaign to end the siege; Ship to Gaza (Sweden) and Ship to Gaza (Greece); plus a large, very large contribution from a Turkish relief organization IHH, which apparently did have a small ad hoc group of men engaged to act as security on board the large (600+) passenger ship Mavi Marmara, with very ad hoc instructions to prevent Israeli forces from boarding the ship at sea] was stopped on 31 May by shocking use of force, and at least nine deaths on board the Mavi Marmara.

The MV Rachel Corrie, part of Freedom Flotilla but travelling separately and more slowly, went on principle straight into the same procedures (but it was smaller, and those involved on both sides acted with much more scripted behavior…)

Now, it’s going to start all over again?

By the way, it seems that the Free Palestine splinter or offshoot group (and not Free Gaza) is involved in the organization of the Lebanese Flotilla, which has been at pains to stress that it is not linked to Hizballah. (And, like many of those who don’t know and don’t have to deal with the reality of Israel every day, they seem to have exaggerated estimations of Israeli fragility…)

It’s true that this will now bring media attention, in a way that Free Gaza expeditions never did (even at the height of Operation Cast Lead), and it focuses on the core issues. But, lives are at risk, a lot of money is simply being wasted, and don’t we have to ask — if this is just a kind of kabuki political theater — isn’t there a better way?

Israel's Naval Blockade

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent around a fuller explanation of Israel’s current maritime blockade of Gaza.

The Israeli government and military have been extraordinarily closemouthed about this blockade. It has been difficult even to get information that it still was in effect (it was officially announced on 3-4 January 2009, as the ground phase of Operation Cast Lead got underway).

Military officials have indicated, rather casually, that it extends 20 miles out to sea, and is identical to what is Gaza’s maritime space, as agreed in the Oslo Accords and defined by an official map drawn up in 1994, which can be viewed on the MFA website here.

It has been unclear if that was still the exact area covered by the Israeli naval blockade — the IDF informed the Freedom Flotilla yesterday that the no-go zone had been extended from 20 to 48, 60, or 68 miles, depending on the report. This notice was given just hours before the Israeli military launched an attack on the Freedom Flotilla that, yes, did say it was heading to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade. (The Free Gaza movement said the same thing, months before the naval blockade was declared).

Among the things that are still unclear about Israel’s naval blockade are: exactly where and when it was published, and the exact current dimensions of the zone.

Here is what the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent around tonight:

“1. A maritime blockade is in effect off the coast of Gaza. Such blockade has been imposed, as Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with the Hamas regime that controls Gaza, which has repeatedly bombed civilian targets in Israel with weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza via the sea.

“2. Maritime blockades are a legitimate and recognized measure under international law that may be implemented as part of an armed conflict at sea.

“3. A blockade may be imposed at sea, including in international waters, so long as it does not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral states.

“4. The naval manuals of several western countries, including the US and England recognize the maritime blockade as an effective naval measure and set forth the various criteria that make a blockade valid, including the requirement of give due notice of the existence of the blockade.

“5. In this vein, it should be noted that Israel publicized the existence of the blockade and the precise coordinates of such by means of the accepted international professional maritime channels. Israel also provided appropriate notification to the affected governments and to the organizers of the Gaza protest flotilla. Moreover, in real time, the ships participating in the protest flotilla were warned repeatedly that a maritime blockade is in effect.

“6. Here, it should be noted that under customary law, knowledge of the blockade may be presumed once a blockade has been declared and appropriate notification has been granted, as above.

“7. Under international maritime law, when a maritime blockade is in effect, no boats can enter the blockaded area. That includes both civilian and enemy vessels.

“8. A state may take action to enforce a blockade. Any vessel that violates or attempts to violate a maritime blockade may be captured or even attacked under international law. The US Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations sets forth that a vessel is considered to be in attempt to breach a blockade from the time the vessel leaves its port with the intention of evading the blockade.

“9. Here we should note that the protesters indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade by means of written and oral statements. Moreover, the route of these vessels indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade in violation of international law. [n.b. – this last phrase, “in violation of international law”, could be debated.]

“10. Given the protesters explicit intention to violate the naval blockade, Israel exercised its right under international law to enforce the blockade. It should be noted that prior to undertaking enforcement measures, explicit warnings were relayed directly to the captains of the vessels, expressing Israel’s intent to exercise its right to enforce the blockade.

“11. Israel had attempted to take control of the vessels participating in the flotilla by peaceful means and in an orderly fashion in order to enforce the blockade. Given the large number of vessels participating in the flotilla, an operational decision was made to undertake measures to enforce the blockade a certain distance from the area of the blockade.

“12. Israeli personnel attempting to enforce the blockade were met with violence by the protesters and acted in self defense to fend off such attacks”.

This legal backgrounder from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is posted on their website, here.

There are very loosely-sourced reports that Turkey will send the next humanitarian flotilla via sea to Gaza accompanied by Turkish military escorts. There were rumors that this was what they were going to do this time — but they didn’t…