Mon, May 30, 2011 - Page 6 News List

A year after Gaza flotilla, Israel now faces new storms

AFP, JERUSALEM

A year after Israeli marines stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, killing nine Turkish activists and drawing worldwide condemnation, the Jewish state finds itself in even deeper diplomatic water.

The May 31 operation last year, which saw troops stage a pre-dawn raid on six ships seeking to break the naval blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, plunged Israel’s already cool relationship with Ankara into crisis.

The bloodshed provoked worldwide condemnation and played a major role in deepening Israel’s isolation on the international stage.

One year on, and with the relationship with Turkey still ice-bound, Israel is facing another potential crisis as a second “Freedom Flotilla” — this time comprising 15 ships — prepares to sail for the tiny Palestinian enclave at the end of next month.

IHH, the Istanbul-based Islamist charity that spearheaded the mission last year, said about 1,500 activists from more than 100 countries will participate in the fresh attempt to break the naval blockade on Gaza that Israel imposed in 2006.

The flagship Mavi Marmara, a passenger ferry that was the scene of the bloodiest confrontations last year, will also take part in the new venture.

“If you have a bit of conscience, you have to allow this second fleet,” IHH head Bulent Yildirim said earlier this month. “Otherwise, everything you do will turn against you.”

Last year’s debacle, which ended up forcing Israel to ease its blockade on Gaza, was seized upon by pro-Palestinian activists as an effective way of putting pressure on the Jewish state.

Since then, there have been a number of copycat attempts to reach Gaza.

Turkey, which is still demanding the Jewish state apologize and compensate the victims’ families for the bloodshed, has told Israel not to using force against the new flotilla.

“It should be known that Turkey will give the necessary response to any repeated act of provocation by Israel on the high seas,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

Israel sees attempts to breach the naval blockade as political rather than genuinely humanitarian. It has repeatedly offered to transfer any bona fide aid shipments directly to Gaza — as long as it can inspect the cargo to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas and other militant groups.

For Israel, the arrival of a new flotilla is part of a broader Palestinian strategy that seeks to chip away at the Jewish state’s legitimacy on the international stage.

“There’s a gradual, but incremental increase in the volume of delegitimization attempts on Israel, in terms of boycotts and so forth,” said Jonathan Spyer, a political analyst at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

Central to that strategy is a Palestinian bid to win UN recognition of their independent state in September, a move that is expected to win massive support.

The strategy is definitely winning the Palestinians psychological points, Spyer said.

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