Detainees for sanctions. Israel
decided to release
all the detainees arrested when the IDF boarded the Gaza-bound flotilla
of pro-Palestinian activists in order to assist the US in its efforts to garner a majority in favor of imposing UN Security Council sanctions against Iran,
according to a political source to Ynet on Wednesday.
According to the source, during the first cabinet discussion held on Tuesday immediately upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's
return from Canada, the cabinet members expressed their desire to arraign
a number of the detainees, particularly those against whom there is evidence they attacked the Israeli commandos on the deck of the Marmara.
After a high-ranking official in the US administration contacted Israel, the cabinet convened for an additional meeting to consent to the Turkish request for the detainees immediate release at the behest of Prime Minister Netanyahu with the support of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had previously issued an ultimatum to Israel to release all the flotilla participants and send them back to their home countries. The two Turks threatened that should Israel not comply with their demands, Turkey would reconsider the continuation of its relations with the Jewish state.
Despite this, the cabinet members at first refused to succumb to Turkish pressure even with its severe strategic implications. However, the US request led them to change their decision. The US request was communicated to Jerusalem covertly and at the senior-most rank and specified the Americans' intentions to bring a fourth sanctions package against Iran for a vote in the UN Security Council at the earliest possible date.
Turkey, which is currently sitting as one of the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, has thus far opposed imposing such a sanctions package along with Brazil and Libya. The US has successfully garnered support from nine Security Council members without Turkish support, but wanted to avoid a situation in which Turkey would vote against the sanctions resolution, whereby it would pass with a narrow majority that would likely erode its legitimacy and effectiveness.
The US administration saw the flotilla affair as an opportunity to change Turkey's stance, said the political source. This is the reason President Barack Obama and his spokespeople did not initially side unequivocally with Israel after the raid. Acting on the president's instructions, the US voted in favor of the UN Security Council resolution denouncing Israel and demanding an investigation of the event.
For the same reason, US, British, French, and German representatives were absent from the discussion in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in which it was decided that a commission of inquiry of "Israel's crimes" in the flotilla affair be established. The absence of the Western countries from the discussion was meant to prevent a situation in which they would side against the Muslim countries that have a majority in the council, which would likely intensify the conflict between the West and Brazil, Libya, and Turkey regarding sanctions against Iran.
The American news site Politico reported Wednesday night that the US had decided for these reasons to delay the vote on the sanctions resolution in the Security Council by three weeks.
The site, considered a reliable source of information, explained that the US administration would like to let the dust settle on the flotilla affair and allow the Turks to show that all their demands were met, making it easier for them to vote in favor of sanctions, or, at the very least, to abstain. Therefore, instead of submitting the resolution for a vote this week, it will be submitted on June 21.
Administration officials told US media outlets that Prime Minister Erdogan's long conversation with Obama addressed the flotilla as well as "other issues."
Netanyahu and his senior ministers decided to consent to the US request because they prioritized Israel's existential strategic interest in stopping Iran's nuclear program over the short-term interest of putting the flotilla detainees on trial.
Another reason for their consent is to prevent the affair from being dragged into a long legal discussion that the flotilla organizers and their supporters could exploit for additional propaganda gain.