For the past three days, three Israeli missile ships have been docked at the military port in Haifa ahead of the arrival of the Free Gaza Movement flotilla. Every night since Friday, Shayetet 13 commando forces, naval officers, and mechanics teams have been boarding the ships. Israel Defense Forces spokespeople were also there, to document and distribute images of the interception, since the PR battle against this particular "enemy" is as important as the actual struggle.
Around midnight, the missile ships' crews were informed that the aid flotilla has yet to set off for Gaza. The teams were quick to take a rest at any available site at the Haifa naval base. This force, which includes the Hanit warship, one of the Navy's most advanced missile boats, will be the first interception force the aid activists are met with. The force will be headed by deputy commander of the Navy's Missile Boats Flotilla, and he will command the Shayetet 13 forces and naval officers as required.
"This is a relatively simple mission, the likes of which we have carried out a number of times in the past, even against armed terrorists," a Navy source by one of the boats told Ynet. "The reason we are deploying such a large force and after much preparation, is to minimize the PR damage we may suffer while carrying out the main mission, which is to prevent the precedent of opening an unsupervised maritime route to Hamas in Gaza."
"Experience shows that a large number of forces diminishes the volume of violence needed to carry out the mission," a Navy statement said. "The mission is relatively simple and we are aware that the other side will try to make us look bad. We will show restraint and not respond to provocations, we will do only what is necessary to carry out the mission, no more, but no less either."
The Navy and the Israel Air Force's observation jets are following the various vessels en route to Gaza and are prepared to first deploy the Navy's missile ships which are docked in Haifa, and then, the rest of the forces.
Navy to sail boats to Ashdod
The Navy hopes it will not have to use its extensive force and that the flotilla will retreat once its ships' captains are warned. If this does not happen, Shayetet 13 officers are ready to take over the ships by force. Naval officers will board the ships and sail them according to the Navy commander's orders.
A similar force of Dvorah patrol boats and Shayetet 13 vessels will be awaiting the ships at the Ashdod Port where they will assist in the final interception and in unloading the passengers and the cargo at the port. An Israel Police force will also be waiting on the shore, in order to prevent provocations and riots by the flotilla's passengers.
The Navy's decision to deploy such a large force for a relatively simple mission follows a decision by the prime minister, defense minister, and forum of seven top cabinet ministers not to allow the ships to arrive in Gaza under any circumstances, even if Israel is forced to pay a hefty price in the PR arena and in the international community's eyes. But according to estimates, Israel is unlikely to pay too high a price, as global, non-Arab media has shown little interest in the affair so far, and it has only been extensively covered by al-Jazeera and the Iranian Alalam news channel.
Fear of regular 'Turkey-Gaza' lineThe reason for the decision to deploy such a large force against the flotilla is that if the current sail were to succeed - even partially - in reaching the Gaza port or not far from the Strip's coast, Hamas would be able to receive anything it desires, starting with Iranian money and ending with heavy rockets possesses by Hezbollah and antiaircraft missiles and weapons.
Should the Turks succeed in their efforts to open a sea line to Gaza as a result of the precedent which may be created by the current sail, the southern part of the State of Israel will be under clear and immediate danger, similar to the situation in the north.
Compared to this threat, the threat embodied in a possible clash between the sail's passengers, some of whom belong to terror organizations and have been involved in acts of terror and in funding terroristic activities, is reduced.
Members of IHH, the Turkish organization which funded and organized the sail, insisted on the inclusion of European parliament members, whom they view as an "insurance policy" against the Israeli Navy's firm hand.
And what about the mysterious technical problems suffered by some of the boats? Israel most likely had nothing to do with these problems, which were said to be internal malfunctions in the ships' engines and were apparently caused by faulty maintenance or a shortage of fuel.
Another freighter named Rachel Corrie, after the American left-wing activist killed by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza, is making its way eastward and may serve as the foundation for another sail the Turks will try to launch in the coming days as a sort of "second wave".
There is no doubt that Israel's greatest success in this affair was the way the Cypriot authorities were convinced not to let the ships gather in its territorial waters and use its ports as the sail's meeting and fueling point.
The island's leaders realized that the sail was in fact a move orchestrated by the hostile Turkish government and decided not to play along with it.