Lebanese flotilla expected this weekend; same commandos to stop it
Navy admits to some problems in preparations for May 31 commando takeover of Gaza-bound Turkish ship, but says operation as a whole was successful. 'If we find terrorists aboard vessels, we will not hesitate to hurt them,' source says
The Lebanese flotilla has been green-lighted, and the IDF is already preparing to intercept the vessels as they make their way to the Gaza Strip over the weekend.
The army said the same commandos who took part in the deadly raid on the Turkish ship in late May will also be called to stop the Lebanese vessels.
"We are preparing for several scenarios. It is not yet clear which boats, if any, will make their way towards Gaza or who will be on board. In any case, we will prevent any vessel from reaching Gaza," an IDF official said Monday.
Head of the General Staff's Operations Division Colonel Itzik Turgeman said the Lebanese flotilla is expected to arrive over the weekend.
The Navy admitted to some tactical errors on the part of the commandos who raided the Turkish ship "Mavi Marmara" and said there were some problems in the preparations for the takeover, particularly in light of the fact that the ship was carrying members of the pro-Palestinian IHH group. However, the army said, the operation as a whole was successful.
"We must keep in mind that all those harmed during the incident were extremists, not innocent civilians," an army official said.
Some of the findings of the army's investigation into the incident have been handed over to the specialist panel named by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi to probe the raid, headed by retired major general Giora Eiland.
'Radical axis in the background'
Despite the army's claims, there are those within the IDF and outside it who believe the army was ill-prepared for the event and did not consider the possibility of a clash with extremists wielding iron rods and knives.
As for the Lebanese flotilla, the army may have an advantage as far as intelligence is concerned, but it is also talking into account that the commandos may be in for a few surprises. "The bottom line is that we will act in the same manner – with the necessary improvements to the tactical problems that were raised," an IDF source said. "If we will find terrorists aboard the vessels, we will not hesitate to harm them. If we find innocent civilians, we will escort them to shore peacefully."
Israel fears the cabinet's decision to ease the blockade on Gaza will result in more sails to the Hamas-ruled territory, but the army is focusing on the operational aspects and is not ruling out the possibility that the next flotilla will also end in violence.
Two ships are expected to leave from Lebanon to Gaza: Naji al-Ali – which will be carrying 25 European activists, including parliament members, and some 50 journalists – and Maryam – which is said to carry female activists with chemotherapeutic medications for women and children and humanitarian aid. It is unclear when the vessels will set sail.
A senior IDF Intelligence official told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the organizers of the Turkish flotilla have inspired other pro-Palestinian activists to set sail for Gaza. "The organizers of these flotillas want to stir controversy in order to increase pressure on Israel to lift the blockade. Meanwhile, elements belonging to the 'radical axis', mainly Iran and Hezbollah, are operating in the background," he said.
"This affair, along with the Goldstone Report and the discussions regarding Israel's nuclear capabilities, indicates an escalation in the delegitimization campaign against Israel's right to exist, its policies and even the two-state solution," said the army official.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Minister of Transportation Ghazi Aridi said Cyprus was responsible for the flotilla's progress. He said the vessels will set sail from Tripoli and that the Cypriot government will have to decide whether it allows them to enter the country's territorial waters en route to Gaza.
Amnon Meranda and Roee Nahmias contributed to the report