The American boat, The Audacity of Hope, expected to participate in the flotilla
(Picture from the antizonpantz.com website, June 5, 2011).
Latest Developments (as of June 22, 2011)
1. IHH head Bülent Yildirim recently announced that due to technical difficulties, the Mavi Marmara would not sail with the other ships in the upcoming flotilla. The participation of the Turkish cargo ship was also canceled.
2. Yildirim denied that the difficulties were political. He said the Turkish government had not asked IHH to cancel Turkish participation the flotilla that that the reasons for the cancelation were purely technical. He added that some of the Turkish participants would sail on other ships but that he himself would not participate in the flotilla because of his strong spiritual connections to the Mavi Marmara (Hürriyet, June 27, 2011). However, it is not clear whether the more moderate participants will permit operatives belonging to IHH and other radical Islamist organizations sail with them.
3. The other organizations announced that they were planning to sail despite the lack of IHH participation.
1) According to an announcement issued by the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), the main umbrella network behind the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara's cancellation meant that the flotilla was not Turkish-Islamic in nature, as Israel claimed. Hundreds of participants, it said, and dozens of organizations from all over the world would participate, far more than in the first flotilla, even without the Turkish ship (FGM website, June 16, 2011).
2) Rami Abdo, a spokesman for the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG, one of the networks organizing the flotilla), said that a meeting [held by the flotilla's steering committee] in Istanbul on June 20, decided that the flotilla would set sail on June 25, as originally planned. He said the organizers did not want to reveal the number of participants until all administrative arrangements had been finalized (Radio Sawt al-Quds, June 21, 2011). In addition, the organizers of the flotilla in France said that a French ship (or two) would sail in the flotilla, contrary to a previous announcement.
4. The flotilla organizers claim that 10 of the planned 15 ships have already been acquired (Hürriyet, June 19; Agence France-Presse and The Toronto Star, June 20, 2011). In reality, the number of ships now available to the organizers may be smaller. According to the various announcements, there will be 500 to 600 passengers and the flotilla will set sail from the region of Greece on or around June 25-28. Some of the delegations (from the United States and Canada, for instance) flew to the region to join the ships anchored there (the Canadian delegation arrived in Greece on June 20). Some of the delegations were supposed to receive training in "passive resistance" tactics in view of possible scenarios for the flotilla.
The Significance of the Current Situation
5. The significance of the current developments is the following:
1) Apparently, the flotilla's organizers who do not belong to IHH are still planning to go ahead, although on a smaller scale than previously planned, with the participation of Western (American, Canadian, European and Australian) anti-Israeli networks. It is not known whether IHH activists will sail on the Western ships (which in our assessment are at full capacity) as announced by Bülent Yildirim, or whether the entire organization will not participate in the current flotilla. In any event, even if IHH activists do sail, their presence will be small and symbolic, as opposed to the central part they played in the previous flotilla.
2) Even if the flotilla does take place, there will be a significant difference between its original plan and final format. Since the previous flotilla, the organizers have been acting to dispatch an upgraded flotilla of 15 vessels whose flagship would be the Mavi Marmara. Their objective was to magnify the flotilla's propaganda effect and set a new high point in their anti-Israeli campaign, while making it difficult for Israel to respond to the challenge. In effect, there will be fewer ships than planned.
3) In addition, the flagship Mavi Marmara, which became a symbol and was supposed to carry a significant number of participants, will not sail. Moreover, during the political propaganda campaign which has been waged in recent months, the organizers faced a number of setbacks which eroded the legitimacy for flotilla as far as world opinion was concerned (reservations were expressed openly by the Secretary-General of the UN, the United States, the European Union and various Western countries). Thus the flotilla may set sail with a certain diminished public standing, for the organizers, may be seen as involving a certain risk, although the loss of prestige (and possible also of money) in cancelling it would be greater (at least at this point).
4) The announcement made by the IHH leader changed the flotilla's character. It will no longer be dominated by Turkish Islamists, but rather led by Western anti-Israeli networks which have been joined by social activists and human rights activists who identify with the Palestinian cause (although Arab-Muslim activists are also expected to participate, for example in the British delegation). The aforementioned situation will mean the following:
A) Rather than IHH, two umbrella networks which participated with IHH in the current (and previous) flotilla will now be prominent: the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), anchored in America's radical left, affiliated with the US Boat to Gaza, which plans to send 50 passengers on a ship called The Audacity of Hope; and the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG), based in Britain and including Arab-Islamic activists, some of whom are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. They may be joined by a group of Arab extremists dominated by Jordanians (See below).
B) In our assessment, without Bülent Yildirim (assuming that he really will not participate), leadership of the flotilla will pass to the senior leaders of the FGM and ECESG. The FGM's three leading figures are Huwaida Arraf (American with an Israeli Arab father and Palestinian mother), her husband Adam Shapiro (American, Jewish) and Greta Berlin (supposed to sail on board the American ship). The ECESG's leaders are Amin Abu Rashad (Holland), Arafat Madi Mahmoud Shukri (Britain) and Rami Abdo (Britain). So far it is unclear on which ships the flotilla leadership will sail (in the previous flotilla command was located aboard the Mavi Marmara).
C) In our assessment the change in the flotilla's character will also change the type of action the participants take. The extreme, organized violence instigated by IHH will be exchanged for tactics of passive resistance, in which Western activists are experienced, or by extreme violence instigated by the Arab group, which is radical and potentially more dangerous than the others. The presence of activists who participated in previous convoys and flotillas and gained experience in anti-Israeli activities in the Palestinian Authority-administered territories may inspire a physical confrontation with IDF soldiers, even if in public the flotilla organizers stress their commitment to nonviolence. Some of the participating delegations (the Canadian delegation, for instance) received a short training course (two days or so) in the tactics of passive resistance.1
D) Belonging to the Western networks are well-known public figures and celebrities, many media personnel, Jews (especially in the American delegation), politicians, human rights activists and social activists. Their presence can be expected to be highlighted (as was done by the FGM) to stress the flotilla's humanitarian character and to show that it is not composed of Islamist extremists, as Israel claims. The objective is to make points in the media campaign (which will also be waged during the flotilla) and to make it difficult for Israel to halt the flotilla.
5) Recent developments brought into prominence IHH's dependence on the Turkish government, in contrast to the independent decisions made by the Western anti-Israeli networks: IHH has been forced to accommodate the Turkish government's foreign policy considerations, and internal Turkish affairs (the elections) forced the sailing date to be postponed to the end of June. In the final analysis those considerations forced IHH to waive the participation of the Mavi Marmara (and not, as claimed, "technical difficulties," "the events in Syria," or the opening of the Rafah crossing, which made the flotilla less significant). However, Western NGOs are less dependent on governmental support and they still plan to dispatch the flotilla, despite reservations held by the international community. Nevertheless, Turkey apparently continues as an important focus for flotilla organizing activities (the flotilla's steering committee met in Istanbul on June 20, 2011).
6) The flotilla's objectives are geared toward political propaganda and not humanitarian objectives. While the organizers openly state that their objective is to lift the so-called "siege" of the Gaza Strip and bring supplies to the Gazans, the humanitarian assistance on board the ships will apparently be limited. For example, the American organizers have declared that most of their cargo will consist of thousands of letters written by Americans all over the country in support of and to identify with the Gazans. The previous flotilla as well brought only a small cargo of humanitarian assistance. It is another illustration of the fact that the true objectives of the flotilla are political, merging with the objectives of the campaign to delegitimize Israel: defamation of Israel in international public opinion, isolating Israel, complicating Israel's diplomatic relations with various countries and making it difficult for Israel to wage its war on terrorism (without inspection of the cargos there is nothing to prevent the ships from bringing weapons to the Gaza Strip). To increase the flotilla's media impact the organizers will accompany it with protests in various locations in Western countries,2 and perhaps even in the Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority-administered territories.
7) There is an issue of Arab-Muslim participation, whose scope and nature are currently unclear. Wael al-Saqa, chairman of the Jordan LifeLine committee, recently said that negotiations for purchasing an Arab ship were in their "final stages." It was also reported that a representative of the committee went to Greece in the middle of June to conduct the purchase of a ship (Watan News, June 15, 2011). [Note: On June 25 the Kuwaiti News Agency reported that the Jordanian committee announced it had signed for the purchase of a boat at the cost of €560,000, which would carry 70 Arab passengers. According to the announcement, it is registered to a company named Nur, which was set up by Arab investors for Arab participation in the flotilla.] However, the cancellation of the Mavi Marmara's participation may create difficulties for some of the Arab delegations which planned to sail with it. So far apparently Arab-Muslim participation will be smaller in comparison to the previous flotilla.
1) Partial information about the ships expected to participate in the flotilla
2) Partial information about the participants from Western Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States.
[Note: At this point we cannot comment on the Arab-Muslim participants.]
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1 For further information about X, see the date ITIC bulletin, " The use of nonviolent tactics is planned for the upcoming flotilla to the Gaza Strip. In effect, it is liable to be translated into hard violence directed against the IDF " at http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/ipc_e202.pdf.
2 The organizers of the American delegation have appealed to the American public to hold protests, for example, in front of Israeli consulates and American administration institutions, by appealing to the White House and Congress, all to be accompanied by broad media activity.