Israel to Stop Flotilla "Without Physical Contact"
On Sunday, a convoy of activist ships known as the — Freedom Flotilla
II — Stay Human — set sail for the shores of Gaza. The convoy is the
tenth such attempt by the Gaza Freedom Movement to break the naval
blockade on the strip. Ray McGovern, a retired CIA officer on board the
US boat and Gerry MacLochlainn, an Irish politician, on board the Irish
boat spoke to The Real News about the pressure the US and Israeli
government put on Mediterranean countries to stop the Flotilla from
sailing. Also on Sunday, the Israeli Government Press Office issued a
release, warning foreign journalists that if they are on board the ships,
they are liable to be banned from Israel for ten years. Joseph Dana, a
journalist with The Nation and +972 Magazine spoke on why the Israeli
government finds this activist effort so threatening. The Real News’ Lia
Tarachansky also spoke with Lieutenant Colonel Avital Liebovitz about
the Israeli navy’s intended response to the convoy.
LIA TARACHANSKY (VOICEOVER), TRNN: On Sunday, a convoy of activist ships, known as the Freedom Flotilla II Stay Human, set sail for the shores of Gaza. The convoy is the tenth such attempt by the Gaza Freedom Movement to break the naval blockade on the Strip. The same day, the Israeli Government Press Office issued a release, warning foreign journalists that if they’re on board the ships, they’re liable to be banned from Israel for ten years. In a letter sent by Oren Helman, the director of the Government Press Office, he writes: "I would like to make it clear to you and to the media that you represent that participation in the flotilla is an intentional violation of Israeli law, and is liable to lead to participants being denied entry into the State of Israel for ten years, to the impoundment of their equipment and to additional sanctions." However, the warning came weeks after the departure dates were well known, meaning journalists intending to sail with the ships were already on board, waiting to depart. Joseph Dana is a journalist with The Nation and a contributing editor to the +972 Magazine. He joined us from Athens.
JOSEPH DANA, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, +972 MAGAZINE: The Israeli government finds those flotillas so threatening because it presents a public relations nightmare. It addresses the core issues of the Israeli control over the Gaza Strip. And because this flotilla, specifically the American boat, is going to be populated mostly by older Americans, many of Jewish descent, images of these Americans handcuffed or, God forbid, bleeding because of an Israeli military strike would prove absolutely damaging.
TARACHANSKY: The government refused to comment on the warning, only saying that Israeli army forces will not differentiate between activists and journalists when they stop the sea convoy. The Real News spoke with the Israeli army press person, Lt. Col. Avital Leibowitz.
TARACHANSKY: Will the Navy differentiate between journalists and regular passengers?
LT. COL. ANITAL LEIBOWITZ, SPOKESPERSON, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: Breaching the security maritime blockade doesn’t–there is no differentiation between age, sex, professions, and religions.
TARACHANSKY: The upcoming flotilla aims to reach the Gaza shore in the coming week and is the tenth and largest attempt by the Gaza Freedom Movement to breach the naval blockade on the Strip. Last year’s flotilla attracted worldwide attention when the Israeli army boarded the largest of the six ship, killing six activists and wounding dozens. Worldwide anger over Israel’s response led to the prime minister easing the siege and allowing the import of most goods previously forbidden. In preparation for this year’s flotilla, Israel has used diplomatic avenues to pressure Mediterranean governments to prevent the ships from leaving their shores. Such pressure is leading to the prevention of the American boat from leaving Greece. The Real News spoke with Ray McGovern, a retired CIA official who plans to board the American boat from Athens.
RAY MCGOVERN, RETIRED CIA OFFICIAL: What we see here is a joint Israeli-US effort to bring pressure on all people, and especially now the Greeks, to make sure that we are headed off, that we are not able to exercise our right–and it is our right, confirmed to us by the consulate general here in Athens, it is our right to sail to Gaza. Never in my 48 years in Washington have I seen three warnings, three official advisories, issued on three consecutive days, on the same issue: Americans must not go by sea to Gaza; if they do, it’s their own fault what happens. Okay?
TARACHANSKY: On Monday it became known that an Israeli legal group was behind a complaint issued to the Greek authorities requesting the boat be prevented from leaving. Most ships have therefore decided to keep the location from which they’re sailing secret. Gerry MacLochlainn is an Irish activist and politician from Derry. He joined The Real News by phone, refusing to disclose the location of the Irish boat.
GERRY MACLOCHLAINN, SINN FEIN COUNCILLOR, IRISH BOAT TO GAZA: There’s been considerable pressure brought to bear on various countries, including our own country, Ireland. There was messages sent by the Israelis to warn them, to tell them to warn their citizens not to travel. They’ve been warning certain countries not to allow ships to leave from their territory or they’ll face economic retaliation, or they’ll face legal action, or they’ll face some other type of action. And it is important that countries stand up to that. But we can’t rely on that, we have to rely on ourselves, because if countries stood up to Israel, we wouldn’t be in this situation where an illegal siege was able to take place in defiance of world opinion.
TARACHANSKY: The media battle included all levels of the Israeli government. Ron Prosor is the Israeli envoy to the UN. He said:
RON PROSOR, ISRAELI ENVOY TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Israel is determined to stop this flotilla. We have the right to exert, in self defense, a naval blockade. Why do we have this right? Because we have seen in the past, with the last ship, Victoria, which was full of ammunition, shore-to-sea missiles, and other stuff, what those weapons can do.
TARACHANSKY: However, the Victoria ship Prosor was referring to was bound for Egypt, before it was intercepted by the Israeli army in March, and has nothing to do with the Gaza Freedom Movement. Following Navy exercises in early June, commander of the Israeli Navy Vice Admiral Eliezer Merom said:
VICE ADM. ELIEZER MEROM, ISRAELI NAVY (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Another hate flotilla was organized to Gaza in recent days. I’d like to use this stage tonight to tell all who have influence over it to put all their pressure behind preventing this redundant flotilla from sailing. The entry of boats into Gaza will allow Hamas, a radical terrorist group that operates under the protection of Iran, to get unprecedented quantities of weapons and threaten Israel with rockets and terror missiles.
MCGOVERN: It’s quite a stretch to go from personal [incompr.] letters of support and sympathy with the Gazan people, which is our only–I repeat–our only cargo, and magnify that as either support for Hamas or setting a dangerous precedent whereby weapons can be delivered to Gaza. The Israeli Navy is one of the most competent navies in the world. Surely, if they need to inspect cargo–and they’ve had ample opportunity to do so–they can verify what’s a weapon and what’s a letter.
MACLOCHLAINN: Well, we are a humanitarian aid convoy. We are not bringing any material that could be construed as weapons. We have no intention of doing that, we don’t wish to do that, and we don’t want to be part of that. We have invited the United Nations and other agencies, including the governments of any country we’re leaving from, to inspect our ships just as we leave.
TARACHANSKY: Could you describe to us what exactly does the IDF have planned in terms of intercepting these ships?
LEIBOWITZ: I can tell you that the IDF will want as little physical contact as possible, and hopefully not at all physical contact, with those passengers.
TARACHANSKY: Are you suggesting that the Navy is going to be shooting at the boats without actually sending troops onto the ships?
LEIBOWITZ: I’m suggesting that we are doing everything in order to avoid physical contact with those passengers. We are using, we are intending to use every soft power tactic that we have in order to prevent any physical contact with them.
TARACHANSKY: Why? Why are you afraid of physical contact?
LEIBOWITZ: Because we don’t want to engage into some kind of physical contact. We don’t want to endanger our lives as soldiers.
TARACHANSKY: The ten-boat flotilla is scheduled to arrive near Gaza’s waters by Thursday.
End of Transcript
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