False victories: ‘Mavi Marmara’ and the flotilla
As result of Israel’s diplomacy, in combination with completely unrelated circumstances, the Turkish-flagged “Mavi Marmara” will not participate in the next flotilla, the Turkish IHH organization announced on Friday. Israel, however, should not be celebrating – it is a false victory.
Last year, in the violence that broke out between a small core group of violent Turkish activists and Israeli commandos aboard one of the six ships in the “Freedom Flotilla” making their way to Gaza, nine people were killed, including one American citizen. In the event’s aftermath, Israel expended great legal and diplomatic efforts to vilify Turkey’s IHH, placing blame for the entire incident on the group, calling it a terrorist organization.
Indeed, some activists on the IHH’s boat were responsible for instigating the violence that took place on the “Mavi Marmara.” But this narrative ignores the other five boats that the Israeli navy prevented from breaking the blockade. In fact, six ships carrying 663 passengers from 37 nations took part in the 2010 “Freedom Flotilla.” If the narrative centered around the violence is the only one taken into account, the IHH’s decision to not sail the Marmara in the coming flotilla is a great victory.
In place of the “Marmara,” however, another ship, the American-flagged “Audacity of Hope,” appears to be the new flagship leading roughly ten vessels still scheduled to set sail for the Gaza Strip in less than two weeks’ time. Following a year’s worth of preparations by the Israeli navy aimed at preventing a redux of the violence that took place aboard the “Mavi Marmara” last spring, the world’s (and America’s) eyes will be watching how the navy reacts to a boat full of American (as opposed to Turkish) citizens intent on reaching Gaza’s shores.
The US government is by no means encouraging American participation in the flotilla, but it has issued no more than the standard travel advisories on Gaza. When organizers notified the State Department of their voyage last month, the response they reportedly received was the standard US travel warning for the Gaza Strip: “US citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of US citizens.”
Shortly thereafter, the US Coast guard issued a “Notice to Mariners,” which said: “All US vessels and mariners are advised that Israel is currently enforcing a blockade in the ‘Gaza Maritime Area.'” It continues with a warning that US ships “are likely to face enforcement action by the Israeli Navy,” and that “previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have resulted in violent incidents.”
It is unlikely that the type of violence that took place aboard the “Mavi Marmara” will occur on “The Audacity of Hope,” and it is even more unlikely that the diplomatic fallout Israel experienced with Turkey will be replicated in its relations with Washington, even if US citizens are killed. Nonetheless, the potential for bloodshed and Washington’s obligation to defend its citizens and maritime vessels introduces the potential for a diplomatic crisis.
This post first appeared as a Jerusalem Post blog