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More Aid Ships Headed To Gaza, And Possibly The Turkish Navy As Well

It looks like yesterday’s incident was only the beginning of what clearly seems to be an effort to provoke the Israelis into action that will embarrass them:

Activists vowed on Tuesday to try to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza with another ship, and an Israeli officer pledged to halt it, setting the stage for a fresh confrontation after Monday’s deadly clash.

The MV Rachel Corrie, a converted merchant ship bought by pro-Palestinian activists and named after an American woman killed in the Gaza Strip in 2003, set off on Monday from Malta, organizers said. It was carrying 15 activists including a northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate. “We are an initiative to break Israel’s blockade of 1.5 million people in Gaza. Our mission has not changed and this is not going to be the last flotilla,” Free Gaza Movement activist Greta Berlin, based in Cyprus, told Reuters.

An Israeli marine lieutenant, who was not identified, told Israel’s Army Radio his unit was prepared to block the ship.

“We as a unit are studying, and we will carry out professional investigations to reach conclusions,” the lieutenant said, referring to Monday’s confrontation in which his unit shot nine activists aboard a Turkish ferry.

“And we will also be ready for the Rachel Corrie,” he added.

Army Radio reported that the ship would reach Gazan waters by Wednesday, but Berlin said it might not attempt to reach Gaza until early next week.

“We will probably not send her till (next) Monday or Tuesday,” she said of the 1,200 tonne cargo ship. The Israeli navy stormed aboard a Turkish ferry leading a six-ship convoy on Monday, killing nine people in what authorities said was self-defence but sparking a world outcry, a crisis in diplomatic relations with Turkey and condemnation from the United Nations Security Council. The Rachel Corrie was carrying medical equipment, wheelchairs, school supplies and cement, a material Israel has banned in Hamas-ruled Gaza, organizers said.

Among the passengers on the Rachel Corrie is Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.

To potentially inflame an already inflammatory situation, Turkey announced yesterday that more aid ships would be sent to Gaza accompanied by elements of the Turkish Navy. And Israel is saying that the next time a ship tries to run the blockade, they’ll use more force.

The addition of Turkey into the mix of the decades-long mess of Middle Eastern politics is a new, and potentially troubling, development especially to the extent that it serves as further evidence of the extent to which Turkey has drifted away from the secularism of Ataturk. Added into that is the fact that Turkey is a member of NATO and would apparently be entitled to invoke Article V of the NATO Treaty if its ships were attacked by Israel. While a shooting war of any kind between Israel and Turkey seems unlikely, and much of the rhetoric we’re hearing from both sides is just that, worsening of relations between the two states puts the United States in a very difficult position.

Ordinarily, this would be the point at which the United States would step in and cool the parties down. So, in some sense, the ball is in your court, President Obama.

UPDATE (James Joyner): This is indeed a messy situation but I think Steve Hynd’s fears of Article V being invoked are overblown.  First, the clear language of Article V specifies that the attack in question must take place “in Europe or North America.”  Second, I don’t think an attack pursuant to trying to bridge a naval blockage of someone else’s territory would generate much response, anyway.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    This is a game of chicken where both sides are not going to back down. It should be interesting. To avoid inflamming the tensions, the Israelis could just let the ships through, but I wouldn’t put any money on that. The Turks and the pro-Palestinians are just itching for an Israeli overreaction. They just may get it given the tone-deafness of the current Israeli government to worldwide opinion. If it came to a confrontation between two US allies – Israeli and Turkey, how willing are we to let Turkey drift away from our orbit?

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  2. When faced with two bad alternatives, why do so many people advocate choosing the worst?

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  3. Brett says:

    Ordinarily, this would be the point at which the United States would step in and cool the parties down. So, in some sense, the ball is in your court, President Obama.

    That’s a good point. The US really needs to work out a compromise at this point (like allowing the Israelis to thoroughly search the ships for contraband, and seize any with it, before allowing them to go into Gaza with humanitarian aid), and also get the Israeli government to issue a formal apology to the Turkish government for the deaths of any Turk nationals involved.* As is, that may be what they’re trying to do right now.

    * What would help would be if they would finally get rid of Danny Ayalon as a spokesman. The idiot has managed to exacerbate problems in Israeli-Turk relations on at least two occasions.

    And Israel is saying that the next time a ship tries to run the blockade, they’ll use more force.

    Considering how incredibly incompetent Israel’s navy is, that just fills with confidence that they’ll somehow avoid yet another international incident.

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  4. The addition of Turkey into the mix of the decades-long mess of Middle Eastern politics is a new, and potentially troubling, development especially to the extent that it serves as further evidence of the extent to which Turkey has drifted away from the secularism of Ataturk.

    I am not so sure this is the accurate interpretation.

    As I understand it, Turkish-flagged vessels were boarded and Turkish national killed. This has triggered outrage in Turkey, including (if reports are accurate) from the secular opposition parties.

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  5. DC Loser says:

    I agree qwith Steve in that this is a matter of Turkish sovereignty and nationalism, which is directly related to Ataturkism. Many of the protesters in Turkey today are from the secular left, united with the Islamist government in condemning the Israeli attack on its citizens on its flagged vessels in international waters.

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  6. Jim Henley says:

    Steven: Only Muslim extremists care if another country boards their vessels and kills their fellow citizens.

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  7. Steve and DC (and Jim),

    There have been many signs over recent years that the civilian government in Turkey has drifted away from secularism, and from the entente with Israel favored by the military. Whether this is a sign of that or traditional nationalism, I will leave to someone more expert in Turkish politics to speak on, but it’s fairly clear that Turkey is changing and possibly not for the better.

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  8. Alex Knapp says:

    You know, a lot of this might have been avoided if Israel had simply not set up the Gaza blockade in the first place, especially a blockade with a stated goal, by Israeli officials, to wreck the Gazan economy and deprive the Palestinian residents there of food.

    Although there’s some nuance, there is a strong argument to be made that the blockade is a violation of Israel’s legal responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions.

    No to mention that deliberately starving a 1.5+ million population is a violation of virtually every ethical code known to man.

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  9. Alex,

    It’s worth noting that the blockade was also put in place to stop weapons shipments.

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  10. Alex Knapp says:

    Doug,

    It’s worth noting that the blockade was also put in place to stop weapons shipments.

    Partially, but that could be handled in much better ways than a total blockade. Breaking the Gazan economy is another stated goal. Which is stupid even from the most selfish, realpolitik perspective because if the past five decades have taught us anything, it’s that economic sanctions, embargoes, and blockades only serve to radicalize populations and ensure the political survival of the most brutal, violent regimes.

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  11. I was skeptical of the first flotilla, and thought it would end badly. This new idea has won me over and I’m sure all will sail fine.

    And if Israel again violates international maritime law by boarding another nation’s ship in international waters, I’m sure the European and American governments will issue full condemnations.

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  12. Alex, you appear to be very much misinformed about the nature of the blockade. As Doug said, it is to stop weapons shipments to Hamas who control Gaza these days. Many seem to forget that Israel is joined by Egypt in blockading Gaza because of Hamas. Perhaps you were unaware that Gaza shares a border with Egypt, or you knew but prefer the Israel is necessarily the bad guy narrative. Israel lets in food and medicine shipments overland by the UN all the the time. This attempt to break the blockade in and of itself has nothing to do with trying to provide humanitarian aid and everything to do with propoganda and war by other means. If Israel does not enforce the blockade, soon arms shipments will be pouring into Gaza. Won’t that be fun?

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  13. mattt says:

    I see that Egypt has opened their border with Gaza indefinitely. The Israeli blockade, defended at such diplomatic cost, now seems meaningless.

    Heckuva job, Bibi!

    I also see where the whole Israpologisphere is passing around the IDF video that shows flotilla passengers attacking commandos as they descend. I’m not sure what this is supposed to prove. Even if it’s stipulated that international law gives Israel the right to intercept the ships on the high seas – does that make it illegal or even improper for the passengers to defend themselves?

    Israel has claimed and exercised a right to use disproportionate force in response to provocation (se: Cast Lead). I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people on the Marmara, seeing commandos descending a rope in the dark, should have assumed they’re carrying spitguns and preparing to ask the captain nicely to surrender his vessel. Calling oneself a “Peace Activist” doesn’t mean you can’t defend yourself.

    And by the way I don’t use “disproportionate force” as an accusation of wrongdoing – the hand-wringing over that term is very tired. When you think you need to use force to defend yourself or your country – of course you use disproportionate force, which should probably be called decisive force. Once you decide to fight, you fight to win, as quickly as possible or you’re just dragging out the suffering on all sides. Within reason, of course – it’d be criminal to answer Qassam rockets with nukes.

    The basic question is: is the blockade of Gaza legal and justified? If so, the Israeli actions are defensible – morally and legally, though the actual tactics employed seem ridiculous and doomed. If the blockade is criminal, the assault on the flotilla compounds that crime.

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  14. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    The blockade is not limited to weapons smuggling. It stops fishing boats from operation. It is forbidden to bring in certain foodstuffs to Gaza (for example, it’s forbidden for Gazans to import chocolate). Gazans are foribidden from exporting any products, which has resulted in a virtual cessation of all manufacturing operations in Gaza. Gazan students are fobidden from studying in schools in the West Bank. Gazans are forbidden from importing canning supplies (though they’re allowed to buy canned goods from Israeli merchants only).

    The Israeli officials in charge of the embargo have specifically and repatedly stated that one of its primary goals is to forestall economic growth in Gaza, period. Preventing weapons shipments is not the primary goal by Israel’s own admission.

    It’s not just about weapons. Preventing weapons smuggling would be defensible. An all out economic embargo is not defensible. And yes, Egypt is to blame, too, but they would not be blockading Gaza if Israel weren’t. (And I believe that they’re considering lifting the embargo on their borders right now.)

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  15. JKB says:

    At what point before they attacked soldiers of a sovereign state rappelling on to the ship was there a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury? That’s self defense? There was never any indication that even if the boarding was a violation of international law that it couldn’t be settled by diplomatic negotiations. How many here condemning Israel contend that merchant vessels transiting international waters shouldn’t fight back against Somali pirates?

    These ships were not on innocent passage through contested waters but rather were attempting to enter a published maritime exclusion zone in an area of hostilities. They were given the option of putting into an Israeli port with their supplies transshipped under their observation overland to Gaza. They declined with the intent to run the blockade.

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  16. Tlaloc says:

    The point of the blockade is to radicalize the palestinian populations. Israel and the palestinians are locked in a cycle of cynical manipulation where the passions of the people are inflamed by the leaders (watch out for those “others”) in order to keep them distracted and pliant to the whims of their corrupt governments. The big difference between the two is that we send one of them a ridiculous amount of money and military aid and send the other a pittance. We should cut off both unless and until they are willing to actually behave like human beings.

    We have other things to worry about.

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  17. Alex, because fishing boats would never do anything other than fish? Is that what you are saying?

    I have no idea what the chocolate thing is all about.

    Just curious, but what was Gaza exporting before the blockade?

    A blockade is an act of war. Why pretend otherwise? Now, why is Israel at war with Gaza? Is it a coincidence that the word Hamas never comes up in your expositions?

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  18. Alex Knapp says:

    @Charles,

    If the Israelis forbade the smuggling of contraband and stated that every ship found in its territorial waters was subject to customs inspection and search, I don’t think that anyone would have a problem with that.

    Requiring that fishing boats be inspected in order for the fish to clear customs would be unwieldy, but probably legal. Banning fishing altogether is not defensible.

    Banning the importation of chocolate and canning supplies isn’t defensible.

    Off the top of my head, I don’t know what Gaza’s exports were–I just know that something like 90-95% of its factories have shut down since 2007.

    If the blockade is part of a war against Hamas, then Gaza is legally occupied territory, and therefore the Geneva Conventions apply. The Geneva Conventions specifically forbid blockading food and humanitarian aid from occupied civilian populations. But Israel has argued to the United Nations that Gaza is not occupied, and therefore the Geneva Conventions don’t apply. That makes Hamas part of an internal rebellion which would partially undermine their legal case for the blockade….

    I’m not defending Hamas. Rocket strikes into Israeli civilian populations is indefensible. But keeping civilians from obtaining needed foodstuffs or from earning a living is also indefensible. Just because Hamas is attacking Israel in an immoral fashion doesn’t give Israel carte blanche to act in an inhumane or illegal way in retaliation.

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  19. PJ says:

    There was an episode of This American Life a couple of weeks ago (here’s a link) about bridges, and the second one was about a bridge that actually was a tunnel. Not just one tunnel, thousands of tunnels. These are the tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border. Controlled and taxed by Hamas some of these tunnels are so wide that you can drive an actual car through. The tunnels were a target the last time Israel attacked Gaza, and most of them were destroyed.

    Now. Who doesn’t think that these are used to bring weapons into Gaza?
    If the embargo is just a weapon embargo, then I’d say that it has failed.

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  20. Steve Hynd says:

    James, you’re wrong about the Charter. Article 6 is specific that the med is part of NATO’s area. (Note the use of “or”, not “and”, denoting a logical seperation bwteen items).

    Full Article 6:

    “For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

    A) 1), on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France (2), on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;

    B) on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.”

    In any case, my opinion is that Turkey doesn’t wish to invoke Article 5, only look like it might do so. The dynamic then favors Turkey, as it can force the US to choose politically between Israel and NATO without ever forcing a military choice.

    Does anyone think Obama wants to go down in the history books as the man who broke up NATO? No? Then he’ll have to either wring concessions out of Israel or force the pro-Israel lobby to accept a great deal of distancing from Israel in U.S. policy.

    That, not war, is the Turkish whip hand.

    Regards, Steve

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  21. Steve Hynd says:

    Apologies, I meant Doug, not James. My bad.

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  22. Alex, UN shipments of food and medicine enter Gaza via land every single day.

    I might be wrong, but I’m guessing that every ship found in its territorial waters is subject to customs inspection and search. And anyone that throws grenades, firebombs, are trie to bludgeon, stab or shoot the inspectors is likely to not be very happy about how things turn out.

    It is a miserable, less than optimal situation, no doubt about it. But then again, so is the one-sided nature of most of the commentary on Israel’s actions that does not take into account why Israel feels compelled to act the way they do.

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  23. Allan Jensen says:

    “QUOTE UPDATE (James Joyner): This is indeed a messy situation but I think Steve Hynd’s fears of Article V being invoked are overblown. First, the clear language of Article V specifies that the attack in question must take place “in Europe or North America.” Second, I don’t think an attack pursuant to trying to bridge a naval blockage of someone else’s territory would generate much response, anyway.”
    No Nato wont act generally because of western sucking up to Israel in general. Par for the course. Nato wont act on shipping attacked on the high seas originating and close to the Mediterranean but its involved in Afghanistan and felt Serbia was an issue for Nato to involve itself. As well its had a presence in Iraq even. So if they can justify Afghanistan and Iraq as an issue of concern for European security then surely the right of Turkish ship to sail in the waters surrounding its own country and to Gaza free from harassment.
    But like I said it wont happen basically because of racism. Many in the west dont think the lives of Muslims are equal in worth to the lives of westerners or Israelis.
    We question Iran’s right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes but our media never says a word about Israeli nuclear weapons that are the major impetus for any middle east nuclear ambitions. Our racism and cultural superiority is astounding.
    So no NATO membership and article 5 wont mean a thing. If you go off history it will just be more hypocrisy from the west ignore it and it will hopefully disappear from the TV screens in 2 days

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  24. n says:

    “First, the clear language of Article V specifies that the attack in question must take place “in Europe or North America.”

    Well if you continue reading the treaty… Article 6 clearly states “or the Mediterranean Sea”

    SO It seems Turkey can invoke Article 5 of NATO

    Article 6 (1)

    For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

    * on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France (2), on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;
    * on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.

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  25. But like I said it wont happen basically because of racism. Many in the west dont think the lives of Muslims are equal in worth to the lives of westerners or Israelis.

    Ding! Ding! Ding! See, it’s because we’re all racists. Things are much clearer if you just ignore the fact that Arabs and Jews are both Semites. Or that Muslims don’t constitute a race.

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  26. just me says:

    I don’t think Turkey would actually invoke article V, but I agree that they want to use it as tool to get the US to back off from support of Israel. I don’t think Turkey will have to work too hard, I don’t think Obama is all that interested in maintaining super close relations with Israel. I don’t think Obama will throw Israel to the wolves, but I think what we are going to end up seeing is isolation of Israel, and sure they may wring concessions from Israel, but Israel isn’t going to follow through on them, unless concessions are wrung from Hamas and Hamas is even more unlikely to follow through.

    The Israeli issue is a mess and there is no easy answer and concessions this go around will work out about like concessions in past go arounds. They get made, and then they get ignored.

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  27. James Joyner says:

    Steve:

    I’m still reading Article 6 is simply extending Article 5 to colonial territories of the signatories and the coastal waters thereof. Granted, it’s never been tested.

    I agree that it’s politically problematic regardless if Turkey invokes.

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  28. G.A.Phillips says:

    To the donkey poop filled hell with turkey and Iran and all of you terrorist supporters!

    Question:why are we not at war with Iran?

    Bastard muslims murder our troops murder the jews, murder this, murder that, by the 10 to the hundreds if not thousands every day, and what do we have? A bunch of my fellow citizens supporting stupid shit they learn from stupid God hating professors, media and politicians, you people suck!

    But like I said it wont happen basically because of racism. Many in the west dont think the lives of Muslims are equal in worth to the lives of westerners or Israelis.

    lol, study islam and you will lern that this is what thier god thinks…. they are are all worthless slave unless they murder in his name, daaaaa…..

    lol, every time I think I see the stupidest indoctrinated dumb *** **** ive ever seen, some liberal goes and takes it up a notch………

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  29. mattt says:

    the one-sided nature of most of the commentary on Israel’s actions that does not take into account why Israel feels compelled to act the way they do.

    Interesting. So now we’re supposed to consider the motivations of the various actors in the ME. Does this apply to the Palestinians and their allies as well?

    Should we consider the motivations and frame of mind of people who, if they are over 43 years old, have lived their entire lives under occupation? Many disposessed of ancestral lands, first by fiat of the old colonial powers, then by military assault and occupation, with generations of many families growing up in refugee camps? Shall we consider how the violence of Cast Lead and the following years of embargo might have further radicalized the population?

    Or are we only to consider what “compels” the Israelis, and stick with the assumption that Palestinian and wider Muslim ill will toward Israel and its supporters is completely explained by a few militaristic passages in the Koran?

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