Brace yourselves: the Gaza flotilla is back for a repeat performance this summer. Political activists, led by Turkey's Islamist IHH, are in the midst of preparing "Freedom Flotilla 2," a convoy of ships intent on breaking through Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. The flotilla will be led by the same ship as last year – the Mavi Marmara – and will reportedly be joined by others, including one backed by a taxpayer-funded Canadian coalition.
There are five easy, safe and legal crossing-points in Israel through which to reach Gaza: the northern Erez crossing, the eastern Karni crossing (specifically designed for cargo), the southern Sufa crossing, the Kerem Shalom crossing and Rafah. If the flotilla's real intention were to deliver aid to Palestinians, it could be done wth no problem by passing through any of these points.
Items truly for humanitarian aid get through to citizens already. It is only those deemed as "dual-use" -- things like steel pipes, fertilizer and cement -- that are blocked. Some of the items on last year's flotilla included ballistic vests, gas masks, night-vision goggles and clubs. You can expect more of the same this time.
The timing is also questionable. The Middle East today looks a lot different than it did a year ago. Gaza is now as lavish as any place in the Middle East. There are appalling refugee camps in Gaza, but since for several years, it has been under the full control of its own government, Hamas, presumably these humanitarian crises should be laid wholly at the door of the Arabs. Why, therefore, are they not being held accountable? Further, these camos are perpetuated and presided over by the UN, why is the UN not being held accountable?
Egypt, which had re-opened its borders for a few days, making the transport of supplies to Palestinians easier, has now closed them again: Why is Egypt not being held accountable?
We may be headed for the same messy ending as last year – a violent one – which is exactly what these professional provocateurs want, and which would end up embarrassing Israel in the international media.
The organizers do not even hide that fact. IHH president Bulent Yildirim is openly taunting Israel in the media, encouraging the IDF to attack the flotilla. "Even if we sacrifice martyrs, we will be on the side of justice," he reported said in a recent interview. Yildirim claims 10,000 people have signed up to be get on board the ships.
The IHH, which was behind last year's flotilla, was founded in 1992 and was designated by Israel in July 2008 as a terrorist organization. There has been pressure from the Dutch to place the IHH on the EU's list of terrorist organizations and also in the U.S. The group has documented links to jihadist groups in Europe and Africa and has even been linked to al Qaeda.
The new flotilla plans come at a critical time in Turkey, with the Islamist government of Prime Minister Erdogan preparing to face the electorate in a June 12 vote. Erdogan's tacit support of the IHH and the flotilla is a sombre reminder of how far the Turks have drifted toward radicalism.
Even a Canadian group calling itself "Canadian Boat to Gaza" is organizing a ship to form part of the convoy. Canada's government has been on the right side of most foreign affairs issues of late, and they are again this time. Indeed, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is urging those wishing deliver aid to do so through established channels, calling the unauthorized efforts "provocative and, ultimately, unhelpful to the people of Gaza." But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of Canadians on the other side of the issue.
According to a report, one group helping to organize the ship, Montreal-based Alternatives International, which describes itself as "social and political movements struggling against social injustices, neoliberalism, imperialism and war," has received $5-million in Canadian taxpayer funding in recent years.(A dual Israeli-Canadian citizen has filed a lawsuit against the boat and Alternatives International, charging that they are raising funds for and providing material support to Hamas, a banned terrorist organization in Canada.)
Provocation is the sole point of this exercise. Any Israeli retaliation to block the effort will be portrayed by the media as "excessive" – the strong beating down the weak, which fits neatly into these activists neo-Marxist dialect. Last year, Israeli navel commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara were attacked by activists. The result was nine dead Turks and five wounded Israeli soldiers. The rabble-rousers hope for the same outcome this time.
Much of the blame must be laid at the feet of Prime Minister Erdogan. The changes in the Arab Middle East have been disconcerting for the Turks, who are now flailing around trying to find a way to stay relevant.
By doing nothing to stop IHH and the flotilla, Erdogan is encouraging them, further shoring up his support with Islamists before the election. Tacitly supporting the IHH is not the only thing he has done in this regard: sex tapes featuring members of the MHP, the largest opposition party, have recently been leaked, leading to a mass resignation of senior officials -- and allowing Erdogan to paint the opposition as immoral.
Many suspect Erdogan's AKP political party is behind the move, as there have been no sex tapes of members of the AKP, and no offical effort to investigate the source of these tapes.
In another troubling development, a senior Turkish general, Bilgin Balanli, was arrested and sent to prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government as part of the so-called "Sledgehammer" case. A Turkish report noted that 29 of the current 300 active-duty Turkish generals are currently under arrest for coup-plotting, as are more than 160 active and retired soldiers. These arrests serve only to give the AKP a veneer of strength heading into the vote.
The toxic combination of crass electioneering on the part of Erdogan, the desire of Islamists to provoke Israel and the apparent willingness of useful idiots in the West make to go along for the ride makes the second coming of the flotilla just as dangerous – if not more – than the first.