For months, anti-Israel activists have been planning a second flotilla to Gaza, after last year’s epochal events when nine of their colleagues were killed by Israeli troops on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara.
They have been trumpeting the latest flotilla’s size, making claims about what it will achieve and taunting Israelis with what they intend to do. And yet their actions have instead strengthened Israel’s hand.
Take what’s happened with the IHH, the proudly Hamas-affiliated Turkish group behind last year’s flotilla. Three weeks ago it announced that because of “technical problems” it would not participate this year. The decision, it said, “has nothing to do with the government or state”.
And the pope isn’t Catholic, either. The decision was taken for no other reason than that the Turkish government has made restoring its previously excellent relationship with Israel a priority. The very last thing the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants is another pointless conflict. Having been re-elected for a third term he no longer needs to play to the gallery and paint Israel as a pantomime villain – his stock message since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009.
With Syrian troops on his southern border, Erdogan has been keen to move on from the Mavi Marmara incident and return to good relations and military co-operation with Israel.
Turkish diplomats have been holding talks with an Israeli team led by strategic affairs minister Moshe Ya’alon, with the aim of agreeing a compromise on the wording of the UN report into last year’s incident. Such has been the progress that, according to the Turkish daily Hürriet, all that is needed now is “to find a word that sounds in Turkish like an apology but not in Hebrew”.
Given that the report has concluded that Israel acted lawfully in its blockade (although it also says Israel used more force than it should have done in boarding the Mavi Marmara), this would be a major Israeli diplomatic triumph.
But even better from Israel’s perspective, the attempt at a second flotilla has prompted the arrival of a new ally: Greece. The Greek coastguard has been vigilant in intercepting three would-be flotilla boats and watching the remaining seven in Greek ports. Last week, IDF helicopters were part of a large military exercise with the Greek army, after which Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu thanked Greek PM George Papandreou for all his help.
Some activists have responded with pure antisemitism, arguing that the impoverished Greeks have caved in to Israel’s financial power.
The Greeks’ behaviour has not escaped Erdogan’s notice and has resulted in a form of bidding war between the two leaders to help Israel stop the flotilla. As a senior IDF officer told the Jewish Chronicle this week: “We will make peace with the Palestinians long before the Greeks and Turks resolve their differences.”
So successful has Israel been in stymieing the flotilla that what is actually setting sail amounts to one small boat with nine activists on board, leaving two weeks late. It is barely worth noting, and poses no threat to the Israeli naval commando unit, Flotilla 13, which played out a range of scenarios in expectation of a more substantial group, from a peaceful takeover of the boats to dealing with activist violence.
In frustration, the anti-Israel activists have embarked on what they are calling a “flytilla”, arriving by scheduled plane into Ben Gurion airport to protest inside the building.
Whatever Israel’s mistakes last year, this time it has played a blinder.
Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle.