This is the second installment of a two-part series on the terrorist campaign, supported by Turkey’s Islamic-supremacist government, to break Israel’s blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. Part I ran yesterday here on Ordered Liberty and can be accessed here. As further discussed in the introduction to this series (here), Israel, under pressure from the Obama administration, has apologized to Turkey for defending itself against the aggression of a purported “peace flotilla” which, under the direction of Turkish jihadists aboard the Mavi Marmara, provoked a violent clash with Israeli forces in 2010.
In late January 2010, shortly after the triumphant return of AKP legislators and IHH activists from Gaza, the IHH announced plans for yet another joint caravan with the Free Gaza Movement. This time, the venture would be a springtime “Freedom Flotilla” of several boats to challenge what IHH described as Israel’s “illegal blockade” of Gaza and “a mockery of international law.” (IHH’s apparently abridged version of that corpus omits the part about self-defense, the natural sovereign right that is the venerable foundation of international law.)
Bulent Yildirim, the IHH president who enjoys close connections with the AKP (Turkey’s ruling Islamist party), foreshadowed the violence to come. Passengers, he asserted, would defend themselves if Israeli forces confronted the flotilla. He vowed to “break the siege,” further declaring that “[i]f al-Quds [Jerusalem] will be in Muslim hands, the whole world will to be in Muslim hands…. The present rulers of Jerusalem are the Jews, the Zionists. All the suffering and the evil in the world today is a result of that. Therefore Jerusalem must be liberated.” Yildirim futher predicted that Israel would not dare interfere with the flotilla because attacking one of the ships would be “the same as attacking a Turkish consulate.” Still, palpably spoiling for a fight, he later sniped, “We are sailing to Gaza as human shields.”
The purported “Freedom Flotilla” was, in fact, ardently supported by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-supremacist government in Turkey. Put aside for a moment that several regime officials were active participants in the prior convoy that provoked murderous rioting in Egypt (related in Part I of this series). On May 12, 2010, Erdogan met in Istanbul with representatives of the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza – a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated outfit that had its own ship in the flotilla. After the meeting, members of the group reported Erdogan’s vow that Turkey intended to end Israel’s blockade. Three days later, on May 15, Faruk Celik, an AKP government minister in attendance at a conference held “for the sake of Palestine,’ publicly expressed support for “the ship IHH intends to send to the Gaza Strip.”
Though capable of ferrying over a thousand passengers, the Turkish vessel at the head of the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, was sold to IHH for only $1.15 million by the AKP-controlled Istanbul City Municipality Transportation Corporation. In Part I of this series, while noting IHH’s intimate ties to AKP, I pointed out that Ali Yandir, the senior manager of Istanbul City Municipality Transportation Corporation, just happens to be an IHH trustee.
Less than a week before the flotilla’s launch, IHH vice president Yavuz Dede convened an organizers’ conference in Istanbul. Minutes of the meeting, later found on a laptop aboard the Mavi Marmara, stated that, though Erdogan’s “Government did not announce openly support for the mission at first,” flotilla organizers “in the last few days [were] getting direct support from PM [i.e., Prime Minister Erdogan] and other ministers.” Organizers were also advised, in discussions described as “f2f” (i.e., face-to-face), that “if we have any difficulties, gov [i.e., the government of Turkey] will extend what support they can.”
Besides supplying a vessel for the flotilla, the Istanbul City Municipality Transportation Corporation provided IHH with support that was even more crucial. As the AKP governmental entity responsible for operation of Turkey’s ports, it is charged with carrying out required inspections. Most of the 500 Turkish citizens who participated in the flotilla were subjected to full, customary inspection upon boarding the Mavi Marmara in the port of Antalya on May 26. Days earlier in Istanbul, however, 40 voyagers were permitted to board the ship without inspection, along with the Mavi Marmara’s 29 crew members.
These 40 were hardcore IHH operatives under the direction of Yildirim. They included Osman Atalay, who, as explained in Part I, is the founder of IHH and a veteran of the jihad in Bosnia. The 40 formed a disciplined group, according to an officer of the ship crew: setting up a situation room for IHH coordination; posting guards at passageways to prevent ordinary passengers from reaching the upper decks, which the IHH operatives controlled. Many of them had walkie-talkies, and some wore stickers identifying them as Khares Amni – “security protection.” Their luggage included flares, night-vision goggles, 150 bulletproof vests and 200 gas masks, as well as several dozen slingshots. Some weapons were brought along and many others were collected or improvised onboard the Mavi Marmara. The eventual arsenal was found to include 200 knives, 20 axes, 50 wooden clubs, paint rollers from which sponges had been removed (the better to be used as weapons), and 100 assorted iron bars, metal shafts, and metal cables sawed off from the ship’s railings.
There was a well publicized reception before the Mavi Marmara shoved off from Istanbul to pick up the other Turkish passengers in Antalya, after which the boat would cruise on to Cyprus to meet up with the flotilla’s five other ships. At the Istanbul festivities, IHH leader Yildirim made a point of thanking AKP for its support, while Seracettin Karayagiz, an AKP parliamentarian, exclaimed, “The Israeli weapons cannot be more powerful than human determination. Israel kills a thousand people, and after that they stand up and claim there is Islamic terrorism. We can’t accept that.”
Prime Minister Erdogan could have stopped the flotilla’s Turkish contingent – at least, the IHH operatives who were patently spoiling for a fight. The Israeli government implored its counterparts in the AKP government, at very high ministry levels, to prevent the flotilla from departing, with the understanding that arrangements would be made to transport any real humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Yet, the AKP did not merely decline to impede IHH; Erdogan’s government abetted the operation. It did so knowing full well that there would inevitably be a confrontation with the Israeli Defense Forces, which were certain to confront the flotilla. In fact, while Erdogan’s minions were encouraging the IHH agitators, Turkey’s intelligence agency discouraged several AKP Parliament members from joining the voyage, as they’d hoped to do. The AKP wanted both strategic success and deniability: to provoke an altercation, to lure Israel into a no-win trap of either abandoning the blockade or being roundly condemned for defending it; but to do so with a minimum of graphic proof that Erdogan had orchestrated a forcible challenge to the blockade – an act of war.
As the fleet neared Gaza, there was chanting on the Mavi Marmara: “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya Yahud, Jaish Muhammad saya’ud” – meaning, “Oh Jews, remember Khaybar; the army of Mohammed is returning!” This was an allusion to a seventh century massacre and expulsion by Muslims of a Jewish tribe in Khaybar, a town in what today is Saudi Arabia. Palestinian news carried reports of a woman passenger asserting, “We await one of two good things: to achieve martyrdom or to reach the shore of Gaza.”
Late on the night of May 30, with the flotilla within a hundred nautical miles of Gaza, the Israeli navy verbally admonished the ships that they were approaching “an area of hostility which is under a naval blockade.” The announcement emphasized that “the Israeli government supports delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.” The navy thus invited the flotilla to divert course and enter Israel’s Ashod Port. There, any authentic humanitarian aid would be inspected and then transferred into Gaza “through formal land crossings.” Flotilla passengers were assured that they would be allowed to observe the inspection, after which they could safely head back home.
The flotilla ignored these entreaties and kept provocatively advancing. In the early morning hours of May 31, with the flotilla now 70 nautical miles from the coast, Israeli navy vessels approached. IDF personnel were able to board five of the six ships, whose pro-Palestinian activists, having made their point, offered little resistance.
Things were very different on the Mavi Marmara. IHH operatives prepared for battle: donning their vests and masks, readying their weapons, and denying to non-combatant passengers any access to the main deck – which was strewn with bolts and screws to make for unsure footing when IDF forces came aboard. Pursuant to Yildirm’s instructions, IHH operatives were to prevent IDF personnel getting on the ship, and to throw into the sea any who did manage to land.
At about 4:30 a.m., commandos aboard Israeli speedboats attempted to board the Mavi Marmara, but their grappling hooks were thrown back at them by IHH operatives. Minutes later, the IDF deployed helicopters from which commandos rappelled down to the ship, using three “flash bang” stun grenades, but no gunfire, to facilitate their descent. Hoping a show of force would allow them to take the ship without causing any loss of life, the commandos were primarily armed with paint-ball guns. They also carried side-arms loaded with live ammunition for use only if self-defense required it.
When they began landing on the deck, they were shot at and savagely beaten by IHH operatives wielding clubs, knives and slingshots. One Israeli participant in the raid provided this chilling account:
My commander was the first soldier that rappelled down from the helicopter to the ship. When he touched ground, he got hit in the head with a pole and stabbed in the stomach with a knife. When he drew out his secondary weapon – a handgun (his primary weapon was a regular paintball gun: “Tippman 98 custom”) – he was shot in the leg. He managed to fire a single shot before he was tossed from the balcony by 4 Arab activists, to the lower deck (a 12 feet fall).
He was then dragged by other activists to a room in the lower deck were he was stripped down by 2 activists. They took off his vest, helmet and shirt, leaving him with only his pants and shoes on. When they finished they took a knife and expanded the wound he already had in his stomach. They cut his ab muscles horizontally and by hand spilled his guts out. When they finished they raised him up and walked him on the deck outside. He was conscious the whole time…. They wanted to show the soldiers their commander’s body so they will be demoralized and scared.
Luckily, when they walked him on the deck a soldier saw him and managed to shoot the activist that was walking him down the outside corridor. He shot him with a special non-lethal bullet that didn’t kill him. My commander managed to jump from the deck to the water and swim to an army rescue boat (his guts still out of his body, and now in salty sea water). That was how he was saved. The activists that did this to him are alive, now in Turkey, and treated as heroes.
As powerfully illustrated by both video recordings of the raid and eyewitness accounts, the Israeli commandos returned live fire only after the Islamist operatives attacked with lethal force. In the exchange, nine Israeli soldiers were wounded, including two who were shot. Nine members of the IHH contingent were killed, and a total of 55 other passengers were injured to one degree or another in the melee.