Why Freedom Flotilla 2 Didn't Float

Since its inception the organizers of the Freedom Flotilla 2 -- a group of ship-borne activists seeking to break Israel’s partial sanctions on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip -- have encountered a broad range of largely unrelated technical, legal, bureaucratic, and political difficulties.

While participants claim that they are undertaking a humanitarian mission, since the flotilla is largely organized by radical Islamists and anti-Israel activists at a time when sanctions have shrunk to the minimum designed to limit the weapons and military power of Gaza’s rulers -- it seems more of a Hamas support group.

Initial announcements that a 15 to 20 vessel flotilla -- including two large passenger ships -- carrying 1,500 activists from 100 countries would set sail dwindled, as of the time this article is written, to 327 passengers (over 10% of whom were journalists) from 20 countries sailing on 9 small boats. Lack of funds and public interest may have played a  role in the flotilla's reduction in size as compared to that of its initial stated aims, but undoubtedly the major factor was the sudden and unexpected pull-out of the vessel the "Mavi Marmara" (which also took part in the 2010 flotilla) in mid-June.

The IHH is a radical Islamist group based in Turkey with ties to terrorist groups. In the first flotilla, IHH activists armed with iron bars attacked Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two of them. An Israeli rescue attempt resulted in nine of the Turks being killed.

While the IHH cited technical problems as the reason for the refitted ship's withdrawal, there is reason to believe that diplomatic pressures and internal Turkish political factors as well as difficulties in obtaining insurance for the voyage may have played a part.  Having just won the parliamentary elections, the Turkish government has no need to provoke a major new crisis with Israel and antagonize a U.S. government that seems content to tolerate its other policies.

The UN secretary general's appeal to the governments of countries in the Mediterranean region to use their influence to discourage the flotilla and the announcement that the UN's investigation into the previous flotilla has concluded that the naval blockade of Gaza is in keeping with international law no doubt encouraged the European Union and the many individual Western governments which issued subsequent statements dissuading their citizens from participating in the project. Such concerns were not raised prior to the previous flotilla.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went further and described the intended voyage as "not helpful" and provocative after the State Department had issued repeated official warnings to the 36 American participants that they should not attempt to make the journey to the "dangerous and volatile" region, together with reminders regarding penalties under U.S. law for providing support to foreign terrorist organizations.