Within two weeks of the May 31st attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which left 9 dead and scores of injured, Iran announced the departure of two aid ships to Gaza. The Iranian Red Crescent reported that over 155,000 volunteers had—even if symbolically—signed up for Tehran’s Gaza flotilla.
As if drawn from that bit about the Apocalypse found at the end of the Bible of Really Bad Ideas, Israel’s Most Wanted were not only going to send ships in the wake of the bloody IDF commando assault on the last aid vessels attempting to ease the siege on Gaza, but send ships with Iranian commandos no less. Ha’aretz reported:
"Iran’s Revolutionary Guards naval forces are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities," Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative inside the Revolutionary Guards, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.
The move predictably sent Israel over the edge. IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi asserted that, “We cannot allow Gaza to become an Iranian port” and the Associated Press wrote that, "Security officials said the prospect of an Iranian boat headed for Gaza had Israel deeply worried, and that naval commandos were training for the possibility of taking on a vessel with a suicide bomber on board."
Iran wasn’t the only one. Suddenly it seemed as if all of Israel’s enemies were planning to rent cruise ships, fill them up with flour and concrete, and ruin all our summers.
“If a flotilla comes out of Lebanon, we will handle it,” the IDF chief added, referring to plans by Lebanese activists to sail additional aid ships to Gaza in violation of Israel’s naval blockade. “If they seek peace, that’s how we’ll respond. If not, we will do what we have to do.”
Fortunately, for those of us who had summer plans other than being hunched over a computer fretting over yet another Israeli war during yet another American holiday season, Iran and Lebanon canceled. Even I—beach blanket and sunscreen at the ready—was ready to call those particular flotillas "a provocation".
Hossein Sheikholeslam, secretary general of the International Conference for the Support of the Palestinian Intifada—an Iranian body set up by parliament—announced that the aid flotilla would be canceled after Israel had "sent a letter to the United Nations saying that the presence of Iranian and Lebanese ships in the Gaza area will be considered a declaration of war on that regime and it will confront it".
You think Hossein? It would have played straight into Israel’s current "Iran defense", which consists of mentioning the words "Iran" and "nuclear weapons" as often and repeatedly as possible, every time a journalist or American politician strays within 10 feet.
The idea is that everyone forgets about Israel’s war crimes and panics, forgetting that we’ve all been down this road before. Then foreign minister/now prime minister Netanyahu’s relentless demonization campaign a decade ago against another country—Iraq—is at least part of the reason that we’re still quagmired in that country. And there weren’t any WMDs there either.
But it worked last time so why not use the same tried and tested distraction? Speaking to Fox News on July 6th, Netanyahu beat that same zombie horse without a hint of any shame or irony:
"…you know who has been violating the nuclear non-proliferation pact, those who signed it. Iran, Iraq, Libya—and Iran violates it while calling for Israel’s destruction and racing to develop atomic weapons to that end. So I think we should stay focused on the real problem in the Middle East. It’s not Israel."
Which brings us to Libya, who also announced its own flotilla in the wake of Iran and Lebanon’s. The Libyan boat, whose arrival in Gaza is scheduled to be within the next 12 hours, is being sent by the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, headed by Seif Al Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s leader. Again, perhaps not the best idea, given regional tensions and history, and current Israeli spin.
The New York Times reports that Israel gave the ship an ultimatum to change course before 5pm EST today:
According to the French news agency, Agence France-Presse, a member of the Libyan group, Mashallah Zwei, said by satellite phone that the Israelis had given the boat until midnight local time (5 p.m. Eastern time) to shift course. “Otherwise they are threatening to intercept the boat with the navy,” the agency quoted him as saying.
According to the academic, open, community-based maritime information website MarineTraffic.com, the ship is nowhere near Israel as of 2pm EST, despite claims on the website of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation that:
An Israeli gunboat is currently intercepting Al-Amal aid ship bound for Gaza. The Ship’s Captain was asked by the gunboat crew to go to El Arish port instead, stressing that the vessel will not be allowed to go into Gaza at all.
For his part, the Ship’s Captain and the head of the Foundation’s team on board of Al-Amal aid ship affirmed that the Ship’s sole destination is Gaza, asserting that it is carrying humanitarian aid and has no other purpose whatsoever.
The gunboat is still present near the Ship sailing to Gaza.
It seems an unlikely story. All parts of it.
Looking at data on MarineTraffic.com, the destination is already officially listed as Al-Arish:
Fair enough, that could be a ploy. But, in addition—during the last couple of hours—the Libyan ship appears to have definitively changed course from Gaza (the red line below) towards a heading that will leave it in Al-Arish port (the purple line below):
But for those beaten down by the endless, bloody monotony of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, who have at least started paying attention again now that the conflict has shifted from a land to a sea war—because everyone loves pirates!—there may be a surprise contender that no one was expecting.
According to MarineTraffic.com, the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior is in the area, another victim of over-zealous and repressive governments at sea:
Last Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the deadly bombing of the original Rainbow Warrior by French government agents in port in Auckland, New Zealand. Will the Rainbow Warrior head off the Israeli navy? Is the Rainbow Warrior a second, secret "sleeper flotilla" ship to make sure the Gazans can end their diet and get that pasta?
No, of course not. It’s a coincidence. But if it were not, would we be surprised? Everything about this whole affair—the Israelis, the Iranians, the Libyans, and the rest of us—is starting to seem like bad theater. Bad theater in which only the Gazans continue to be excluded access to the auditorium in which the drama of their lives is acted out in front of the entire world.
Myself? I’m waiting for the German Jewish ship to come. That creative and powerful act of solidarity is going to be worth watching. In the meantime, all of this just looks like business as usual—people posturing for political reasons while others starve.
UPDATE at 3:32EST: And… no surprises, Reuters reports an Al-Arish docking.
Nigel Parry, former Birzeit University webmaster, was one of the cofounders of the Electronic Intifada, Electronic Iraq and Electronic Lebanon. Recently he launched the flagship project of delegitimize.com, the Gaza Flotilla Archive, found at http://gazaflotilla.delegitimize.com.