Monday, June 21, 2010
Gaza sea blockade upheld by US, EU as Israel eases land siege
Barring surprises, the sea campaign against Israel's naval blockade of Gaza spearheaded by Turkey may have run its course, debkafile's Middle East sources report.
Beirut is close to abandoning the Lebanese convoy, Damascus has turned away requests to use its ports, Cyprus is negative and even the Iranian expedition appears snarled. Israel has in the last 24 hours won US and European support for its sea blockade. It was endorsed also by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas after the Israeli cabinet bowed to international pressure and approved the passage of all civilian goods to the 1.2 million Palestinians of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. After Israel endured three weeks of international censure for its commando raid on the flotilla aiming to break the Gaza blockade and 9 Turkish deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara, the Netanyahu government has hauled the wheel round, stemmed the tide of opprobrium and stabilized Israel's diplomatic and security position. British ex-prime minister Tony Blair, Special Envoy of the Middle East Quartet, pitched in to help Israel out of a tight spot ahead of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's White House meeting with President Barack Obama on July 8.
The formula drafted and approved by Israel's security cabinet permitted all civilian goods to reach Gaza, banned military, dual-use materials and weapons, and left the sea blockade in place.
In Gaza, Hamas leader Mahmoud A Zahar, furious over the collapse of the campaign against the blockade, declared Sunday, June 20 that it was time for Qassam missiles to be launched against Israel from the West Bank as well as Gaza. Nothing about Hamas' policy had changed, he stressed in response to Blair's admonition that Hamas could become part of the peace process if it released the Israel soldier, Gilad Shalit, held captive for four years, and renounced violence.
debkafile's military sources report that Israel and Western military and intelligence circles in the Middle East warn that a celebration over the apparent end of the flotilla chapter would premature. Thwarted for now, Turkey, Iran, Hizballah and Hamas may be at this minute plotting a major operation for giving the Israeli Navy enforcing the blockade a nasty surprise.
For now, Washington, Jerusalem, the Europeans and Abbas' faction between them have managed to post keep out signs over most Middle East ports usable for sending convoys out to Gaza. The first to be affected was the two-ship Lebanese flotilla that was scheduled to set sail from Beirut port Monday, 21.
The White House in Washington, the UN Secretary's bureau in New York and UNIFIL Command headquarters in Lebanon made it clear to the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri that letting the two-ship campaign flotilla to depart Beirut port on schedule, Monday June 21, would be a very bad idea. Various bureaucratic pretexts were found Sunday to keep the ship from sailing.
Our intelligence sources also disclose: Campaign organizers turned to Damascus for the use of Syrian ports, only to be told that Syria is at war with Israel and not looking for trouble. Anyway, it would most inconvenient at this time because President Bashar Assad is preparing for a long absence touring Latin America. They have not had much luck with South European, Greek or Cypriot ports because of the deal Tony Blair swung with Netanyahu.
The only ports remaining now for launching boats against the Gaza blockade are Turkish, but the fact that one of the ships, to have carried scores of women campaigners, including many Christians, was dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Maryam in Arabic) does not sit easily in Ankara and its Islamic government. The second ship is Julia.
At a joint news conference in Jerusalem Sunday, Netanyahu and Blair announced that a new list of banned goods for passage through land crossings from Israel would be published soon and construction materials allowed for projects under international supervision such as schools, health facilities, housing, sanitation and water - to make sure they are not used for military installations. The opening of additional crossings would be contingent on the security situation.