The Turkish government sent a secret message to Jerusalem Monday, May 24, threatening reprisals if the Israeli Navy prevents the "Freedom Flotilla" of nine boats from reaching the Gaza Strip on May 27 for the avowed objects of breaking Israel's blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory and delivering humanitarian aid. DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources report that the Turkish message was an ultimatum to Israel threatening retaliation against Israeli interests. It is backed by the unreported presence of one or more helicopters on one or more of the Turkish vessels for challenging Israeli Air Force support for the naval blockade.
The Debka File report goes on to indicate that Turkish Intelligence is involved with the Turkish aspects of participation in the multi-national flotilla of nine vessels, which range greatly in size:
This foundation is quietly sponsored by Turkish intelligence and all its operations, including the Gaza flotilla, the most ambitious yet for breaking the Israeli blockade on Gaza - drawn from the prime minister's office in Ankara.
Israel has imposed a 20-nautical mile closure on the Gaza coast and vowed to prevent the Turkish-led flotilla from entering port.
The potentially most provocative aspect of the plans for dealing with the confrontation the IDF has announced it is planning for the flotilla, may be this:
Our sources report Erdogan has approved a plan of action whereby when Israeli warships and naval commandoes board the vessels to prevent them reaching Gaza, the helicopter carrying the leading activists will take off, fly over their heads and land in Gaza. The assumption is that the Israeli Air Force will not dare to intercept the helicopter and bring it down while still offshore for fear of an international outcry against a purported humanitarian mission.
The IDF, in information it has let out on its plans, has indicated involvement in the operation of personnel trained to deal with large numbers of unwilling prisoners:
Jerusalem has not yet replied to the Turkish ultimatum. It is standing fast as yet - barring provocations or shooting from the convoy to gain media attention - by the decision to block the flotilla's entry to a Gazan port. The vessels will be diverted to an Israeli port, if necessary by Israeli naval units boarding them, and the people aboard detained at a special camp thrown up to house them.
The Navy is preparing an operational plan to stop the flotilla of nine ships – loaded with hundreds of international activists and thousands of tons of supplies – which are scheduled to try and break the sea blockade on Gaza by anchoring in the newly-expanded port later this week.
In addition, the IDF has established a joint taskforce together with the Israel Police, the Foreign Ministry and the Prisons Service to coordinate efforts to stop the flotilla and manage the potential media fallout.
There are many reporters among the hundreds of passengers in the flotilla, and they hope to be able to get information out to the world on the inevitable confrontation in real time:
Meanwhile, the ECESG said the flotilla will arrive by Friday, among those travelling are 36 journalists working for 21 news agencies, and the boats are equipped with wireless sat transmitters, so the journalists can capture the Israeli pirates terrorizing and attempted kidnapping of the crew, passengers.
Confirmation of heavy Turkish pressure on the Israeli government has also made it into the Israeli mainstream media:
Turkey urged Israel on Tuesday to lift its blockade of Gaza and allow a Turkish-led convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to enter the Hamas-controlled enclave.
An international flotilla carrying some 10,000 tons of medical equipment, housing material and other supplies is expected to reach Israeli waters by Friday, according to a Turkey-based humanitarian aid group leading the effort.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference during a UN meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his government had been in touch with Israel about the aid convoy.
"Acting calmly is necessary rather than raising already heightened tensions," he said. "The blockade on Gaza should be lifted."
He added: "We don't want new tensions ... We believe Israel will use common sense towards this civilian initiative."
There have been indications that the IDF forces intend to conduct electronic warfare against the flotilla at the time of the confrontation, blacking out all communication between the vessels and the outside world, and that they will then seize all electronic devices on board the vessels, as Israeli police and intelligence units have similarly confiscated computers, video equipment and other items from Israeli and Palestinian peace activists in recent months.
The MV Rachel Corrie, carrying the biggest cargo load in the flotilla, has been reported to having had to pull into a Portuguese port for repairs, but more recently, it has been reported "off the coast of Spain." However, it does not appear that this ship has yet entered the Mediterranean Sea.
Since Sunday, the Israeli government has launched an intense campaign intended to project two ideas - that the residents of Gaza get everything one could possibly need, and that the flotilla is directly supporting the terrorist Hamas network. They've even set up a twitter site at the Foreign Ministry (run by Avigdor Lieberman) as part of the campaign.
The U.S. media is beginning to cover this story, with an article by the Associated Press, and an op-ed in The Hill, by Iara Lee, who will be on board one of the flotilla vessels.
Earlier today, it was announced that the former Archbishop of Jerusalem will be joining the flotilla:
Sources participating in the Freedom Flotilla aid convoy stated that father Hilarion Capucci, the former archbishop of Jerusalem, joined the convoy sailing for the besieged Gaza Strip.
The sources said that father Capucci arrived in the Turkish city of Antalya on Sunday to join hundreds of participants in the convoy.
For his part, deputy head of the international committee for breaking the siege Mohamed Sawalha said that the participation of father Capucci has a symbolic importance for he is one of the most prominent Palestinian national figures who stood in the face of the Israeli occupation.
This is shaping up to be one of the most fascinating confrontation stories in recent years. No doubt the
press relations propaganda section of the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC is gearing up to spin the story as it is already being spun by the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Tel Aviv, should American media start covering this more closely.
Meanwhile, the best site I've found for quick updates is the Free Gaza Movement's twitter page.
images: Turkish cruise ship Mavi Marmara, with crowds for send-off Sunday; MV Rachel Corrie, underway; Archbishop Hilarion Capucci