Pro-Palestinian activists demonstrating ahead of expected arrival of a Freedom flotilla in Gaza.
Pro-Palestinian activists demonstrating ahead of expected arrival of a Freedom flotilla in Gaza. Photo by AP
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A series of unpredictable delays, technical problems and diplomatic disruptions have managed so far to postpone the arrival of the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza's shores - or, the more likely scenario - clashing with the Israeli Navy ships which are prepared to meet them.

But on Saturday night the delay seemed to be temporary.

The organizers of the eight-ship Gaza aid convoy announced that they planned to set sail from the international waters off the shores of Cyprus sometime over the next 24 hours. The expected maritime conflict is due to occur within hours after they depart.

Cyprus' government was responsible for placing obstacles in the convoy's way, as they denied the ships the right to dock at their ports and delayed the departure of European parliament members who requested to join the flotilla on its sea voyage.

At least two ships suffered from technical problems, and the Irish ship named Rachel Corrie [after the American activist who was killed by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer during a protest in 2003] was late for the scheduled rendezvous with the other ships.

Under these circumstances, it will not be surprising if the flotilla suffers further difficulties, even before the organizers achieve the hoped - for confrontation.

If, however, the ships approach Gaza's shores overnight, the Israeli ships awaiting them will call out a proposal through speaker phones, exactly as the political echelon formulated: Turn back, or accept our escort to the Ashdod port, where, after inspection, the supplies you carry will be transferred to Gaza.

Last night, the chance that these scenarios would take place seemed slim. Today, the most plausible scenario seems to be the one the convoy's organizers are counting on: A mid-sea confrontation during which Israel will apply its will - by force. The IDF will make an effort to keep the takeover as clean as possible, while simultaneously, trying to minimize the damage caused by media coverage, by apparently disrupting the ships' broadcast transmission.

Yet paradoxically, it seems that the Islamic and Leftists activists who are behind the convoy, with significant encouragement from the Turkish government, are not the only ones seeking a confrontation. Israel's government has turned the need to stop the convoy into a matter of critical importance, by virtue of the importance it has assigned to the not-so-useful siege on Gaza.

It is highly doubtful that the convoy's organizers have the well being of Gaza's residents as their top priority. The cargo on the ships, even if it does reach Gaza, will not effect the average Gazan's condition - we have learned over the three years since the revolution in Gaza (12 June 2007) that the Hamas government isn’t very different from its predecessors regarding its citizens' welfare.

In the days of severe fuel shortage, Hamas leaders' vehicles were the only cars that traveled feely. The taxes the government placed on Gazan residents were not meant to improve their lives, but rather to make sure the Hamas rule does not crumble.
Freeing Gilad Shalit would have most likely ended the siege, but the organization is in no hurry to do that - again, due to the political accounts it wishes to close.

The flotilla is meant to serve the organization on the international front and depict Israel as a cruel country that harms innocent Palestinians.

It is easy to guess that few of the international media outlets covering the story will mention that Israel transfers thousands of tons of supplies to Gaza on a daily basis, or transfers critically ill Gazans' to its own hospitals for treatment. It will be interesting to see if the reports give any mention to the smuggling tunnels which transfer the unnecessary goods that Israel denies entrance to.

The problem is, as stated, that that Israeli government helped glorify the flotilla. It is difficult to understand why an alternative solution was not fully considered, such as stopping the ships, searching them, and then letting them through.

Even if hundreds of Muslim and European activists enter Gaza accompanied by an Israeli MK, it will be incomparable to the damage to Israel's image from the media coverage of a confrontation between its Navy's commando and unarmed citizens.
But it's too late now: Stopping the flotilla has become a test of Israel's power of deterrence.