What was originally meant to be a huge flotilla of 20 ships carrying thousands of pro-Palestinian activists to Gaza, had over the past two months slowly dwindled away until the grandiose plans ended Tuesday with a single 16-passenger yacht.
The Israel Defense Forces preparations, which initially began with dozens of navy ships and helicopters, and hundreds of IDF soldiers who trained for weeks in case of complications, also ended Tuesday with just one team of elite marines and a handful of speedboats that quickly intercepted the yacht and settled the matter.
Israel's handling of the 2011 Gaza flotilla was almost the direct opposite of the way it dealt with the previous flotilla 13 months ago, in terms of diplomatic, judicial, intelligence, and operational resources. Miraculously, the Turkish organization IHH, who had dispatched the most violent activists on the previous Gaza flotilla, announced last month that they intended to stay on dry land, and that the Mavi Marmara would not cross the Mediterranean Sea once more.
From the moment the Mavi Marmara was out of the picture, the new flotilla began to lose steam. Pro-Palestinian organizations found it hard to purchase ships, and even after purchasing them, found it very difficult to secure insurance and the rest of the necessary permits needed to sail. Moreover, some of the ships that did make it to the ports of departure in Greece encountered various mysterious technical and bureaucratic problems, which repeatedly delayed their departure. In all, some 300 international activists gave up their summer vacation to participate in the flotilla and ended up sitting in a Greek port day after day, watching .
The lethal blow to the flotilla was when two ships tried to depart for Gaza, defying Greek government orders, and were stopped by the coast guard. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knew exactly what he was doing when he chose to personally thank Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in a speech several days later.
The activists slowly scattered and teams from the media dissipated even before, until the only ones left were the fantastic 10-16 activists, three crew members and three journalists – all on one small yacht.
When they set sail on Saturday and declared the Alexandria port as their destination, no one seemed to care anymore. The end of the saga was predictable. After all, Israeli intelligence knew exactly who was onboard the yacht, and that none of the passengers would react violently.
The Israel Navy was in action, but by then was regarding it a near routine operation. The most complicated tasks were actually performed by the electronic warfare team and by the IDF Spokesperson's unit.
For once, the IDF was not only controlling the battlefield but the media as well. The moment the Israel Navy contacted the yacht on Tuesday morning, the IDF activated a full electronic takeover, stopping both the activists and the Al Jazeera crew frompublishing a single image, video, or even Tweet.
Simultaneously, the IDF Spokesperson supplied media outlets with real-time updates on every stage of the negotiations between the navy and the French yacht, released the IDF chief's orders to intercept the vessel, and, after 10 minutes, put out a statement on the IDF interception, which had been carried out quickly and smoothly. Pictures and videos taken by IDF ships were also immediately circulated.
Currently, the interception seems like a knock-out victory by the political echelon and defense establishment over the pro-Palestinian activists. It is just a shame that Israel's massive failures in handling last year's flotilla, which dealt a near fatal blow to its ties with Turkey, and resulted in the deaths of Turkish activists, were needed in order to facilitate such a clean operation this time around.
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