Probe: Erdogan Knew Gaza Flotilla Would Be Violent

Files found on activists' laptops pointed to strong ties between the Islamist IHH movement and Turkey's prime minister.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan knew in advance that activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla planned to attack Israeli troops, Israeli intelligence officials have said.

Activists hold down an Israeli commando on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara, May 31 2010Credit: Reuters

In a report published this week, a group of independent investigators from Israel's intelligence community found that activists aboard the 'Mavi Marmara' were part of an organized group that was prepared for a violent conflict.

Last week Israeli commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian activists when they boarded the Turkish-owned boat, part of a six-ship convoy trying to break Israel's maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip

The report, published by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (known in Israel by its Hebrew acronym Malam), said activists who attacked commandos with clubs and knives were supported by the Turkish government.

Malam is a privately run but is widely seen as an unofficial branch of Israel's intelligence community and has in the past been a medium for passing Israel's intelligence findings to the public.

The report said while most of the Mavi Marmara's 500 passengers were humanitarian volunteers who underwent security checks before boarding the ship at Antalya in Turkey, a group of 40 IHH activists had boarded the ship in an Istanbul port beforehand, keeping apart from the rest of the passengers throughout the journey.

This hard core of activists boarded the ship without checks and was equipped with communications equipment, flack jackets embroidered with Turkish flags, and gas masks, Malam said.

According to the report, the group turned the upper deck into its headquarters, blocking it off to other passengers. It had a clear internal hierarchy, with specific activists nominated as commanders.

Bülent Yldrm, the leader of the IHH, an Islamic organization that planned the voyage, was on the Mavi Marmara and briefed group members about two hours before the Israeli Navy intercepted the ship. Their main objective was to hold back soldiers by any means, and to push them back into the sea.

As they had been banned from bringing wepaons aboard, IHH members improvised weapons including metal rods and knives cut from the ship's metal rails, which they used to attack the soldiers.

According to a witness aboard the ship, a confrontation broke out when the ship's crew heard IHH members sawing the railing into metal rods, but they were unable to confiscate them from them.

IHH activists also gathered all the knives from six cafeterias on the ship, as well as axes from fire extinguishers on the deck, all of which served as weapons against Israeli commandos .

Before the takeover, IHH ordered all other passengers into the hold of the ship and told them to remain there. Only journalists and security personnel were allowed access to the deck.

Video footage matched testimonies from passengers who claimed they witnessed any violence, as they were denied access to the deck, where the clash occurred.

The testimonies are also similar to the version given by the Navy commandos who said that they fought with a group of approximately 50 people who used every weapon available to attack them.

Eight of the nine dead were identified as IHH members.

Files found on laptops owned by the IHH members pointed at strong ties between the movement and Turkey's prime minister. Some of the activists even said that Erdogan was personally involved in the flotilla's preparations.

They also said that they knew in advance that their chances of making it into Gaza were slim, but their initial goal was to "to expose Israel's true face to the world."

An IHH journalist said during his investigation with Israeli security forces that "the Turks set a trap for you and you fell straight into it." He also said that the recent flotilla was the first in many.

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