Israel nabs final Gaza flotilla ship

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

Israeli naval forces on Tuesday intercepted and comandeered the lone remaining vessel in this summer's "Gaza Freedom Flotilla 2."

The rest of the ships that were part of the original flotilla eventually gave up their mission of breaking the Israeli maritime blockade of Gaza when Greek officials refused to let them leave port.

But in a last ditch effort to "save the mission" the French-flagged ship Dignity managed to set off for Gaza by lying to Greek officials and telling them the vessel would sail instead for Alexandria, Egypt

Israel was not fooled by the ruse. After the Dignity ignored several warnings as it neared Gazan waters, Israeli naval commandoes boarded the ship. The Israelis met no resistance and redirected the ship to the southern Israel port of Ashdod.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned IDF chief Gen. Benny Gantz later in the day to congratulate him on a successful, violence-free mission that effectively put an end to the Gaza flotilla phenomenon.

Gaza's Hamas rulers called the interception of the Dignity and the detention of its 17 passengers an act of "piracy" and a "war crime."

However, according to a UN report on last year's deadly clash between the Israeli navy and a Turkish-led flotilla, Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza is legal.

The findings of the UN commission headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer were scheduled to be published last week, but release of the report was postponed in hopes that Israel and Turkey were nearing a reconciliation following the bloody confrontation aboard the Mavi Marmara "aid" ship last May.

Turkey has demanded that Israel apologize for intercepting the ship and its companion vessels, an operation that resulted in the deaths of nine flotilla activists who attacked the Israeli boarding party.

But Israel maintains that since its Gaza blockade is legal, it has every right to board such vessels, and will not apologize for doing so, even if it regrets the resulting casualties.

The incident was used by Turkey as an excuse to recall its ambassador, and tensions between the two nations have been rising ever since.

But the silver lining as far as Israel is concerned is that the flotilla phenomenon appears to be over. With the UN at least tacitly endorsing Israel's maritime blockade, and Greece proving that most Mediterranean nations are unwilling to facilitate efforts to break the blockade, the wind has been taken out of the flotilla movement's sails, so to speak.

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