A lot is happening in the eastern Mediterranean Sea this week and weekend. Boats, ships and fleets are coming and going. Friday, the biggest U.S. Naval task force in decades passed out of the Med through the Suez Canal, on its way to the Persian Gulf:
More than twelve United States Naval warships and at least one Israeli ship crossed the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea on Friday, British Arabic Language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Saturday.
According to the report, thousands of Egyptian soldiers were deployed along the Suez Canal guarding the ships’ passage, which included a U.S. aircraft carrier.
The Suez Canal is a strategic Egyptian waterway which connects between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
According to eyewitnesses, the U.S. battleships [sic] were the largest to have crossed the Canal in many years, Al-Quds reported.
And in the Eastern Mediterranean itself, the Lebanese contingent of the next flotilla is leaving port today and tomorrow, headed first to Cyprus, and then on to Gaza, or to its likely confrontation with the Israeli Navy:
Some 50 Christian and Muslim Lebanese women as well as foreigners are preparing to leave Lebanon on Sunday on board of the Miriam.
The group of women, who announced that they do not belong to any political group, will sail from the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli to Cyprus and then to Gaza, between June 23 and 25.
The ship, which will be loaded with medical supplies for cancer patients, would be the latest bid to break Israel’s four-year blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory.
On Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned the Lebanese government that it would be held responsible for ships sailing from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported.
Samar al-Hajj, who is organizing the Miriam voyage to Gaza, thanked Israel "for its threats which only strengthened these women’s willpower to make the trip. I tell the Israelis we are not afraid and we are going on with our plans."
When the IDF boarded the MV Mavi Marmara in late May, the Turkish government registered protests, but took no military action. Since then, although the Turks have voiced interest in issuing naval protection to any new forays by Turkish-flagged vessels, there doesn’t appear to be any gathering of warships from their navy.
The Mossad-connected news source, Debka File, reports today that it may be likely, should the IDF intercept and board the Lebanese flotilla, Hizbollah will react with rocket attacks upon Israel, from across the southern Lebanese border:
Officers of Hizballah’s Iranian-trained marine arm and surface rocket units were sighted Saturday, June 19, going in an out of the small Lebanese Navy’s bases in Beirut and Juniya. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report the Lebanese army and Hizballah are pooling their military resources to be ready for any Israeli action against Lebanese ships heading for Gaza.
The tiny Lebanese Navy, no more than a handful of fast coastal guard boats, has been placed on alert, as have Hizballah’s coastal rocket positions. The Shiite terrorist group has also deployed marines in Beirut harbour against a possible Israeli naval commando raid.
Lebanese ship or ships bound for Gaza are potentially a more dangerous spark for a regional conflagration than even the convoys Ankara and Tehran – although all of them are pledged to the same mission of busting the Israeli blockade of Gaza and may mount a concerted assault.
All three are clearly coordinated: The two-ship Lebanese convoy planning to sail 70 women from different countries to Gaza is funded by Yasser Qaslaq, a Palestinian who in the guise of a Lebanese businessman acts as money courier between Tehran, Hizballah and extremist Palestinian organizations.
Israel’s UN ambassador Gabriela Shalev warned Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that Israel reserves the right to use "all necessary means" to stop the Lebanese boats. Attempts to sail from Lebanon, which maintains a state of war with Israel, she said, would raise regional tensions.
But instead of dealing with the mounting crisis, Ban again demanded that Israel accept an international investigation of its raid of a Turkish ship on May 31 and the nine deaths aboard.
Anxious to keep its head down, Hizballah claimed Saturday that it was not involved in the Lebanese flotilla, thereby trying to pass the buck to Beirut and Jerusalem. But its spokesmen pointedly avoided a guarantee to stay out of it if the Israel navy boarded Lebanese ships. The Iranian-backed terrorists, who in the name of "resistance" maintain a separate armed force armed with advanced weapons in violation of several UN Security Council resolutions, could not stand aside if Beirut accused Israel of an act of war.
The first Lebanese boat heading out for Gaza waters therefore holds the potential of scuppering the Lebanese-Israel truce under the UN Security Council Resolution which cut short the 2006 war, required the Hizballah militia to disarm, and posted UN-flagged German, Spanish and Italian naval units opposite Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast.
Their mission was – and is – to prevent Hizballah receiving weapons smuggled by sea or taking up an active presence in Lebanese ports and anchorages. However, the peacekeepers have never proved able to stop Hizballah building up one of the biggest rocket and missile arsenal in the Middle East – by sea and by land.
Today, the Lebanese army is reverting to its 2006 collaboration with Lebanon that permitted Hizballah missile teams to use its coastal radar stations to fire the Silkworm C-802 missiles which crippled the Israeli Hanit missile boat.
That’s the Debka File, which is often used by the Mossad or IDF to plant the seeds of paranoia. However, the situation, especially should the Iranians, Lebanese, Turks and Europeans unite before making a run to the Gaza coast, is fraught with potential danger. The reality in the eastern Mediterranean, come mid-week, might be rather different from that of the MV Mavi Marmara-MV Rachel Corrie episodes of late May and early June.
Although it is difficult to see other changes in the political climate concerning the international community’s regard for the Israeli government from the vantage point of reading or watching U.S. media these past three weeks, the climate in Europe has changed markedly. Yesterday, the Israelis refused to grant permission to a German cabinet member to visit Gaza to see what needs to be done to restore sewage treatment facilities to the besieged enclave:
German Development Aid Minister Dirk Niebel was denied entry into the Gaza Strip during his current visit to Israel, German officials said Saturday evening.
A ministry spokesman said talks had continued to the last moment with Israeli officials over Niebel’s aim to visit the Palestinian areas.
Niebel, who arrived in Israel earlier Saturday, had hoped to visit a sewage treatment plant being financed with German development aid.
Speaking on the second German TV network ZDF program"heute" (today) Saturday evening, Niebel expressed his anger about being denied entry.
"I would have wished for a clear political signal would be sent for an opening and for transparency," said Niebel, of Germany’s liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).
"Sometimes the Israeli government does not make it easy for its friends to explain why it behaves the way it does," he added.
Niebel said that Israel’s latest announcement on easing the Gaza blockade was "not sufficient" and that Israel must "now deliver" on its pledge.
Beyond that, the government in Jerusalem should be "clear about how Israel, within an international context, wants to cooperate with
its friends in the future as well," the German minister said.
Earlier Saturday, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that the German parliament is to issue a cross-party demand that Israel allow humanitarian aid to reach the Gaza Strip by sea.
As if to underline Niebel’s statements about Israeli "transparency," in another development between the Israeli and German governments, the Germans have refused to acquiesce to an Israeli demand that they not extradite Mossad operative Uri Brodsky from Poland to Germany, for Brodsky’s role in illegally acquiring German passports for use by the Mossad Dubai hit team last January. So much for the Israelis being able to keep their fingerprints off of that keystone cops episode, eh?
The German government has said it will not intervene to stop an investigation into a suspected Mossad spy linked to the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai, despite pressure from Israel, a German newspaper reported on Saturday.
A German official told Der Spiegel his ministry was united in the belief that any investigation into Uri Brodsky should be "dealt with according to purely judicial considerations".
Brodsky, who was wanted by German authorities, was arrested on June 4 at an airport in the Polish capital Warsaw, provoking strong protests from Israeli diplomats. He is suspected of helping to procure a German passport for the killers of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, assassinated in a Dubai hotel room on January 19.
But despite Israel’s demands, Germany will not invoke a law citing "overwhelming public interest" to halt the investigation into Brodsky’s role in the killing.
The German government has asked Poland to extradite Brodsky for trial in Germany, something Israel had sought to prevent.
This is going to be a terrible summer for Israeli diplomacy, perhaps the worst since the Sinai invasion of 1956. Perhaps, even more than the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1956 Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of the Sinai and seizure of the Suez Canal from Egypt had the potential to end in an out-of-control scenario:
The operation, aimed at taking the Suez Canal, was highly successful from a military point of view but was a political disaster as a result of external forces. Along with the Suez crisis, the United States was also dealing with the near-simultaneous Hungarian revolution, and decided it could not criticise Hungary’s suppression of the revolutionaries and simultaneously avoid opposing its two principal European allies’ actions. The United States also feared a wider war after the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on the Egyptian side and make rocket attacks on Britain, France and Israel. Despite having no commercial or military interest in the area, many countries were concerned with what might be a growing rift between Western allied nations.
Nasser requested help from the USA on November 1, without requesting Russian assistance, and was at first skeptical of the efficacy of US diplomatic efforts at the UN, but later gave full credit to Eisenhower’s role in stopping the war.
With reports of more groups preparing for more future flotillas, one might ask, "How many of these will occur before something really bad happens, or the Israelis, somehow, do the right thing for a change – whatever that might be?"
The late Abba Eban is often misquoted as having said "The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." He actually used the term "Arabs," not "Palestinians." One can’t help wondering, though, as we watch Israel begin to come more and more unhinged and unglued, how many more opportunities the Israelis will have to miss to act humanely, before they truly do become a full-fledged pariah state.
The Lebanese should be very careful. They are Israel’s favorite target.