“We are preparing for the flotilla in accordance with the orders of the Israeli government. We are preparing to stop it,” Lt. Gen. Benny Ganz, the military's chief of staff, was quoted on Tuesday by an official as telling a parliamentary committee.
His remarks came as in the Gaza Strip, its Hamas rulers marked the first anniversary of a deadly Israeli raid on a convoy bound for the enclave by unveiling a memorial to the nine Turks killed by navy commandos who clashed with activists wielding clubs and knives.
The official, who briefs reporters on the deliberations of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, did not elaborate on Ganz's testimony.
Israeli media have reported that commandos were revising their tactics in the wake of the May 31, 2010, raid that strained Israel's relations with Turkey and drew international criticism that led to an easing of its land blockade of Gaza.
Meanwhile, also on the anniversary of the lethal raid, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that, if necessary, force would be used against anyone who tries to disobey the navy orders.
Netanyahu said Israel prefers a diplomatic move to thwart the flotilla expected at the end of June, but if necessary would exercise force against anyone who tries to disobey the navy's orders and heads to Gaza's shore, leading English-language Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Tuesday.
The Israel Navy has held takeover drills and mobilized reserve combatants, on the assumption the large number of vessels planning to take part in the flotilla will require reinforcements, Haaretz also reported, noting that the navy is focusing on riot-control measures this time, saying they will use force as a last resort.
“If Israel does not want new aid convoys, it should recognize the new Palestinian administration and lift the blockade of Gaza. Then there will be no grounds for new aid convoys to Gaza,” Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said recently on several occasions.
Last Thursday, when asked how Turkey would react if a similar tragedy repeats this year, Davutoğlu said the government was assessing every possibility, including the worst-case scenario. “We hope there will be no such situation. We think Israel has enough experience not to repeat a mistake like that,” he said.
Washington admits civilian character of flotilla initiative
In Washington on Tuesday, a US State Department official told reporters that the Department has been “in consultation” with the Turkish government on the issue of the new flotilla.
Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner was reminded of Davutoğlu's remarks delivered a day before the anniversary in which he said that it was not within the authority of a democracy to prevent private challenges to an illegal blockade. “No democratic country can think that they have full control over these NGOs [non-government organizations],” he said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.
“That may very well be the case. These are independently operating NGOs. But what I think our concern is we don't want to see another situation arise where people are put at risk,” Toner said.
Davutoğlu's remarks came after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called on all governments concerned to use their influence to discourage such flotillas from again setting sail for Gaza.