The "Gaza Freedom Flotilla" raided by Israeli naval commandos on May 31 was the opening shot of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's master-plan for breaking Israel's naval blockade on Gaza and wrecking its international and regional standing. None of the aides working on this assignment – or Erdogan himself -imagined for a moment that the first round would harvest such tremendous gains: Israel's blockade on Gaza is already teetering and its international standing has never sunk so low. Now, its very right to exist as a sovereign nation is called into question.
The runaway success of his anti-Israel campaign has crowned Erdogan overnight as the most renowned Muslim figure, pushing even Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinjad out of the spotlight. To keep up the momentum of his popularity and bring his vision of restoring Turkey to its old glory as Middle Eastern and Islamic superpower to early fruition, he must carry on as he started.
The Turkish prime minister's most useful resource is the Insani Yardim Vakfi, better known by its acronym of IHH, an organization with a lurid terrorist past in association with al Qaeda, whose head office in Istanbul with branches in 100 countries.
The IHH's usefulness for his purpose is enhanced by its partnership with the Palestinian Free Gaza Movement, which is run from Brussels by a "human rights office" headed by an American Jew called Adam Shapiro
Erdogan plans eight to ten large ships for Flotilla No. 2
Erdogan lifted this radical IHH out of penury by mobilizing Turkish and other Muslim donors to provide the millions of dollars needed to buy large ships, the first of which was the Marmora seized by Israeli commandos. To speed the flotilla on its way to Gaza, Turkish port authorities were instructed not to ask its passengers for passports or submit them to the usual registration and security screening processes.
Loath to let the grass grow under his feet, The Turkish leader has drawn up three scenarios for follow-up operations that may well bring Turkey into more clashes with Israel, as revealed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Ankara sources.
1. He has given Israel an ultimatum to lift the naval and land blockade of Gaza at once. Erdogan is holding continuous emergency cabinet meetings attended by all his generals so as to be able to launch military action to forcibly break the blockade at any given moment. Turkish forces have been concentrated and held ready in Cyprus (as reported in the first article of this issue).
Turkey's leaders drew encouragement from the huge crowds gathered for the funerals of the nine activists killed resisting Israel's commando raid on the Turkish vessel and the banners calling on the Turkish government to avenge their deaths as martyrs.
2. Turkish action might also depend on how the Ankara government means to use the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie, which lagged behind the flotilla because of technical problems. On Wednesday, June 2, debkafile's military sources reported that the ship had altered course and, instead of continuing toward Gaza, set sail for Turkey.
This has given the Turks a chance to deploy a fresh trained IHH combat group aboard the ship and send it on to Gaza, thereby provoking another clash with the Israeli Navy.
An even more dramatic encounter would ensue if an escort of Turkish warships and jets were attached to the blockade-buster vessel, except that Erdogan now believes that Israel has been so intimidated by the international outcry against its military operation on the Marmara that Benyamin Netanyahu will not dare mount another challenge to his plans.
3. IHH and Free Gaza Movement agents are currently on the lookout for bigger passenger ships than the Mavi Marmara for their next flotilla. Erdogan has provided them with enough money to buy eight or ten vessels to blow the Israeli blockade sky high. The idea is to have them ready to launch Free Gaza Flotilla 2 in about six weeks. Erdogan's planners are thinking of placing Turkish marines aboard the ships to deter Israel from attacking them as well as armed naval and air escorts.