This current situation is not only very difficult but can also turn out to be extremely volatile. I feel that what happened today is part of a much bigger picture involving geopolitics and control of world energy markets.
Firstly as I have said before Iran is a thorn in the side for the US who specifically feel threatened by the hug potential and ability that Iran has in not only becoming a major player in marketing its natural resources but also has a substantial military force. The two together makes it a country that should be respected.
Turkey on the other hand is very much part of the West in that it is already al long standing member of NATO and is also currently seeking EU membership. It is at a vital corridor for energy supply i.e. a transit country for oil/gas from Iran and the general Caspian Sea area and beyond.
Israel has for some years been planning a joint venture with Turkey to establish a possible pipeline from Turkey down to Israel and then on via the Gulf of Aqaba and onwards to Asia and the Far East. This relationship has been very difficult at times because of the Palestinian situation and certainly after the Israelis attacked on Gaza in 2008/9.
What we are now seeing is a clash of the giants as to who will secure these valuable markets. It appears, at the moment, that the US Backed TAPI pipeline from Turkmenistan - Afghanistan - Pakistan - India may have lost out to the Iranian backed IPI pipeline from Iran - Pakistan - India. This must be a major blow to the US and consequently it would be to America's advantage to carry out some action against Iran to stop this going ahead.
Because of Israel's aggression towards the Palestinians (in particular Gaza) it looks like the proposed pipeline from Turkey - Israel will now be cancelled. We must remember that economically this was an extremely lucrative deal for Israel and would have given them much prosperity and now this, like the US pipeline is fast fading away.
It is therefore, in my opinion, that the US and Israel are now licking their wounds and would now like to see some conflict with not only Iran but also possibly Turkey. Add to this the existing tension between Israel - Syria - Lebanon and Palestine and one can see potential for major conflict in the region.
I am 100% sure that this current aid convoy and the resulting action was intentionally orchestrated to provoke a conflict between Israel and Turkey with the US looking on (and the UN) fully understanding the consequences if and aggressive interception took place (which it did).
The question here is not if the legality to intercept was in breach of international maritime law but rather a case of was the way the intercept was planned and the force with which it was applied acceptable.
I know that after the Israelis pulled out of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority was almost forced to agree to a deal whereby the policing and control of the Gaza offshore zone would become the full and legal responsibility of the Israeli Government. One can only assume that this was purely as a control of the legal limits as set down by the Oslo Accord, which was a distance of 20 nautical miles offshore and all that lay within.
However, this intercept took place, presumably within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Israel and outside of the Gaza Zone so one would have to investigate further as to who had what rights to carry out this action and was there any justification etc.
It was obvious that this intercept was very carefully planned and as soon as the vessels left the Cyprus EEZ and entered the Israeli EEZ that they were going to take action. What transpired was truly not only an overkill but also was in total violation of normal intercept procedure.
The correct procedure for a military naval intercept is that a warship will approach the target vessel/s and challenge them by whatever means are available i.e. Radio contact on marine channel 16, signaling via light (Morse) or pulling in closer to the vessels and talking via intercom etc.
The challenge would be to identify the vessel/s and ask the standard questions what ship, where from, where bound amount of person on board and cargo etc. Once they have confirmed this identity and ascertained that the vessel/s are destined for a port that is off limits under the terms of the blockade they will then order them to alter course and to either return to some other safe port or advise them to select another port of destination i.e. El Arish or whatever.
Once this initial challenge has been carried out and if the Captain of the vessel/s refuses to comply then the patrol boat would then fire a warning shot over the bow. Again a second warning is carried out and if the vessel/s continues to ignore the patrol boat may choose to carry out an attack or board the vessels concerned.
The intercept carried out in the early hours of this morning was a well staged military assault that bypassed all normal protocol and was truly very aggressive from the onset. The means used to board these vessels was a total overkill. Normally for one vessel a well trained boarding party is all that is required with backup standing by in the event of conflict.
In this case we are talking of many Israeli vessels loaded with highly specialised commandoes and helicopters doing a raid on a passenger ferry full of unarmed humanitarian civilians and associated aid. If one board a vessel in such an aggressive manner it is obvious that it will provoke reprisal in some form.
I feel this entire exercise was extremely well orchestrated with a much bigger plan in mind and now it’s a case as to how politically difficult this could become. It is my own belief that one must look deeper at the forward planning from both sides. We appear to see an aggressive well rehearsed Israeli plan and on the humanitarian side some rather very high risk planning that could have endangered many more lives. Some of the vessels were very purely prepared with no buffer time allowed for in the event of mechanical difficulties.
Finally I continue to ask the question if the enormous amount of money raised is to be handed over to the Israelis rather than the target group and if vessels are to be confiscated one would have to keep asking the same question time and time again is it commercially viable to keep doing this if the aid is not getting to the target group,
It would be much better to save these huge sums of money (that has yet again been wasted) and try to work something out with Egypt to get that money transferred into speciallised hospital equipment that I am sure would be allowed to cross over into Rafah if arranged in the correct manner and by negotiation with Egypt i.e. MRSI scanner or other specialised equipment.
It is also clear that under no circumstance does Israel want Palestine to exist and therefore any future talks must be done via the international court with the UN offering peace keeping troops to Gaza (in the interim) and to lift the blockade. They have done this in Lebanon so why not Gaza and West Bank?.
Peter Eyre - Middle East Consultant - 31/5/2010