Initial reports suggest that the official Turkish investigation into the sabotage of the Irish ship MV Saoirse that was due to take part in the now Greek-impounded Freedom Flotilla Two will find that “the breakdown of the ship might not be a result of sabotage” and that even if it was sabotaged, it “was damaged before it entered Turkish waters”. However, the Irish Ship To Gaza (ISTG) campaign view such conclusions with deep suspicion.
It remains the opinion of the Irish Ship To Gaza campaign that an act of underwater sabotage was conducted against the Irish boat, the MV Saoirse, as it sat in the Turkish port of Göcek. Below we outline in detail our reasons and evidence for believing this to be the case.
Sabotage of MV Saoirse
ISTG believes that it is beyond coincidence that both the Irish ship and the Greek-Scandinavian ship the Juliano (berthed in Piraeus, Greece) suffered almost identical damage (see image below) within a week while docked in two separate countries, some three hundred miles from each other. Both ships were due to take part in Freedom Flotilla Two.
Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, shares the same suspicions. He has said that there is:
“[S]trong circumstantial evidence of Israeli responsibility … It stretches the imagination to suppose that a sophisticated cutting of the propeller shafts of both ships is a coincidence with no involvement by Israel … [Israel] has so far done little to deny its culpability. Its highest officials speak of the allegations in self-righteous language that is typically diversionary, asserting an irrelevant right of self-defense, which supposedly comes mysteriously into play whenever civil society acts nonviolently to break the siege of Gaza.”
According to the MV Saoirse’s engineer, Pat Fitzgerald, a former fisherman and seaman with twenty years experience with boats:
“There was a gouge taken out of the propeller shaft and it was bent. This shaft was three-inches in diameter, it doesn’t bend easily … Where the actual damage to the propeller was, wasn’t actually the deepest point of the vessel. The propeller was much deeper, probably another half-metre deeper again. [The damage] couldn’t have happened without hitting the propeller … If we had hit something we’d have known about it, but we didn’t hit anything. Just to be sure that we hadn’t hit anything in the oil jetty, and to be sure that there wasn’t anything unusual there, we sent people to snorkel the area. There was nothing … I’ve been twenty years at sea. I’ve seen all types of underwater damage and I’ve never seen anything like this. It had to have been caused by something that I have never come across. It’s not natural wear-and-tear, it wasn’t accidental damage, it had to be man-made damage; there is no way around it. We can’t find any explanation other than sabotage.”
Furthermore, renowned blogger and Guardian website columnist, Richard Silverstein, whom the Israeli newspaper Haaretz describes as an “international [messenger] of information which military censorship and Israeli courts forbid publishing”, has noted an apparent implicit admission of guilt from Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon on the Hebrew website of Ynet:
“[Ya’alon, praising the preparatory work of Israel towards the flotilla, said] ‘those problems the Flotilla’s having in realizing their plans didn’t just happen. They’re thanks to the work of the political echelon whose focus was on diplomatic political issues, and operational work of the IDF to prepare for every possible eventuality’. The last phrase is doublespeak which both reveals and conceals at the same time, a formulation any Israeli would recognize as not just alluding to an IDF role in sabotage, but practically bragging about it. What possible role could the IDF be playing currently in frustrating the plans of the Flotilla if it isn’t the round of sabotage that struck [the] boats?”
Even the New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, who has ties to the Israeli military, has pointed the finger at Israel, saying:
“Israel, for its part, has been campaigning against the flotilla and perhaps doing more — some of the boats have suffered sabotage.”
The United States seeks to repair Turkish-Israeli relations
When looking at the statement attributed to Turkish officials regarding the investigation into the Saoirse’s sabotage, geopolitics is an important and fundamental consideration. Turkey and Israel, under the watchful eye of the United States which considers both to be valuable allies in the Middle East, are currently attempting to heal the rift that erupted when Israel ordered an attack on last year’s Freedom Flotilla, killing eight Turks and one Turkish-American. The fall-out reached its nadir when Turkey removed its Ambassador from Israel.
With regard to the future of Turkish-Israeli relations, a major part will be played by the conclusions of the ‘Palmer Report’ into the Flotilla attack, commissioned by the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
On 2nd June 2011, the Israeli online newspaper YNet reported that:
“Israel and Turkey are holding secret talks in an effort to soften the conclusions of the Palmer Report … sources in Washington claimed that Israel’s representative to the UN inquiry committee Yosef Ciechanover, his Turkish counterpart and other officials were crisscrossing between Jerusalem and Ankara in an attempt to use the report’s conclusions to improve relations between the countries.”
The piece further asserts that:
“[S]ources also noted that the American administration was applying pressure on both sides to end the prolonged feud, and therefore postponed the publication of the committee’s final report [and] if Israel and Turkey reach mutual understandings, the United Nations may decide to moderate the report’s conclusions and refrain from assigning direct blame on one of the sides.”
Other newspapers, in both Israel and Turkey, have been reporting similar developments. The Jerusalem Post reveals that:
“There has been a recent flurry of public signals between Israeli and Turkish officials. First, the IHH, the organizer of last year’s Gaza-bound flotilla, announced that the Mavi Marmara ship would not be participating in an upcoming flotilla, under pressure from Turkish government officials. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a congratulatory note for his re-election victory on June 12, stating, ‘My government will be happy to work with the new Turkish government on finding a resolution to all outstanding issues between our countries, in the hope of re-establishing our cooperation’ … [Israeli Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon has also] held private discussions with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu regarding a government-to-government reconciliation document.”
The Turkish Hurriyet newspaper reports that, according to a Turkish diplomat:
“None of the parties are content with the current state of the relationship between Turkey and Israel. Efforts are under way to repair the ties.”
A further article in the same Turkish newspaper revealed that:
“Özdem Sanberk, a Turkish member of a United Nations panel in charge of investigating the Mavi Marmara incident, confirmed that negotiations between the two countries were continuing [saying], ‘the process is not over yet. In diplomacy, if there is a tough issue, an agreement comes at the last minute’ … Diplomats and UN officials said the [Palmer Report] has been held up by disputes between its Turkish and Israeli members. Sanberk said negotiations were continuing at a multilateral platform concerning not only the UN report, but also bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel.”
With specific regard to ‘Freedom Flotilla Two – Stay Human’, the Jerusalem Post quotes Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barack as claiming that:
“[Israel is] seeing positive developments regarding the flotilla. The governments of Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey are active in thwarting it. This is a result of extensive work by the Foreign Ministry and prime minister.”
Finally, it is worth nothing that according to the Jerusalem Post:
“[B]ilateral trade [between Turkey and Israel] increased by 25 percent between 2009 and 2010, and by 40% in the first quarter of 2011.”
It is clear that these diplomatic manoeuvres and economic relations can only cast doubt on the impartiality of both the Turkish investigation into the apparent sabotage of the Irish ship MV Saoirse, and the forthcoming ‘Palmer Report’, commissioned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to investigate the events surrounding the attack on last year’s Gaza Flotilla. Indeed, they suggest two things.
First, and most importantly, it suggests that the Palmer-chaired inquiry was never about establishing the truth surrounding, and legality of, the Israeli military operation against the Freedom Flotilla – it is merely a political band-aid aimed at healing relations between the two former allies, both of which are important regional allies of the United States. The Palmer inquiry looks set to be a whitewash that will serve the interests of geopolitics, and not those of human rights and international law.
Second, from the perspective of the Turkish investigation into the apparent sabotage of the Irish ship the MV Saoirse, in the context of Turkish-Israeli negotiations, it would be far from politically expedient for Turkish officials to declare that Israeli operatives had attacked an Irish boat (which is sovereign Irish territory) in Turkish waters. Such a conclusion would throw a large diplomatic wrench in the machinations of these negotiations between Israel, Turkey and the United States.
Israel’s record of illegal and outrageous black-ops
Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Yigal Palmor has accused flotilla organisers of “ridiculous, paranoid accusations”, and living in “a James Bond movie”. However, the records of Israel’s secret service agencies’ operations around the world are well recognised, indeed many books have been published on the subject. Perhaps the best known such operation, in an Irish context, was the 2010 extra-judicial execution of Hamas activist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh by Mossad agents in Dubai, in which an Irish government investigation “proved that eight Irish passports used in the operation were forgeries”. The Irish government subsequently expelled an Israeli Embassy official over the affair.
As an aside, with regard to Yigal Palmor’s “James Bond” quip, it is worth noting that in a 2001 interview with the Israeli financial newspaper Globes, a former Israeli Mossad technician stated that:
“All the things you see in James Bond are no big deal … five percent of the things you see in the movies are not possible physically speaking. All the rest are possible, and reality generally overtakes them. When you see James Bond, you say ‘right, [Mossad] did that here – but in a far cleverer way’. If something’s possible physically, then it’s apparently existed for some time, but been done far more audaciously.”
It is interesting that, in February 2010, a think-thank with close ties to the Israeli government also openly called for the “sabotage” of what it terms “delegitimizers” of Israel. The Reut Institute, which describes itself as providing “real-time, long-term strategic decision-support [to] Israeli government agencies and decision-makers”, published a report on its website which stated that “Israel should sabotage network catalysts”, i.e. global peace and justice organisations.
Indeed, there were accusations of sabotage against vessels in ‘Freedom Flotilla One’ in 2010, notably against the Challenger I, Challenger II both of which “malfunctioned at the same time and in the same way”. Israeli military sources did not deny the accusations, on the contrary, as an article in the Independent revealed:
“A senior IDF officer hinted to the Knesset’s [Israeli Parliament] Foreign Affairs Committee that some of the vessels – though not the Mavi Marmara – had been tampered with to halt them far from the Gaza or Israeli coast.”
The Guardian also picked up on this, reporting that:
“[An IDF source] spoke of “grey operations” being mounted against the flotilla. No further detail was reported, probably because of the military censorship rules binding the Israeli media.”
Flotilla 13 – Israel’s elite marine commando unit
Finally, it is worth pointing out that the Israeli Navy has an elite specialised commando unit – the same unit that was used to attack Freedom Flotilla 1 – called Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13), which “works closely with [Israel’s] Mossad secret service”, and who’s Underwater Company “is responsible for underwater missions … such as submerged attacks on enemy ships”  and “underwater sabotage missions”. However, it is not just military vessels that this unit targets, as an article in The Guardian last year pointed out:
“Flotilla 13 is reported to have sabotaged an attempt by the PLO to highlight the issue of Palestinian refugees by sailing a ship to an Israeli port, forcing Israel either to sink it or board it or let it land the refugees. The night before the vessel, al-Awda (“The Return”) was due to sail, it was blown up and sunk in Limassol harbour, Cyprus.”
According to the book Flotilla 13: The Story of Israel’s Naval Commandos by Mike Eldar, the ideal candidate to join Flotilla 13 is a “psychotic person”. This fits well with the view that the MV Saoirse’s damage was inflicted in such a manner that it would only become apparent – and potentially fatal – at sea. According to Reuven Gal, the Israeli military psychologist who constructed the profile of the personnel sought by Flotilla 13:
“If I were to show this profile to a psychologist, and replace the word ‘fighter’ with the word ‘person’, the answer would be that I’m looking for a psychotic person.”
Necessity for an independent investigation
Bearing all of the above in mind, it is obvious that the Turkish investigation cannot simply be taken at face value and it is therefore imperative that an independent investigation is conducted into this incident that could have proved dangerous and life-threatening to all those on board.
Note: There is a petition on the contact.ie website calling for an independent investigation here: http://contact.ie/petition/we-demand-independent-investigation-sabotage-mv-saoirse
 http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1186415.html (Hebrew only)
 http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4090048,00.html (Hebrew only)