Dimpool Analysis Team


21 May 2011

Mavi Marmara incident

On May 31, 2010, Israeli forces intercepted the Turkish flotilla ship Mavi Marmara. The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) activists attacked Israeli forces, and the events resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens.

Flickr / IsraelMFA. Weapons found aboard the Mavi Marmara


According to flotilla ship records, you can see that Mavi Marmara was registered in the nation of Comoros. After the IHH purchased Mavi Marmara from the municipal authority of Istanbul, the ship applied to the Turkish Maritime Affairs, yet Maritime Affairs stated that Mavi Marmara was not suitable for sailing and required maintenance for an international journey to prevent potential crew danger. However, the IHH appears to have only been interested in provoking Israel and inciting an international crisis, so instead of repairing the ship, the IHH decided to register it under the flag of another country that does not have any requirements for an international journey.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Article 110/d, a warship that encounters a foreign ship on the high seas can interfere if it has grounds for suspecting that the ship is without nationality, and according to Article 92 of the same convention, “A ship which sails under the flags of two or more States, using them according to convenience, may not claim any of the nationalities in question with respect to any other State, and may be assimilated to a ship without nationality.” In conclusion, Israeli forces therefore had a legal right to intercept Mavi Marmara.

While the tension between Israel and Turkey remains, the IHH has stated that soon a new flotilla will be on its way.

Timing of the crises

It is a known fact that after its second landslide win in the 2007 elections, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) terminated intelligence sharing between the nations of Israel and Turkey. For that reason, Israeli forces were unaware of what was going on inside Mavi Marmara, namely that the IHH had recruited violent activists who were prepared for battle.

On the other hand, the international crises that have arisen in the last few years have each occurred during critical periods for the AKP government. When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had his infamous “one-minute” outburst at the Davos Economic Forum, it was a short time before the local elections in Turkey in which AKP won. After that, the AKP government began to see foreign policy as a tool for its domestic policies. The flotilla incident occurred just after the CHP’s election for its new leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who was able to gain media attention through this incident.

Flotilla II: a new crisis?

Turkish general elections are scheduled for June 12, 2011, and the AKP will definitely want to use the Flotilla II in order to boost votes before the elections. However, 36 members of the US Congress signed a letter addressed to Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him to stop another attempt to “provoke a confrontation with “Israel”, and, according to the AKP, being elected for a third term is more important than having another crisis with Israel.

The IHH has declared those who lost their lives due to the Israeli interception martyrs and according to the to the Qur’an (verses Sura 9 [At-Tawba], Ayah 111) Muslim martyrs enjoy many rewards upon reaching paradise. This explains the more than 10.000 volunteer applications for the Flotilla II, as people are applying not to help poor Palestinian families, but to become martyrs and reach their promised paradise.

Flickr / IsraelMFA. Peace activist' hopes to become a Shahid (Martyr)


What are Israel’s options

First, Israel should avoid an interception in international waters, because this time the IHH will not make the same mistake as before and will register all ships under the Turkish flag in order to comply with the articles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. If there is another interception, Israeli forces should be aware that they would most likely face violent resistance, so the timing and implementation of any interception would be critical.

Second, trying to impede the Flotilla II through diplomatic channels would only boost the popularity of the AKP and the IHH. In this situation, the best option would instead be to attempt to isolate the IHH Flotilla, with Israel calling for peaceful humanitarian groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and independent international organizations to join and observe the Flotilla II, making it impossible for the IHH to act recklessly while there are witnesses present.

The Flotilla II will probably start its journey around the first week of June, and it should be our fervent hope that no one is hurt, even while believing that Turkish politicians should stop risking people’s lives in order to gain few more votes.

*Burhan Gurdogan is an intern lawyer and independent researcher on Turkish politics, currently he is finishing his masters degree in criminal law.

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The Flotilla II will probably start its journey at the first week of June, so let's hope that no one gets hurt and Turkish politicians stop risking people’s lives in order to gain few more votes." />