Israel's military may have sabotaged two boats carrying Free Gaza activists after both malfunctioned at the same time in the same way prior to the raid
Israel's raid on the Free Gaza flotilla has sparked protests around the world Israel's raid on the Free Gaza flotilla has sparked protests around the world. Two passenger boats may also have been sabotaged prior to the raid.
Israel gave strong indications yesterday that its forces had secretly sabotaged some of the boats sailing to the Gaza coast as part of the freedom flotilla.
Matan Vilnai, the deputy minister of defence, was asked by an Israel Radio interviewer today whether there had not been a smarter alternative to direct assault on the boats. He answered that "all possibilities had been considered," adding: "The fact is that there were less than the 10 ships that were due to participate in the flotilla."
The comments appeared to dovetail with the revelation that two of the craft malfunctioned at the same time and in the same way. Challenger I and Challenger II, carrying 36 activists, were forced into port in Cyprus on Friday evening when both their steering systems broke down on the journey from Heraklion in Crete, a campaign spokeswoman said.
Challenger II started taking on water after the bilge pump suddenly stopped working and an inspection yesterday of Challenger II, which was forced to withdraw from the flotilla, revealed "very suspicious" faults, according to a spokeswoman for Free Gaza, Greta Berlin.
An unnamed Israeli Defence Force source who briefed the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence committee on the widely criticised interception also spoke of "grey operations" being mounted against the flotilla. No further detail was reported, probably because of the military censorship rules that Israeli media are legally required to follow.
Both boats were forced to radio distress signals to Cypriot ports and Berlin said the captain of Challenger I, Denis Healey, was "frightened that he was not going to be able to get the boat in". Once in port in northern Cyprus, he had to repair hydraulic lines on the boat. Challenger II had to pull alongside the main Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, on the high seas 70 miles off the coast of Cyprus, to transfer its passengers before it limped into port.An unnamed Israeli Defence Force source who briefed the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence committee on the widely- criticised interception spoke of "grey operations" being mounted against the flotilla. No further detail was reported, probably because of the military censorship rules that Israeli media are legally required to follow.
The officer also said that military planners had considered trying to stop the MV Marmaracorrect rather than board it but had decided against it because the Turkish ship was too fast.
There is at least one precedent for naval sabotage by the Israelis. Flotilla 13, the elite naval commando unit that carried out Monday's raid, reportedly blew up a ship named al-Awda (the Return) which was chartered by the PLO in 1988 to dramatise the plight of Palestinian refugees. It sank in Limassol harbour, Cyprus.