Iran's Revolutionary Guard Ready to Escort Gaza-Bound Ships

By Patrick Goodenough | June 7, 2010 | 4:49 AM EDT

Israeli naval commando boats head into the port of Ashdod, Israel, on Saturday, June 5, 2010. Israeli forces seized a Gaza-bound aid vessel swiftly and without meeting resistance on Saturday, preventing it from breaking a naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory days after a similar effort turned bloody. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

( – Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is ready to provide military escorts to ships attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, a senior official said Sunday. Leading Islamic countries, meanwhile, are suggesting a range of responses to last week’s deadly maritime clash between Israeli troops and pro-Palestinian activists.
“The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy is ready to escort the peace and freedom convoys that carry humanitarian assistance for the defenseless and oppressed people of Gaza with all its strength,” Ali Shirazi, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to the IRGC, told the Mehr news agency.
Shirazi said the IRGC was awaiting Khamenei’s orders and was ready to mobilize its forces for the task, to foil Israel’s “evil plots.”
His comments follow unconfirmed reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is mulling traveling to Gaza by boat. A high-profile trip by the Hamas-sympathizing leader would be certain to embarrass Israel.
Erdogan has led global condemnation of Israel since the May 31 boarding by Israel’s navy of a flotilla of Turkish and other ships trying to reach Hamas-ruled Gaza. On one of six ships boarded, troops clashed with pro-Palestinian activists, and the violent confrontation left nine Turkish activists dead.

Protesters burn an Israeli flag at the end of an anti-Israel rally organized by the Saadet party in Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday, June 5, 2010. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Israel says it will not allow ships to dock in Gaza because of concerns that Hamas, which seized power from Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction in 2007, would obtain more weaponry that way. The Iranian-backed organization has fired thousands of rockets into Israel.
Asked on Fox News Sunday about the IRGC comment, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said, without elaborating, that Israel would take “whatever it takes to defend itself” and its people.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) executive committee held an emergency meeting in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, with participants calling for action including Israel’s expulsion from international organizations and severing of diplomatic ties.
Addressing the gathering, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu repeated his comment, made in the U.S. last week, that the incident onboard the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara was “Turkey’s own 9/11.”
His Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, put forward various proposals, including breaking the Gaza blockade through aid shipments by land, sea and air, and putting Israeli leaders on trial.
“We have to call for all Muslim and non-Muslim countries which have diplomatic ties with the Zionist regime to break off relations,” he said.
The OIC meeting agreed a panel of international legal experts should look into bringing to justice the Israeli officials responsible for the incident.
OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a Turk, accused Israel of “state terrorism and piracy,” and said the flotilla incident provided an opportunity that should not be missed.
“This tragedy has generated an outpouring of international sympathy in favor of Palestine and its just cause,” he told the meeting.

A Palestinian child walks past sacks of flour, some of it humanitarian aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and USAID, but now offered for sale by a vendor outside a food store in Shatie refugee camp in Gaza City, on Sunday June 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

“It is now incumbent upon the Palestinian leaderships and the leaders of the Islamic world not to let this opportunity pass us by, as has been the case with previous opportunities, so that we may further rally such global sympathy and turn it into a real active political support in favor of the Palestinian cause.”
Ihsanoglu said during a press conference afterwards that the conflict was no longer one between Israel and the Palestinians.
Instead, the raid on the flotilla was “an attack on the United Nations and the values it cherishes,” he said, calling for the U.N. General Assembly to convene a meeting to discuss the issue.
Two other U.N. bodies have already done so. The Security Council held an emergency meeting early last week that ended with a critical presidential statement, and the Human Rights Council in Geneva held an “urgent debate” before passing a resolution condemning the raid and deciding a fact-finding mission should be dispatched to investigate “violations of international law” by Israel.
Oren said Sunday Israel was opposed to an international commission of inquiry.
“Israel is a democracy,” he said. “Israel has the ability and the right to investigate itself, not to be investigated by any international board. I don’t think the United States would want an international inquiry into its military activities in Afghanistan, for example.”
Israel says it permits thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza through monitored land crossings each week, in coordination with international organizations. (It says 484 truckloads, 12,413 tons, of aid including food, medicine, diesel and gasoline, were transferred during the course of last week.)
Pro-Palestinian groups say the blockade has led to serious shortages of fuel, construction materials and spare parts.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow