JERUSALEM, May 30 (Xinhua) — Members of the Israel Navy commando unit are currently engaged in special training meant to prepare them for a possibility that they would be called to block an international flotilla from reaching the Gaza shore in late June, the Ma’ariv daily reported on Monday.
Several teams of the unit raided the Mavi Marmara, one of a six- vessel flotilla that attempted to breach the maritime blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip on May 31 last year. Nine pro- Palestinian activists were killed in the incident.
The commandos claimed they had to resort to live ammunition after being attacked by hundreds of activists armed with clubs and knives, and felt that their lives were in danger.
The incident was followed by international criticism of Israel and a diplomatic fallout with Turkey, with relations between the countries spiraling to an all-time low.
In a bid to avoid similar results in the next flotilla, the commando unit, better known by its Hebrew name – Shayetet 13 – is reportedly undergoing specialized training that draws on the lessons of May’s flotilla.
The navy has put the unit’s reserve teams on standby, while its younger members are conducing mock raids aboard a vessel that simulate events aboard the Mavi Marmara. The unit has also reportedly changed its rappelling tactics, in which soldiers are inserted onto a vessel by sliding down ropes from hovering helicopters.
The commandos have also undergone extensive training in hand-to- hand combat taught by experts from Israel’s Shin Bet security service.
Navy sources said that despite assessments that most of the activists will engage in passive resistance, the troops that will board the next flotilla are going to carry heavier weapons than the paintball guns and semi-automatic pistols used in the last flotilla.
Meanwhile, the organizers of “Freedom Flotilla 2,” which is planned to include some 15 ships and 1,500 activists from a host of European countries, said on Sunday that the vessels will sail despite UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s recent calls on countries to discourage their citizens from participating.
The Free Gaza Movement, one of the main organizers, said that the flotilla will sail as planned.
“We are not engaged in illegal activity in the Mediterranean. It’s Israel’s blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians that is illegal, ” the group said in a statement issued Sunday on its website.
The statement went on to say that the UN chief “knows that the UN High Commission for Human Rights produced a report that identified the blockade of Gaza as collective punishment, a war crime.”
In tandem to the military preparations, the Israeli government is engaged in a massive diplomatic campaign meant to thwart the flotilla, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman personally contacting their counterparts abroad and requesting that they prevent their nationals from boarding the vessels.
The diplomatic campaign bore fruit on Sunday, when Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird “strongly” urged activists seeking to deliver humanitarian aid to the coastal enclave to do so via ” established channels,” The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday.
Baird, whose conservative government maintains warm relations with Israel, called attempts to breach the naval blockade imposed by Israel “provocative,” saying they were not helpful to the residents of Gaza.