Iran prepares to confront Israel with aid flotilla

The iranian red crescent is planning to send humanitarian aid by sea to Gaza in a brazen challenge to Israel's sea blockade of the coastal enclave. The attempt to confront Israel's naval defences could escalate tensions between Israel and Iran, its greatest foe, and trigger a rerun of the bungled raid on a Turkish vessel bound for Gaza last week that left nine activists dead.

The move came as Israel bowed to international pressure to conduct an investigation into the botched flotilla operation. The Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, said yesterday that Israel would conduct an internal inquiry and examine ways of easing the blockade in Gaza, a step short of the United Nations' demand for an international probe.

"We intend to achieve an investigation of the events," Mr Barak said, adding that the inquiry would also examine the legality of the Gaza blockade. "We will draw lessons at the political level, [and] in the security establishment."

Earlier, US Vice President Joe Biden held talks with the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, on new ways to approach the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza amid signs that Washington's support for the blockade may be wearing thin. An unnamed Egyptian security official said that the blockade had been a failure and that Egypt would keep open "indefinitely" its border crossing with Gaza. The Egyptian crossing is open only to students, medical patients and foreign passport holders.

The Iranian Red Crescent, which is backed by the Islamic regime, said on its website that it had been inundated with requests from volunteers to join its three-ship convoy to Gaza, and so has decided to extend the deadline by another two weeks. It could set sail later this month.

Israel, which has agitated for a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, denounced the plans as "hardcore provocation" and "a threat made before deep thinking".

"If they actually send ships, it would mean they're looking for a confrontation," said Yigal Palmor, a foreign ministry spokesman. He did not indicate how Israel would respond, but officials have insisted that they will not allow any ships to break the blockade.

Israel has justified its land and sea blockade on the grounds that it stops the flow of weapons to the Islamist group Hamas, which governs Gaza. Critics say that the blockade has strengthened Hamas and caused a humanitarian crisis.

It remains unclear how Iran would move aid ships into the Mediterranean without the help of neighbouring countries. The most direct route is through the Suez Canal, which is governed by an international treaty, but Egypt, which has supported Israel's blockade of Gaza, would be likely to stop it.

At the weekend, Iran reportedly suggested that it might send the Iranian Republican Guard to protect future convoys, a move that would be viewed by Israel as a direct challenge to its authority.

The International Federation of the Red Cross, which represents the Iranian Red Crescent abroad, said that it did not have any information on the shipments and could not comment.

Israel drew global condemnation when it launched a bloody assault last Monday on a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, which was part of a six-ship humanitarian convoy attempting to break the Gaza blockade. Israel claimed that its soldiers came under premeditated attack from hardcore activists aboard the ship. Several passengers have alleged that the shooting began before Israeli soldiers landed on deck.

Although the mission, organised by the Free Gaza Movement, was unsuccessful, it drew international attention to the humanitarian conditions of Palestinians in Gaza, who have lived under siege since Hamas seized power in 2007.

Meir Javedanfar, an expert on Iran, said that Tehran was seeking to steal back the limelight from Turkey. "If anything, the Iranians are going to damage the credibility of the Free Gaza Movement," he said. The risk is that Israel would attempt to stop this new convoy with force as it did on the Marmara, provoking a wider conflict.

Israeli naval commandos shot dead four Palestinian divers yesterday some 100 metres off the Gaza shoreline. Israel said the men, members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militant group loosely aligned with Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, were planning an attack. One of the survivors said that the men were unarmed and had been taking part in swimming training.

'Witch-hunt' of flotilla MP

An Arab Israeli member of parliament accused colleagues of conducting a "witch-hunt" before a panel voted to strip her of parliamentary privileges for taking part in the flotilla aimed at breaching Israel's sea blockade of Gaza.

The Knesset's House Committee voted seven to one in favour of stripping Haneen Zuabi, a member of the opposition Balad party, of parliamentary privileges including the right to a diplomatic passport and legal financial support.

The move, which must be approved by the Knesset, is likely to erode further already fragile relations with Israel's Arab community who took Israeli citizenship in 1948. Right-wing politicians have used the flotilla incident to renew their attack on Arab politicians perceived as disloyal to the Jewish State.

Ms Zuabi, 41, joined hundreds of protesters aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of six vessels loaded with humanitarian aid that tried to breach the Israeli-led blockade of Gaza last week. In a botched assault of the ship, Israeli commandos killed nine of the activists and drew global condemnation.

Ms Zuabi's participation in the protest drew intense anger in Israel. She was pushed, poked and jostled by colleagues in the Knesset last week and a Facebook page calling for her execution soon attracted thousands of followers. Interior Minister Eli Yishai has called on the Attorney General to strip Ms Zuabi of her Israeli citizenship.

She said members of her left-wing party, who stand up for Arab-Israeli rights, had been victims of a witch-hunt. She boycotted yesterday's parliamentary discussion.

"The decision is racist and anti-democratic," the Balad party said in a statement. The MPs "who incite against Zuabi spill her blood – they are calling on the public to harm her and following their decision, her life will be threatened."

Before the vote, Yariv Levin, a member of the right-wing Likud Party and chairman of the House Committee, said that Ms Zuabi had betrayed Israel.

"What Zuabi did crossed the line and even in a democracy there must be red lines. Whoever sails to [Islamist movement] Hamas is a supporter of terror," said Levin, Ha'aretz reported.

Catrina Stewart

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?