Turkish ship with Gaza-bound aid docks at Ashdod, first since reconciliation


A Turkish ship packed with aid for the Gaza Strip arrived in Israel, the first since Turkey and Israel reached a reconciliation deal that allows such transfers.

The cargo ship docking at Ashdod, just north of Gaza, on Sunday afternoon was bearing 10,000 tons of humanitarian equipment and food, Haaretz reported.

Israel and Turkey last month agreed to fully reestablish ties ruptured by Israel’s raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla in 2010. Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish nationals in violent encounters during the raid on the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships attempting to breach a blockade on the strip imposed by Israel after the 2009 Gaza war with Hamas.

As part of the deal, Israel is keeping the blockade in place but is easing the transfer of Turkish aid to the strip.

Israel also will pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the Turkish nationals. Turkey will press Hamas to return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers slain during wars with Hamas and two Israeli citizens still being held in the strip.

The families of the slain soldiers and their supporters protested the arrival of the ship, Haaretz reported.

If U.S. strikes Syria, destroyers likely to deliver the blow


If President Barack Obama decides to take military action against Syria for using chemical weapons in its two-year-old civil war, the initial blows likely would be delivered by four U.S. guided missile destroyers currently in the Mediterranean.

Beyond that, the president has a number of other ships and aircraft, both in the region and elsewhere, that he could use to carry out limited strikes to send a message aimed at deterring further chemical weapons use.

In the event of a decision to carry out strikes against Syria, European allies like Britain and France are likely to support the effort using their own stand-off weapons like the jointly developed SCALP/Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile.

Following are some of the U.S. military assets at Obama's disposal:

GUIDED MISSILE DESTROYERS – The United States has four guided missile destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea – the USS Gravely, the USS Barry, the USS Ramage and the USS Mahan. The ships can carry a maximum of 90 to 96 Tomahawk cruise missiles if loaded only with those weapons. The actual number they are carrying at any time depends on the mission and what other weapons and systems are needed. Tomahawk missiles are likely to be the weapon of choice if Obama orders a strike on Syria because they have a range of about 1,000 miles (1,610 km) and can be used at a distance without a concerted effort to destroy Syria's integrated air defenses.

SUBMARINES – The United States has 58 submarines capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, including four specifically designated guided missile submarines capable of carrying up to 154 missiles apiece. The Navy does not discuss the whereabouts of its submarines, but one or more could be tapped for duty if Obama decides to carry out targeted strikes against Syria.

AIRCRAFT – U.S. B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers are capable of carrying conventional air-launched cruise missiles. Those could be called into play if needed, as they have been in previous conflicts in the Middle East, flying from bases in the United States or elsewhere. The air-launched cruise missiles also are stand-off weapons that could be dropped from outside Syrian territory.

AIRCRAFT CARRIERS – The USS Harry S. Truman is currently in the northern Arabian Sea and the USS Nimitz is in the Indian Ocean. Aircraft from the two carriers could be called into service if needed to participate in an attack against Syria. But their participation appears unlikely. U.S. officials have indicated any strikes against Syria are likely to be limited in scope. Use of aircraft from the carriers would probably require a broader operation involving a U.S. effort to destroy Syria's integrated air defenses before sending planes over the country. The Nimitz has been supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan and is due to be replaced by the Truman, which is crossing the Arabian Sea to relieve the Nimitz so it can return home.

AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT SHIP – The USS Kearsarge just ended a port call in the Gulf and is headed back out to sea. The vessel has a contingent of Marines but is not considered likely to participate in limited operations like the ones Obama is reported to be considering.

ADDITIONAL AIRCRAFT AT BASES IN THE REGION – The United States has additional aircraft at different bases in the region that could support an operation against Syria if needed. But that is not seen as likely because it would require a much larger effort to remove the threat of Syria's air defenses. (Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Jim Loney)

Thousands in Istanbul rally against Israel


Thousands of Turks in Istanbul rallied against Israel Thursday, marking the second anniversary of an Israel Defense Forces raid on the Mavi Marmara ship that was part of a flotilla that claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Israel had determined that the flotilla was violating its blockade of the coastal area, and found weapons aboard.

The Humanitarian Aid Foundation, known as IHH and one of the main groups behind the flotilla, organized Thursday’s rally. Israel, the United States and other nations consider the IHH to be a terrorist group.

Protesters in Turkey called for those responsible for the raid to be held accountable, AFP reported.

Earlier this week, a Turkish criminal court accepted indictments against the four top Israeli commanders who led the 2010 raid.

Turkey and Israel have not had diplomatic relations since the raid.

No arms found on ship intercepted by Israel


Israeli naval forces did not find any arms on a ship intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea.

The HS Beethoven, flying a Liberian flag, was intercepted Sunday off the northern coast of Israel and boarded by the elite naval commando unit Shayetet 13.

The inspection, called a “routine” security check by the military, was undertaken with the permission of the ship’s captain. The commandos boarded the ship without incident, Haaretz reported.

Report: U.S. to offer Turkey major role in Mideast talks if it stops Gaza flotilla


The U.S. government is considering to offer Turkey a deal in which Ankara would stop a second Gaza flotilla that is due to depart later this month in exchange for the opportunity to host an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit in Ankara, the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman reported Friday.

Israel has been preparing to block the second aid flotilla sailing from Turkey to Gaza, one year after the Israel Defense Forces’ deadly raid on the first Gaza flotilla in which nine Turkish activists died. Turkey has demanded Israel apologize for the raid in order to restore Turkish-Israeli ties.

Today’s Zaman quoted the Turkish Hurriyet daily as reporting that the U.S. was due to officially ask Turkey to host a major peace conference in return for mending its ties with Israel and preventing the second Gaza-bound flotilla. The proposed peace summit would be similar to past major talks such as the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference and the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Netanyahu to UN Chief: Upcoming Gaza flotilla must be stopped


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Friday to stop the impending flotilla that is supposed to set sail to the Gaza Strip in May.

The Israeli prime minister told the UN Chief that the flotilla is being organized by extreme Islamists that are interested only in provocation. He added that the ship’s key goal is to fuel tensions, particularly in light of the fact that the Gaza Strip is open to all types of goods brought in via land.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization and Iranian proxy,” Netanyahu said, adding that “it was just recently revealed that part of Iran’s efforts is to arm [Hamas] and smuggle weapons into the strip.”

The prime minister then reminded the UN Chief of the recent incident of the Victoria ship earlier this month, upon which tens of tons of weapons from Iran were found and confiscated by Israel. Netanyahu told Ban that this is proof that Israel must act aggressively against the flotilla.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israel seizes ship carrying weapons for Gaza strip [VIDEO]


Israel’s Navy intercepted a ship bound for Egypt that the Israeli military said was smuggling weapons for use by terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.

The Liberia-flagged cargo ship Victoria was seized Tuesday in the Mediterranean Sea 200 miles west of Israel.

“The various weaponry on board the vessel was intended for the use of terror organizations operating in the Gaza Strip,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

There were “tons” of concealed weapons, Haaretz reported, citing the IDF. The crew did not appear to be aware of the weapons stash, according to reports.

The German-owned ship had left from Turkey’s Mersin port and was headed for Egypt’s Alexandria port; it originated in Syria. Turkey is not tied to the incident, the IDF said.

Story continues after the video.

The Navy brought the ship in to Israel’s port at Ashdod for further inspection, and there was no resistance from the crew, according to the IDF.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, commenting on the ship’s seizure during a visit to Israel’s South, said he approved of the Navy’s interception of the Victoria.

” We had a solid basis that on board the ship was weaponry destined for use against Israel,” he said. “Considerable weaponry, which was destined for terrorist forces in the heart of Gaza, was found on board the vessel. The operation was carried out at sea in accordance with all international rules. The weaponry originated in Iran, which is trying to arm the Gaza Strip.”

Israel has seized ships carrying weapons to Gaza in the past. In 2003, the Israeli military seized the Karine A, which was carrying 50 tons of missiles, mortars, rifles and ammunition to the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu: Israel will not apologize to Turkey


Israel will not apologize to Turkey for the interception of and loss of life on board a Gaza-bound ship.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview on national television Monday night that Israel would express regret, however.

“We need to understand that they want an apology and, of course, we do not want to apologize.  We are prepared to express regret as we expressed it over the loss of life,” Netanyahu said during an interview on Israel Channel 10. “But what do we want?  We want one thing.  We want – first of all – to protect our soldiers and commanders.  They are being accused of war crimes.  They could be arrested worldwide.  First of all, we want this to stop.  And there should be Turkish recognition that Israel did not act maliciously and that IDF soldiers acted out of self-defense.”

He continued: “There is still no compromise formula.  We are continuing to try, and I think that it is our interest to try to resolve this.  I think that public remarks on this issue are not helpful.”

The interview came after inflammatory statements from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who on Sunday called Turkey’s continued insistence on an apology from Israel for the incident “beyond rude.” Lieberman said that Turkey should apologize to Israel for supporting terrorists.

He was responding to comments made the previous day by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said that Turkey “has the will to make peace with Israel,” but was unable to, since it “is “very difficult to establish political will in Israel.”

Turkey and Israel began discussing reestablishing ties after Turkey sent assistance to Israel earlier this month to battle the Carmel fire.

Holocaust remembrance — Exodus redux


Sitting by an open screen door, Tante Surcha switches off the television when I walk in. I lean into her recliner to kiss her cheek, and ask how she is feeling after her hip surgery. She gives a shrug and an OK, and eyes the notebook and digital voice recorder I’ve just pulled from my bag and set on the coffee table in the den of her elegantly decorated Beverly Hills home.

Sarah Jacobs (Surcha is the Polish version of Sarah) was married to my grandfather’s first cousin Max, who, along with my great uncle and grandfather, were the only ones from their family to survive the Holocaust.

And while we don’t see each other often, I was surprised to learn from her daughter recently that Tante Surcha was once a passenger aboard the Exodus.
Along with more than 4,500 other Holocaust survivors, Jacobs saw Israel from the deck of the Exodus in July 1947. But she couldn’t disembark, because the British, trying to enforce a strict quota in the Mandate of Palestine, rammed and boarded the rickety ship, killing three passengers and wounding 30. After a long standoff, the passengers were sent back to Germany.

The world uproar that followed is credited with leading to the creation of a sovereign Jewish homeland.

Jacobs’ daughter, Helen Lepor, set up this interview for us so I could learn more about her voyage, and while Jacobs, 82, agreed to let me come, now that I’m here she seems reticent. She doesn’t quite avoid my questions, but her answers are minimalist, and often accompanied by a shrug or a tilt of the head, as if the information is so obvious — or perhaps so painful — as to make the exercise unnecessary.

How were conditions on the ship?

“The facilities were not so good,” she understates in a thick Yiddish accent. “There wasn’t enough water.”

Weren’t you angry that after surviving concentration camp, you were once again being so mistreated?

“Yeah, so nu, that’s life.”

Jacobs isn’t the only survivor having memories plied from her.

Over the last several years, in anticipation of the voyage’s 60th anniversary, survivors of the Exodus have been asked to share their stories in an effort to solidify Exodus’ place in history, before all that is left are the fictionalized and romanticized versions of the 1958 Leon Uris novel or the 1960 Otto Preminger film (and even those are already being forgotten). Among the recent projects are “Exodus 1947,” a 1997 documentary film by Venice resident Elizabeth Rodgers, and a new release of journalist Ruth Gruber’s account of the voyage, “Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation” (October 2007, Union Square Press).

Last week, 300 French Jews re-enacted the voyage, setting sail from Exodus’ original port in the South of France and arriving in Haifa. Unlike Exodus’ real passengers, they disembarked.

The largest of the commemorative events took place on Aug. 1 in Tel Aviv, when 1,500 Exodus passengers and descendants of passengers gathered for a reunion, initiated and organized by Meier Schwarz, a Haganah commander aboard the ship.

Schwarz, an 81-year-old botany professor who pioneered Israel’s hydroponics crop system, enlisted the help of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to put together a complete list of passengers. A manifest for the ship never existed, since the passengers were trying to smuggle into Israel illegally.

Around 2,100 names have been gathered so far. Many people also submitted memoirs or interviews, and Schwarz published these in Hebrew in “Maapilei Exodus 1947.” (“Maapilim” derives from the Hebrew word for “daring,” and refers to the Jews who ran the British blockade to get into pre-state Israel.)

Schwarz also officially presented to the Knesset “The Scroll of Exodus,” a document of the Exodus survivors.

Schwarz is hoping these events will raise interest among a generation that seems to have forgotten the vital role the ship played in the founding of the state.
“If you go on the street in Israel and ask somebody what happened on the Exodus, most of them say they don’t know what happened,” Schwarz said by phone from his Jerusalem home. “They know the Leon Uris book, and they know the movie, and they all have in mind that was the real story, but the real story was something quite different and more interesting.”

While he is proud that 1,500 people showed up for the reunion — double what organizers expected — he is disappointed that he’s received scant funding for his efforts. Only the Tel Aviv Municipality chipped in for the event.

Jacobs couldn’t make the reunion. Still, she is aware of her journey’s significance, not only in the role it played in creating the state, but in how it determined the course of her life: She landed in Los Angeles in 1950 and didn’t step foot in Israel until 1964.

And even if she is reluctant to let her mind go back in time, her nonchalance disappears and her fuzzy memory clears up when she remembers what happened after the British rammed the ship.

“We went outside, we went up to see Haifa. Everyone was there, and we started to sing ‘Hatikvah,'” Jacobs remembered, her eyes growing intense. “But unfortunately, they didn’t let us off.”

‘I Wanted to Go to Israel’

Like most of the 4,515 passengers, Sarah Jacobs (née Surcha Feder) was a young Holocaust survivor. Before the war, Jacobs had lost both her mother and the grandmother who raised her, and in 1943, when she was 19, she was taken from Sosnowicz, Poland, to a German labor camp. In 1944 she was transferred to a concentration camp, from which she was liberated in 1945. At the age of 21, with all of her immediate family dead, she went to live with her uncle in Germany.

“My uncle said to me and my cousin that we are young girls, we should go to Israel. He gave us the address of my cousin there,” Jacobs says.