The United States has told Turkey that sending a new flotilla to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip will not be helpful, a State Department officials said during a Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.
"The Turkish group that was behind the flotilla that led to the tragedy in May has talked about a flotilla sometime in June. So we're paying very close attention to that," said Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs.
The Turkish based-group IHH was behind last year's deadly flotilla raid in the Mediterranean Sea. IHH plans to sail to the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip in conjunction with at least a dozen other boats from countries around the world, including Europe and the United States, during the third week of June.
Gordon's statement was in reply to a question posed by Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., who said last year's flotilla "challenged" the relationship between the United States and Turkey and asked "Do we have any information as to how we can avoid another major international incident?"
Cardin called the upcoming flotilla a "provocation" because it is planned close to the one-year anniversary of last year's effort. Cardin noted that the Turkish government supported the flotilla "from a political point of view" and "they were clearly involved."
"Well they certainly didn't stop it," Gordon replied. "We've been very clear with them that a new flotilla will in no way be helpful. And in the year since the last flotilla episode Israel has changed the humanitarian regime for Gaza, [and] made very clear that there are alternative ways to get humanitarian assistance to Gaza. So any government or NGO that wants to send genuinely humanitarian goods to Gaza has a way of doing it that is uncontested. And we very much believe that and have been very clear with the Turkish government that that's the case. And we have asked them to make clear to any Turkish NGOs that might want to send a ship that they should really find this other path."
The Turkish government refuses to pressure IHH to stop the upcoming flotilla, according to an article that ran online Tuesday in the Turkey's Today's Zaman. "It is an orientalist belief that nongovernmental groups in Turkey move when they are told by the state to move and stop when they are told to do so," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was quoted as saying.
But two reports – by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center issued in the past year found Turkish government involvement in the flotilla, including the office of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.