The United States should designate the Turkish group IHH as a terrorist organization and should support Israel in stopping an upcoming flotilla planning to sail to the Gaza Strip at the end of the month, a report authored by a U.S. senator recommends.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., met with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders this month in a fact-finding mission to the region. His report, "The Future of Israel's Security and the U.S.-Israel Relationship," offers policy recommendations based on his meetings and site visits.
The first flotilla ended with the death of nine people on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea after IHH prepared activists to stage a violent confrontation with Israeli commandos. Israel imposed an embargo on Gaza in an attempt to stem the flow of weapons to the Hamas government there.
To prevent violence in the upcoming flotilla, Kirk recommends that the United States "immediately designate the IHH as a terrorist entity." IHH is a member of the Union of the Good, a Saudi-based umbrella organization designated by the Treasury Department in 2008 for its support to Hamas, Kirk's report notes.
The U.S. government confirmed IHH's ties to Hamas last year and an official acknowledged the State Department is considering designating the group.
Kirk also calls on the United States to "support the Israeli Navy to effectively disable flotilla vessels before they can pose a threat to Israeli coastal security or put Israeli lives at risk" and "make it clear to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan that Turkey will be held accountable for any actions that support or enable the IHH to launch its flotilla."
Kirk's report follows a letter written to Erdogan last month by a bipartisan group of 36 members of the House of Representatives requesting that the Prime Minister help "discourage" efforts by flotilla organizers to prevent a repeat of violence.
On Tuesday, an IHH spokesperson said the group is reconsidering its plans to join the upcoming flotilla and will make a decision by the end of the week. According to an article published Thursday in Israel's Haaretz newspaper, "political pressure makes it unlikely that IHH will participate."
The change in IHH's position is a result of pressure from the U.S. government, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official said. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak with Erdogan and congratulate him on his recent electoral victory. Israeli officials were told that the president will ask Erdogan to stop the flotilla, Haaretz reported.