A U.S. senator wants U.S. special operations forces to help Israel halt a Gaza-bound international aid flotilla that includes a vessel carrying a number of American veterans, one of whom is a Sailor who served aboard the USS Liberty, the ship that Israel infamously attacked in 1967.
In a report drafted following a visit to Israel in early June, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., says the United States should “make available all necessary special operations and naval support to the Israeli Navy to effectively disable flotilla vessels before they can pose a threat to Israeli coastal security or put Israeli lives at risk.”
The U.S.-flagged ship, called “The Audacity of Hope” — the name of President Obama’s 2006 book — is currently docked in Greece and is supposed to set sail by the end of this week along with ships from Ireland, Spain, Italy, Greece and other countries. More than 30 Americans are booked for passage on the Audacity of Hope.
While Kirk is pushing for a direct U.S. military role in halting the flotilla, six Democratic congressmen want assurances from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that she will work with Israel to ensure those aboard the American ship are not harmed.
The lawmakers, including ranking House Veterans Affairs Committee member Rob Filner, D-Calif., say they “wholeheartedly support” Israel’s duty to protect its citizens, but the “measures it uses to do so, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law.”
The State Department on June 22 issued travel advisories to Israel and the Palestinian territories, noting that Americans attempting to enter Gaza by sea could be arrested and prosecuted by Israel before being deported. It also said that flotilla passengers were putting their lives at risk, noting that nine passengers, one of them American, were killed in May 2010 during the last attempt to reach the Port of Gaza.
Those deaths and about 20 passenger injuries occurred when the vessels were intercepted and taken over by IDF forces. About 10 Israeli troops were injured in fighting with the passengers.
Kirk declined Military.com’s request for comment.
Veterans slated to sail aboard the U.S.-flagged flotilla vessel include Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel turned State Department Foreign Service officer who resigned from her job in 2003 in protest of the U.S. invasion of Iraq; Ray McGovern, a former Army officer and CIA analyst who prepared daily security briefings for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; Ken Mayers, a former Marine intelligence officer who served with NSA detachments in Vietnam before taking a Reserve commission in 1966 and retiring as a major in 1978; and Joe Meadors, a former Navy signalman aboard the USS Liberty, which Israel attempted to sink during the Six Day War in 1967.
Meadors, who also took part in last year’s flotilla to Gaza, said Kirk’s plan to have the American military help Israeli Defense Forces against the civilian ships goes beyond even what happened in 1967.
“In 1967 the U.S. Navy was forbidden to come to the assistance of the USS Liberty when the ship was under attack by the IDF,” Meadors wrote in an email to Military.com. “Now Sen. Kirk wants the US Navy to move from clearing the way for the IDF to attack a US Navy ship … to actively intervening on behalf of the IDF by taking up arms against American citizens engaged in a humanitarian effort.
“Sen. Kirk wants the U.S. Navy to move from condoning war crimes committed against Americans to actually committing them,” he added.