This time all went well. Naval commandos faced no resistance on Tuesday afternoon as they boarded the Dignity al-Karama yacht that was attempting to run Israel's naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The yacht was towed to Ashdod port where the sixteen pro-Palestinian activists onboard were arrested and charged with illegal entry. The activists are awaiting deportation from Israel.
When questioned over radio by the Israel navy, the activists said their intention was to reach Gaza. The navy informed the yacht that they were heading straight for a naval blockade, and offered the activists to dock at Ashdod port or at El Arish in the Sinai, an offer the activists refused. The IDF also suggested the yacht turn back, but when that suggestion was turned down as well, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, who was monitoring events from the Naval Command Center, ordered Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Eli Marom, who commanded the operation at sea, to give the green light for the naval commando unit [Flotilla 13] to board the yacht.
The operation took place at a distance of at least 12 miles from Egypt's territorial waters. The IDF tried to coordinate the boarding procedure with the activists onboard the yacht, but the latter refused to cooperate. The soldiers boarded the yacht quickly, encountering no resistance from the activists. Two of the activists are reporters for Aljazeera. Also onboard was prominent left-wing Israeli journalist and author Amira Hass, as well as Dror Feiler, a Swedish-Israeli musician, artist and left-wing activist.
Aboard the yacht, soldiers offered the activists food and drinks and then transferred them to a missile boat, where their conditions were checked by a doctor. They then disembarked at Ashdod, and were driven by bus to an immigration authority station, where they were given a hearing. Deputy Commander of the navy, Rear Admiral Rani Ben-Yehuda said the takeover was "calm," and that no weapons or humanitarian aid were found on the yacht.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Gantz after the takeover and said, "The government succeeded in neutralizing the flotilla using persistent diplomatic activity. We will continue to allow the transfer of food and aid to Gaza, but also enforce the naval blockade to prevent the entry of missiles and other weapons."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, vacationing outside Israel, congratulated Gantz and the navy on the smooth operation.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the takeover of the yacht and said, "A military takeover of civilians sailing in neutral waters is a war crime and a violation of human rights."
The Arab League harshly condemned the takeover as well, and said that the "act of piracy perpetrated by the Israeli soldiers against unarmed innocent civilians violates every international law." Secretary General of the Arab League, Dr. Nabil Al Araby, added that "the Arab League views Israel's naval blockade around Gaza as an illegal act. The international community must pressure Israel to remove the blockade."