According to a report by AFP today, the Iranian Red Crescent has decided to send two aid ships to Gaza this week in the latest bid to break the maritime blockade by Israel. This follows a report by Reuters yesterday, which quoted Ali Shirazi, representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying that “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards naval forces are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities“.
Whether Iran is bluffing is unclear, however this may well be the perfect example of what Hillary Clinton foreshadowed as recently as Sunday, of Iran pulling “some stunt” in the coming days to try to divert pressure for international sanctions over its nuclear program. The timing also conveniently coincides with the one year anniversary of Iran’s widely discredited Presidential elections and subsequent human rights crackdown.
There are also practical difficulties of how exactly the Iranians propose to sail into Gaza, despite the Red Crescent saying they intend to do so “directly”.
Nevertheless, this brazen move should not be dismissed out of hand, especially given reports that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has vowed to personally accompany a future sail to Gaza to break the blockade and the Red Crescent’s previously unsuccessful attempt to break the blockade in December 2008, which was stopped without major incident from reaching Gaza by the Israeli navy.
Given Iran’s previous declarations to wipe Israel off the map and its support of Hamas and Hezbollah, including providing both with weapons, such a reckless and provocative move by Iran would have drastic repercussions and be tantamount to a declaration of war against Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu has already stated that Israel will not allow Gaza to become an ‘Iranian port’.
If Iran does in fact seek to break the blockade, Israel would have no option but to respond militarily, and with that, perhaps also find an opportunity to finally end the impasse over Iran’s nuclear build up.
Let’s hope cooler heads prevail at sea.