For the past few days, speculation has run rampant that the Greek government, presiding over a country in dire economic straits, was heavily pressured into issuing an order that banned the “Freedom Flotilla” ships from sailing out towards Gaza. And while the extent and details of that pressure remain unknown, two official sources from the Greek government have now confirmed that heavy pressure was put on Greece.
Greece, for its part, has claimed that the ban on flotilla ships leaving their ports was issued because of “the need to protect national interests” and the “immediate dangers to human life posed by the attempt to break the blockade.”
The first confirmation came via a Jewish Voice for Peace tweet, which announced that someone from New York’s Greek consulate told a caller that the U.S. government “ordered” Greece not to let the U.S. Boat to Gaza sail out of a Greek port. According to the caller, the U.S. State Department had nothing to say when asked about the Greek consulate’s comment.
The second confirmation came today, when a reporter from the Guardian interviewed the provincial governor of the Ionian islands, which includes Corfu, a Greek island from where a flotilla ship is waiting to set sail for Gaza. Jack Shenker reports:
The flotilla activists have always claimed they had local political support for their mission, and from what [Spiros] Spirou, [the provincial governor], told me it appears that they’re right. In open defiance of his political bosses in Athens, Spirou told the Guardian and al-Jazeera that he “admires and supports the activists’ struggle” and would make no attempt to stop their boat from making a break for international waters if it chose to do so.
But the local coastguard don’t come under Spirou’s control, and the decision from the central Greek government to stop any flotilla vessels from leaving port appears increasingly irreversible. “Greece loves peace, but at this moment it can’t confront more powerful economic forces,” said the governor. He confirmed that official attempts to tie the flotilla up in bureaucracy and paperwork were merely a pretext for preventing it from sailing at all.
“The ban has come from the ministries in Athens and I have no responsibility for it at all – I’ve tried to get in contact with them and get an explanation but I have not been able to get through,” he insisted. “Right now Greece is in crisis and decisions have been taken at an international level.”
Right now, Greece would be extremely vulnerable to any type of economic pressure, and would welcome all the help it gets–even from Israel, a country that Greece has had historically chilly relations with.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly “implor[ed]” Greek’s leader to “issue an order preventing ships from disembarking from Greece toward the Gaza Strip,” as Haaretz‘s Barak Ravid reported on July 1. Netanyahu has curried enormous favor with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou for “imploring” the European Union (EU) to bail out Greece, and, most likely, any Greek passivity surrounding the second “Freedom Flotilla” was thrown to the wind due to Israel’s help with the EU bailout. And since the Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara last year, economic, political and military links between Israel and Greece–the traditional rival of Turkey–have strengthened.
Huwaida Arraf, the chair of the Free Gaza Movement, further confirmed the enormous pressure on Greece in an interview yesterday with Al Jazeera‘s Inside Story. She said:
Some inside sources have been telling us. We have a lot of parliamentarians, European parliamentarians, that are part of our initiative, and they have been engaging in discussions with their Greek counterparts. We have been told that an enormous amount of pressure has come to bear on Greece, not only from the Israelis, but by Israel’s undying supporter the United States, and also by other European Union states that have also been shamefully silent and have done nothing to force Israel to lift its shameful blockade on Gaza or to end Israel’s illegal policies.
While there was some talk before today of other boats sailing out of Greece, the Greek Coast Guard has now taken over the Canadian boat to Gaza after they attempted to sail for international waters. “Coast guard used water cannons then borded the #tahrir with m16′s and took the wheel room from the driver at gun point,” tweeted Jesse Rosenfeld, a journalist aboard the Tahrir, the name of the Canadian boat.