Egypt could be behind Mavi Marmara crisis, former Turkish envoy suggests
This file photo taken on Jan 11, 2010, shows Danny Ayalon (L), Israel’s deputy FM at the time, meeting Turkey’s then-ambassador to Israel, Oğuz ÇelikkolOne of the passengers on an aid flotilla raided by Israeli commandos four years ago is suspected of being a member of Egyptian intelligence, raising the possibilities of Cairo’s involvement in the deadly incident that brought Turkish-Israeli relations to an all-time low, according to Ankara’s then-envoy to Israel.
The Egyptian spy agency member might have exaggerated to Israeli forces the existence of weapons on the Mavi Marmara, Oğuz Çelikkol has said in a new book out today. Nine Turks were killed when Israeli forces landed on the ship on May 31, 2010.
“I need to mention an incident during the evacuation efforts that I still cannot explain fully,” Çelikkol said in the book, “From One Minute to the Mavi Marmara.”
Çelikkol received instructions from Ankara to send every Turkish national and those belonging to other nationalities who survived the attack from Israel to Turkey. However, the embassy received information that an Egyptian who boarded the plane in Israel disembarked at the last moment. Israeli officials told the embassy that the Egyptian left the plane of his own accord and was collected by an official from Egypt’s embassy in Tel Aviv, preparatory to being sent to Egypt.
“Yet the information we received later indicated that person to be a member of the Egyptian intelligence organization and that he left the plane upon instructions coming from Cairo,” wrote Çelikkol.
The former diplomat said it was well-known that Egypt cooperated intensively with Israel in the implementation of a tight embargo imposed on Gaza. Since it was routine for Omar Suleiman, the head of the Egyptian intelligence service, to frequently visit Israel, particular attention was not attached to a visit he made just a week prior to the Mavi Marmara incident, said Çelikkol.
“Yet some information we received later showed that Omar Suleiman talked about the Gaza flotilla during this visit. The fact that Omar Suleiman talked about the Mavi Marmara issue during this visit and the presence of an Egyptian intelligence officer on the ship reveal the probability that the intelligence agency of the [Hosni] Mubarak regime could have given wrong and exaggerated information to Israel about the ship, those present on the ship and even the presence of weapons and armed militants on the ship. It is understood that Israeli soldiers might have been in the conviction that there were weapons and armed people on the ship while they were attacking the ship and that they searched for weapons and were surprised when no weapons were found,” wrote Çelikkol.
According to Çelikkol, Egypt had some reasons to scuttle Turkish-Israeli relations, including worries about Turkey’s increasing visibility in the Middle East and its rhetoric aspiring to be a leader for Arab nations. Egypt might have even sought to produce a physical conflict between the two countries.
Çelikkol also recounted how the Turkish side told the Israeli side to act in restraint about the flotilla, saying the convoy wanted to attract international attention and that it would divert to an Egyptian port at the last minute. The message was given to Israeli officials many times.
The former envoy was also part of the notorious “low-seat crisis” when he was received in a lower seat by Danny Ayalon, the Israeli deputy foreign minister at that time, before the Mavi Marmara incident. Speaking about the crisis in detail, Çelikkol said it was a plot engineered by Ayalon, even though the latter used to have very close relations with the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv. When Çelikkol started working in Israel, the information he received about Ayalon was that he frequently visited the Turkish embassy before he was elected as a parliamentarian and appointed deputy minister.
A company Ayalon founded with Dov Weissglas, one of the advisers of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, conducted lobbying activities to counter initiatives against Turkey by Armenian lobbies in United States and Latin America, Çelikkol wrote in his book, adding that a large amount of money was paid to Ayalon’s companies.