The Swedish-registered Marianne of Gothenburg was taken to Ashdod port following the interception. Upon inspection the vessel was found to contain just two boxes – one containing a solar panel and the other containing a nebuliser.
Three other vessels of the flotilla that set sail from Crete turned back after the Marianne, with its 18 passengers, was stopped and boarded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement commending the navy for its “determined and efficient action.”
“This flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting Hamas and ignores all of the horrors in our region,” he said, adding that a panel established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon determined that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is lawful.
He added: “Israel is a democracy that defends itself in accordance with international law,” he said. “We are not prepared to accept the entry of war matériel to the terrorist organizations in Gaza, as has been done by sea in the past.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who called the operation a “success,” said the navy had to tow the vessel, because its passengers had sabotaged the engine after the IDF naval commandos boarded.
Among the Marianne’s passengers was Israeli-Arab MK Basel Ghattas from the Joint Arab List, and former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. Several of the remaining passengers were journalists, according to a list published by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, the group that organised the flotilla.
The group said Monday that, at around 2:00 a.m., the Marianne contacted it and told it that three Israel Navy boats had surrounded the vessel in international waters, some 100 nautical miles from the Gaza coast.
In May 2010, Israeli commandos intercepted the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in a flotilla dispatched to Gaza by the Turkish Islamist-linked relief agency Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH). The commandos were violently attacked by those on board, with several soldiers seriously injured. Nine Turkish citizens were killed when the commandos opened fire in what Israel said was self-defence, and one more died last year from injuries sustained in the incident.