June 30, 2011 - 12:00am

JERUSALEM, June 30 (Xinhua) -- Israel's security establishment is at odds over the scope of threat posed by an aid flotilla that had planned to set sail to the Gaza Strip in coming days, and over predictions that violence will ensue if Israel tries to block it.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has played down military assessments in recent days that pro-Palestinian activists are gearing up for violent clashes with Israeli navy troops to be dispatched to intercept the 10-vessel flotilla.

In an interview with local Channel 2 television news Wednesday night, Barak said there is "high probability" that the upcoming flotilla will be "calmer" than the previous one last May, when nine members were killed in a confrontation with the Israeli naval commandos.

In contradiction to Barak's attempt to lower the flames, however, Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said he is convinced that the flotilla activists are planning to assault the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops with "lethal force."

"We received information in the last few days that the elements will be violent," Ya'alon told Israel Radio Wednesday night, adding that he has no doubt regarding the credibility of the intelligence.

The minister dismissed the flotilla organizers' claim that their intentions are peaceful, saying that they had "presented themselves as pensioners and innocents in the previous flotilla, but our forces encountered fundamentalist Muslim extremists."

Hundreds of activists from a host of nations are on standby in European ports for the flotilla to embark on its voyage. However, a series of technical and bureaucratic obstacles have delayed the departure, which was originally scheduled for Tuesday.

One vessel anchored in Greece and another in a Turkish port are being repaired after their propellers were damaged earlier this week. A Canadian vessel underwent several inspections for seaworthiness, and an American ship has not yet been cleared to sail. The flotilla's organizers said Israel was responsible for the delays.

On Monday night, Israeli army spokesmen briefed foreign media outlets on the intelligence information received by the military, which showed that activists participating in the flotilla have stockpiled sacks of flammable chemicals, including sulfur, to counter Israeli troops in case a raid is ordered.

The briefing came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opined that the flotilla poses a minimal risk, strengthening Barak's contention.

"I assume that there is substantial information that one of the ships is carrying chemical pesticides," the defense minister said Wednesday, "but there is a certain distance between that and concrete preparations to harm Israel Defense Forces troops with these materials."

"No one knows or can foresee that there will not be a small group on one of the ships that will try to violently resist the troops," according to Barak, who added that the navy is prepared to counter a host of scenarios, from passive resistance to live gunfire.

The defense minister reiterated the government's decision to stop the flotilla with force if it disregards the navy's instructions to have its cargo inspected. The activists said they are only carrying letters of support for Gazans.

Earlier this week, Israel said the flotilla has the option of docking either at the Egyptian port of El-Arish or at the country' s southern port Ashdod, where the letters, and any humanitarian relief, would be inspected and then transferred overland to Gaza.


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