Editorial: Scapegoating Inmarsat

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An Israeli human rights group is out of bounds with its threat of legal action against Inmarsat for what it says is the satellite operator’s support for suspected terrorist organizations. The very suggestion, which rests on a flimsy legal foundation, is both unfair and unseemly.

At issue is the use of Inmarsat satellite links by a flotilla being organized by pro-Palestinian activist groups to deliver supplies to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade. These same groups launched a similar flotilla from Turkey last year with disastrous results: Israeli naval commandos boarded some of the ships, encountered violent resistance aboard one — the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara — and nine activists were killed in the ensuing melee.

In a June 6 statement, the Shurat HaDin, or Israel Law Center, announced it had warned Inmarsat executives in London and Washington that the company could be “liable for massive damages and criminal prosecution” if it provides communications services to ships in the upcoming flotilla, whose organizers include the Turkey-based IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation. Without Inmarsat links to port authorities, these ships cannot sail, the Israeli group noted.

Hamas is classified by the United States, Israel and others as a terrorist organization, and herein lies the legal basis for Shurat HaDin’s threat; U.S. law bars the provision of material support to such groups. In its statement, the Israeli group said it warned Inmarsat “that under U.S. law, Inmarsat and [its] officers will be open to charges of aiding and abetting terrorism if it provides satellite services to the Gaza-bound ships.”

Words like those are designed to get someone’s attention, but the argument is a stretch, to say the least. As Inmarsat points out, the ships involved in the May 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla were neither owned nor operated by Hamas but by outside organizations like IHH, which though labeled by Israel as a terror group carries no such designation in the United States.

Moreover, Inmarsat is a wholesaler that typically does not deal directly with the end-user of its services; the company is not in position to police or otherwise micromanage the activities of its resellers, never mind the end users.

With Israel determined to maintain and enforce the Gaza blockade, the upcoming flotilla will certainly create a volatile situation. It is up to the Israeli military authorities on one hand and the pro-Palestinian activists on the other — not Inmarsat or any other provider of widely used maritime services — to prevent a repeat of last year’s violence. The company is absolutely correct in refusing to be browbeaten into submission in this matter.