Israeli yacht
Israeli yachtIsrael news photo: Israel Yacht Club

A “flotilla” including 72 ships from Turkey and 16 other countries converged on Israel on Tuesday, but this time the country is welcoming them with open arms for a yacht rally instead of a challenge to break the sea embargo on Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The annual Eastern Mediterranean Yacht Rally, which began in 1990, left Istanbul in late April and anchored at marinas in Turkey, northern Cyprus and at the enemy states of Syria and Lebanon before docking at Haifa.

“In light of the situation and the harsh international atmosphere against Israel, holding a festive reception for Rally participants is of great importance, said Yves Belleli, chairman of the Carmel Yacht Club that sponsors the annual event. “This year, more than ever, emphasis will be placed on Israel's desire for peace and brotherhood,” he added.

The yachts hail from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and European countries and will continue their trip to Ashkelon and then Port Said, Egypt before concluding the rally in Herzliya in two weeks.

The government is backing up the Carmel Yacht Club with logistical help. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Diplomacy (Hasbara) and the Diaspora told Israel National News, “We are involved as little as possible with politics.”

Unlike the Turkish-led flotilla that clashed with the Israeli Navy two weeks ago in another failed bid to break Israel’s maritime embargo on Hamas, the yacht rally “bears a message of regional cooperation, tourism and peace,” according to Belleli. 

He added, “Turkish tourism entrepreneur Hasan Kacmaz has been the inspiration behind the Rally, which embodies his vision regarding the economic contribution of maritime tourism to the region."

The rally began in 1990 with boats converging only on the Turkish coast but later was extended to include Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.