JERUSALEM June 2, 2010 -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today defended the raid on a Gaza aid ship that left nine people dead, stating the the ship was "not a love boat."
The prime minister spoke defiantly as international criticism continued to build against Israel's high seas confrontation with six ships bringing relief supplies to the embattled Palestinian enclave.
Israeli commandos rappelled onto the decks on the six ships Monday, but on one ship the passengers battled the soldiers with metal rods, wrested weapons from soldiers and fired on them. Nine people died and more than 30 wounded, including several Israeli troops.
Netanyahu said Israel will continue to enforce its blockade of Gaza and defended the raid.
"This was not a love boat," the prime minister said. "This was a hate boat. These weren't pacificists. They were not peace activists. These were violent supporters of terorrism."
Netanyahu said he was sorry about the loss of life, but proud of the soldiers who he said acted in self defense.
"It is very clear to us that the attackers had prepared their violent action in advance," he said.
Netanyahu said Hamas is intent on smuggling weapons and if the blockade is broken, ships would be used to bring in arms, particularly missiles.
"If the blockade had been broken, it would have been followed by dozens, hundreds of boats," he said. "Each boat could carry dozens of missiles." That, he said, would put Jerusalem and Tel Aviv within reach of Hamas missile attacks.
"Under international law and common sense and decency, Israel has every right to interdict this weaponry," he said, saying Israel had already confiscated hundreds of tons of war material and weapons by Iran for shipment to Gaza.
"Israel simply cannot permit a free flow of weapons," he said. "Israel cannot permit Iran to establish a Mediterranean port a few kilometers from Tel Aviv."
Israel also began deporting the hundreds of people it took into custody after capturing the six ships. buses carrying about 400 Turks departed this morning for Israel's international airport.
Activists from Muslim nations without diplomatic relations with Israel were deported by crossings into Jordan before dawn. The 124 activists were Moroccan, Jordanian, Mauritanian, Kuwaiti, Pakistani, Indonesian and Syrian nationals. About 300 other activists remain in prison in southern Israel, corrections department spokesman Yaron Zamir said in an Associated Press report.
The Israeli government decided Tuesday night that none of the activists detained after the Israeli commando raid on the flotilla would be prosecuted.
Israel has faced international condemnation since the clashes on the ships in international waters and increased calls to lift the blockade on Gaza.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said today that Israel should lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip and has called the deadly raid on the pro-Palestinian aid flotilla "completely unacceptable."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the situation in Gaza "unsustainable and unacceptable."
"Israel's legitimate security needs must be met just as the Palestinians' legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and regular access for reconstruction materials must also be assured," she said in a statement Tuesday.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called for the temporary opening of the country's Rafah crossing with Gaza. Two buses carrying about 150 Gazans, including students and those seeking medical attention, crossed the border Tuesday, Egyptian officials said in an AP report. Two trucks carrying supplies of tents, blankets and power generators crossed into Gaza.
The governor of northern Sinai Murad Muwafi told the AP that the crossing should be open for several days "to alleviate the suffering of our Palestinian brothers after the Israeli attack" on the flotilla.
Mubarak has yet to specify how long the crossing would be open.
Irreparably Damaged Ties
Activists and Gazans aren't the only groups on the move: Israel has ordered the families of diplomats out of Turkey as the relations between the two countries, until recently strategic allies in the region, hit a new low.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Israel Monday, stating ties could be irreparably damaged. Israel's ambassador to Turkey and the consulate in Istanbul will not be recalled, Israel Radio reported today.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the raid "a bloody massacre" on the ships carrying hundreds of Turkish activists, killing at least four Turks. "A new era starts today. We will never turn our backs on the Palestinian people," Erdogan said Tuesday night in a speech to the Turkish parliament.
The alliance is dead, a senior official in Jerusalem said Tuesday night, according to Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. "The Turks are right about one thing: Irreversible harm has been caused to the relations. In the situation that has been created, Turkey will no longer be a strategic ally of Israel."
Generally, Israel and Turkey face many challenges in which both have strong mutual interests, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Andy David said.
"Hopefully, we'll overcome the shadows that we see today," he said, declining to comment on the withdrawal of the diplomats' families.
Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for a new ship, the Irish ship MV Rachel Corrie, due to arrive Friday. "The Rachel Corrie will not be allowed into Gaza," David said. "We are watching it and waiting to see what will happen. Hopefully, the people on board will direct to the port in Ashdod.
"The naval blockade is still in effect and the ship will not be allowed to enter into the naval blockade area."
Monday's convoy of ships was organized by the Free Gaza movement and intended to break the three-year Israeli blockade on the region. Dubbed the "Freedom Flotilla," it was the movement's ninth voyage to Israel.
"This is not the end of our struggle to break the siege," Greta Berlin, co-founder of the Free Gaza movement and flotilla organizer, said Tuesday. "The [Rachel Corrie] mission is underway. Our goal is still to reach Gaza to unload the tons and tons of cargo that's on its way."
Investigating the Raid
David said that based on the combination of media reports and what Israel found on the boat, the flotilla was not a mission of peace activists, but one of terrorists, even though there were peace activists on the boat. "We saw knives, axes, metal chains, ball bearings, electric saws, clubs and metal bars and more of those 'cold weapons,' though cold weapons kill as efficiently" David said, adding that the combination of these findings and media reports "put a different light on these events."
"We are open to ways to assure a credible investigation, including international participation," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told a news conference Tuesday.
Israel's government has rejected calls for international involvement in investigating the incident. "We have total confidence in our own investigation, which has all the features of a professional and independent investigation comparable with other NATO countries," the Israeli prime minister's spokesman, Mark Regev, said.
But Regev said there's a double standard involved. "When other NATO nations have been involved in conflict situations abroad, and there have been casualties in the local population, no one has demanded an investigation. This is a double standard that has only been applied to Israel," he said.
The government will not set up an outside investigative committee to review the military's operation; the IDF itself will head the investigation. This is a standard matter of protocol in Israel.