The activists aboard the intercepted flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip Sunday had two separate opportunities to avoid violence and still get their cargo to the Gaza Strip, a high-ranking Israeli official said.
But Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the activists were more interested in breaking the blockade than delivering humanitarian aid.
Regev, who spoke to more than 400 reporters Tuesday via a conference call sponsored by The Israel Project, said the flotilla had offers not only from Israel to deliver nonlethal supplies, but also from Egypt. Egyptian officials apparently offered to allow the flotilla to dock at El Arish where the supplies would be unloaded and delivered to Gaza.
“They had two clear options to transfer aid to Gaza … and they were not interested,” Regev said. “They wanted to break the naval blockade.”
In response to a question from The Chronicle, Regev said the supplies aboard the flotilla, once inspected for weaponry, would still be delivered to Gaza. “That’s our commitment,” he said.
Regev, defended the interdiction of the six ships in international waters, saying it was done in accordance with international law.
When a publicly declared blockade exists and a ship’s crew is intent on breaking it even after it is warned, “you are entitled to intercept,” Regev said, “even on the high seas even in international waters; it is very clear.”
He dismissed the suggestion that the flotilla was on a humanitarian mission noting that Israeli commandos who were prepared for a police action instead came under gunfire as well as attack by activists wielding batons, knives Molotov cocktails, crowbars and machetes.
The Israel Defense Forces has posted photos of the confiscated weapons at its Web site dover.idf.il/IDF/English.
Israel, as a matter of course, plans to investigate the incident, he said, but he criticized calls for an international investigation saying the Jewish state is routinely held a higher standard than any other nation.
Regev also defended the need for the blockade, noting that is a matter of “life and death” for its citizens. Without the blockade, and the cargo inspection that goes with it, he said, ever more advanced weaponry could find its way into Gaza for use against Israeli targets.
“These people (the flotilla activists) were not interested in humanitarian aid; these people were interested in breaking the blockade,” he said, “and if that blockade is broken, every man, woman and child in Israel will pay a price.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)