“Israel won’t apologize for defending itself,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday night, as he urged the international community to stop condemning the IDF for its Monday raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.
He spoke both in Hebrew and then in English at a special press conference in his office, called to address the wave of harsh international criticism against the raid, in which nine people were killed.
“Once again Israel faces hypocrisy and a biased rush to judgment,” Netanyahu said.
In his conversations with international world leaders, Netanyahu said, he had asked them a basic question.
“What would you do? How would your soldiers behave in similar circumstances? In your heart, you all know the truth,” said Netanyahu.
“This might sound like an impossible plea, request or demand,” he continued, adding, “Israel should not be held to a double standard. The Jewish state has a right to defend itself like any other state.”
If ships were allowed to sail to Gaza without inspection as flotilla organizers have demanded, nothing could stop Iran from sending high-level weapons to Hamas in Gaza, said Netanyahu.
Already, he said, Hamas has missiles that can hit major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon, Beersheba and even Tel Aviv. Very soon, their missiles will also be able to reach the outskirts of Jerusalem.
“Israel can not permit Iran to develop a Mediterranean port a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv,” said Netanyahu. He added that missiles could also be launched from there toward Europe.
“The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow,” he said.
Under international law, Israel had every right to intercept the ship, he said.
When it did so, he added, those on board viciously attacked the soldiers with knives and rods and in some cases they fired guns.
On the tape it is possible to hear them chanting “battle cries against the Jews,” said the prime minister. He said he regretted the loss of life, but that the soldiers had had a right to defend themselves and their country.
“This was not a love boat, this was a hate boat. These were not peace activists, there were supporters of terrorism,” he said.
Videotapes of the raid reflect these details, but for “many in the international community, no evidence is needed. Israel is guilty until it is proven guilty. Israel is told it has a right to defend itself, but it is condemned every time it exercises that right,” said Netanyahu.
He did not address the calls by the international community for an independent investigation into the incident, but government sources have said that Israel has no intention of complying with that demand.
On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for such an independent probe.
Government sources said the IDF investigation would meet the highest international standards.
Speaking in Ra’anana at an event organized by the Samaria Regional Council, Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon said, “We will know how to investigate all the elements of this operation. We will know how to learn lessons and implement them.
“The process of learning lessons must not turn into a festival of self-guilt or of self-blame,” he continued. “Those from outside who are calling for the formation of an international committee or investigation must be told without hesitation that Israel is an independent democracy and not a banana republic.”
Israel also stood firm against demands by the international community that it fully open the three crossings into Gaza, which have been closed to all but humanitarian supplies since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Strip in 2007.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the closure had done nothing to dislodge Hamas from power.
“Friends of Israel – and I count myself a friend of Israel – should be saying to the Israelis that the blockade actually strengthens Hamas’s grip on the economy and on Gaza, and it’s in their own interests to lift it and allow these vital supplies to get through,” he said.
In Brussels, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said EU leaders wanted all crossings into Gaza “opened immediately for humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons. Keeping Gaza closed is unsustainable.”
Government sources said in response, “We will continue to engage with the international community” on the issue of the crossings.
They added that Israel had increased the volume of goods entering Gaza in an effort to facilitate humanitarian assistance.
Turkey, which recalled its ambassador to Israel to protest the flotilla raid, has insisted that Israel must fully open the crossings. Nicaragua, meanwhile, cut its ties with Israel altogether.
Turkey’s parliament on Wednesday called on the government to review its ties with Israel, as hundreds of Turks protested Israel’s commando raid for a third day, and Israeli diplomats’ families in Ankara began packing to leave at the behest of the Israeli government.
The Turkish Parliament in Ankara held a heated debate on whether to impose military and economic sanctions on Israel. Lawmakers of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party objected to the measures, apparently anxious to avoid aggravating the situation, but eventually agreed on a declaration that was approved by a show of hands.
The lawmakers said Israel must formally apologize for the raid, pay compensation to the victims and bring those responsible to justice.
Even as its diplomats railed against Israel, Turkey prepared to welcome the activists from the flotilla, many of whom were flown in from Israel, as well as to receive the bodies of the nine killed.
Four of the bodies have been identified as being Turkish citizens. The other five were flown to Turkey even though their identities were unknown.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said Israel had decided not to prosecute the activists, claiming Wednesday that “keeping them here would do more damage to the country’s vital interests than good.”
By Wednesday evening, the Interior Ministry said 165 activists had
already been deported and another 505 were at Ben-Gurion Airport
waiting to be cleared for flights abroad.
Three more activists, two of them Turks, were seriously wounded and
will remain in Israeli hospitals until they can be moved. The Turkish
government said 15 wounded Turks would be flown to Ankara, where they
will be questioned by state prosecutors who may press charges against
those responsible for their injuries, the semi-official Anatolian News
Turkish and Greek protesters were to fly home on special planes sent by
their respective governments, while others from the nearly 20
nationalities on the ships were traveling on commercial flights. More
than 120 activists from a dozen Muslim nations without diplomatic
relations with Israel were deported to Jordan before sunrise.
The Interior Ministry said all those on board the aid convoy had been accounted for.
Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report.