Israel’s envoys to US, UN justify Gaza blockade

Oren says Israel pleased that Turkish gov't opposing flotilla; Prosor warns of "dangerous consequences”; US warns citizens not to travel to Gaza by sea.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JORDANA HORN JERUSALEM
June 23, 2011 01:59
3 minute read.
Michael Oren

Michael Oren pose 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – Ambassador to the US Michael Oren on Wednesday defended the blockade of Gaza as a “matter of life and death,” and said that it fully comports with international law, as a protest flotilla prepares to try to reach Gaza.

Oren said that Israel is pleased that the Turkish government is opposing the expedition and that Turkish group IHH has withdrawn its participation in the flotilla, which is set to mark the anniversary of the attempt last year to breach the blockade that left nine activists aboard IHH’s ship dead after a confrontation with the Israel Navy.

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Turkey recalled its ambassador following last year’s incident and demanded an apology for actions the IDF considered as self-defense, and Oren indicated that Jerusalem was in discussions with Ankara to find language that would satisfy both governments’ requirements so that the rift could be mended.

Oren said that the blockade was necessary to prevent rockets from reaching Gaza and then threatening Israel, and that under international maritime law, all ships must be prevented from reaching shore under a legal blockade, so no exception could be made for the anticipated flotilla.

Oren also rejected the notion that Israel prefers to see Bashar Assad stay as president rather than face a Syria taken over by unknown elements.

That idea is “categorically untrue,” he stressed, saying that Israel couldn’t imagine anyone “more devilish” than Assad.



Oren also spoke of the danger posed by Iran, pointing out that the technical difficulties its nuclear program suffered last year had been overcome and that the country continues to enrich uranium at a rapid rate.

Israel is pressing for additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and expects the US to act on them in the coming days, but Oren said it was important to state that “all options are on the table” and make sure that declaration has teeth.

“We’ve seen that a credible military threat can prove effective in dissuading Middle East dictators and autocracies from developing nuclear weapons,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, The United States updated a travel warning urging Americans to refrain from traveling to the Gaza Strip by sea and emphasizing risks, including a possible 10-year travel ban to Israel.

The new State Department travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, said Americans could face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by Israel. "The Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek 10-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea," the notice said.

Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor sent a letter to the Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday, to express concern over the impending Gaza flotilla, calling it a provocation that “holds the potential for dangerous consequences.”

Pointing out that there are established channels through which humanitarian assistance can reach the Gaza Strip, including through Israel, Prosor wrote that the flotilla is “clearly designed only to serve an extremist political agenda.”

Prosor also emphasized that many groups participating in this flotilla – such as the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza, the Free Gaza Movement, and the International Solidarity Movement – “maintain ties with extremist and terrorist organizations, including Hamas.

“Some flotilla organizers have made comments to the media indicating their plans to employ a range of tactics to resist the enforcement of the naval blockade by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF),” Prosor wrote. “These tactics, which might include physical confrontation with the IDF, could spark unnecessary violence resulting in harm to persons and property.”

Prosor noted that both Ban and British Prime Minister David Cameron have spoken out against such flotillas in the past year.

“These kinds of actions are particularly troubling in light of the present turmoil in the Middle East,” Prosor wrote.

“The international community must send an unambiguous message to the organizers of these provocations that such initiatives only serve to raise tensions in our region,” Prosor continued, saying Israel was “firmly determined to enforce the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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