Michael Oren: Gaza blockade is 'matter of life and death'

Israeli envoy to US says blockade necessary to prevent weapons smuggling; Gabi Ashkenazi in Washington: Sanctions best action against Iran.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
June 22, 2011 22:38
3 minute read.
Michael Oren

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

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Oren said that Israel is pleased that the Turkish government is opposing the expedition and that Turkish group IHH has withdrawn its participation in the flotilla, which is set to mark the anniversary of the attempt last year to breach the blockade which left nine activists aboard the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

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Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel following last year’s incident and demanded an apology for actions the IDF considered as self-defense, and Oren indicated that Israel is 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 the terms of international maritime law, all ships must be prevented from reaching shore under a legal blockade so that no exception could be made for the anticipated flotilla.

Of the 11 ships expected to set sail, an American vessel is likely to be the largest one. However, a former US Justice Department official and executive director of AIPAC has written to US Attorney-General Eric Holder urging him to take strong steps to prevent American participation.

Sher argued that participants would be breaking US law by giving material support to terrorists and called on Holder to make it clear that “if they still choose to go forward, the department should investigate and take appropriate action.”

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Oren, who was speaking on a conference call with the newly formed Israel Action Network, a joint effort between the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, noted that the threat of another flotilla is just one of a multitude of regional challenges that Israel faces.

On the call, he pushed back against the notion that Israel prefers to see Bashar Assad stay as the leader rather than face a Syria taken over by unknown elements.

That notion 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 their 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, which expects the US to act on in the coming days, and Oren said that while sanctions so far haven’t halted the nuclear program they’ve inflicted substantial pain that could pay dividends in the future.

At the same time, he 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.

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Askenazi also addressed the best path for deterring Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons during an appearance at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center on Wednesday.

“The best course of action is to go with sanctions,” he said. “It’s less costly than all the other options.”

He added, “I think it’s a very promising direction while keeping all the options on the table.”

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