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Envoy Oren Says Israel Ready to Pay the Price for Self-Defense

Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren
Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Israel will enforce its blockade of the Gaza Strip, regardless of the price, because the alternative would be “disaster,” the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. said as another boat carrying activists challenged the restriction.

Israel’s May 31 raid on an aid ship intent on breaking the blockade drew international condemnation because of the deaths of nine Turkish activists during the operation. Ambassador Michael Oren said yesterday that allowing open sea access to Gaza would mean the enclave’s ruler, Hamas, could target “every Israeli family” with rocket fire, and wreck peace efforts.

“If you’re going to stop ships on the open seas, you run the risk of confrontations such as we had this week,” Oren said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “Israel may not look good on certain news stations or in the newspaper, but what is the alternative?”

Oren spoke as the Irish-owned MV Rachel Corrie, named after an American activist killed in Gaza in 2003, moved toward the blockade area. The Corrie was sent by the Free Gaza Movement, the group that organized the flotilla raided by Israeli commandos in international waters, leading to the deaths of the pro-Palestinian activists.

The White House “strongly encouraged” the activists on the Rachel Corrie to divert to the Israeli port of Ashdod and deliver goods there, in a statement late yesterday.

The ambassador said Israel wouldn’t let the Corrie land. “We will have to stop it,” he said.

“We’re hoping that we can work with the Irish government to work with the ship, to offer them the same offer we had given the flotilla: Give us the cargo, we will transfer it to responsible hands in Gaza.”

‘Unsustainable’ Situation

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said June 1 that the situation in Gaza is “unsustainable,” and Oren said Israel agrees. The ambassador said the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is “bedrock.”

Top Israeli ministers met June 3 to review the embargo on sea deliveries to Gaza and explore ways of modifying it, a Jerusalem-based official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press on the matter. He gave no other details of the meeting.

“We’re open to any suggestions,” Oren said about easing the blockade. “We, too, are not happy with the status quo.”

Oren warned that the Gaza blockade can’t be completely dismantled. Open access to the 140-square-mile strip of land would allow Hamas to increase its missile capacity and threaten Israelis nationwide, he said.

“Not only is every Israeli family going to come under immediate rocket fire, the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank is going to collapse,” Oren said. “There will be no peace process. It will be a disaster.”

Israeli Security

The U.S., Israel and “other like-minded nations will have to work very hard to find innovative, new means of on one hand balancing the legitimate needs of the civil population of Gaza with Israel’s very serious security needs,” Oren said.

Oren said he was “a little skeptical” that accepting international help to enforce the blockade would work.

When Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, Oren said European observers “ran away” from Gaza checkpoints.

“Now we can try to do the same thing again, but the same outcome might ensue,” Oren said.

“Our experience of turning to the international community and stopping the flow of rockets to terrorist organizations has not been terribly sanguine,” Oren said.

In Lebanon, under a United Nations resolution, Hezbollah was supposed to be disarmed, Oren said. “Instead their rocket arsenal has grown more than threefold,” he said.

Israeli Public

Israeli criticism of the flotilla operation has focused largely on its execution and not the blockade. A survey of Israeli Jews published in the Maariv daily showed 94.8 percent agreeing that it was necessary to stop the vessels.

Israel said it had issued numerous warnings to the Gaza-bound flotilla to change course for Ashdod and unload there.

Passengers on the Mavi Marmara fought the Israeli commandos with metal bars and weapons seized from the troops, who arrived by helicopter and speedboats, according to Bulent Yildirim, one of the chief organizers of the flotilla.

The five other ships were peacefully intercepted. Oren said Israel had to take military measures with the sixth ship because the Marmara is much larger than the other boats.

Hamas Control

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. In December 2008, the Israeli army carried out an operation in Gaza meant to rout Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.

By the end of Israel’s operations there, at least 1,387 Palestinians had been killed, according to non-governmental organizations interviewed by the UN, while the Israeli government put the Palestinian death toll at 1,166. Thirteen Israelis were killed, according to the police, as more than 800 rockets were fired into Israel during that period.

About 330 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since the end of Israel’s operation in Gaza, killing one foreign worker last March, the Israeli army said.

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