Israeli Spokesman On Commando Raid
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now, Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He insists yesterday's action was both justified and legal.
Mr. MARK REGEV (Spokesman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu): When you have a declared blockade, it's recognized in the charter of the United Nations as a legitimate tool in international relations during times of conflict. And, of course, there is a conflict unfortunately between Israel and the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.
So we've imposed the blockade to prevent countries like Iran and Syria from transferring weapons to Hamas in Gaza, as they would if we didn't have that blockade in place.
SIEGEL: But what happened here was a vessel not from Iran or Syria, but from Turkey, a country whose government has good relations with Israel's, told you told Israeli authorities they were bringing in goods that Israel has not been permitting into Gaza, but they were not military goods. You've unloaded these vessels, at least some of them. Have you found any weapon at all? Any material that was destined for Gaza?
Mr. REGEV: No. That's 100 percent but we never made that accusation. We said that the policy is and we asked people to respect it that all cargo going to Gaza and to go inspections, if their aim was purely to deliver humanitarian supplies, we had no problem with that. We made a public offer and we repeated it on numerous occasions that if they bring their shipment to the Israeli port of Ashdod, all humanitarian cargo - we made a commitment all humanitarian cargo would be delivered to the people of Gaza.
But they said no. They said, we actually our primary goal is to break the blockade of Gaza. That was what they said. And so we were forced to intercept.
SIEGEL: Given where this incident occurred and that these were not warships, but ships carrying humanitarian aid, what would be unsuspected or especially immoral about people on those ships resisting armed commandos who landed on them?
Mr. REGEV: First of all, there were six interceptions yesterday. In one of the ships, unfortunately, our boarding party was met with deadly violence by the people on the boat - knives, machetes, iron rods. Our young servicemen were in deadly danger. What was supposed to be a police operation turned very bad.
SIEGEL: But you're describing it as a police operation.
Mr. REGEV: Correct.
SIEGEL: Wouldn't it just as easily be a military operation bringing not the police but an elite naval force onto the ship in international waters to enforce a blockade that's part of a conflict you say police - why wouldn't you assume it was seen as an attack, as a military assault instead?
Mr. REGEV: We did not see it is a military assault. And on the contrary, when we were briefing our young naval servicemen before the operation, their instructions were clear. They were told this is a police operation, to show maximum restraint and, of course, not to exercise force.
SIEGEL: But the Israeli blockade of Gaza, while it may have the aim of preventing material arriving in Gaza that could be used as a more effective rocket or missile, is also a political policy that's aimed at depriving the Hamas movement of credibility and legitimacy.
On that score, from the world reaction you see today to what happened at sea, is it fair to say that the Israeli policy of blockade is failing? That indeed the authorities in Gaza are achieving more sympathy today than Israel is from people all around the world?
Mr. REGEV: I think that's probably true. In fact, if I look at some of the coverage, especially in Europe, they are getting sympathetic treatment. But for us, the first and most important thing is we have to defend our people. And if keeping that naval blockade in place is defending our people, we will do so. As long as we know that there are regimes out there trying to ship deadly weapons to Hamas, we have to enforce the naval blockade.
SIEGEL: Mark Regev, thank you very much.
Mr. REGEV: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: Mark Regev is the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He and Huwaita Arraf, whom we heard from earlier, both spoke to us from Jerusalem.
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