Bibi Netanyahu delivered a full-throated defense of Israel and an attack on her critics on Wednesday. (To our Israeli comrades, I can only offer one suggestion — do it in the first news cycle.)
He makes clear that the flotilla is not the beginning of the story:
Last year, Israel acted to stop Hamas from firing thousands of rockets into Israel’s towns and cities. Hamas was firing on our civilians while hiding behind civilians. And Israel went to unprecedented lengths to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet it was Israel, and not Hamas, that was accused by the UN of war crimes. Now regrettably, the same thing appears to be happening now. But here are the facts. Hamas is smuggling thousands of Iranian rockets, missiles and other weaponry — smuggling it into Gaza in order to fire on Israel’s cities. These missiles can reach Ashdod and Beer Sheva — these are major Israeli cities. And I regret to say that some of them can reach now Tel Aviv, and very soon, the outskirts of Jerusalem. From the information we have, the planned shipments include weapons that can reach farther, even farther and deeper into Israel.
He reiterates Israel’s right of self-defense and doesn’t buy into the critics who from a safe distance sniff and declare that this was some abstract or unimportant matter:
This is not a theoretical challenge or a theoretical threat. We have already interdicted vessels bound for Hezbollah, and for Hamas from Iran, containing hundreds of tons of weapons. In one ship, the Francop, we found hundreds of tons of war materiel and weapons destined for Hezbollah. In another celebrated case, the Karine A, dozens of tons of weapons were destined for Hamas by Iran via a shipment to Gaza. Israel simply cannot permit the free flow of weapons and war materials to Hamas from the sea.
I will go further than that. Israel cannot permit Iran to establish a Mediterranean port a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv and from Jerusalem. And I would go beyond that too. I say to the responsible leaders of all the nations: The international community cannot afford an Iranian port in the Mediterranean. Fifteen years ago I cautioned about an Iranian development that has come to pass — people now recognize that danger. Today I warn of this impending willingness to enable Iran to establish a naval port right next to Israel, right next to Europe. The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow.
Then he takes on the notion that the flotilla was needed for humanitarian reasons: “Humanitarian and other goods can go in and weapons and war materiel cannot. And we do let civilian goods into Gaza. There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week, an average of ten thousand tons of goods enter Gaza. There’s no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of medicine. There’s no shortage of other goods. On this occasion too, we made several offers — offers to deliver the goods on board the flotilla to Gaza after a security inspection. Egypt made similar offers. And these offers were rejected time and again.”
Then the details of the battle:
Our naval personnel, just as they landed on the ship — you can see this in the videos — the first soldier — they were met with a vicious mob. They were stabbed, they were clubbed, they were fired upon. I talked to some of these soldiers. One was shot in the stomach, one was shot in the knee. They were going to be killed and they had to act in self-defense.
It is very clear to us that the attackers had prepared their violent action in advance. They were members of an extremist group that has supported international terrorist organizations and today support the terrorist organization called Hamas. They brought with them in advance knives, steel rods, other weapons. They chanted battle cries against the Jews. You can hear this on the tapes that have been released.
This was not a love boat. This was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists. These weren’t peace activists. These were violent supporters of terrorism.
As for the second-guessers and those who want to set parameters — before any review is conducted and before the full facts are known — for what is and is not permitted in the name of Israeli self-defense:
Once again, Israel is told that it has a right to defend itself but is condemned every time it exercises that right. Now you know that a right that you cannot exercise is meaningless. And you know that the way we exercise it — under these conditions of duress, under the rocketing of our cities, under the impending killing of our soldiers — you know that we exercise it in a way that is commensurate with any international standard. I have spoken to leading leaders of the world, and I say the same thing today to the international community: What would you do? How would you stop thousands of rockets that are destined to attack your cities, your civilians, your children? How would your soldiers behave under similar circumstances? I think in your hearts, you all know the truth.
Israel regrets the loss of life. But we will never apologize for defending ourselves. Israel has every right to prevent deadly weapons from entering into hostile territory. And Israeli soldiers have every right to defend their lives and their country.
He makes a plea then for a cessation of double standards and for Israel to be treated “just like any other state.”
Other than being a bit quicker with the statement, I have only one quibble: he should not apologize for the loss of life. Did we apologize in WWII when we killed Nazis? Do we apologize when we kill Taliban fighters? The notion that these are innocent bystanders in the war to destroy the Jewish state is wrong — they were participants. Yes, yes, it’s a small tip of the hat to public opinion , but we could do without any concessions to the howling mob right now.
I have neither the intelligence data nor the expertise — who but the Israelis do at this point? — to claim that there were alternatives to the raid. (Each situation is unique, so other really smart operations don’t necessarily work in different situations.) In due time –after the situation has cooled — we will have an assessment from Israelis with complete data. And as soon as Israel starts getting praised by the UN for restraint, I’ll argue it should show more. But for now, I’ll offer a hearty “Right on!” and suggest that in a nation using drone weapons to kill terrorists that inevitably kill civilians, we should promote the idea, not undermine it, that the international community doesn’t get to set the rules of war for democratic nations that have internal checks and balances and that respect the rule of law. In sum, Israel, like the U.S., gets to decide for itself, subject to its own laws and its own free press and democratic system, what is “proportional” and what is essential to its own security.