DEPUTY FM AYALON: Good morning, everyone. I want to report this morning that the armada of hate and violence in support of the Hamas terror organization was a premeditated and outrageous provocation. The organizers are well-known for their ties to Global Jihad, Al-Qaeda and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror. On board the ship we found weapons that were prepared in advance and used against our forces. The organizers' intent was violent, their method was violent, and unfortunately, the results were violent.
Israel regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome. We repeatedly called upon the organizers and all those who were associated with them, through diplomatic channels and any other means we could, to stop this provocation.
The so-called humanitarian aid was not for a humanitarian purpose. Had it been for a humanitarian purpose, they would have accepted our offer to deliver all humanitarian supply through the appropriate channels which are used on a daily basis, as we make sure that Gaza will not be in short of humanitarian supplies. On a daily basis, we do that. We ask them to send this through the appropriate channels, whether it's the U.N., whether it's the Red Cross, whether it's our people, but to no avail.
In fact, what they said was that it's a humanitarian campaign, but they said repeatedly that their intent and purpose was to break the blockade, the maritime blockade, on Gaza. The maritime blockade on Gaza is very legal and justified by the terror that Hamas is applying in Gaza. Allowing these ships to go in an illegal way to Gaza would have opened in fact a corridor of smuggling arms and terrorists to Gaza, with the results, inevitable results, of many, many thousands of civilian deaths and violence all over the area.
After these repeated calls where not heeded by the organizers, we told them that they will not be allowed to break the blockade, as according to maritime law we have the right to do that. Unfortunately, they also, people, the organizers upon the ship, did not heed the calls of our forces this morning to peacefully follow them and bring a closure, a peaceful closure, to this event.
No sovereign country would tolerate such violence against its civilian population, against its sovereignty, against international law. And we in Israel call today upon all relevant parties and all relevant countries to work together on calming the situation. Thank you very much.
[translated from Hebrew]
The provocative, violent flotilla that we saw today off the Israeli coast, was not to transfer humanitarian supplies to Gaza but rather, as they themselves said, to break the blockade on Gaza, a legal blockade that is meant to prevent the smuggling of terror means and terrorists into Gaza. Israel could not allow this flotilla, not just because it harms our sovereignty, not just because it is a provocation and a violation of maritime law, but because such a flotilla would have created a dangerous precedent after which an open corridor would be created for the free supply of means of terror and violence, ammunition and terrorists to Gaza, which would undermine the stability of the entire region and lead to thousands of civilians losing their lives.
Israel did everything within its power to stop the flotilla. We proposed that the organizers transfer the humanitarian supplies, all of it, to Gaza, if they were so concerned with the humanitarian issue, including transferring to Gilad Shalit things that he has a legal right to receive, such as letters from home; and they, of course, refused. And when IDF forces tried to quietly carry out their mission to stop the flotilla, they unfortunately met violence, including from firearms on deck of the ship that were used against IDF soldiers.
We know that the organizers have close, longstanding ties with agents of international terror, international Islam, Hamas, Al-Qaeda and others, and we also know that the whole intention was to provoke us and engage in violence. We in Israel are of course very sorry about the loss of life. The responsibility for the loss of life lies with those who simply ambushed and attacked IDF soldiers. In addition, today we call upon all those involved, including all the nations who have citizens involved, to do everything they can together to calm the situation and help end it in the fastest, most effective and best way that remains possible.
Right now we are not thinking of evacuating anyone. We are now treating this event as a local event that occurred due to provocation and violence by the flotilla organizers. Beyond that, all the diplomatic contacts continue to take place in a suitable manner. And I reiterate, we call upon everyone not to get worked up, not to escalate, not to fall into the trap of the provocateurs who arranged this flotilla, and to work in cooperation with all the other countries to calm the situation. That is what we are doing now.
QUESTION: One of the claims currently being made in the international media is that the operation was carried out in international waters and not in Israeli territorial waters; and of course the implications are fundamentally different if it is in Israel’s territorial waters or in international waters. Please address this point, and if possible after that the Turkish issue - is there a real fear in Jerusalem that the Israeli ambassador in Ankara will be expelled?
DFM AYALON: Again, regarding the diplomatic subjects, at the moment we are not dealing with fears or with an attempt to predict the future. We are now dealing with the crisis. The foreign minister is in touch with international parties, his counterpart foreign ministers, and the instruction right now is to work cooperatively, to create bridges and platforms to bring this affair to an end. As for the claim that Israel took action outside its territorial waters, it doesn’t apply, not legally and certainly not morally or otherwise. Operational necessity is what dictates certain actions, at a certain distance, at a certain point, and those considerations take precedence over all others.
QUESTION: Deputy Minister Ayalon, what is the extent of Turkey’s responsibility for all these events, and is Israel apprehensive of a third intifada?
DFM AYALON: As I said before, we are not dealing right now with apprehensions or predictions. I don’t think too much pessimism is called for here. I am not pessimistic, but besides that, as I was saying, the organizers are known parties; they are non-governmental organizations that support terror and are affiliated with terror. There is a lot of hard data on the leader’s use of terror and smuggling, and so he is the one responsible, of course along with Hamas. It is quite clear to us that there was very close operative and political cooperation between Hamas, the Hamas terror organization in Gaza, and the outside organization.
QUESTION: We hear calls from the European Union, and more will probably come from the UN Security Council and others, to open the maritime blockade and the entire blockade on Gaza. How does the foreign ministry intend to cope with this pressure?
DFM AYALON: The blockade on Gaza is not something we just decided to do one fine day; it came in response to the continuing terror coming out of Gaza. We need to remember that over 12,000 rockets were fired on Israeli citizens from Gaza, from Hamas, and that happened after the IDF made the extraordinary gesture of leaving Gaza. More than one million residents of the south lived under terror and in shelters, and it is our right, and the right of every nation, to put an end to that. It is our primary right to self defense.
Today the blockade is part of Israel’s self defense to stop the violence on the ground. Both we and the international community called upon Hamas, and still call upon it, to cease the terror immediately, to meet all the commitments of the Palestinian Authority, and to recognize Israel. These are the conditions, and if Hamas meets them, of course it will still be possible to consider other things, including lifting the blockade. So right now there’s nothing to talk about. This is our natural right and indeed our duty.
QUESTION: Mr. Deputy Foreign Minister, you spoke of the weapons on deck of the ships. Does Israel have proof of this, in the form of pictures or video footage? If so, why hasn’t this proof been distributed among the foreign media? And could you give us details, even if not in pictures, about the weapons seen there? Secondly, in the last year and a half the Foreign Ministry adopted a very tough stance toward the Turkish government, which created a severe crisis in relations. In retrospect, don’t you think the conduct of the Foreign Minister, you, and the Foreign Ministry in general, may have also led to this confrontation with Turkey in one way or another?
DFM AYALON: No, absolutely not. First of all, regarding your first question, the event is still ongoing; it has not yet ended, and so until it’s over - we are currently not at liberty to provide more details. But I can tell you from a report just received that there are on deck at least two hand guns that were used to fire at IDF soldiers. There might be more. As I said, the event is ongoing, and all the details will be clarified and brought to the public’s knowledge, I hope, as soon as possible, maybe even this afternoon or this evening.
As for your question about Turkey, I don’t view this as a bilateral matter between us and Turkey or any other country. As we said, the organizers are private individuals, from an organization we know to be affiliated with terror, cooperating with Hamas, and the responsibility falls on those organizers and Hamas as well, who planned and carried out this operation. And I now believe, based on the data at our disposal, that they are also the ones who planned to bring this matter to the point of violence and bloodshed, as we saw happen this morning.
I would like to reiterate here that Israel has no interest in a confrontation with any nation. We have no conflict with any country. Sometimes a response is necessary, but we would never initiate a confrontation with any state. As I said, and I wish to reemphasize, we call upon everyone in the international community to regain their composure and simply to do everything possible to ease the situation. That’s what needs to be done right now.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with the Prime Minister’s Office, and is the Prime Minister really thinking of cutting short his visit to Canada and perhaps meeting earlier with President Obama and coming to Israel, in light of the deterioration of the security situation?
DFM AYALON: I’m not the Prime Minister’s spokesman. I can tell you that Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is in direct contact with the Prime Minister, as well as with everyone else necessary, including in the international arena; and if you ask me personally, right now I don’t see any room for changing the Prime Minister’s plans, at least for the moment, I should stress. We are in the middle of an event, and there’s no need to rush and do things without carefully weighing and assessing the situation.
QUESTION: Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon, can you expound on the connection of this group to Global Jihad per se? And also, what kind of communication have you had with the Turkish government?
DFM AYALON: This organization is called the IHH. It is well known and its ties with Al-Qaeda, Global Jihad and Hamas are well documented. Its operators and many of its activists were actually implicated in arms smuggling and active terrorism. Also, we know that the entire campaign was not humanitarian in nature but a provocation trying to aid and abet and support Hamas terror organizations and indeed to try to create a free corridor of terrorist supplies to Gaza and Hamas.
As for our diplomatic activities, we have been in touch with all the countries who have citizens on board, and we are offering all our assistance in terms of consular help or any other assistance which may be needed.
QUESTION: What will the recommendation be for Israeli citizens wishing to travel to Turkey, or who are already there in Turkey; are you organizing an evacuation of Israelis?
DFM AYALON: The Foreign Minister already assessed the situation this morning. He and we are also in contact with the Lotar counterterrorism headquarters. These things will become clear according to the constantly ongoing situation assessments and a decision will be made accordingly.
QUESTION: Mr. Deputy Foreign Minister, two and a half years ago, in around 2008, ships with humanitarian aid passed into Gaza and “remained alive.” Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to learn from that lesson when coming to handle the current event?
DFM AYALON: Unfortunately, I think that the difficult outcome we have seen so far actually proves that we acted exactly right, in view, as I said, of the weapons on board, and the violence that took place. Their rhetoric and the goal they are speaking of, not just the goal in English but the goal they are expressing in local languages that are understood here in the region, was precisely not humanitarian, but to smash the blockade on Gaza, to ensure the supply of terror and weapons to Hamas in Gaza. That is exactly the goal, and it doesn’t matter how they pretty it up and what they try to say.
Again, we saw the weapons there and their extremely violent behavior on the ship. If they were truly peace-loving and truly people for whom humanitarian subjects are important, then first of all, I think they would have also responded to the requests concerning Gilad Shalit, which they didn’t do. Second of all, they would have tried, as if incidentally, to deceitfully say that they will resist passively and quietly. They didn’t do that either; on the contrary, you could say they ambushed the IDF soldiers.