Imagine what they would have done if the administration hadn’t warned Israel to use “caution and restraint”!
The Obama administration said Wednesday that it had warned Israel’s government repeatedly to use “caution and restraint” with half a dozen aid boats bound for the Gaza Strip before Israeli commandos raided the flotilla this week in an operation that killed nine people.
“We communicated with Israel through multiple channels many times regarding the flotilla,” P.J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement issued in response to a question from The Washington Post. “We emphasized caution and restraint given the anticipated presence of civilians, including American citizens.”
The acknowledgment shed new light on the administration’s contact with the Israeli government before the Monday morning raid, which has inflamed international opinion against Israel and complicated President Obama’s efforts to improve U.S. relations with the Islamic world. White House officials said Wednesday that there is a growing consensus within the administration that U.S. and Israeli policy toward Gaza must change, even as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flatly rejected calls for his country to lift its blockade of the Palestinian territory.
Netanyahu, addressing his nation Wednesday for the first time since the raid, angrily defended Israel from mounting international criticism over its use of force against the flotilla, which was carrying construction materials, medicine, school paper and other aid to Gaza when Israeli commandos set upon it in international waters.
Netanyahu called the criticism “hypocrisy” and described Gaza, where 1.5 million people live in a narrow slice of dunes and refugee camps between southern Israel and the sea, as “a terror state funded by the Iranians.”
“The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow,” he said, just a day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Israel’s policy toward Gaza “unsustainable.” “It’s for this and for many other reasons we have a right to inspect cargo heading into Gaza,” Netanyahu added.
The flotilla was organized by the Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish charity that Israeli officials say has connections to radical groups.
In an interview with Charlie Rose broadcast Wednesday night, Vice President Biden agreed that Israel had a right to inspect the cargo. “You can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not . . . but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they’re at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in,” he said.
At the same time, Biden acknowledged that the administration is trying to sway the Israeli government on the issue of Gaza, which has been under some form of an Israeli blockade for five years.
“We have put as much pressure and as much cajoling on Israel as we can to allow them to get building materials” and other designated humanitarian aid into Gaza, he said.