JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister claimed Sunday that the Turkish activists who battled Israeli naval commandos in a deadly clash last week prepared for the fight ahead of time, before boarding the ship in a different city from the rest of the passengers.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s charges highlight Israel’s frantic efforts to portray the activists as terrorists and counter a wave of harsh international condemnation that has left the Jewish state isolated and at odds with some of its closest allies.
Last Monday’s operation, in which nine activists were killed aboard a ship headed to the blockaded Gaza Strip, damaged Israel’s ties with Turkey – its main Muslim ally – and brought heavy pressure on Israel to lift the 3-year closure of Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Netanyahu told his Cabinet that “dozens of thugs” from “an extremist, terrorism-supporting” organization had readied themselves for the arrival of the naval commandos.
“This group boarded separately in a different city, organized separately, equipped itself separately and went on deck under different procedures,” he said. “The clear intent of this hostile group was to initiate a violent clash with (Israeli) soldiers.”
Late Sunday, Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying he discussed the international criticism with world leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden, the president of France and the premier of Canada. Netanyahu told them any country would act in self defense if it were targeted by thousands of rockets as Israel has been by Gaza militants.
Videos released by the military have shown a crowd of men attacking several naval commandos as they landed on a ship from a helicopter, beating the soldiers with clubs and other objects and hurling one soldier overboard. Continue reading…