Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, defends the Israeli government’s campaign against the flotilla, claiming there is no need for humanitarian aid to be shipped to Gaza now that Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing. Aharoni also refuses to deny Israel played a role in the sabotage of two boats in the flotilla and refuses to promise that Israeli officials will not arrest the Democracy Now! journalists on board the flotilla if Israel intercepts the ship. "I can tell you that the whole idea of the flotilla is unnecessary, and we have no interest in dealing with it. And hopefully, the flotilla will not leave to be on its way to Israel,” Aharoni said. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: As we’ve reported, up to 400 international activists are waiting to set sail for Gaza aboard 10 ships leaving from Greece. However, the Israeli government is trying to prevent the ships from leaving port and has vowed to intercept them, should they set sail. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked allies of the Jewish state, including Greece, for helping delay the flotilla’s departure.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] I want to thank the many leaders in the world for speaking and acting recently against the provocative flotilla, especially the leaders of the United States and Europe, the U.N. Secretary-General, and my friend, the Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou. Israel has the total right to act against attempts to legitimize the smuggling of missiles and rockets and other weapons to the Hamas terror enclave.
JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yesterday, the Israeli military claimed it had uncovered financial links between the Gaza-bound flotilla and the Palestinian movement Hamas. However, flotilla participants have unequivocally denied such claims, noting Israel has provided no evidence. The activists have repeatedly stated their commitment to nonviolence, and they have welcomed the media to inspect their boats, interview all passengers, and even taste the food on board.
This is Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and former diplomat who is participating in the flotilla.
ANN WRIGHT: On behalf of the U.S. boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope, to welcome you, the members of the international press and the Greek press, to our unveiling of our ship, The Audacity of Hope, which is named for a book that our president of the United States has written. We use it because we are challenging U.S. government policies, policies that support the state of Israel in its naval blockade of Gaza.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and former diplomat.
For more, we’re joined on the telephone by Ido Aharoni. He is the consul general of Israel in New York. He served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a company commander in the infantry during the first Lebanon War. In the spring of '93, he was appointed to serve under then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres as policy assistant to Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Israeli Consul General Ido Aharoni. I wanted to start by asking you—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the Greek prime minister, Papandreou, which, at this point, Greece has prevented the—both The Audacity of Hope, the U.S.-flagged ship, and others in the flotilla from moving ahead. What has the Prime Minister done to work with the Israeli government in this? Why is Benjamin Netanyahu thanking him?
IDO AHARONI: Well, I think that the general notion that the entire idea of sending the flotilla, when you have the borders with Egypt now open, and there’s a flow of commodities and goods in and from Gaza, is a bad idea, is not only—was not only endorsed by the Greek government, but also by the U.S. administration. We think it’s a bad idea. There are major players in the international arena that think it’s a bad idea. We’re not set out to destroy them. We’re not set out to inflict any harm on them. But we have legitimate claims, and we feel that they’re not being met by the organizers.
AMY GOODMAN: Is Greece working with the Israeli government in stopping the flotilla from taking off?
IDO AHARONI: Look, I’m not familiar with the details of what’s happening, you know, exactly between—as you know, I’m positioned here in the United States. And I can tell you that we’re very happy on the public position taken by a number of countries in Europe, as well as the U.S. administration, that contends that the very idea of flotilla is a provocation, unneeded one, illegitimate one.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Consul General, this issue—the statements that financial links have been uncovered between Hamas and the flotilla organizers, could you elaborate on that?
IDO AHARONI: Well, I don’t know enough details on that, as well. I can tell you, again, that the problem that we have is that Gaza has been controlled by Hamas for several years now. We’ve practically handed over the keys to the Palestinians in Gaza and told them, "Here, Gaza is all yours." This happened in August of 2005. Since then, we’ve received nothing but hostility and violence. Forty-five thousand rockets were shelled onto Israel from Gaza during those years, since 2005. We know of a recent shipment of yet another 8,000 rockets into Gaza. So we’re determined to make sure that Gaza will not turn into a terrorist safe haven. And I think that the people that support the idea of flotilla have to be aware of this very simple fact.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, which quoted several unnamed members of Israel’s security cabinet as saying the army’s claims were media spin and public relations hysteria, saying security cabinet ministers were given no such information when they were briefed on the flotilla this week—that is, information about arms, about chemical use that’s expected, anything like that.
IDO AHARONI: Well, you know, I don’t know. What more do you need than the living proof of 45,000 rockets shelled onto innocent civilians—children, women, the elderly? Our entire southern region was paralyzed for six years, inflicted major economic damage. Many people were injured. Several even died. You know, what more do you need than that? This is the number-one problem that we’ve had in our southern region for years, and we are—that’s the reason why we had to go into Gaza early 2009. And we are determined to make sure that Hamas is not acquiring more weapons and more arms, and we’re making sure that every shipment that goes into Gaza is very well inspected. And that’s the only reason why we’re doing it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Consul General, the organizers of the flotilla have raised these issues that several of their ships have been sabotaged, and they believe that Israel would be the only one who would be interested in doing that, and they believe that Israel is behind it. Can you say publicly that Israel has not been involved in any kind of sabotage attempts on these ships?
IDO AHARONI: Again, I—look, this is the most irrelevant question, whether the ships were sabotaged or not. The entire idea of the flotilla is unneeded, is not necessary, and it’s not legitimate. If they are interested in providing aid to Gaza, there are ways to do it, through international organizations. They can do it directly with Israel. They can actually do it through Egypt. They were invited by the Egyptian government, through the port of El Arish. But for some reason, the organizers are determined to turn this into a media event and to create a provocation that is unneeded and will endanger the lives of all the people involved. And there’s no need to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Consul General, you’re not denying responsibility for sabotaging these boats?
IDO AHARONI: Well, I don’t know the details. I have no idea what the organizers are claiming. I haven’t seen any of those claims. But I can tell you that, again, the whole idea of the flotilla is unnecessary, and we have no interest in dealing with it. And hopefully, the flotilla will not leave to be on its way to Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you another question, and it’s about the journalists. The Israeli government has said that journalists who cover the flotilla will be banned from Israel for 10 years. Why?
IDO AHARONI: I think that—I think that this statement was reversed by the government, which issued another statement that said that journalists are more than welcome to board the ship. We have nothing to hide.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, will they not be arrested? We have our own journalists on board. Our reporters are there in Athens and planning to board the ship. And will their—they will not be arrested? Do we have these guarantees? And their equipment, our cameras, will not be confiscated?
IDO AHARONI: Again, I don’t know the details. I guess that the people that will board the ship probably have to find information themselves. I can tell you that, based on the statement that the Israeli government released, the Israeli press is more than welcome to cover the actions of the Israeli navy.
AMY GOODMAN: The international press, not just Israeli press?
IDO AHARONI: You’re right. You asked me about a statement that referred to the Israeli press, and each statement that was issued by the Israeli government referred to the Israeli press. And as the Prime Minister’s office clarified, this decision was reversed, and the media is more than welcome to—we’re operating in full transparency.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to follow up on a point you just made about what happened in November of 2008. An official Israeli government publication, the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported, quote, "Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire," unquote, and only fired rockets at Israel, quote, "in retaliation," unquote, after Israel broke the ceasefire on November 4th. This is an Israeli government publication.
IDO AHARONI: Well, let me tell you something. You don’t really have to do more than just look at the Hamas charter. It’s an organization that openly calls for the annihilation of the state of Israel. It’s an organization that is refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist. It’s an organization that repeatedly denies all past agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians. This is an organization that acted against Israel from day one. I don’t think we need to prove that. This is a position embraced by [inaudible]—
AMY GOODMAN: But the people on board the ship are people like, oh, the 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker, the well-known labor lawyer Richard Levy, and others. These are the people who say that they are trying to challenge the blockade of Gaza, which brings me to this question, Consul General. Is Gaza occupied by Israel?
IDO AHARONI: The people that participate in this flotilla have to know what they’re doing and which organization they’re endorsing, and Hamas is a terrorist organization that totally negates the goals of the Palestinian national movement, the entire idea of two-state solution. It’s an organization that resorts to violence, any opportunity they’re given. And I would certainly urge them to learn more about Hamas before they participate in this flotilla. And thank you so much. Unfortunately, I can’t continue with this interview, because I have another engagement. Thank you so much.
AMY GOODMAN: But just that follow-up on, is Israel occupying Gaza? Because it goes to the issue of whose waters are off of the coast of Gaza. Does Israel have the right to intervene there, if...?
IDO AHARONI: The reality on the ground is very simple. The facts are very simple. In August of 2005, the government of the state of Israel uprooted tens of thousands of households and destroyed 25 thriving Jewish communities and practically handed over the key to Gaza. Now, the Hamas, instead of turning it into an oasis, turned it into a safe haven for terrorists. And this is something that no government, including the Israeli government, should accept. Thank you so much, and have a great day.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much for joining us. We have just been speaking with the Consul General of Israel in New York, Ido Aharoni.