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Netanyahu defends commando response, says flotilla not a 'love boat'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Flotilla 'full of terror supporters'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Israeli prime minister says troops acted properly in raid on flotilla
  • "It was not a peaceful flotilla," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says
  • Netanyahu says port at Gaza open to militants will pose grave danger to Israel
  • Netanyahu said Iran continues to smuggle weapons into Gaza

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Speaking defiantly in the face of worldwide criticism, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the Israeli commando raid on the aid-bound vessels for Gaza, saying the troops acted properly in the bloody raid.

Netanyahu said the goal of the international flotilla was to penetrate Israel's blockade of ships headed to Gaza, necessary to halt weaponry being shipped to militants into Gaza from Iran, and the troops comported themselves in keeping with Israeli policy.

"We continue to protect our civilians, we will continue to allow our soldiers to protect their lives, and the state of Israel will continue to practice its right for self-defense," he said, asserting the aim of the flotilla wasn't to carry aid "because we do send assistance to the Gaza Strip."

Speaking in a brief and frank nationally televised, Netanyahu said a port at Gaza open to militants will pose a grave danger to Israel and the state has the responsibility to stop every vessel, including the flotilla that was targeted Monday.

"That was not a love boat. That was a boat of hatred. It was not a peaceful flotilla. The soldiers who boarded the ships were attacked by clubs, batons and knives. They had the weapons kidnapped from them and shot at them," he said, calling the behavior of the people on the one ship where violence occurred an attempted lynching.

The prime minister said that if the blockade had been penetrated, dozens or hundreds of ships would have eventually converged on Gaza carrying war materiel. And he pointed out that the amount would be greater than that being smuggled through the Gaza-Egyptian tunnels.

"They can bring hundreds of rockets and hundreds of missiles. We have already stopped two ships. One of them was one we stopped in the middle of the sea where there were hundreds of tons of ammunition and weapons that Iran sent to Gaza," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said Iran continues to smuggle weapons into Gaza and Hamas -- which controls the territory -- continues to arm itself.

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"The rockets and missiles that Iran has smuggled into Gaza are now likely to hit areas surrounding Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and some of those are already in Gaza. Therefore, it is our duty and our responsibility according to the international law and according to the logic, common sense, to prevent by air, sea and land smuggling of weapons into Gaza."

Netanyahu said Israel is sorry for the loss of lives during the flotilla raid but emphasized its soldiers were facing "a life-threatening situation."

"I forward my questions to the international community. ... What would you have done if you were in our place and what would you have done in order to protect your civilians who are attacked by hundreds of rockets and missiles? We know the facts. We all know the reality," he said.

The prime minister said that if Israel didn't take the steps it did, the result would be an Iranian regime in Gaza just kilometers away from Jerusalem.

"This is a destructive scenario, and this a very immediate threat to Israel. I'm telling you and I'm telling my friends in the countries that criticize us that an Iranian port in the Mediterranean" will be a threat.

"We will stop and check and examine every ship that is coming to Gaza," he said.