McCain says Obama helped create environment for flotilla controversy


Sen. John McCain -- one of President Barack Obama's most strident critics -- said Tuesday that the commander-in-chief helped set the stage for Monday's attempt to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. 

A flotilla of several ships set sail to deliver aid supplies to the Gaza Strip on Monday, but Israeli commandos boarded the ships after warning them not to attempt to dock at Gaza, which is controlled by Islamic extremist group Hamas. After an altercation between the activists and troops aboard the ships, Israeli troops opened fire and killed nine of them.

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McCain (R), Obama's opponent in the 2008 presidential election, said the White House should have offered a more forceful defense of the U.S.'s Middle Eastern ally.

"This is another step in a chain of unfortunate events beginning with President Obama's insistence there be a freeze as a precondition for peace talks [with the Palestinians]; a freeze on settlements in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, not a settlement," he said on Fox News on Tuesday night. "The mistaken belief that pressuring Israel on settlement freeze would somehow move them closer and show the Arab world that they were putting pressure on Israel has backfired."

The incident has touched off a diplomatic firestorm. Many European nations and Turkey -- the nations from which the ships set sail -- condemned Israel's actions. The White House on Tuesday condemned the loss of life, but did not specifically criticize Israel's actions. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs echoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that also called for an investigation of the incident.

Israel said the blockade is in place to stop the flow of weapons to Gaza and Hamas, which is committed to overthrowing the state of Israel. The Israeli government said that the fight on board the ship was started by the activists, who were armed with metal chairs and baseball bats, among other primitive weapons. The activists said that the Israeli troops provoked the violence and that the blockade is inhumane.

Vocal supporters of Israel in both parties issued statements Tuesday saying that they stand by the Jewish State, though reaction from Congress was generally quiet during the recess week.  

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the only Jewish Republican in Congress, pressured Obama not to sign any potential security council resolution that appears "biased" against Israel.

But McCain's comments suggest that debate amongst lawmakers over the U.S.'s sometimes shaky relationship with Israel under the Obama administration could heat up again. 

"The fact is that this nation has stood by Israel," he said. "And now, people around the world, including Israel's enemies, are not so sure."

Gibbs said at his daily press briefing Tuesday that the U.S. continues to support Israel's security needs.

“Let me be clear here: The United States and Israel — as I have said on countless occasions, we have a trusted relationship,” Gibbs said. “They are an important — have been an important ally. And we are greatly supportive of their security. That’s not going to change."