WATCH: Netanyahu, 'Hamas is all for civilian deaths'
Israeli Prime Minister discusses 'the problem in the Middle East' on ABC's This Week, likening Hamas to ISIS and al Qaeda in terms of valuing civilian lives; 'They don't give a whit about the Palestinian people.'
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're back now on our special edition of the weapons inspectors with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He joins us from Tel Aviv.
Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for joining us.
This is -- we've seen the heaviest fighting yet today.
The Palestinians are calling the latest operation a massacre.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, we regret any civilian deaths, but those lay entirely at Hamas' door. Hamas is deliberately targeting our civilians. They have fired 2,000 rockets -- 2,000 rockets -- at Israel's cities. Seventy-five percent of our population has to be in bomb shelter alert of 60 seconds or 90 seconds.
They're digging these terror tunnels from Gaza, from he must in Gaza, to penetrate and infiltrate Israeli territory. They've emerged there and killed Israelis and run back, or tried to run back into their territory.
So we've had to take action.
What Hamas is doing, very cynically, is embedding its rocketeers, its rocket caches, its tunnels, these terror tunnels, in homes, in hospitals, in schools. And when we take action, as targeted as we can, they then use their civilians as human shields.
So Hamas is both targeting civilians and Hamas is hiding behind conventions. That's a double war crime.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That -- that may be...
NETANYAHU: They're for all civilian deaths.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- that may be, sir, but...
NETANYAHU: All civilian deaths, as regrettable as they are, fall on their -- on their shoulders.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But as the civilian casualties climb, are you worried that this will be seen by many in the world as an exercise in collective punishment and that world opinion will turn against Israel?
NETANYAHU: Well, they'll always look at the last reel of the movie. They won't see the fact that our forces are coming in there, trying to ferret out the rocketeers, trying to shut the tunnels at their source. And, of course, they get hit from the -- the houses there by Hamas and Islamic Jihad fire.
The interesting thing is this, we've asked the civilian population, the -- the people in Gaza, who are not our enemy, they're hostages of Hamas. We've asked them, please leave. We text messages to them. We -- we call them with cell phones. We drop leaflets.
And Hamas says, no, don't leave, stay.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but sir...
NETANYAHU: And Hamas actually wants...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- how can they leave right now when Israel is hitting from all sides, from the north, the east and the west?
Where can they go?
NETANYAHU: Oh, no, they -- they have paths to leave. That's not an issue. They have plenty of exit points and they -- they know it. But Hamas is saying don't use them. Hamas wants to kill civilians on the Israeli side and the amazing grotesque and gruesome fact is they want to have as many civilians killed on the Palestinian side, because it gets you to ask me these questions.
And, of course, our goal is not to hurt a single individual, not to hurt a single civilian. What they're doing is a -- is a double war crime and should be -- it should be condemned with the most forceful action, because these people are like ISIS, they're like al Qaeda, they're like, uh, Hezbollah, and the other Iranian proxies. They don't give a whit about the Palestinian people.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If -- if that's the case...
NETANYAHU: And all they want is more and more civilian deaths.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If that's the case, sir, is -- are you going to have to expand your goals and reoccupy Gaza?
Your economics minister is saying now that you may have to topple the Hamas regime.
NETANYAHU: Well, I think our goal is to restore a sustainable quiet. And I think if we get that, we'll have to use that quiet to recruit, George, the international community to demilitarize Gaza.
Gaza -- we handed over Gaza to the Palestinians. We said -- we did what the international community has always been telling us, take out the settlements, go back to the '67 lines, hand over the key to the PA. We did -- to the Palestinian Authority.
They promptly were booted out by Hamas, Hamas, with Iran at its back as Iran has been financing, equipping them, training them, giving them thousands and thousands of rockets. They've turned Gaza into a terror fortes.
And I think the goal will be, after we achieve a sustainable quiet, to work with the international community to demilitarize Gaza from the rockets and to shut down these terror attack tunnels.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Demilitarize would -- would presumably mean that Hamas could no longer be there. Hamas still has not accepted a cease-fire. Israel accepted a cease-fire proposal earlier in the week.
But that would only return to the status quo.
Is -- is Israel prepared to talk about the other demands, the release of prisoners, an end to the blockade and a loosening of the border crossings?
NETANYAHU: Oh, Hamas has a -- a list of demands from here to Vladivostok. And I think if they -- if we took that seriously, what would happen is that this terror organization that has criminally bombarded our cities -- just think about that, somebody bombarding 80 percent of the American population with thousands and thousands of rockets and then it comes out winning.
I think the -- this will deal a devastating blow to the Palestinian Authority, to President Abbas. I think it will be a devastating blow to the region, where other terror groups will see that this kind of criminal behavior is rewarded.
But you're right about one thing. I accepted it. I called for a cease-fire right away. And then I accepted the Egyptian cease-fire, backed up by the Arab League. Then I accepted a U.N. humanitarian cease-fire, which Hamas rejected, as well.
Then we did now a humanitarian cease-fire and Hamas has violated that, too.
Hamas doesn't care. I think the last thing you want to do is reward them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So a final question here...
NETANYAHU: Let's get a sustainable quiet and then let's work at demilitarizing Gaza.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A final question, then.
How and when does this end?
Israel has gone in before. It didn't solve the problem.
NETANYAHU: Well, you're right that this is a serious problem. I think that, you know, they were surprised by the fact that we developed this Iron Dome defense system, which is amazing. And I'm very grateful to President Obama, the U.S. Congress and the American people for helping to fund this -- this missile defense.
But that is a temporary means.
You're quite right, there is a problem in the Middle East. The problem is that we have these made Islamists. I say the last thing we want to do is have them have missiles, drones, chemical weapons, or, in the case of Iran, nuclear weapons. That would really change history.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Prime Minister, thanks very much for your time this morning.
NETANYAHU: Thank you.
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