Netanyahu Talks Demilitarization of Gaza in U.S. Interviews

Premier tells Sunday talk shows that Hamas violated its own cease-fires and is responsible for civilian casualties in Gaza.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Ministe Moshe Ya'alon watching a Golani Brigade exercise.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Ministe Moshe Ya'alon watching a Golani Brigade exercise. Credit: GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his message to the American talk shows on Sunday, accusing Hamas of "violating its own ceasefires," and asking how Americans would react if they were the targets of what he called a "terrorist operation."

Interviewed by CNN, CBS, NBC and Fox, Netanyahu spoke repeatedly of achieving "sustainable quiet" on Israel's border with Gaza. He did not deny that Israel intended to enlarge its incursion into Gaza, saying only that he would take “whatever action is necessary” to defend Israelis.

"Imagine that 75 percent of the U.S. population is under rocket fire and they have to be in bomb shelters within 60 to 90 seconds, the prime minister said on CNN's State of the Union. "You can't live like that. So I think we have to bring back, restore back a reasonable, sustained quiet and security. And we will take whatever action is necessary to achieve that.”

Questioned about the scale of civilian casualties in Gaza, Netanyahu responded: "We're sad for every civilian casualty. They're not intended. This is the difference between us. The Hamas deliberately targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians… All civilian casualties are unintended by us, but intended by Hamas. They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can, because … they use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause."

Speaking to NBC's Meet the Press, Netanyahu stressed the need to demilitarize Gaza, tying it to Israel's blockade of goods and materials to the coastal strip.

"Suppose you want to bring in cement or concrete to build, rebuild houses in Gaza – houses where Hamas fired on us and we had to take action against them," the prime minister said. "How do you know that that concrete and cement will not be used again as Hamas has been using in the last few years to rebuild the terror tunnel, the terror kingdom underground that they're using to penetrate Israel?

"You have to have a mechanism to ensure demilitarization. You have to have supervision on the social and economic relief. Same thing with money. You want money to go to the people of Gaza, not money for Hamas rockets and missiles."

Netanyahu returned to the subject of demilitarization on CBS' Face the Nation. "The economic and social relief that people want to have for Gaza, and that we want to have for the people of Gaza once this is over with, is tied to demilitarization," he said.

Discrediting and demilitarizing Hamas might allow a more moderate force to come to power representing the Palestinians, he said, one with which the Israelis feel they can negotiate "to get a better future for all of us."

Asked about international protests over the more than 1,000 Palestinian deaths that have resulted from the latest hostilities, many of them civilians and children, Netanyahu acknowledged that the conflict was making Israel unpopular, but blamed Hamas.

“Hamas is betting on this," he told CNN. "Hamas is betting on the fact that people do not have the context, that they can hoodwink people and mislead the world.”

He accused Hamas of deliberately basing its military operations in schools, hospitals, homes and mosques in Gaza and said that when Israel warned civilians to get out of the way of Israel’s return fire, Hamas made them stay as human shields.

Netanyahu acknowledged to CBS that Israel might lose the propaganda war but said his country's security had to outweigh such concerns.

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