Israel’s battle with Hamas in Gaza is a test for the civilized world whether it will grant immunity to terrorists because they attack from schools, homes and hospitals, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday night.
Netanyahu, speaking at a press conference for foreign journalists to combat criticism of Israel over the civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip, said that by waging its war from the heart of civilian areas, Hamas was “engaging in child sacrifice, and that is something for which it must be held accountable.”
The prime minister said that while “nearly everyone” says they support Israel’s right to defend itself, there are those who would refuse to let it exercise that right.
“They would allow Hamas to attack with impunity, saying that since they are firing from schools, mosques and hospitals that Israel should not take action against them,” he said. “That is obviously a mistake, a moral mistake and an operational mistake.”
Such a policy, he said, would “validate and legitimize” Hamas’s use of human shields, and “would hand an enormous victory to terrorists everywhere, with a devastating effect on free societies fighting terrorists.”
“If this policy were to be adopted,” he said, “more civilians would die around the world.”
“This is a testing period now,” Netanyahu said. “Can we accept a situation where the terrorist would be exonerated and their victims accused?” He said that Hezbollah, Islamic State, Boko Haram and al-Qaida were all using similar tactics.
Asked by a CNN reporter whether he felt Israel responded proportionately and with adequate precision to the Hamas attacks, Netanyahu responded that in his mind disproportionality is “not acting to defend your people, and giving the terrorists a license to kill. I think that is disproportionate, and that it is wrong.”
Netanyahu pointed out that Hamas on Monday night accepted the exact same Egyptian proposal that Israel had accepted, and Hamas rejected, on July 15. At that time the conflict had claimed a total of 185 lives.
“That means that 90 percent of the fatalities could have been avoided had Hamas not rejected the cease-fire it accepts now,” he said. “Hamas must be held accountable for the tragic loss of life, it must be ostracized from the family of nations for the callous use of civilians, and must be prevented from rearming as part of Gaza’s general demilitarization.”
Regarding the demilitarization, Netanyahu praised US Secretary of State John Kerry for saying during a BBC interview that this was one of the “underlying, longer-term issues” that needed to be discussed.
In that interview, Kerry articulated strong support for Israel.
“We fully support Israel’s right to defend itself and the fact that it was under attack by rockets, by tunnels, and it had to take action against Hamas,” he said. “Hamas has behaved in the most unbelievably shocking manner of engaging in this activity.”
Amid reports of growing tension with the Obama administration over the Gaza conflict, including a phone call Sunday between Netanyahu and Kerry that ended abruptly due to a “communications issue,” Netanyahu stressed that Israel and the US worked closely through this operation.
The substance and tone of reports suggesting the opposed “are distorted,” he said. “They don’t capture the essence that binds our societies and governments together.”
Netanyahu said he had a “very good conversation” with Kerry on Wednesday afternoon.
He thanked the US for the support it has shown for Israel’s right to defend itself as well as appropriating an additional $225 million for the Iron Dome.
Even as Israeli and Palestinian teams are negotiating indirectly in Cairo, Netanyahu said that Israel was carefully watching implementation of the 72-hour cease-fire that went into effect Tuesday morning and was holding.
One government official said that just as Israel accepted an unconditional 72-hour cease fire Tuesday morning, it “is willing to extend an unconditional cease-fire.”
He said the IDF has increased its presence on the ground to react to any contingency, and that larger IDF forces would remain near the border communities to “give better defense to the citizens of the region.”
During Hebrew comments he made at the start of the news conference that was otherwise conducted in English, Netanyahu praised the IDF, and – in an allusion to criticism by some that the IDF top brass put the brakes on a wider campaign inside Gaza – he came out against “anonymous statements” against the IDF.
Israel, meanwhile, was not responding to reports that Germany, France and Britain have proposed reactivating a European Union mission on the Gaza border crossings.
Reuters quoted a German diplomatic source as saying that Paris, London and Berlin, favored restoring EU operations at Rafah – the so-called EU Border Assistance Mission.
EU BAM began monitoring Gaza border crossings in 2005, and did so sporadically through 2006 and until June 2007, just days before Hamas took control of the region.
Israel and Egypt sealed the border crossing with Gaza shortly thereafter.