Israeli soldiers, on the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip, watch Palestinian protesters in Gaza May 14, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mounted an impassioned defense of Israel's conduct against protesters on the Israel-Gaza border in recent weeks on Thursday, arguing that no country in the world has developed any non-lethal alternative against protesters seeking fatalities.
"We tried tear gas, all sorts of other devices, and none have worked against this type of tactic," Netanyahu told a meeting of the Policy Exchange think tank on the final morning of a three-day European tour.
"Hamas's goal was to have as many casualties, our goal was to minimize casualties and avoid fatalities," explained Netanyahu, stating that he had instructed technological experts to develop a new method of riot dispersal that would avoid loss of life.
"When I talk with European leaders, I always say 'What would you do?' The last thing we want is any violence, or casualties. No country in the world [has offered an alternative], I spoke to every country you can imagine."
Netanyahu condemned Hamas's "unconscionable" tactics at the border protests during its eight-week "March of Return" campaign, which saw up to 8,700 Palestinians wounded and around 100 killed during violent clashes
with the IDF.
The Israeli leader said he would be "the first one to use" any non-lethal solution to the violent protests on the Gaza border should a country prove successful in developing such a method, but emphasized that "any country would stop a direct assault on the lives of their civilians."
Netanyahu said the primary focus of his European visit, during which he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, was about reversing Iran's aggression in the Middle East - above all and removing Iranian forces and influence from all of Syria - rather than discussing the nuclear deal with Iran.
"I found considerable agreement from all three countries," said Netanyahu, adding that he would not sit by idly waiting for Iran to stockpile weapons in Syria in order to attack Israel.
PM Netanyahu and Theresa May discuss Iran and Gaza at 10 Downing, June 6, 2018 (GPO)
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"I think if we have learned anything from history, you don't accommodate an aggressive regime taking territory and building up armaments to destroy you.
"Bad things should be opposed at their beginnings not after they become horrendously dangerous," said Netanyahu, who warned that the world should take note when Israelis and Arabs find rare common ground on a mutual threat.
Netanyahu was also quizzed regarding support for a possible two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
"I haven't changed my view," said Netanyahu, referring to his expression of support for two states during a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University. "It can be summed up in a very simple way. The Palestinians should have all the power to govern themselves and none of the power to threaten us."
Netanyahu said he did not care for criticism regarding Israel's desire to maintain security control from "the tiny area" from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea should a peace agreement be concluded with the Palestinians.
"If that earns me a bad editorial in an unnamed British newspaper, I don't care. I take care of the survival of the State of Israel," said Netanyahu, adding that Israel's survival is necessary for the well being and stability of the Middle East.
Netanyahu's British counterpart Theresa May said Wednesday that she "absolutely recognizes" Israel's right to self-defense regarding the recent violence in Gaza but expressed concern "about the loss of Palestinian lives" during a meeting between the two leaders at 10 Downing Street.
"We are doing everything we can to both minimize casualties, and at the same time protect Israeli lives," Netanyahu responded.