netanyahu checks out kassam damage 248 .
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met one-on-one Monday with Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Meretz leader Haim Oron and updated them about the progress of Operation Cast Lead.
Olmert asked Netanyahu to join Israel's public relations efforts as he did during the Second Lebanon War. Netanyahu's spokesman said he responded affirmatively and without hesitation despite being the leader of the opposition in the middle of an election campaign.
Netanyahu's associates said there was no conflict of interest, because he was representing the country and not the government. They said he would continue to criticize the government's policies of inaction in the Gaza Strip that were in force until Saturday.
The Likud leader was interviewed Monday night on the American Fox News channel. He will give five interviews to international media outlets Tuesday.
Speaking to Fox, Netanyahu stressed that during a time of war he was speaking as a representative of Israel, not of Likud. "There is no coalition or opposition" at a time like this, he said, adding that he "would support the government in whatever way is required."
Responding to accusations that Israel was committing war crimes, coming mainly from the Arab world, but also from Israel's ally Turkey, Netanyahu said Hamas "commits a double war crime: Attacking [Israeli] civilians and hiding behind [Palestinian] civilians."
Netanyahu defended the IDF offensive, expressing sorrow for civilian casualties, but maintaining that "Israel is trying to ferret out [Hamas] rocket launchers with pinpoint strikes."
He rejected the notion that Israel would reoccupy Gaza. "I don't think anyone wants to occupy Gaza. All we want is peaceable neighbors. We vacated every last inch of Gaza."
Hamas has been smuggling rockets into Gaza "wholesale," Netanyahu said, and "the Iranians have turned it into a massive missile base."
Netanyahu also emphasized Israel's restraint prior to Operation Cast Lead. "Last time we ostensibly had a ceasefire, Hamas used it to rearm and fire more rockets. Israel waited a very long time. We are united as a people to roll back this terror threat."
Netanyahu rejected all accusation of using force disproportionately. "Israel is not using even a fraction of its power. The Israeli army is doing what any normal defense force would do."
He hinted that if Israel would really disregard hurting civilians it would have an easier war to fight.
He then reminded the Fox News anchor that when US President-elect Barack Obama visited Sderot he said that he would do "whatever it takes" to stop terrorists targeting his two daughters if he were living in the town.
"I think all decent people everywhere should back Israel in this just action of self defense," Netanyahu concluded.
The Likud leader ran into trouble after he traveled to the United Kingdom as part of a public diplomacy campaign during the Second Lebanon War. A television investigation months later revealed that he had spent large sums of money in London on a posh hotel, food, laundry, theatre tickets and a hairdresser for his wife, Sara.
It was later found that the state did not pay for such excesses, but a source close to
Netanyahu said he had learned to be more careful.
"He will not be going to London until after he has won the election," the source said.