After asking right-wing supporters to vote for the Likud so “the Blue-and-White list will not win,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday gave a comprehensive interview to Channel 13. In it, he discusses the recovery of Zachary Baumel’s body, the current election campaign, national security, and several other issues.
On Wednesday morning, the family of the late Zachary Baumel visited your office. As someone who knew his father, the heart aches that he did not know his son was returning to Israel. Can you tell who was the third country that helped?
“It was a moving demonstration, and I also remember Yonah who would come and say that he does not forget his son, say he misses him, thinks about him, loves him. He lived for the return of his son. When I hugged the family I said I was sorry Yonah was not with us. For 37 years Israel attempted to retrieve him. And then Osna told me something amazing – years ago I told my mother, who’s almost 90 now – that it’s not enough that they want to but someone has to show up with the trump card and only that would bring him back. Amazing woman, she told me that I showed up with it. There was an extensive intelligence operation that included the Mossad, the Shin Bet, the entire intelligence community. It shows our tremendous commitment, after 40 years to extricate a person from an enemy state.”
Have you heard the criticism on the timing?
“Of course. There’s danger in that seeing as the polls are very close. But I’m afraid there’s a reversal of what I saw in 2015. Then I saw that the Left was complacent and the Right was eager to come to the polls and win. Now the Right is complacent and the Left eager.”
How is the president related?
“I say honestly that there is no guarantee that we can form a government. If the people want us to, then the Likud needs to win more mandates. A lot of Likud supporters say it’s in my pocket. I was in Bat Yam, I went to speak in front of young people. You should have seen it, people calling ‘Bibi, Bibi.’ I told them it’s not in our pockets. The polls say what people think, by the way, in our polls we are behind.”
Are in-depth surveys so worrisome?
“We are still two or three Knesset seats behind.”
How do you explain that this election campaign is so difficult and traumatic? Records were broken, slaps, bouts, it was not clear who was against whom. Is Gantz insane in your eyes?
“God forbid. You see what they say about me, my family, my wife, the Likud. The elections are characterized by one thing; Lapid and Gantz’s party have only one plan: Anyone but Bibi. Nobody cares about our achievements. I went to Washington and I brought American recognition of the Golan Heights. Brazil’s President Bolsonaro was here. I went to meet the Russian President Putin, who I keep in coordination with. They have no way of coping with our achievements, according to which Israel has become a superpower. In the past 10 years, we have become a global force to be reckoned with. They have nothing else to say, so they say ‘Anyone but Bibi.’ They call me a traitor. They talk about statehood, yet they do not see their own hump. They come with blood libel to realize their plan. I suggest they find something else. I am not complaining about them criticizing me, but they need to present what they plan for state. They are trying to evade doing that.”
The hint of betrayal is terrible. But your campaign against them also hits below the belt. I’m asking you, what’s on Gantz’s phone?
“That it is irrelevant. I do not know. The person who decided that was the Shin Bet chief, and I cannot complain to him. I think that when a candidate for prime minister says that I will send people to kill him, and that I am sending Russian spies to break into his phone, it indicates that he can not withstand the pressure.
To be prime minister you need an integration of different skills in order to play in the international court. You need to be able to act within political reach, to understand economics. Lapid, who is meant to be prime minister for half a term, does not understand, Gantz went bankrupt. I understand economics. You need to understand combined security. If you do not understand, then you oppose the construction of the fence in the South that blocked the infiltrators. I went to Congress and opposed the whole world. It’s too big for them. All they are looking for is slander.”
There is an agreement with Hamas. How do you see the issue of our peace with the Palestinians?
“With Hamas it is impossible to have a real agreement. They wish to destroy us. There is nothing to agree on. What will we agree to, suicide? Therefore they have to be beaten from time to time. Since the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, not a single Israeli citizen was killed. In the past year, 300 Palestinians died on the fence [and] thousands wounded. They wanted to kidnap soldiers.”
The “base” expected more.
“I am not willing to pay the price of superfluous wars. I want every mother and father to know that I will not send their sons into an unnecessary war. And if it is necessary, then yes. I remember that when I was a soldier, I held my dying friend in my arms, Ben Hamo. He came from a transit camp in Beersheba, a gifted child. In the second vehicle there was Zohar Lenik of Yehud. My brother also died in war. I am ready to use force, but war is the last option. If deterrence can be achieved in other ways, yes. On the anniversary of the March of Return there were thousands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members present to restrain the rioters.”
How can you explain that? Do you see peace on the horizon?
“You know what I said should be in the ‘deal of the century.’ I told Obama, Biden and Trump. I said that I will not stand for dividing Jerusalem.”
You said you would not evacuate a single person. What do you know?
“That will not be happening. If that’s the plan, there will be no plan.”
Do you believe Trump will say yes?
“There was no greater friend of Israel than him. He knows that when I insist on something, he must respect it. The same thing with Putin. I speak to him at eye level because we are sitting and we say get straight to the point. Peace will be achieved out of strength. As long as our neighbors or the Iranians have hope of destroying us, it won’t happen.
My perception is completely opposite to Lapid and Gantz, who I think are wrong. The world is coming to us... China, Japan, India. The world is coming here, and the next thing is that the Arabs are coming here. Not everything is visible, but normalization is being established. They recognize that we are a superpower.”
Do you expect Trump to recognize Judea and Samaria?
“All the settlements, without exception, regardless of the blocs, must remain under Israeli sovereignty. Something amazing has happened now. They did not expect it. We talked a lot about this. I told him, ‘Donald, my friend....’ He is very smart. A prime minister should know how to say no when necessary. And I am full of energy to continue developing the economy. We will lower tax rates.”
How many more terms do you want?
“As much as the people want and I am able to serve. Go vote because we do not have it in our pockets. They turned my wife into a monster and expect me not to respond. We are a strong family. But what do you think? That we do not bleed? We get strength from the embrace and support of masses of civilians. I respect my son Yair for daring to respond to attacks against us.”
Everyone talks about the submarines. Once and for all - what happened with the submarines?
“For three years they have been talking about the cigars, and now they are raising a vicious blood libel against me. And you see two things that were given three minutes of spotlight in the media: Trump’s historic agreement; the recognition of Trump on the Golan Heights, and the comptroller’s report. The comptroller wrote a harsh report about the corruption in Benny Gantz’s company.”
They recommended to file an indictment against you. Can you run the state and also appear in court?
“It will not be remembered. The truth is stronger than the lie. Ever since I remember, I have been going through investigations, including in the past three years. And that has not stopped me from achieving what I have. I believe I will not be indicted, and I’ll be here for many more years to come. If Lapid and Gantz were to win the elections, we’re in danger. Lapid will face Iran? Sit down with Putin and Trump? That’s a joke. This is the real choice. They would take the country backward.”