Israel shared intelligence with the US showing how Hamas operated inside the same building with the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera in Gaza, officials in Jerusalem said on Sunday.
Officials in more than one government office confirmed that US President Joe Biden’s phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday was, in part, about the bombing of the building, and that Israel showed Biden and American officials the intelligence behind the action.
“We showed them the smoking gun proving Hamas worked out of that building,” a senior diplomatic source said. “I understand they found the explanation satisfactory.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the source’s remark, when asked about The Jerusalem Post’s reporting in an interview with US TV show Face the Nation.
“We share all the intelligence with our American friends,” he said. “The intelligence we had is about an intelligence office for [Hamas] housed in that building that plots and organizes terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. It is a perfectly legit target.”
Netanyahu also remarked that there were “no deaths whatsoever” from the strike on the building, because of measures Israel takes to avoid harming civilians, including giving an advance warning.US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he did not see evidence from Israel that Hamas was operating out of the same building as the AP in Gaza, but that it is the job of others to handle intelligence matters.
Another senior Israeli official admitted that the fact that the bombing took place two days after a tweet by the IDF misled some foreign media into reporting that ground troops had entered Gaza made the situation more difficult from a public diplomacy perspective.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the ministry briefed thousands of journalists on the matter in the past day, including a joint briefing with the IDF and police spokespeople for foreign media on Saturday night.
IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 13, 2021
But in government-to-government diplomacy, Israeli officials felt that the situation was still good.
The US was the only country to inquire about the IDF strike on the building, which the military said housed Hamas military intelligence offices, as well as AP and Al Jazeera, other news outlets, and other offices and apartments.
“From an analysis the Foreign Ministry did [on Sunday], 80% of the 90 countries we spoke to in recent days released official statements supporting Israel’s right to defend itself. They aren’t calling to stop the operation,” a ministry source said.
ASHKENAZI ALSO spoke to over 30 foreign ministers around the world.
“We’re still in a positive place when it comes to our legitimacy to act,” the Foreign Ministry source added. “There is very clear support for the Israeli stance that the terrorism crossed a line.”
The IAF struck the 12-story tower in Gaza on Saturday, giving a warning an hour in advance.
“The building housed the offices of civilian media, which the terrorist organization Hamas hides behind and uses as human shields,” the IDF said in a statement. “The terror organization Hamas deliberately places its military assets in the heart of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. Prior to the attack, the IDF warned the civilians who were in the building and gave them sufficient time to evacuate.”
After Operation Protective Edge in 2014, former AP reporter Matti Friedman wrote in The Atlantic: “Hamas understood that reporters could be intimidated when necessary and that they would not report the intimidation... The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby – and the AP wouldn’t report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas.”
In light of the attack on the building in Gaza, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his “unwavering support” to Associated Press president and CEO Garry Pruitt on Saturday, noting the “indispensability of their reporting in conflict zones.”
The AP and Al Jazeera condemned the airstrike in strong terms.
Pruitt called the strike “an incredibly disturbing development.” He said a dozen AP journalists and freelancers had been in the building, but were evacuated in time.
“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza,” he said. “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”
The acting director-general of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network, Dr. Mostefa Souag, called the strike “barbaric” and said Israel should be held accountable.
“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza,” he said in a statement.
The spokesman for the IDF’s International Media Branch, Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus, rejected the notion that Israel was seeking to silence the media. “That is totally false – the media is not the target,” he told Reuters.
Zachary Keyser and Reuters contributed to this report.