Israel’s Netanyahu: Blame for civilian deaths falls on Hamas

In an appearance by satellite on ABC's "This Week," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid the blame for civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip "at Hamas's door." Asked if Israel would pay a price in world opinion for those deaths, Netanyahu responded that such a view ignored how the conflict started. "They'll always look at the last reel of the movie."

"We regret any civilian deaths," Netanyahu told host George Stephanopoulos, later adding that "all civilian deaths, as regrettable as they are, fall on [Hamas's] shoulders." Hamas, he said, is "targeting civilians and hiding behind civilians. That's a double war crime." The targeting of civilians referred to the group's rocket attacks on Israel, 2,000 of which Netanyahu said had been fired. Hamas hides behind civilians, he argued, because it "is very cynically embedding its rocketeers, these tunnels, these terror tunnels in homes, in hospitals, in schools. When we take action, as targeted as we can, they then use their civilians as human shields." (On Fox News, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to be frustrated with that targeting in comments captured by a live microphone Sunday.)

When Netanyahu told Stephanopoulos that Israel provided warnings to civilians (using air-dropped leaflets and text messages), the ABC host asked how they could escape, given that Israel is "hitting from all sides." "They have paths to leave," Netanyahu responded. "That's not an issue. They have plenty of exit points. They know it. Hamas is saying, 'Don't use them.'" Because, he told Stephanopoulos, Hamas wants to "have as many civilians killed on the Palestinian side, because it gets you to ask me these questions."

Israel, he said, was willing to implement a cease fire. But the demands made by Hamas before it would agree would be like "somebody bombarding 80 percent of the American population and it comes out winning. ... Other terror groups will see this type of terror behavior is rewarded."

Netanyahu also offered words of thanks to the United States. "I'm very grateful for President Obama, the U.S. Congress and the American people for helping us fund this missile defense," called Iron Dome. But "that is a temporary means."

"There is a problem in the Middle East," he said. "The problem is that we have these mad Islamists. I say that the last thing we want to do is have them have missiles, drones, chemical weapons, or in the case of Iran, nuclear weapons. That would really change history."

In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer that aired on "State of the Nation," Netanyahu explained how he saw the crisis ending: "Sustainable quiet." "I think the important thing is to end the hostilities and then get into a situation where we have a sustainable cease-fire," he said. "That means beginning to discuss the demilitarization of Gaza. Gaza under all the previous agreements should have been demilitarized. Instead of being demilitarized, it became an Iranian-financed and -equipped fortress of terror. ... That has to stop. Those tunnels have to be shut down." Netanyahu told Blitzer that the operation would continue until those tunnels are closed, which, he said, would happen "fairly quickly."

He also argued that Hamas was building those tunnels at the expense of Gaza's citizens. "They've taken tens of thousands of tons of concrete that we enabled them to bring into Gaza to build skyscrapers, to build schools, to build hospitals. You know what they did with that, Wolf? They put 700 tons of concrete into each one of these terror attack tunnels to penetrate Israel."

"I think many people in Gaza understand that Hamas is destroying Gaza, destroying their lives," Netanyahu told Blitzer.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.

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Philip Bump · July 20, 2014

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