Ambassador Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., joined me to begin Tuesday’s show. Here is the audio and transcript:
HH: Yesterday when I signed off the air, Israel had agreed to a ceasefire offered by the Egyptian government with the terrorist Hamas organization. And they actually began that ceasefire at, I believe, 9am Israeli time this morning. And it was immediately violated repeatedly, and to deadly effect, actually. An Israeli died later today from mortar fire from Hamas. And hostilities have commenced again. Joining me now is Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, and I think you know this audience stands with Israel, and we’re very sorry that Hamas did not avail themselves of the opportunity Israel extended them for a ceasefire.
RD: Thank you, Hugh, and it’s important for your listeners to know that Egypt made this proposal yesterday. That proposal was backed by the entire international community, and it was actually backed by the Arab League. And Israel met this morning, Israel’s cabinet. We accepted the proposal. It was not without controversy within Israel. I want your listeners to understand that. Actually, a majority of the Israeli public were against the ceasefire, because they find themselves, two-thirds to three-quarters of the Israeli population, in bomb shelters. And they want their government to do what I think most populations would want their government to do, which is a very tough response. And they did want a ceasefire, because they wanted to make sure that this was going to end. But the Prime Minister acted with enormous restraint and responsibility, and led a decision through the cabinet to accept the ceasefire at 9am this morning. Unfortunately, Hamas rejected it. They fired dozens of rockets at Israel. Israel did not respond to those rocket attacks for six hours hoping that maybe they would stop it. But at the end of the day, Hugh, we have to defend our people. And that’s what the Prime Minister and government of Israel are doing.
HH: Mr. Ambassador, do you expect ground forces to enter Gaza from Israel?
RD: I don’t know. The security cabinet is meeting now as we’re speaking, and they’ll have to make the judgments of what is, what should be the next thing that Israel’s government should do, because apparently, Hamas didn’t get the message earlier, and they’re continuing to fire these rockets. I know people make a hard distinction between the use of air power and ground forces. But for us, these are military tactics to achieve a goal. And the goal has to be a sustained period of quiet for the people of Israel. That’s what any people will demand, and that’s what the Israeli people deserve.
HH: The launch of a drone against Israel that was shot down by the IDF, I thought, was a significant development, because it poses threats hitherto unknown from Gaza. What does that, how does that resonate within the security cabinet that they launched a drone, which could conceivably carry all sorts of packages?
RD: Right, well, you know, it’s obviously, as you say, it’s a major problem. They’ve tried other things over the course of last eight days. You may have seen the videos of these terrorist commandos coming on a beach, and they were hoping to go into a nearby kibbutz and slaughter as many people as possible. They’ve also used tunnels to try to sort of dig under Israeli military bases, and also into civilian areas, and to come out of those tunnels and also perpetrate massacres. Fortunately, we were able to stop them. And fortunately, we have this Iron Dome missile defense system. It’s one of the reasons why you have not seen more civilian casualties. And it gives me an opportunity on your show, Hugh, to thank the people of the United States, the Congress on both sides of the aisle, the president of the United States, to thank everybody for really supporting this unbelievable contribution to Israel’s defense and Israel’s security. This Iron Dome system is American-financed, but it’s Israeli technology. It’s saving a lot of lives. Not just Israeli lives, it’s also saving Palestinian lives, and people don’t necessarily understand that, because if all these rockets and missiles fired at Israel were landing on our cities, the pressure on the government to respond much more forcefully and much less restrained than it has, would be much greater. And that would lead to more civilian casualties on the Palestinian side as well.
HH: Now Mr. Ambassador, what would be the most help from the United States government at this time for the state of Israel? What is it that the United States could do that would be of the greatest utility on the ground? I know the Secretary of State is doing Cairo today, and maybe changed his plans when the ceasefire was rejected by Hamas. But what will you look for the United States to do to support?
RD: Well, the first thing, we already have, and that’s very strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself. You know, I was at the White House yesterday, and I heard the President say that these were inexcusable rocket attacks. You heard the statement, probably, of Secretary Kerry today who also condemned it unequivocally, especially the decision of Hamas to reject this ceasefire and to continue. I’ll tell you, there’s one thing, Hugh, that I think a lot of people can do, and probably a lot of your listeners can do as well. We have to create a dynamic where the use of human shields is considered to be an illegitimate tactic of war. It is on the books, but what happens in these cases is Hamas basically uses the Palestinian population as human shields. They place missile batteries next to mosques, next to hospitals, next to schools, in private homes. And then Israel in surgically striking, and in acting to defend itself, unfortunately hits innocents. We don’t intend to do it, and that’s all the moral difference in the world. But then what happens is I, as Israel’s ambassador, get asked all these questions about why is Israel targeting these innocents, even though we’re not. And I think that we have to once and for all put the blame for the innocent lives that are being taken on the Palestinian side because of Israel’s legitimate actions of self-defense, we have to put that blame at the door of Hamas. If Hamas is blamed for these types of actions, the chances that they’ll continue to use this tactic in warfare will go down. If they think they can generate international sympathy for their cause, and that Israel will be blamed, then they will continue to use their own population as human shields. And if one positive thing can come out of this conflict right now, it’s that human shields will no longer be considered an acceptable tactic of war, because it will not get those who use it anywhere.
HH: As I was going off the air last night, Mr. Ambassador, a rocket was launched from the West Bank and hit Elat, and hit a hotel, and thank God, no one was killed. There were some injuries. And does that change the dynamic? Are the Hamas radicalization impact spreading beyond Gaza?
RD: Well, you know, after we had the murder of these three teenage boys in Israel about a month ago, the Israeli government worked to try to dismantle a lot of that network that had been set up by Hamas in Judea and Samaria in the West Bank. Thus far, fortunately, things have been calm on that front. We also have had a couple of rockets fired on us from Lebanon, from different rogue elements in Southern Lebanon that wanted to maybe draw us into a bigger confrontation. I mean, right now, the main focus is obviously on Gaza. It’s making sure that we can bring these rocket attacks to an end, and also demilitarize Gaza. Israel left Gaza eight years ago. A lot of people don’t remember it, I know a lot of people have a history, sense of history that goes all the way back to breakfast. But Israel left Gaza eight years ago. We ripped out about 21 settlements. We took 10,000 people, uprooted them from their homes. We removed our military from Gaza. There were great hopes at the time that the Palestinians would use this opportunity to actually deliver peace and prosperity for their people, and really, hopefully, to lead to a broader peace with the Palestinians. Even, people at the time even said you know what, the Palestinians can turn this into Singapore on the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, they turned it into Iran on the Mediterranean. And Hamas has created a giant fortress of missiles and missile batteries in this area. The second the fighting ends and there’s a ceasefire, the world has to demand that Gaza is demilitarized.
HH: And a last question, Mr. Ambassador, Prime Minister Netanyahu obviously is at center stage under enormous pressure, and there are ugly events in places like Paris and other, all around the world. They’re anti-Semitic in nature. And as you observe him leading the security cabinet, is he doing so as a political leader? Or is he doing sot as a, truly a national government that will unify around this? Or is it going to end up splitting Israel more than combine Israel?
RD: No, look, I can tell you, Hugh, I have, I was with the Prime Minister at his side a year and a half ago during Pillar Of Defense. Israel is in very, very safe and responsible hands with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He is a leader that is only thinking about one thing – how he’s going to protect the population of Israel. He’s acting with enormous restraint. He has very, very good judgment, and he’ll do everything he can to keep Israel safe. We face many threats in the region, Hugh. You know, it’s not just from Gaza. The Prime Minister has to deal with all of those simultaneously. And the different of the Prime Minister of Israel versus a president or a prime minister elsewhere is that we don’t have margins for error. We can’t afford to lose once. We can’t afford to make a catastrophic mistake. And thankfully, we have Prime Minister Netanyahu leading us at these very, very dangerous times.
HH: Ambassador Ron Dermer, thanks for joining me, and obviously, the support, prayers and anything else that people in this audience can offer up to Israel, they do often and early. And I’m glad to have you, have a few minutes of your time this afternoon.
RD: Thank you, sir.
End of interview.