Netanyahu: Hamas is 'bent on escalation'

Israeli prime minister speaks out on 'Special Report'


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," July 21, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: I spoke today with two people heavily invested in the outcome in the events playing out in Gaza now. One a leader of a nation and another who is in constant contact with Hamas inside Gaza. I began by asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if there was any hope for a ceasefire.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, of course there's a hope for that. But, you know, in the Middle East, it takes two to tango, sometimes three and maybe four.

I think there is an Egyptian initiative for a cease-fire. We accepted it. Hamas rejected it. As we accepted the ceasefire proposed by the U.N. for humanitarian purposes. They rejected it.

We accepted a Red Cross ceasefire for humanitarian -- humanitarian purposes. Hamas rejected that, too.  So the hope is there. I don't know if it will happen. But, the point is that there's one side that is clearly bent on escalation and one side, that is Israel, that is bent on defending its people, as any country would under similar circumstances. 

BAIER: The administration has said that you obviously have the right to defend yourself. They have noted and been concerned about the rising casualties. Let me get your reaction to Secretary Kerry over the weekend in this conversation about your operation.   Take a listen.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's a hell of a pinpoint operation. It's a hell of a pinpoint operation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. It's escalating really significantly and it just underscores the need for a ceasefire.

KERRY: We've got to get over there.


KERRY: Thank you, John. I think John, we ought to go tonight. I think it's crazy to be sitting around.


BAIER: What do you think about that, Prime Minister? 

NETANYAHU: No, I don't want to deal with off the cuff remarks.  I'll tell you what my experiences have been. I've been in war. I've been in battle. And when you take a surgical operation, you can't guarantee when your soldiers are being fired from Hamas homes, that is, Hamas is targeting people with -- from private homes. And you hit them back. Of course, some people are going to be hurt. That's totally different from deliberately targeting them.

And you know what? The forces that went into Sajeria (ph), this place, where there are tunnels in homes. We have to clear out the homes. Hamas puts civilians, Palestinian civilians there. We go out to ferret out racketeers and anti-tank rocket fire, Hamas puts civilians in.

We asked the civilians, before we went in, we said, please leave. We text them. We call them on cell phones. We drop leaflets. We told them where to go. And those who left were safe.

Now, those who didn't leave, you know what they didn't leave? Because Hamas told them to be there, because Hamas, while we try to avoid Palestinian civilian dead, Hamas wants Palestinian civilian dead. The more the better, so they can give you telegenic fodder.  So this is the cruelest, most grotesque war that I've ever seen. I mean not only does Hamas target civilians, ours, and hides behind their civilians, theirs, it actually wants to pile up as many civilian deaths as possible.

BAIER: Do you worry, Mr. Prime Minister, that Americans watching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfold in U.S. media outlets get a distorted picture of the reality?  

NETANYAHU: Yeah, of course, because they only see the last reel of the movie. They don't see the part that comes before, where Hamas is embedding itself in civilians hiding behind them, firing on us, hoping that, uh, they'll either be immune or that when we do attack the racketeers and their fighters that civilian deaths are caused because they want them to be caused.

I think in general, the American public, and I say this to its credit, understands this. And these are people who don't care about life. But the only thing is they are using, cynically, their own people as propaganda fodder. And I think Americans largely get it. They know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

I don't think it's particularly true in the United States, but there are some in the West who tell us, we support Israel's right to exist, right to defend itself, as long as you don't exercise that right.

Well, what else could we do? What would you do if 80 percent of your people were in bomb shelters?   Imagine. Imagine 240 million, 250 million Americans in bomb shelters, they have to get into a bomb shelter within 60 seconds, 60 to 90 seconds, you tried to pinpoint the racketeers and you have some civilian deaths. Would Americans understand this? Of course they understand it.  

BAIER: So when you hear people, Mr. Prime Minister.  

NETANYAHU: They understand who the good guys are and who the bad guys.  

BAIER: When --  

NETANYAHU: Israel is the good guy and Hamas is the bad guy.  

BAIER: When you hear people call for restraint, when you hear people saying the civilian casualties are unacceptable, when you hear people saying this is enough, what do you say?  

NETANYAHU: I say it is forward that to the one address that's responsible for all this, and that's Hamas. Who wants civilian casualties? Who wants to accelerate and escalate? We're forced to do it. What would you do?  What would anybody do?

You know, you just have to put yourself in Israel's place. And if you're a leader, put yourself in my place. And ask a simple question, what would you do?

If you look at the historical antecedents, I think the answer is very clear.  Israel is acting with great restraint because there's no other country that's been rocketed like this, with thousands of rockets. We've just had close to 2,000 rockets and mortars in the last few days, on every -- just about every one of our cities.

Well, the only parallel, history parallel is Britain, rocketed by the Nazis in World War II. I don't -- you know, if we start drawing parallels, what Britain did compared to what we do, we've been showing a hell of a lot of restraint. So if there is any complaints, and there should be, about civilian deaths that they belong, the responsibility and the blame belongs in one place, Hamas. I don't think anyone should get that wrong.  

BAIER: Last thing, very quickly, sir, at the same time, there is this six week extension of the negotiations with Iran, with the P5-plus-1. Do you worry about that? What is your reaction to that without sanctions on Iran?  

NETANYAHU: Look, I think no deal is better than a bad deal. So if they didn't make a deal, that's good. But if the extension gives them more money and actually eases the sanctions regime, that's bad.

Iran wants a different view. It wants to say I keep everything, I just put it under lock and key and I will put an inspector there. But that inspector can be kicked out at any time. They break the padlock and they have the nuclear bomb within weeks. The material for a nuclear bomb within weeks. That's a bad deal.  I think that should not be allowed. And if it's necessary to ratchet up the pressure, that's what should be done. Certainly, don't soften it. 

BAIER: Prime Minister Netanyahu, thank you very much for your time.  

NETANYAHU: Thank you.

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