Israeli ambassador to US on conflict with Hamas

Amb. Ron Dermer on 'Special Report'


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," July 30, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Let's talk more about the situation in the Middle East. Joining us tonight is Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being here. First your reaction, world reaction is condemning this strike today on this U.N. school.

RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO UNITED STATES: Well, first of all before we rush to judgment we can't be sure exactly who is responsible for this.  You remember a couple of days ago we had an attack on a hospital in Gaza and on a refugee camp where a number of children were killed and everyone rushed out and blamed Israel for that. It turned out, and I actually brought a photo of it. This is an image of a satellite photo of a radar photo where we find out that it was actually four rockets that were fired by Palestinian Islamic jihad. One went into the sea. One hit the hospital.  Another one hit the refugee camp and the final one went to Ashkelon and was intercepted by the iron dome missile defense system. So, in that case, Hamas was responsible. So I would not rush the judgment. We will see what happened. We have a process in Israel to investigate every incident.

We don't target civilians. We are doing our best to avoid civilian casualties, but we're dealing with an enemy that places missile batteries next to hospitals, schools and mosques and our firing at our soldiers in a war zone from within these civilian areas. So we're doing everything to keep civilians out of harm's way. It is very difficult. We will continue to do that.

BAIER: I want to read the UNRWA commissioner general's statement. "Our initial assessment it was Israeli artillery that hit our school which 3,300 people sought refuge. We believe there at least three impacts. It is too early to give confirmed official death toll. But we know there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries including women and children. And the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site. These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army. The precise location of this elementary school, girls school and fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army 17 times to ensure its protection the last being 10 to 9:00 last night just before the fatal shelling. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the serious violation of international law by Israeli forces."

DERMER: I would hope that we would add a couple of sentence there for the use of those schools, the U.N. schools in Gaza as storage sites for missiles. That's what we had. We had UNRWA facilities, and UNRWA is a relief workers association. It is about rocket warehouse.

We had now three different cases where U.N. schools where we found rockets. And we had the UNRWA officials actually giving them back to Hamas, which is totally unacceptable.

I don't know what happened around the school. I don't know the facts. I know there was firing around it. I don't know if this is our artillery that is hitting them. I don't know if it is a rocket. But I think the U.N. officials should be first and foremost doing everything to make sure that there is not firing going around the schools and that there are not rockets in U.N. schools. That's unacceptable.

BAIER: Mr. Ambassador here's what secretary Kerry said the other day about the efforts to get a humanitarian ceasefire.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Prime Minister Netanyahu himself said to me, can you try to get a humanitarian ceasefire for this period of time.  And if it weren't for his commitment to it, obviously the President of the United States and I would not be trying to make this effort. Now either I take his commitment at face value or someone is playing a different game here and I hope that's not the fact.


BAIER: So, Mr. Ambassador, is Secretary Kerry telling the truth there? Did Prime Minister Netanyahu ask Kerry to go forward and try to get a humanitarian ceasefire?

DERMER: Well, we have agreed too many ceasefires. Let me take you back to two weeks. I know people lose sight of it because we're in a war –


DERMER: -- yeah, the Egyptians proposed a ceasefire that was backed by the U.N., backed by the entire international community, backed by the Arab League. And Israel agreed to it before there was a ground operation and Hamas didn't agree. We have agreed to many, many --


BAIER: No. I understand that. This is about the one that fell apart. And he is saying that Prime Minister Netanyahu was the one who told him to get this humanitarian ceasefire.

DERMER: Well, I know that we agree with the United States that we would like have humanitarian ceasefires. We want to reach a sustainable cease fire. Our goal is to make sure that we stop the rocket fire against Israel, that we take care of these tunnels, and that after the cease fire, we deal with the problem that's a long term problem -- how do you prevent Hamas from rearming itself from taking all the concrete and iron and using to it basically to fuel the war machine that they have created?

BAIER: Has Secretary Kerry been helpful in that effort to get Hamas to disarm.

DERMER: Absolutely. Hamas disarming is not in the hands of the secretary.  What we need to do is work together with the United States and with Egypt to put a mechanism in place to make sure that we don't have another round in another year, year and a half. This is the third time after 2008, and 2012 and now 2014, the third time we've had a confrontation with Hamas. If we don't want to see a confrontation in 2015 and 2016 we have to make sure that we have a mechanism in place that makes sure the goods going into Gaza are for Palestinian civilians and not to fuel Hamas' war machine, its tunnels and its rockets.

BAIER: So when U.S. brings Qatar and Turkey to the table, supporters open countries openly supporting Hamas, is that a positive thing in your view?

DERMER: Well, look, I don't think the U.S. was bringing them to the table. Qatar is definitely not a positive force in the region. They are funding a lot of bad actors including Hamas. Turkey has not been positive force in the region as well. We think the Egyptian ceasefire proposal is the only deal in town.

BAIER: So how do you get back to Egypt?

DERMER: Actually, I think we're there. And the hope is that enough pressure will be put on Hamas by the international community, making them understand that the only proposal that's in play is the Egyptian proposal, and hopefully we won't have to continue this that they will stop the rocket fire, we'll deal with the tunnels and then we get this mechanism in place.

BAIER: You said the truth is the Israeli defense forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize.

DERMER: That's correct.

BAIER: You believe that?

DERMER: Absolutely. I stand by that and I'll tell you why. Imagine what would happen if you had over 200 million Americans in bomb shelters. Think about what happened to Fallujah.


BAIER: Right. Nobel peace-prize?

DERMER: That's right. Because how do you judge an army? You judge an army by how they respond under threat. We have our civilians in bomb shelters and our army is taking greater care than any army in history to keep civilians out of harm's way.

BAIER: Mr. Ambassador, if you will stick around for the online show, we love to have you back.

DERMER: Thank you.

BAIER: All right. He'll be answering a lot of questions, your questions, online right after our show. Stick it here on "Special Report." We'll continue right after this short break.

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