Exclusive: Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 'Your World'

This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," January 14, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Well, is Israel worried about bin Laden's threats?

That is what I asked the former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an exclusive chat.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's not new. He has marked Israel as the extension of the United States. We're the small Satan. You're the great Satan. And he wants to annihilate us both.

I think he wants to start with Israel. But, from his actions on September 11, he's — he works in parallel.

Video: Watch Part 1 of Neil Cavuto's exclusive interview | Video: Part 2

This is the kind of hate and fanaticism that we're encountering from the Hamas, because there is no real difference between the Hamas and Al Qaeda. They're brothers in hate and in violence. And it's what we're up against. Ultimately, Israel will have to remove this militant Islamic terror base from its — from the environs of Tel Aviv.

It's basically like having an Al Qaeda base next to New York City. You wouldn't tolerate it, and neither do we.

CAVUTO: Still, global sympathies seem to swing, as this drags on, toward the Palestinians. Senator Hillary Clinton, who is up for secretary of state, in her confirmation hearings yesterday, Prime Minister, described the tragic human costs borne by Palestinians, as well as Israelis.

Are you sensing maybe a different tone from an Obama administration?


I think that you could hear the concern for the — the tragic loss of innocent lives on the Israeli and Palestinian sides from Israelis. We're the ones who are concerned with — with any civilian that is killed and put — is put in harm's way.

But this, I think, is brought squarely on Hamas' shoulders. And I heard pretty much the same from — from Senator Clinton, because Hamas is both firing on civilians and hiding behind civilians.

So, the Israeli army has to — is faced with a very, very difficult task. I mean, what do you do when thousands of rockets are fired on your cities from terrorists who embed themselves in homes and schools, put their weapon caches in mosques, their R&D labs for producing explosives in universities?

A serious and responsible government tries to minimize civilian casualties while it targets as precisely as it can the terrorists. But under no circumstances do we want to give immunity to the terrorists, because you know they will do it again and again, and not only against us. They will do it to others. They will do it against you as well.

CAVUTO: So, you didn't read anything into Mrs. Clinton's saying that the price being paid by Palestinian civilians, as well as Israelis, must only increase our determination to find a just and lasting peace agreement?

NETANYAHU: Well, I would say that we all share that desire for peace.

But I don't think you can make peace with somebody who is — who is out to destroy you. You can make peace with an enemy, only if that enemy wants to relinquish the war and embrace the peace. That's what we did with Egypt under the late President Anwar Sadat. That's how we had peace with Jordan, and have it, because of the valiant efforts of the late King Hussein of Jordan. And this is continuing with both countries.

But, in the case of Hamas and its patron Iran, they openly declare, both of them, their desire wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Iran is racing to produce a nuclear weapon to that end. And, so, with people who want to destroy you, you have no — there is no compromise. What compromise could we make with them? The method of our destruction? Of course not.

So, in the case of this forward terrorist base of Iran's next to our cities, ultimately, that regime will have to go. And the minimal thing that we have to do now, as — as we approach the question of a cease-fire, is to ensure that this enclave is not resupplied by Iran with long-range missiles that can hit every part of our country.

And I think that's a minimal goal...

CAVUTO: But what if — what if that...

NETANYAHU: ... that all Israelis share.

CAVUTO: OK. I — I apologize, sir.


CAVUTO: But what if part of that agreement...

NETANYAHU: Go ahead.

CAVUTO: ... calls for the U.S. opening up contacts with Hamas, as president-elect Obama has promised to do, which, by the way, would be a first for a U.S. president? How do you feel about that?

NETANYAHU: Well, I heard the — the president — the secretary of state-designate, Hillary Clinton, say very clearly that the United States will not negotiate with Hamas, unless it abandons the goal of destroying Israel and renounces terror. And I don't think they're about to do that. So, I don't think that's an issue.

The issue really is to enable Israel to complete its objectives — its minimal objectives — of creating some kind of defense against the future rocketing of its cities.

I think there is another issue that will be perhaps the single most important issue facing incoming president-elect Obama. And that is the decision to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, for two reasons.

One is that they intend to use those weapons directly against us. And the second is — and you can imagine what would happen to these Iranian bases on the Mediterranean, one in Gaza and one in Lebanon, with Hezbollah, if its proxy terrorists also enjoy a nuclear umbrella. I mean, the prospect of having a militant Islamic regime committed to Israel's destruction, a sworn enemy of the United States, having nuclear weapons, which it can give to its proxies, is something very, very frightening indeed.

And, even if it doesn't give it to its proxies, the fact that it will wield a nuclear sword over the heads of the United States, of Israel, and many other countries, is something that should give halt to anyone concerned with the peace of the world. I think this is the biggest and most fundamental challenge facing the United States and the world.

CAVUTO: You know, sir, incoming Vice President Joe Biden had said that it wouldn't at all surprise him if Barack Obama were tested in his first few weeks in office. Do you think that will indeed be the case, and — and that Al Qaeda, maybe with the release of this tape, is signaling that?

NETANYAHU: Well, I have no doubt that the terrorists and their patrons — or the terrorist states and their proxies — will continuously challenge the leadership of the United States.

But, from my two conversations with president-elect Obama, I could see that he understood this threat. He — he said that he was absolutely committed to making sure that Iran would not acquire nuclear weapons. And I think this was very important. He was also equally adamant about resisting terrorism.

He was in Sderot, one of the towns that has been most pelleted by these rockets over the years. And he said, if my two daughters were sleeping in a house that had been rocketed there, he would do everything in his power to prevent it.

Well, Israel is now doing not everything in its power, because we're using only a fraction of our power, but everything that we can legitimately do to — to prevent future rocketing. And I expect that the incoming American administration will — will remain steadfast in its support for this battle against war criminals and terrorists, who — who are — who see both of us as their enemies.

And they're right to see both of us as their enemies, because we represent the forces of civilization, and they represent the forces of darkness.


CAVUTO: All right, shutting down Gitmo a no-no with Benjamin Netanyahu? Part two of my exclusive interview is coming up.


CAVUTO: All right, well, elsewhere, it won't be easy or smooth or even fast, but, one week from today, it will start, not just the start of Barack Obama's presidency, but likely his first executive order, shutting down the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba.

It is a sore point with Israelis and a touchy one with the man who hopes to lead them, Benjamin Netanyahu.


CAVUTO: Are you worried about this Gitmo shutdown talk? The biggest worry in the past expressed by Israel is that detainees there back in — or close to your neck of the woods would wreak havoc. What do you make of that?

NETANYAHU: I don't know. I don't know the details of that particular operation and this decision.

But I do think that the — the most important thing is that there be a common front of — of civilization against — against barbarism.

I think that the terrorists are very susceptible to despair. But it's a different kind of despair than is normally — normally is reported on. Terrorism declines when they despair of defeating us. Terrorism declines when the — the patrons of the suicide bombers and the rocket-launchers, who themselves are not suicidal — they — they want to live and — and launch killers another day — when they despair that their tactics will get us somehow to abandon our principles or to abandon our common front, then terrorism abates.

And I think this is the big challenge. But, as I said, the biggest of them all is preventing the weapon of mass death, the ultimate weapon terror — weapon of terror — atomic weapons, from meeting with a militant — meeting up with a militant Islamic regime.

CAVUTO: So, you're not concerned that the incoming administration, in — in pushing a potential shutdown of Gitmo, is showing more sympathy for the plight of detainees there than the folks you're fighting where you are?

NETANYAHU: Oh, I don't think — I don't think there is any necessary connection there.

But I think that there will be sufficient opportunities for the incoming Obama administration to stand up to the terrorists, because they're not going to leave us alone, not just — not just yet.

And I expect that the United States will continue a forceful policy against terrorism and a forceful policy for genuine peace. And that's the policy that if, as I hope and believe, we will be elected, we will pursue in Israel, I hope and believe, with the United States.

CAVUTO: So, if we shut down Gitmo, is it your sense that we're showing a little less resolve in that fighting terror?

NETANYAHU: I think it's another issue. I think it relates to other concepts and other questions. I don't think it will affect what is happening here in the Middle East.

CAVUTO: Even if some of those detainees went back to the Middle East?

NETANYAHU: Well, I don't know who they are. I don't know what the conditions of — of their transfer would be.

But I do know that we face right now an immediate battle against a frontal position of the Iranian terrorist regime. And we believe that the United States will continue to support our efforts, which are really the efforts of all of the free countries against terrorists who break every norm, every rule, who fire on civilians and hide behind civilians.

And I — I see a great deal of sympathy and understanding in the United States for this across the wide spectrum of American opinion.

CAVUTO: Prime Minister Netanyahu, a pleasure. Thank you very much.

NETANYAHU: Thank you very much, Neil. Good to talk to you.


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