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Israel's U.S. Ambassador: We're Fighting In Surgical Fashion


We're hearing many voices about the latest conflict this week. Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States is next. He's on the line. Ambassador, welcome back to the program.

RON DERMER: Thank you for having me again.

INSKEEP: OK. So the tactics here seem pretty clear. Hamas is shooting from Gaza into Israel. So Israel is shooting into Gaza. But can you take us a little farther than that, Ambassador, into the long-term - into strategy? What strategic gain is Israel making by its moves in the last several days?

DERMER: Well, before we get into that, Steve, I think it's important - you're speaking about the tactics of Hamas firing into Israel. It's important for your listeners to understand that nearly three-quarters of our population have had to go into bomb shelters. That's the equivalent of over 200 million Americans who'd have to be in bomb shelters. So I think your listeners can understand what the American people would want their government and their military to do to protect them from this onslaught. And there's a big difference between what we're doing and what Hamas is doing. Hamas is deliberately targeting our civilians. That's a war crime. They're indiscriminately firing rockets at Israeli cities, hoping to kill as many people as possible. In addition to that, they're also placing missile batteries - they have placed their missile batteries and their infrastructure for firing missiles next to schools, next to mosques, next to hospitals. That's also a war crime. So they're both targeting our civilians. They're also hiding behind their civilians. And we're do...

INSKEEP: So that's what they're doing. Let's talk about what Israel is doing and if you see a strategic game from Israel's response.

DERMER: Well, what we have to do, Steve, is we have to protect our population, just as any government would do. The prime minister was very clear about what the goal of the operation is - he said to restore a period of sustained quiet. He's doing that by degrading the capabilities of Hamas. And the prime minister spoke yesterday of achieving that objective through either diplomatic or military means. But right now Israel is under attack, and the government of Israel has to do whatever it can in order to protect its population. Our military is doing as much as we can to try to get Palestinian civilians out of harm's way. The problem is, Steve, is that Hamas is actually telling the Palestinians to stay in harm's way. And that's the difference between us. We're fighting this in a very surgical fashion. And we're doing our best to keep Palestinian civilians out of harm's way.

INSKEEP: I wonder if you're - if I can quote, here, your predecessor as U - as ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who spoke last week about what seemed to be a strategic danger to Israel. He said, and I'm quoting here, "we have an iron dome to protect against rockets, but we have no iron dome," he said "for the danger of sanctions and embargoes," which he says is real. Is Israel taking on a strategic risk, here, by gaining disapproval for civilian deaths, however careful you may be to avoid them?

DERMER: Well, I don't think so. I think that there's broad support for Israel's action. I think you've heard that from President Obama. We've heard it from leaders around the world - Chancellor Merkel - President Hollande of France - Prime Minister Cameron - Prime Minister Harper. There's been very strong support for Israel's actions because people understand what they would do if two-thirds or three-quarters of their population were in bomb shelters. So they get it. It also is an important opportunity, Steve, for me to actually thank President Obama, the American Congress, the American people for the support they have given for Iron Dome, which has really revolutionized our ability - our defensive abilities in this war. It's protected Israel's populace from these incoming rockets. Is not that Hamas is not trying to kill Israelis. They're trying to kill as many Israelis as possible. One of the reasons that they haven't succeeded is because of this iron dome system that we have, which protects our population from incoming rockets. And I'll tell you something else, Steve - it also, actually, protects Palestinian civilians, and I'll explain why - because Iron Dome is the prime minister of Israel - the time and space he needs to actually prosecute this war in the most surgical way because if all of these rocks were living in Israel, Israel's military would have to make much faster and much less - much less restrained action than it is taking now in order to bring this to an end.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, we've just got a moment left, but I want to ask about something else that Michael Oren, your predecessor, said. He said he's hoping that Hamas will be disarmed as part of the solution, whatever it may be, here, but also seemed to concede that you have to give the Palestinian people something - for example, losing the blockade of Gaza so that economic conditions can improve. Is Israel's government willing to give the Palestinians something as part of the negotiated cease-fire or settlement?

DERMER: Look, we're not going to be able to negotiate on NPR how we can resolve this issue. I think that the former ambassador's talking about is the need to demilitarize all of Gaza. Gaza, actually, has to be militarized. It's by of our agreements with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, right now Hamas has about 10,000 rockets in Gaza, and President Abbas is sitting in Ramallah, and he has no impact whatsoever on what's going on in Gaza. And that's unfortunate. I think the most...

INSKEEP: Just got to - forgive me. Forgive me -just got a few seconds left. Do you think that Israel would be willing to improve the situation in Gaza as part of a settlement?

DERMER: Look, we have, Steve, right now our country under attack. And the prime Minister has to defend the people of Israel right now. That's where we are. What will happen, in terms of political process, once we move beyond it, is a very important question, and hopefully we'll deal with that question when two-thirds of our population is not in bomb shelters.

INSKEEP: OK. Ambassador Dermer, thanks as always - pleasure to talk to you.

DERMER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Ron Dermer is Israel's ambassador to the United States. You are hearing him right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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