Jan 12, 2009

Conference Call With Benjamin Netanyahu

By Joel C. Rosenberg

Warns of Iran’s “nightmare scenario”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a 25 minute conference call today with conservative bloggers in which I had the opportunity to participate, made it clear that he sees Israel’s current war against Hamas in Gaza as a “just war,” as a proxy war with Radical Muslim leaders in Iran, and very possibly as a prelude to a future war to stop Radicals in Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, an event he described as a “nightmare scenario.”

Israel is pursuing a “just war,” Netanyahu said early in the discussion. He noted that “Hamas is pursuing an illegitimate goal to accomplish the annihilation of the Jewish State” and is using “illegitimate means,” including the “firing rockets on innocent civilians.”

“This is a classic case of justice pitted against injustice” and “against the forces of darkness,” said the Likud leader who when the war began suspended his party’s campaign for the February 10th elections. “Everyone has to choose which side of the battle he is on?”

Is this really an isolated local skirmish, asked one blogger, or is there a larger story at work here?

“Our fight with Hamas,” he replied, is with terrorists who have “backers in Iran” and have shown the “willingness to use any methods including firing rockets on innocent civilians….Israel is now the front line in the battle between militant Islam and the rest of the world – witness what has happened [in terms of terrorist attacks in recent years] in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Mumbai, New York, Washington….and there are enormous global consequences. Does Iran have a victory in one of its two forward outposts [the other being Hezbollah]?”

“Israel cannot tolerate an Iranian forward position [in Gaza],” he continued, saying that Israel’s long-term goal needs to be blocking Iran from becoming the dominant regional power. He also noted that Israel’s “immediate goal should be…removing the threat by stopping the firing and preventing the resupply of rockets and other weaponry by Hamas.”

The call was organized by One Jerusalem, an organization founded in the fall of 2000 by former Israeli deputy prime minister Natan Sharansky. One Jerusalem’s executive director, Allen Roth, moderated the discussion.

I had emailed in a question asking what can Jews, evangelical Christians and others do to help Israel in the current conflict. Undoubtedly other bloggers emailed in similar questions. This was the second question posed to the former Prime Minister by Allen Roth.

“The most important thing [friends of Israel can do] is to tell the truth,” Netanyahu said. “There is a campaign of lies against us,” including that Israel started this conflict [they didn’t], that Israel is targeting innocent Palestinian civilians [they aren’t], that Israel isn’t allowing humanitarian aid to enter Gaza to care for innocents who are suffering [they are]. “Get the facts straight….the facts do count….the sequence counts.”

Hamas, he noted, has been “firing these rockets for eight years – eight years! Can you imagine what the U.S. would do if 6,000 rockets were fired from Mexico at San Diego? Would the U.S. wait eight years? Would they wait eight months? I don’t think they would wait eight minutes to fight back.”

Netanyahu pointed out that Hamas is launching rockets out of mosques, hospitals, elementary schools, universities – putting innocent Palestinians in harm’s way when Israel seeks to retaliate. “We don’t deliberately target civilians, though we regret when civilians are injured or killed,” he said. “That basic fact should be spoken…loud and clear by the friends of Israel and the friends of Jews.”

Regarding the immediate future of the Arab-Israeli peace process, Netanyahu said “the idea that you can have a final settlement….I think that is just not realistic.”

Before there is anymore international talk of Israel ceding territory to the Palestinians, Israel needs to pursue four strategies:

1. Fight Islamic radicals.
2. Strengthen Islamic moderates.
3. Reestablish security on all of Israel’s borders.
4. Begin rapid economic development for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

He was asked if he thought Hamas was holding out for the new administration of Barack Obama, hoping that Obama would put new pressure on Israel to stop fighting and accepting a potentially premature cease fire.

“I do remember Mr. Obama visited Sderot not long ago and said something to the effect that, ‘If my two girls lived in a home that was rocketed by terrorists, I would do everything in my power to stop it.’” He added, “I think the U.S. has an interest in stopping terrorists wherever they are.”
Netanyahu said the biggest threat Israel faces is not from Hamas, or even from Hezbollah, but from Radical Islamic terrorists or states possessing nuclear weapons. He described Iran acquiring such weapons of mass destruction as a “nightmare scenario,” along with militant Islamists seizing control of Pakistan. Though he did not lay out how he would approach the Iran crisis should he be elected Prime Minister, he strongly hinted that time is running out and that the West had to take decisive action before it is too late.

Netanyahu concluded by insisting that Israel “should do everything it can to return Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier kidnapped by Hamas on June 25, 2006, though he declined to criticize the current Olmert government when asked if Olmert and his team were doing enough to bring Shalit home and to make his return a precondition of a cease fire.

Not asked — unfortunately — was whether Netanyahu believed Israel’s government should fully invade Gaza’s urban centers and bring down the Hamas leadership and terror infrastructure once and for all. It would have been useful to get his take on this because at the moment, my read is that the Olmert government is hedging on that decision.

True, they have been calling up the Reserves and putting those Reserves into the Gaza theater to bolster the IDF forces already inching their way forward towards Hamas positions. But we have not seen a full scale ground campaign into Gaza’s toughest urban centers, the strongholds of the Hamas forces. Instead, the Olmert government seems to be waiting for a deal to emerge with Hamas, Egypt and the international community to bring about a rapid cease fire.

Many here in Israel are worried that Olmert will accept a cease fire too quickly, as he did with the Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. No Israeli parent wants to see another of their sons killed in combat. But scores of Israeli parents are telling me they want to see “the whole job done” — Hamas destroyed and the rocket threat squashed once and for all. They do not want to have the nation sacrifice so much in the last sixteen days only to see the threat reemerge all over again. Finish the job, they say.

Under the circumstances, I agree.