Israeli Ambassador: Times are Tough, But 'So Are We'
While U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was conducting talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's ambassador to the United States talked to CBN News about the current conflict in the Middle East.
Watch the full interview here. Below is a partial transcript of the question and answer segment with Amb. Michael Oren.
CBN News: Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his meeting with Secretary Clinton, said, "Israel will have to take whatever actions necessary to defend its people." And Secretary Clinton talked of the urgent need for "de-escalation." This doesn't sound like a situation that's close to a cease fire?
Amb. Oren: "Well, first of all, we agree that there's an urgent need for de-escalation on the side of Hamas. Hamas over the last seven days has fired 1,500 rockets at Israel – 200 today alone. We've had 3 people killed today by those rockets. They're deadly. In the year before this, they fired something in the order of 800 rockets at us. So, there's no question about de-escalation, but the de-escalation has to begin with Hamas."
CBN News: As it looks right now, how likely is it that there will be a ground assault? Or what scenario do you see where that would be inevitable?
Amb. Oren: "If the terrorists do not stop shooting at us, we will have no choice but to take all the necessary and legitimate needs at our disposal to defend our citizens. That's what any country would do. Certainly, any country living with a rough neighborhood such as we live in. And we have those means. We have a bold citizens’ army. We've called up thousands of reservists. They've gone off to fight for their country. I call them the minutemen and the minutewomen of Israel. They left their families. They left their kids to go off and defend their country, and they're ready to act if we need them. We hope they won't have to act. We hope that Hamas will stand down and that Hamas will accept the terms of the cease fire."
CBN News: Tell us about the psyche and impact of having these rockets land so close to heavily-populated areas. How does that affect Israelis?
Amb. Oren: "It's tough, but then again so are we. We're a robust, resilient country. We've been living through some difficult times in the last 64 years of our existence, and nobody's defeated us yet. … We are the only stable, the only democratic, the only militarily and economically robust country that is completely pro-American in that entire region."
CBN News: How supportive has the Obama Administration been of Israel's campaign – and how effective can the U.S. be in facilitating a cease fire given its reliance on Egypt whose new president is closely connected to the Muslim Brotherhood?
Amb. Oren: "The administration has been exceptionally supportive of us. President Obama came out right at the beginning of the operation and said Israel has a right to defend itself - and only Israel can decide how best to defend itself. He put the blame for the violence foursquare on the shoulders of Hamas. And he has reiterated that message several times now. He's spoken with PM Netanyahu three times. And, of course, tonight Secretary of State Clinton is in Israel meeting with the prime minister, literally, as we're sitting here … Hamas is a terrorist organization. It rejects Israel's right to exist. It does not disavow terror. It doesn't accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and those are the conditions which the U.S. and the quartet - the Europeans, the Russians and the United Nations - have put on talks with Hamas. So, they're a terrorist organization, but Egypt has contacts with Hamas. Turkey does, too. And the U.S. is operating through these other two Middle Eastern states to achieve the cease fire."
CBN News: Talk about the contrast between how Israel has conducted itself versus how Hamas has conducted itself in this campaign.
Amb. Oren: "We've made superhuman efforts … to avoid human casualties. We have these computers that generate tens of thousands of phone calls or text messages to civilians who are living in areas that may come under attack because they have Hamas or other terrorists operating from those neighborhoods. We give them plenty of warning. We drop tens of thousands of leaflets. We try to get them out there. Sometimes the civilians don't leave. Sometimes the terrorists don't let them leave and people are hurt - or worse. And we deeply regret that. We deeply regret that. We view when a civilian is killed because of us or hurt because of us, we view it as a failure. But we're fighting an enemy that views killings civilians on our side a victory. They celebrate the civilians who are killed on our side. And they embed themselves deep into their own civilian population so they can use them as human shields."
CBN News: If Israel doesn't destroy the missiles and the launch sites before a cease fire is agreed upon, what's to prevent Hamas from rearming with bigger weapons and longer range missiles?
Amb. Oren: "Well, this is precisely what we're talking about tonight. We're not going to go back to the status quo empty, where they have hundreds of tunnels and venues through which they can smuggle in these long-range Iranian missiles, like the Fajr 5's which are capable of hitting Tel Aviv. That has to stop. We have to put into position - into place - a mechanism through which arms that are being smuggled by Iran through Sudan via the Red Sea or through Libya. A lot of Libyan arms have also made their way into the hands of Hamas. That has to stop."
CBN News: What's the best prediction that you have in how this all will end?
Amb. Oren: "Well, in the best of all possible situations, Hamas stops shooting. The borders are sealed in such a way that arms cannot get across. And a mechanism is put into place that prevents the terrorists from firing at us every month or every week whenever they want to. And, basically, together with the U.S. and some other regional actors, we'll create a situation where someone is taking responsibility and is accountable for the situation in Gaza."
CBN News: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Amb. Oren: "I want to thank your viewers for staying with us. These are tough times for us and I think that we have no better friends in the world. And your prayers are deeply appreciated by each and every one of us. And really, as they say in Hebrew 'Thank you so much.'" (spoken in Hebrew)