May 19, 2021
Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu Speech on Conflict with Gaza Transcript May 19
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu addressed foreign diplomats on May 19, 2021 to defend Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Read the transcript of his speech remarks here.
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Benjamin Netanyahu: (00:03)
It’s good to see all of you. Welcome. I’m glad to have this opportunity with the Foreign Minister to address some of the questions you probably have. I’ll start with a very brief introductory remarks that say first, thank you. Thank you for your support and it warms our heart to see that some of the governments here had actually the Israeli flag flown on their buildings during a very difficult moment for us. We appreciate that and we appreciate the expressions of support that came from all of you.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (00:37)
I also want to use this opportunity to ask the ambassadors of Thailand and India to send my personal condolences to the families of their citizens who were killed, murdered by Hamas rockets, two agricultural workers from Thailand, one Indian caregiver. I think this is just one more manifestation of the fact that Hamas indiscriminately targets everyone. They’ve actually killed two Israeli Arabs in Lod, targeted Tira, an Arab town. They’re truly an equal opportunity murderer. They murder everyone, any civilians they can get their hands on, and they target civilians while hiding behind civilians using them, as you know, as human shields. We’ll have more to say about that in a minute, but this is the problem that we face. I think you’re familiar with that.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (01:47)
We didn’t seek this conflict. In fact, we could see the origins of this particular outbreak in the cancellation of the Palestinian elections. Hamas was sure that it would gain considerable power and when they saw that these elections were not going to take place, they sought to use the Jerusalem Day ceremonies and events around Jerusalem Day, and the court proceedings in Sheikh Jarrah to incite riots, to incite violence in order to further their political goals. I have to say that we didn’t expect quite a conflagration, but we knew what they were doing and therefore what we did was everything in our power to de-escalate the potential conflict around Jerusalem at the Temple Mount.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (02:40)
We did three quite unprecedented things. The first thing is we asked the Israeli court on Sheikh Jarrah to postpone the proceedings. That’s never been done before in Israel’s history, and as you know, the court doesn’t do my bidding. You can laugh, but we did ask them. I did ask them to postpone these proceedings in order to withhold this propaganda instrument from the Hamas. Second thing we did was we wrote the parade, the traditional parade that we’ve had for over half a century in Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day. And again, I took that decision. These are difficult decisions politically. They’re not simple decisions, but we did them anyway.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (03:30)
And the third was equally difficult, even more difficult, which is to say to Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, “Don’t go on certain days,” and they didn’t and allow Muslim worshipers, about 85,000 in a typical day, during the Ramadan, to visit the Temple Mount. This didn’t help a whit. The propaganda continued, the lies continued, the incitement continued. And, of course, this was followed by the unprecedented rocketing of Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (04:09)
Since then, we’ve had 4,000, 4,000, almost 4,000 rockets fired from Hamas and Islamic jihad in Gaza against us. By the way, about a quarter, a quarter, almost a thousand rockets falling into Gaza itself. So Hamas is not merely targeting our civilians, they couldn’t care less if they fire on their own people, a quarter, almost a thousand rockets. Here, that’s where they fired from and that’s where they land. Unbelievable.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (04:41)
So, this is what we’re facing with. We are faced with a radical Islamic terrorist organization that has a piece of territory right next to us. Some of you, many of you, are familiar with fighting such groups and formations and organizations elsewhere in the Middle East and you know that once they have a territory, you need an enormous amount of power to degrade their capabilities and to degrade their will to fight, and some of this goes on for decades, as you well know, in other areas. So what we’re trying to do is exactly that, degrade their capabilities, their terror capabilities, and degrade their will.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (05:19)
Last time we had an engagement was seven years ago, an engagement of this scale, during the Protective Edge Operation. We won seven years of quiet on this scale. We didn’t have anything like this. We did have an incident two years earlier. It lasted for two years, the quiet. So there were periodic battles and we are trying to maximize the quiet and the period of calm that Israel can gain against this foe.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (05:51)
There are only two ways that you can deal with them. You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them. And we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say we don’t rule out anything. We hope we can restore quiet. We hope we can restore it quickly. I want to say that we’re doing that while doing our utmost to avoid civilian casualties. I want to make that a little more concrete for you.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (06:20)
Can you show some of this? Go ahead. Well, the first thing as you probably see as something you’re familiar with, rockets in Tel Aviv. Can you show that? Hello? Where’s Israeli technology at its worst? Come on, do something. Nope? Nope? Nope? Can you show us some of these slides? Hello? [foreign language 00:06:50]. These are these rockets that are fired from civilian areas. You can see this. This is a typical civilian area, it’s a neighborhood in Gaza, and look at the rockets being fired. Thousands of rockets fired from civilian areas. Next.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (07:26)
This is the tunneling system that they have. You know that they had attack tunnels last time, seven years ago, they had attack tunnels that were penetrating Israel and we went to very costly efforts to neutralize them. We lost 70 people, 70 soldiers, roughly, in doing that. This time, they couldn’t do it because in the intervening period we built an underground wall that prevented these tunnels from piercing, but they built a whole infrastructure throughout Gaza of an underground tunnel network in order to enable them to stock their weapons, their missiles, their command post, their communication centers, and their fighters, and also to shoot from underground, just from small piers that they have.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (08:12)
So all of Gaza has basically become an underground city. Under the Gaza city, you have [foreign language 00:08:19], all these places. They have these tunnels. And look what happens when we get attack the tunnels. We attack the tunnel somewhere here and they obviously don’t have building inspectors there, so they don’t build the tunnels in such a way as they’ll be truly reinforced, and this is the result of our actions in their streets. You see where these tunnels are, they’re all firmly in civilian areas. Next.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (08:47)
We try to keep humanitarian aid to allow it to go through. We do everything we can there, but I have to say too that we have gone through special efforts. Do you have these videos? I want to show you a live video of how our pilots stop an attack because they don’t want to have unnecessary civilian deaths. In this case, children. They see that … You don’t have it?
Speaker 2: (09:13)
Benjamin Netanyahu: (09:14)
No. keep trying.
[foreign language 00:09:16].
Benjamin Netanyahu: (09:24)
[foreign language 00:09:25]
Benjamin Netanyahu: (09:25)
[foreign language 00:09:25] The main point that I want to make is that we go to unprecedented lengths to prevent civilian casualties. When you see those buildings that fall, there’s not a single civilian death there. There’s not a single death.
[foreign language 00:09:52].
Benjamin Netanyahu: (09:53)
There are probably children there, so we’re not going to do it.
[foreign language 00:10:00].
Benjamin Netanyahu: (10:00)
We think there are children there.
[foreign language 00:10:05].
Benjamin Netanyahu: (10:05)
We won’t continue because the possibility there are children there. That’s a live a shot. Then can you show the targeting of buildings, please? We identify an arms cache or a missile cache. It’s targeted. Now, look at what happens. We hit that and then you see that explosion in a building nearby? That’s not our attack. That is explosives that go off because they’re storing their ammunitions in houses, in civilian residence. Next.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (10:47)
This is a warning shot. It doesn’t do any damage, but it tells the people inside that we’re targeting a building, which is a Hamas building, a military target, and people will leave. You’ll soon see them leave. You see them leaving. People are leaving. Next.
Gabi Ashkenazi: (11:08)
Sometimes including terrorists.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (11:10)
The terrorists themselves, they leave. Not something else, the Foreign Minister is absolutely right. Well, that you’re familiar with, I’m sure. I’m sure all of you have experienced that as well.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (11:51)
[foreign language 00:11:51].
Speaker 2: (11:51)
[foreign language 00:11:51].
Benjamin Netanyahu: (11:51)
This is one of those failed rockets. We have close to thousands of them. They fire in Gaza. It fails and falls inside Gaza and claims casualties there as well.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (12:02)
I want to say a generic word about our efforts. Because Hamas is embedded deeply in civilian areas, because it uses civilian human shields, democracies have a choice. They can say, “There is nothing we can do. We will absorb attacks against our cities. We could do that, or we could level the cities.” In World War II when Western cities, specifically London and some British cities were targeted this way by thousands of rockets, the response was to level cities. I admire Winston Churchill. I think he was one of the greatest leaders in modern history. I don’t criticize him for anything. I think he did the right thing under those circumstances, but this is not our response to the firing of thousands of rockets on our cities.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (13:02)
We do something different. We try to target those who target us with great precision. That is not a surgical an operation as it is. Even in a surgical room in a hospital, you don’t have the ability to prevent collateral damage around the affected tissues. Even then you can’t, and certainly in the military operation, you can not. But there is no army in the world that does more than the Israeli Army, and the Israeli Security Services, and Israeli Intelligence to prevent collateral damage.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (13:38)
To have Israel criticized for that is absurd. Not only is it absurd, and unjust, and untrue, it does enormous damage to democracies that are fighting this kind of evil. It says you cannot protect yourself because in the course of doing that, instead of having the perpetrators who commit double war crimes or hiding behind civilians and firing on civilians, not having them criticized but having you criticized is the height of hypocrisy, and stupidity, and irresponsibility.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (14:14)
Because what that does is, in fact, encourage the terrorists. It gives succor, it gives support. It gives encouragement to the terrorists, and that is something that is bad for each one of us. If Hamas emerges from this, they’ll anyway declare victory. I guarantee you that. Whatever they do, they’ll declare victory. They always do. But after time, you can see if they have a victory or defeat. So I’m not talking about the next 24 hours after, they’re still a disease. I’m not talking about that.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (14:57)
But if the perception is that they’ve gained a victory, that is a defeat for all of us. When I say all of us, it’s for all the democracies. It’s for all those governments that seek peace. It’s for all those in the Middle East, among the Palestinians and in the Arab countries, and those Arab countries with whom we’ve made peace who want to advance to a better future. It means we go backwards. It doesn’t help the Palestinian authority. It doesn’t help our Arab friends in the Arab world.
Benjamin Netanyahu: (15:30)
So I think that it’s very important, and this is, frankly, an open message and I’m not shy about saying it openly. I think you should support Israel strongly because this is not merely a question of Israel’s security, it’s a question of our common security and our common issues in the Middle East. And I want to thank you for your support and I’m looking forward to your questions. You can ask me anything you want and whatever I can answer and the Foreign Minister can answer, we’ll do so within the limits of our security limitations. We’re in an armed conflict, in the midst of it, so obviously we have some limitations. But I very much appreciate your coming here and I want to ask the Foreign Minister if he wants to add a few things.
Gabi Ashkenazi: (16:24)
Thank you Prime Minister. Never speak after the Prime Minister. I think I would like to first start by thanking you for coming and for your support, many of your countries supported us and stand with us during this campaign and we don’t take it for trivial and we highly appreciate it. I also want to thank Mr. Prime Minister. We have most, if not all, the Israeli ambassador on Zoom from around the world doing and working day and night to protect the Israeli interests and to explain it to the world.
Gabi Ashkenazi: (17:06)
You have all experienced what to serve this country are experiencing and going through. You ran to shelters during the night and you got a taste from what we are experiencing. I think it’s unbearable and no country on the face of the earth would accept that.
Gabi Ashkenazi: (17:27)
I want to convey my condolences to the Thailand government and to the Indian government and we’ll do our outmost to assist them in caring of their citizen. We are right now concentrating on providing humanitarian aid. Hopefully this day, unlike yesterday, the Hamas will not bombard the convoys. By the way, Prime Minister, I’m sure you know that yesterday we even suffered several casualties at the areas of passage, including IDF soldiers, while we were trying to enter aid from all over, not just from Israel, to Gaza. I hope that will be a successful attempt today, as well as evacuating some international individual from Gaza that want to get out.
Gabi Ashkenazi: (18:21)
Finally, I would like to especially thank the United States from the President through the administration, the Secretary of the State, Tony Blinken, and other for the unwavering support, publicly and in other international arena as the security concern other places. I think it’s a very strong signal across the world, not just to Israelis, that we are not alone in fighting this vicious organization, this terror.
Gabi Ashkenazi: (18:53)
Finally, unfortunately, some of the countries are making similarities between Palestinian as a ambiguous term and Israel. Well, that’s false. We have to call things by name. And the story here is that Hamas in a cold, deliberate decision, as the Prime Minister explained to you so efficiently, decided to use Jerusalem in order to improve their political standing and to gain supremacy in the Palestinian street and arena after the election were canceled.
Gabi Ashkenazi: (19:34)
We cannot accept that and we have to call things by name. It’s not a time for political correctness. It’s a terror organization. And we all, I think, have the same interests to strengthen the moderate and to weaken the extremists. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Thank you, Foreign minister. I’d now like to ask the press to leave the room. The press, please vacate the room as quickly as possible.