Below is a transcript of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interview on CNN yesterday, in which he is repeatedly asked by Wolf Blitzer about Israeli “war crimes”.
(To remind readers, since CNN doesn’t, Netanyahu wasn’t even in government at the time of the Gaza offensive earlier this year, and he opposed the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza precisely because he foresaw the kind of attacks on Israel that then followed from Gaza.)
Netanyahu was being interviewed on the occasion of his meeting in New York with President Barack Obama and Palestinian leader Mohammed Abbas, who wasn’t, incidentally, asked about war crimes.
BLITZER: You know this United Nations commission, which just came back with a scathing report suggesting that Israel, your military, committed war crimes or something close to that, crimes against humanity, perhaps, even, during the fighting in Gaza. And I know you strongly disagree, but I want you to react to that United Nations report.
NETANYAHU: Now you’re being a diplomat. I strongly disagree? I think this is preposterous. It’s absurd. Israel was rocketed, pummeled for eight years by thousands of rockets that came from Gaza. We vacated all of Gaza, hoping that this thing would stop, and they fired not one rocket, but thousands of rockets, after we left Gaza.
So, what’s a country to do? I mean, what would you do if thousands of rockets fell on – Where are you talking from, Wolf, Washington, right? – Washington, D.C., or any part of the United States? You know what the United States would do.
BLITZER: The argument, though, Mr. Prime Minister, in this U.N. report is that you overreacted, and, in the process, you killed a lot of civilians.
NETANYAHU: We overreacted, did we? Well, let me tell you, after a million or so of our people were under rocket fire, progressively larger and larger circles of rockets falling on our cities, we did what every reasonable country would do. We tried to get at the rocketeers, those terrorists firing those missiles and rockets who placed themselves, embedded themselves in homes and schools and mosques, and you name it.
And we tried to target these people. We even sent them SMS text messages, telling the Palestinian civilians, please get out of harm’s way, cellular phones, you name it. So, we did everything possible to minimize the loss of innocent civilian lives.
And yet the Hamas actually was committing a double war crime, firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians. That’s a double war crime. They’re the ones who sort of get a free bill out of this biased U.N. report, and Israel, that is defending itself, is accused.
BLITZER: All right.
NETANYAHU: So, the terrorists are exonerated. The victims are accused. That’s an upside-down world. And I think this does grievous harm to the battle against terrorism, because the terrorists are basically being told, you get a free ride. All you have to do is fire at a democracy from built-up areas, from residential quarters, and you will get a clean bill of health. And I think it does a great disservice to peace, too, because we’re asked to take risks for peace. The international community says, if you take risks for peace, we will support your right of self- defense. And yet we did just that. We vacated Gaza in the hopes that this would advance peace. And when we’re rocketed with thousands of rockets and missiles from the places we vacated, people say Israel is the war criminal.
BLITZER: All right.
NETANYAHU: Come on. I mean, this is absurd.
BLITZER: If there is a trial at the International Court and the accusation is that Israel committed war crimes, or crimes against humanity in Gaza, will you cooperate with that?
NETANYAHU: Well, the question is, will any serious country cooperate with it?
I took note of the fact that the leading democracies that were in this U.N. commission, they opposed this. They were against this mandate, because it looked like a kangaroo court in the first place, where Israel was basically hanged, drawn, and quartered morally and given an unfair trial to boot right at the start of these proceedings.
I think this is wrong. But understand this. It’s not only we who will be damaged. It’s you, too. I mean, American pilots, NATO pilots, let alone Russia and other countries that are fighting terrorists, are going to be put on the dock, too, because it’s said that you cannot fight terrorists.
It means that all the terrorists have to do is put themselves in a residential quarter, and they receive immunity. And that’s not something that any country fighting terrorism can accept. And I don’t think you can accept it either.