News / Middle East

Q&A With Israeli Amb. Ron Dermer: Support for Israel Strong Among US Lawmakers

FILE - Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Detmer (right)
FILE - Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Detmer (right)
Natasha Mozgovaya

Fighting intensified as Israel continued its Gaza offensive for a fourth day Friday, with Palestinian militants launching more rocket attacks on the Jewish state and incoming fire coming from Lebanon for the first time.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will not bow to international pressure to stop the military campaign and would not rule out a ground invasion to stop the rocket fire from Palestinian militants.

VOA's Natasha Mozgovaya spoke with Israeli's ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, late Thursday.

Natasha Mozgovaya: “What's your reading of the US administration's reaction to this crisis? On the one hand, they have expressed firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself, on the other, they say 'let’s de-escalate.' What do they mean?”

Amb. Ron Dermer: “I think there's strong support from President Obama and from Congress - bipartisan support, really - across the aisle. Today I held a briefing with our military attache for senators and you could really see expressions of sympathy and support, because everybody understands that Hamas is terrorist organization, it’s firing missiles and using civilians as human shields. I understand that no country in the world would tolerate attacks like this - when two-thirds of the country’s population has to run to bomb shelters. I ask them: imagine what would happen if over 200 million Americans had to run to bomb shelters because of attacks by a terrorist organization that operated in territory contiguous to US territory. So, I think most people believe Israel is acting with considerable restraint. There are always concerns, everybody would like to see the end of the rocket attacks, the end of operations and all that, but there is deep understanding for Israel’s right to defend itself, and I hope this will continue.”

NM: “But, on the other hand, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said today, that “nobody wants to see a ground invasion.” Does it mean that Israel doesn’t have a green light [for a ground operation in Gaza]?”

Amb. Dermer: “I think, first of all, there are no green lights and red lights, we are a sovereign country. We have the right to defend ourselves and the most important [principle] is the affirmation of Israel’s right to defend itself against those rocket attacks. The issue of a ground operation or not a ground operation is a military tactic, it’s not an objective [which is really] to end the rocket attacks - not just for a day or a week or two - and to give quiet to the residents of Israel. And I think there is a broad support for that. So you can look at the statements trying to look for a word that suggests sort of a lack of support, but what I’ve seen was strong support - and I remember a year-and-a-half ago, the last time we had a confrontation with Hamas for eight days - [there] was very, very strong support throughout from the president, and I expect that support will continue as well. You’ve also seen statements that were made by [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel, by President [François] Hollande of France, by David Cameron, the British prime minister, by Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister. So we’ve seen very strong support, that’s appreciative, that we need to do what’s necessary to protect our population. And I don't think there is a military in the world that goes to such great lengths to keep the civilians of the other side’s population out of harm’s way. So there is support of our action.”

NM: In the readout of today’s phone call between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu there was some suggestion of American mediation, help to end hostilities. What did the U.S. actually offer?

Amb. Dermer: “I haven’t had a chance to speak about it specifically with the prime minister - the call happened only a few hours ago. I don’t know specifically what they were talking about, but obviously any suggestion that would help achieve the goals Israel has set out for its operation - in this case, to end the rocket attacks and restore quiet - would be something Jerusalem would be open to. But I don’t know specifics... It hasn’t been that relevant because our country is under attack and we have three quarters of the country that at one time or another has to rush to bomb shelters - so we are under rocket attack and the prime minister has to do what he has to do to protect the civilian population of Israel.”

NM: Did you ask for any support from America? Additional financing for Iron Dome, or anything technical?

Amb. Dermer: “Well, we have asked of an increase in funding for Iron Dome - I think it’s important for your listeners to understand that it’s a joint project between the US and Israel. It’s Israeli technology that was funded by the U.S. It knocks down a-lot of these rockets that have been fired at Israel, it’s an anti-missile system where, basically, a missile is shot at an incoming rocket to knock it in the air, [and it] has very effective success ratio. It’s protecting our civilians from what could be huge casualties on the Israeli side. And it’s also in a way protecting Palestinian civilians, because we have this protection of the Iron Dome, it gives the leadership in Israel the time and space it needs to effectively prosecute this surgical war against Hamas, and can do it in a way that keeps Palestinian civilians to the greatest extent possible out of harm’s way. Without Iron Dome, Israel would have to take much faster, much more forceful action to end these attacks, because Israel would be paying huge price for it. So we’ve asked for additional assistance for Iron Dome, but it actually happened before this operation. I know there is strong support for increasing support for Iron Dome.”

NM: Still, the Palestinian leader called [the Israeli operation] “genocide.” What is your reaction to that?

Amb. Dermer: "I think it’s completely shameful to use a word like genocide, particularly when you are dealing with Jewish state. “Genocide” can be used to speak about Rwanda and to speak about Sudan, those were horrific genocides, in case of Rwanda it was about 900,000 people in 3 months that were killed, it’s [on an] unimaginable scale. I don’t know these precise numbers for Sudan but it was also clearly genocide. When you throw at Jewish people that the actions they are taking to defend themselves against rocket attacks when the vast majority of people that have been killed are Hamas terrorists - and you are talking about a score of casualties that are fewer than a hundred while comparing it to genocide - it’s really an outrage. In May 1944, 10,000 people were killed every day, Jews. Every day were murdered in Auschwitz. That’s genocide. And I think it’s wrong and President Abbas should apologize to the nation for calling it genocide, and I think the international community should hold into account and also demand that he ends the pact that he has made with Hamas - terrorist organization that actually calls for genocide. Genocide is part of their Charter, they actually call for murder of Jews worldwide. So he is actually in alliance with organization that is genocidal organization, and I think his statement was beyond the pale.”

NM: I also have a question about a possible non-conventional threat - there were reports about rockets fired possibly directed at the nuclear reactor in Dimona - one was reportedly intercepted, others fell in the open space. Was it just a misguided missile - or [a] possible attempt [at] nuclear terrorism? How well is the reactor protected?

Amb. Dermer: “I don’t know about this specific case - we have Iron Dome in various locations around Israel, and obviously the military is pointing [the interceptors] in a way that protects Israel’s strategic installations, and we’ll take an action that needs to be taken in order to defend ourselves.”

NM: Do you have an idea why Hamas attacked now - what happened? Was it the murder of the Palestinian teenager, retaliation for the killing of three Israeli teenagers? Some even connect this crisis with the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

Amb. Dermer: “Look, Hamas fired 8,000 rockets at Israel since we withdrew from Gaza - fired from Gaza at Israel, and we withdrew from every square inch, uprooted two dozen settlements, took 10,000 people out, hoping that it will advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. What many hoped would will be the Singapore of the Middle East turned into a terror base for attacks against Israel. So this has been ongoing for a long time, and to think that a particular action triggered Hamas strike, I think is a mistake. It might have led to an escalation at a specific moment - but even 3 months before the three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed - from Gaza, we had about 175 rockets fired at Israel. So they don’t need many excuses to fire rockets at Israel - their mission is in their Charter, to target the Jews, as many as possible, and destroy Israel. That’s why they continued to fire rockets, and [are] not willing to accept Israel's right to exist or abandon terrorism. We hope that will change - and one of the best ways to make a change is for the world to back Israel in taking action against terrorism and also tell [Palestinian] President Abbas he should break his pact with Hamas and go back to peace negotiations with Israel, so we can resolve our conflict with the Palestinians once and for all.”

NM: So what is Israel's goal now - [a] ceasefire, or regime change in Gaza?

Amb. Dermer: “The goal was set by the prime minister, and it’s to restore quiet to the residents of Israel and end these rocket attacks. Our operational goals are clear and hopefully we can achieve [them] in as short a time as possible, with as few casualties as possible. The prime minister is determined to do what’s necessary to defend Israel’s population.”

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 3
by: Let learn from Malaysia from: Tanah Melayu
July 25, 2014 12:38 AM
US & Israel should visit some peace-loving country like Malaysia & get some real-life experience on how the leader of the country go about creating a harmonius & peaceful human ecosystem amongst multi-ethnic population. Both US & Israel have been too engulfed with chaotic theory, destablization strategy & applying 3rd Law of Thermodynamic on this planet. Both need to take a break or else US & Israel might be categorised as Killer Nation by majority of peace-loving nation.
In Response

by: Learn to be lazy from: Beijing
July 25, 2014 2:06 AM
what to learn from Malaysia ? Learn to be a lazy ?
Malaysia is country with descrimination policy against those non-malays. How US and Israel will learn from them ?
It is necessary to make closer relationship with China instead of US. US will never help palastenians but Chinese will do.

by: Brian William Ahern from: Whittier California
July 22, 2014 4:06 PM
Dear Mr Ambassador Dremer,my name is Brian Ahern. Listening to all the talk about terrorist, I get Fed up when all in all they are nothing but criminals. Think that when a young woman is kidnappedoff the sstreets in Monterey Mexico it is a crime, and done by criminals. As I hear it in Israel if the same is done, it is Hamas or terrorist. Please this is only one aspect of cmurime against humanity. Of course murder, destruction of property, and more are happening worldwide. I believe changing the word "terrorist "to simply to "criminal" might bring home the barbaric nature of the state of this world. I wish you well in seeking peace with all your neighbors, Brian Ahern

by: Irene from: Usa
July 15, 2014 8:07 PM
There are many palestinian people who are innocent. However many protect terrorists and they hide with their children. Its cowerdly and inhumane. Its war against terrorism not for more land! I guess people forget sept 11 all too quick.

by: Ed from: Idaho, USA
July 13, 2014 2:19 PM
The Jews are using their Christian support in the U.S. as a lever to help prevail and make war, (without having to make compromises with Palestinians on issues of land and "settlements") in this disuputed country.

Secular Americans boycott Israel and write your congress.
In Response

by: al from: malaysia
July 14, 2014 3:21 AM
I think you are completely wrong in saying that the Jews are using their Christian support in US.
The Christian in US who knows their Bible well will support Israel, the only democratic country in the Middle East.
Would you tolerate if your backyard is being dump rubbish by your neihbours...not to mention 8000 rockets since Israel gave up Gaza.
My friend if only you pay a visit to Gaza and Tel Aviv yourself, only then you will realised what you are commenting.
Wake up ...Americans like you who try to be politically correct and of no use to a peaceful world.
I dare you go and stay in Gaza for a month....

by: John Engelman from: U.S.A.
July 13, 2014 1:39 PM

The Palestinians are not unarmed. They have been shooting rockets at Israel. If they want the Israelis to stop fighting them, they should stop shooting rockets.

by: John Engelman
July 13, 2014 3:23 AM

The Jews did not execute Jesus. The Romans did.

I have read the Bible many times in different English translations. Jesus and his followers are Jews in a Jewish setting.

by: Izhar from: Pakistan
July 12, 2014 4:18 PM
The Zionist Amb is just making fools in the US and US is already with them. The US law makers are taking bribes in shape of funding for supporting their genocide cause. Israel is biggest terrorist and every terrorism is connected with Israel.
In Response

by: al from: Malaysia
July 14, 2014 5:58 AM
Are you very sure that Israel is the biggest terrorist and every terrorist is connected with Israel? Why then are there so many suicide bombers from the other side of Israel? Because people like you love death and people of Israel loves life.

My friend, Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East that all people has the freedom of worship irrespective of their religion. Can you truly say that of any country in the Middle East and also your country, Pakistan.

Go and see for yourself by paying a visit to Israel where many Palestinians live more securely with the Jews than living fearfully with the Hamas. Have you heard or seen the Palestinians butched by the own people just because they do not subscribe to their ideology? Pay a visit my friend and hope it will change your worldview.

by: rich from: US
July 12, 2014 3:43 PM
It's really sad the militants in Gaza use and store their weapons from/in locations where there are women and children. Israel even notifies via pamphlets when and where they will strike providing ample time for women/children to leave. I feel bad for all the devastation on both sides. I support Israel's right to defend themselves and to use whatever force is necessary to stop the missiles from being launched towards Israel.

by: haroun from: w palm bch
July 12, 2014 3:34 PM
"We Jews have put issue upon issue to the American people.
Then we promote both sides of the issue as confusion reigns. With their eye's fixed on the issues, they fail to see who is behind every scene.
We Jews toy with the American public as a cat toys with a mouse."
—Harold Wallace Rosenthal

by: nvr from: USA
July 12, 2014 3:29 PM
Yes, support among some US lawmakers is strong for Israel and you can directly attribute that sentiment to the large amount of cash that flows to these lawmakers through AIPAC and Israel.

These are bought and paid for politicians.

As an American who once was a strong supporter of Israel, albeit one of the many who was propagandized by the Israel/US lobby, finally realized over the last 10 years that the cruelty, uncivilized and racists heavy handedness of the Israel government can no longer be tolerated by the civilized world.

I for one now support the cause of Palestinian statehood and freedom from the tyranny imposed upon them from Israel.

My prayers to those many innocent civilians, women and children who have been murdered during this recent military campaign by Israel. God bless to you and may peace come to your land.
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