Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, on the crisis with Hamas
HH: I’m joined in studio by Carol Platt Liebau and on the phone by Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Michael Oren. Mr. Ambassador, supporters of Israel across the United States are concerned tonight, rockets fired on the Eternal City, more than 300 rockets, I gather, in the last few days. What’s going on in Israel tonight?
MO: Good evening, Hugh. Hi, Carol. What’s going on in Israel tonight is that about five and a half million Israelis, over half the population of the country, the equivalent of about 170 million Americans, are under rocket fire from Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. But we’re fighting back, Hugh. And we have struck at rocket sites, launching pits. We have targeted terrorist leaders. Israel will take all and every measure necessary to defend our citizens.
CPL: Ambassador Oren, obviously our thoughts are with our Israeli friends, and I’m wondering if there does end up being a ground operation that goes into Gaza, is toppling Hamas going to be on the agenda? What is the objective of such, if a ground operation happens, what’s the objective?
MO: Well, we are preparing all options, Carol. We are calling up a large number of reservists. They’re deploying along the border. We hope that we don’t have to go into Gaza. We hope that Hamas will stand down and we won’t have to take any ground operation. But we will take any measures necessary to defend our citizens. The goal then will be to drive home the point to Hamas that it cannot shoot at Israelis with impunity, that if they do shoot at us, they will pay a very heavy and painful price. And in the process, we’ll take away a lot of their capabilities. We’ll destroy their capabilities, we will take down their leadership, whatever is necessary to restore peace and stability and security to our population.
HH: Mr. Ambassador, one time when I interviewed you, you were in a tank on the Gaza border when you were not yet the ambassador, and we chatted about what the difficulty of this situation is for Israel. But I think it’s even worse now, because this is the first time you’ve been in a stand off with Hamas when the Egyptian government was not an active participant in trying to bring Hamas to control. Is the Egyptian government acting responsibly under their new Islamist leadership?
MO: Well, we hope so. The Egyptian government has, as you said, Hugh, played a constructive role in the past, and even in the recent past in trying to mediate ceasefires, ceasefires that Hamas kept on breaking. And we do hope that Egypt will continue to fulfill such a constructive role now and in the future.
HH: Is there concern on the northern border that Hezbollah is going to take advantage of this, or the Syrian dictator take advantage of this?
MO: We see no signs of it yet. We’ve vigilant, of course, in watching, but we think that the Syrians have enough on their plates right now with their civil war. Bashar al-Assad and his Ba’ath allies are busy butchering the Syrian people, and that’s kept them plenty busy.
CPL: So Ambassador, what do you think we can expect to see over the next 24 to 48 hours? What should we be expecting?
MO: Well, I’m not a prophet, Carol, but I’ll say what you can be expected to seeing is that if Hamas keeps on escalating, Israel will take any measure necessary to defend our citizens. We will not have a situation where over half of our population in our country is sitting in bomb shelters or afraid to walk more than 15 seconds’ run away from any bomb shelters. That’s how much time you have to hit the dirt before these rockets hit. So we will do it. That’s why we have a sovereign Jewish state, and nobody will kill and try to kill our citizens with impunity.
HH: Last question, Mr. Ambassador. Are the rockets that Hamas is using, are they different capacity than you had expected? Or are the Iron Dome capabilities equal to this task?
MO: They’re everything we expected. We knew they had Fajr 5 rockets from Iran that have about a 40 mile range. They are capable of hitting Tel Aviv. They tried shooting some at Jerusalem today, and didn’t quite make it. They hit in the south. And they have a wide range of middle sort of sized rockets with a 20 mile range, and then shorter range rockets, the Katyusha rockets, Qassam rockets that have anything from a seven to ten mile range. And the Iron Dome system, the Iron Dome system, the anti-ballistic system that has been developed by Israel and supported by the United States has proven to be just miraculous, and has a 90% success rate. We have taken down close to 200 incoming rockets. That has saved innumerable Israeli lives, and we are very appreciative of the support we have received from the United States of America for this crucial defense system.
HH: Ambassador Michael Oren, thank you for joining us. I know you’re a tight schedule. I hope when we chat next week that peace has returned and Hamas has laid down its rockets. Certainly, that’s in our prayers. Thanks for joining us, Mr. Ambassador.
MO: Thank you.
End of interview.