Ambassador Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, joined me to open today’s program:
HH: As I’ve been telling you for the last two weeks, the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt has been in Israel. She spent all last week in Jericho building a playground with our church, and now she’s been touring around the country, and she’s perfectly safe, and was in Bethlehem two days ago, and is tucked into bed tonight and leaving in the morning. But then I look in the New York Times, and there is this explosion of violence at Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank. And so I’m joined by Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, to get the real story. Mr. Ambassador, welcome back, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. You know, I talk to my wife and everything’s great, but I look at the New York Times, and it’s not.
RD: Yeah, well good to be with you, Hugh, Yeah, unfortunately, you still have violence we hope to be able to deescalate the situation and restore calm. But as you said yesterday, at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, was burned, which I think just illustrates that the ones who have a problem keeping, controlling sacred sites and making sure they’re protected are the Palestinians. I mean, imagine what would happen if actually Israel was not in Jerusalem and not in control of those sacred sites. You would see happen there what has happened in Afghanistan through the Taliban, and what’s happened in Iraq and Syria with ISIS, where you’re dealing with militant Islamists who have no respect for the religious sanctity of others, no respect for pluralism, no respect for freedom of worship. So Israel has no intention whatsoever, no plan whatsoever, to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, let alone to destroy or harm the al Aqsa Mosque. We’re the protector and the guarantor. We’re very proud of our record, and that will continue moving forward. We hope that the Palestinians will stop this lie that we’re trying to harm the al Aqsa Mosque, and that the world will tell them to stop lying about it so we can bring back calm. And I think that’s going to be better for everybody.
HH: Now this is a new and an interesting development, but it’s also very sinister, because President Abbas is spreading the lie, and social media, even if he didn’t spread the lie, is a brand new means of viral communication of lie. So what does the Israeli government doing to stop 14 year olds who, you know, they’re 15. They don’t even have a brain, right? And they watch these videos with full of lies, and they go out and stab people at bus stops.
RD: Well, look, we have to do, Hugh, what we have to do in order to protect our civilians, just as the United States would do if you had multiple stabbings happen in a city. You’d have to deploy your forces to certain areas that would be more dangerous, and that’s what Israel is doing. And they’ve beefed up the police force, and we have border security people who are there to try to stop these attacks and to respond very quickly to these attacks. So that’s one thing we can do is to deploy our forces, and to make sure that people are alert, and that we also have a citizens’ army, as you know. A lot of people are trained by the military, and what you’ve seen is enormous courage from Israelis in stopping these attacks of these knife-wielding terrorists who sometimes will stab one or two people, but they don’t get to go to a third or fourth, because somebody has acted very quickly. But the other thing we can do is call on the international community, all the members of the international community, every responsible government, to be very clear to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. I’m not even talking about the Islamists – Hamas and other forces that are there. I’m talking about what the world called the peacemakers among the Palestinians, President Abbas. We want the international community to send a clear message to Abbas that he has to stop with these lies, spreading these lies about al Aqsa Mosque, spreading these lies that Israel is somehow executing innocent people when they’re actually the perpetrators of all these stabbing attacks. We have to make sure that the international community is sending a clear message. People are talking about lone wolf attacks. Here is the problem. The Palestinian leadership is throwing red meat before those lone wolves.
RD: If they stop throwing that red meat, and if deploy our forces, hopefully we can calm things down, and then I hope, Hugh, and I don’t know if we’ll have a chance to speak about this. I hope people will finally turn to the real problem and the real roots of this terrorism, which is this culture of death and violence, and the glorification of killers that you see within Palestinian society that has been completely swept under the rug during this whole peace process, and for a long time before that.
HH: I do want to talk about that, the second thing. But first, there’s this delicate balance. For two weeks, I’ve been telling people my wife is in Israel, and it’s perfectly safe, because you can’t have Americans and tourists from around the world stop going to Israel. They can’t be afraid to go to Israel, and I’ve been getting calls, what’s your wife doing. And I say no, she’s fine, she’s building a playground, going to Bethlehem, everyone is safe, everyone is fine. It’s a delicate balance, isn’t it, Mr. Ambassador, to make sure that people keep coming, and they don’t overreact, and at the same time that the blame is put on Abbas and the rest of the people where it deserves to be, and that vigilance is maintained?
RD: Well, you tell your wife and tell your listeners the same thing. About 12 years ago, 13 years ago during the worst wave of terror attacks in Israel, a wave that was maybe 100 times worse than what you’re seeing now, before Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, that was done in the al Aqsa Intifada around 2002. They did a study of a New Yorker’s two week trip to Israel. And they were trying to determine what was the most dangerous part of that trip. And you know what it was, Hugh?
HH: Getting to the airport?
RD: The cab ride to Kennedy Airport.
HH: Yeah, that’s what I (laughing)…
RD: That was the most dangerous part. So a lot of times, all people are seeing about Israel is the violence, and they don’t understand that it is safe, that Israelis are going about their life. But there are certain areas where you have to be alert, and you have to exercise caution. And I think if people do that, I think they’ll be fine. And we welcome all of your listeners to Israel.
HH: All right, now let’s turn to the second question. I asked some of the presidential candidates, and it may come up in the debates that I’m participating in as a panelist in December and March. What is the tap root of violence jihadism? And I mean, I really don’t get it, because it is not only suicidal, it’s nihilistic. And no great world religion can last if it’s nihilistic. They vanish, Ron Dermer.
RD: Yeah, but they can take a lot of people with them. That’s the problem.
RD: I mean, you’ve had fanatic ideologies in the past, and ultimately, they’re defeated, but they can bring down millions or tens of millions of people. What you have is a religious war happening in the Middle East. It’s very hard, Hugh, for people to understand religious fanaticism, because they’re living in the 21st Century where you don’t have these extremist ideologies, and people don’t see it. You had that in Europe in the 16th and in the 17th Centuries. You had people, Catholics were killing Protestants, Protestants were killing Catholics. It wasn’t the safest place to be. There were a lot of people who were being murdered. The difference between that religious fanaticism and the religious fanaticism that you see in the Middle East today is back then, they were killing each other with swords and an occasional musket. And here, you’ve got people who have got much more dangerous weapons, can use chemical weapons, which they have, and can try and get nuclear weapons. And the world has to stand united in beating back this fanaticism and dealing with the root cause of this ideology, and to understand it, to understand the nature of militant Islam, to understand the problem of these fanatics that want to take us back to pre-medieval times. The Sunni fanatics want to take us back to the 7th Century. The Shiia fanatics want to take us back to the 9th Century. Maybe they’ll meet somewhere in the 8th Century. But I guarantee you there’s no place in their vision, in their world, not for Jews, for Christians, for America, for Israel, and frankly, for Muslims who don’t agree with them. The biggest victims of this fanaticism are the Muslim communities themselves. And we all have to stand united in fighting it. And Israel, frankly, is on the front lines. We are literally, as the Prime Minister said at the U.N., we are standing in the breach defending our common values, and frankly, defending civilization against this barbarism. And we hope that people will support Israel in this fight.
HH: Now I’m also going to talk tomorrow night. I’ll be in Phoenix, and Governor Ducey is a friend of mine, was just with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his principal aide, Danny Seiden, was over there, and I’m going to have a cigar with Danny on Saturday night and be debriefed. I’m eager to hear if the Prime Minister’s trip to Russia came up, because honestly, Mr. Ambassador, what is going on there? Was he over there to say don’t cross this line? Or was he over there to say let’s do a deal on gas? What’s going on?
RD: No, no, he was going over there for a very specific reason. You know, your listeners know, and I know you focus on this. Syria is a huge mess. You’ve got all sorts of forces who are in there. ISIS is there, you’ve got Assad with the Assad regime, he’s a vassal of Iran. You’ve got Hezbollah, which is an Iranian terror proxy. You have various different rebel groups. You’ve got al Qaeda and its different offshoots. Syria is one huge mess. And with Russia’s entry into that theater, the Prime Minister wanted to go to visit President Putin to make clear what Israel’s red lines are. And we have very clear and simple red lines. We don’t know what’s going to happen on the other side of our border with Syria, but we know what we don’t want to have happen, and that is 1) we want to make sure that Iran is not actually establishing another terror front against Israel. They’re right now trying to create a kind of noose of death around Israel. They have Hezbollah in South Lebanon as one terror front against Israel on our northern border. On our southern border, they have Gaza through their proxy, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And they’re firing thousands of rockets at us from their southern front against us. And now, they’re trying in Syria to open up a third terror front against Israel, and basically another Gaza on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. And we don’t want to have that happen. And there’s about 2,000 Iranian troops that are in Syria right now. That could easily grow to 20,000. And we wanted to make clear to the Russians that we’re not going to allow for another terror front. The second thing that we’re not going to allow is for strategic weapons to be passed on to Hezbollah, very dangerous weapons that can be game changers. And Israel has taken action in the past, and we will continue to take action in the future to prevent those weapons to going into hands of people who intend us harm. And the third thing we want to make clear is that if people are going to fire rockets on Syrian territory, they’re not going to get immunity. We’re going to forcefully respond to all that. And so the Prime Minister went to Russia to make clear to President Putin exactly what our policy is so that there would be clarity, and that as Russia is pursuing its goals in Syria, and whether that means propping up Assad’s regime or going after ISIS, we wanted to make clear what our red lines are so that we don’t clash with each other.
HH: Mr. Ambassador, it’s always great to talk with you. I love clarity. I love clarity. Come back early and often, and maybe before I go back to the next Republican debate and ask more questions. We should talk, and you might have a few suggestions for me. Thank you, Ambassador Ron Dermer.
End of interview.