WASHINGTON — Strong diplomatic support from Israel’s international partners will be conducive to reaching a cease-fire in Gaza, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said Friday.
Speaking minutes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that no amount of world pressure would deter Israel from hitting Hamas in order to halt the rocket attacks, Dermer emphasized that the opposite was also true – that in cases in which world powers supported Israel’s right to defend its citizens, it would facilitate de-escalation.
Dermer specified that Netanyahu’s remarks about world pressure did not refer to US President Barack Obama, whom he said had not wavered from the strong support that the US provided Israel during its last round of airstrikes against Gaza in 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
“In eight days in 2012, the president and the prime minister spoke four times and there was very strong support of the president of Israel’s right to defend itself,” Dermer told reporters during a conference call sponsored by The Israel Project. “There is no indication that this time is different.”
Dermer cited similarly “strong support” from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
“The Iron Dome gives us the time and space Israel needs to achieve its objectives in a calibrated way,” Dermer explained. “In the same way, the strong support for Israel aided the de-escalation in 2012. The stronger the support for Israel’s right to defend itself, the easier it will be to de-escalate the situation.”
At the same time, Dermer emphasized that last week, Israel had done “everything we could to de-escalate.”
“Unfortunately, the prime minister’s attempts to de-escalate led to more rockets because in our neck of the woods, restraint is sometimes seen as weakness,” he argued. “Now we’re in a different position than we were because we have three-quarters of our population in bomb shelters.”
Now, Dermer said, “international pressure is not going to get Israel to fail to achieve the objective we set out.”
Dermer defended Israel against allegations that it has violated international law in insufficiently protecting civilians in Gaza from harm. Palestinians have reported over 100 deaths as a result of Israeli airstrikes, but Dermer described the close interaction between pilots and military legal analysts as “almost mind boggling” in the steps taken to uphold international law and prevent civilian casualties.
The ambassador suggested that higher reported casualties in this operation than in the eight-day 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense could be because “Hamas is learning the lessons about how careful we are about civilian casualties, and is trying to embed more activities in civilian areas.”
According to Dermer, Israel faces an additional challenge in this conflict, as terror groups in Gaza have shifted over the past 18 months to manufacturing medium-range rockets that can reach Israel’s major cities domestically, rather than relying on importing them from Iran.
Iran, he said, has supplied both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad with weapons and funding, although Tehran’s ties with Islamic Jihad have been much closer. Hamas has also been supplied with both Fajar and Syrian-made M-302 rockets, some of which were seized when the IDF intercepted a weapons ship bound for Gaza in May.
Dermer explained that Hamas has been under increased pressure over the past year, after Egypt destroyed an estimated 90% of the tunnels used to smuggle both weapons and cash into the Gaza Strip from its territory.
With increased domestic production capacity, Dermer claimed that the majority of long-range rockets used against Israel are now coming from manufacturing facilities in Gaza. These facilities represent a new target for IAF activities in addition to the usual practice of targeting rocket launch sites.