Netanyahu: This is our darkest hour, the world’s darkest hour

In Israel, UK leader Sunak backs Gaza offensive ‘in line with international law’

Netanyahu warns war will be long and hard; British PM appears to agree with Herzog chiding BBC for failing to call Hamas terrorists

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Jerusalem, October 19, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Jerusalem, October 19, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he backed Israel’s war against Hamas so long as it adheres to international law, as he paid a visit to Jerusalem Thursday, becoming the latest in a train of Western leaders flying to Israel to show their support after the terror attacks of October 7.

Sunak and his government, he said, “absolutely support Israel to defend itself in line with international law, to go after Hamas, to take back hostages, to deter further incursions, and to strengthen your security for the long term.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told him the period that began with Hamas’s onslaught was Israel’s “darkest hour” and “the world’s darkest hour,” drawing comparisons between Hamas, which killed over 1,400 people and kidnapped 200 more in a shock onslaught, and both the Nazis and the Islamic State terror group.

Responded Sunak: “You described this as Israel’s darkest hour. I am proud to stand here with you in Israel’s darkest hour. As your friend, we will stand with you in solidarity, we will stand with your people and we also want you to win.”

Netanyahu warned that the fight against Hamas will be a “long war and we’ll need your continuous support.”

“There will be ups and downs,” said Netanyahu, “there’ll be difficulties.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets British PM Rishi Sunak (opposite, second from left) in Jerusalem, October 19, 2023 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“Eighty years ago, Mr. Prime Minister, the civilized world stood with you in your darkest hour,” said Netanyahu. “This is our darkest hour. It’s the world’s darkest hour. We need to stand together.”

“We have to fight them together just as the world, the civilized world, united to fight the Nazis and united to fight [ISIS], it must now stand with Israel as we fight and defeat Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu told Sunak that Israel had been about to widen its normalization agreements in the region — a reference to expectations of progress with Saudi Arabia — and that the Hamas onslaught was timed, among other reasons, to prevent this. “We were on the cusp of expanding that peace, and destroying that move was one of the reasons why this action was taken,” Netanyahu said. “We have to resist it and we have to win.”

An IDF soldier stands amid destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Gaza border, October 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

During the October 7 massacre, some 2,500 terrorists blasted through the Israeli border fence, streamed into Israel via land, sea, and air under a barrage of thousands of rockets, and killed some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, slaughtered in their homes and at an outdoor music festival. Over 200 people were seized as hostages and taken to Gaza.

Six British citizens were among those killed, and nine are still missing.

Israel has responded with a punishing air campaign on Gaza and is preparing a ground incursion aimed at eliminating Hamas, which has ruled the Strip since 2007.

International sympathy for Israel has begun to wane in the wake of its offensive, and especially following claims, since disproven by Israel, that an airstrike killed hundreds at a Gaza hospital this week. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said Thursday that 3,785 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 12,500 others have been wounded in the war.

Sunak did not mention toppling Hamas, which Israeli leaders have said is a key war aim.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden spoke extensively in Tel Aviv on the need for Israel to follow international norms in its campaign against Hamas.

“I know you are taking every precaution to avoid harming civilians, in direct contrast to the terrorists of Hamas, which seek to put civilians in harm’s way,” Sunak said on Thursday.

President Isaac Herzog (R) meets with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 19, 2023 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“We also recognize that the Palestinian people are victims of Hamas too,” he continued, adding that he welcomes Israel’s decision to allow humanitarian routes into Gaza.

After prodding by Washington, Israel said on Wednesday it would allow water, medicine, and food to reach southern Gaza from Egypt. Israel has been urging residents of northern Gaza to head southward for their safety ahead of the expected ground offensive.

Netanyahu and Sunak met privately for an extended discussion at the Prime Minister’s Office, then brought their aides in before giving public statements.

Sunak also met with families of British citizens kidnapped by Hamas. The British embassy would not comment on how many are verified in Hamas hands.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was the second foreign minister to visit Israel after the Hamas assault, traveling to southern Israel, where he was forced to take cover from rocket fire.

Sunak came under gentle pressure earlier in the day during a meeting with President Isaac Herzog.

Bodies lie on a main road near Kibbutz Gevim on October 7, 2023 following an attack by Hamas terrorists. (Oren ZIV / AFP)

“We feel that the way the BBC characterizes Hamas is a distortion of the facts,” said Herzog.

The British public broadcaster refuses to term Hamas “terrorists.”

“We are dealing with one of the worst terror organizations in the world,” Herzog pressed, “and I know that in modern democracies such as yours and ours, you cannot intervene per se, but because the BBC has a certain linkage and it is known as Britain as such all over the world, there has to be an outcry so that there will be a correction, and Hamas will be defined as a terror organization. ”

We should call it what it is – an act of terrorism perpetrated by an evil terrorist organization Hamas.

“What else do they need to see to understand that this is an atrocious terror organization?” Herzog asked.

Sunak seemed to concur, responding that “we should call it what it is – an act of terrorism perpetrated by an evil terrorist organization Hamas.”

“I want you to know that the UK and I stand with you,” Sunak said after landing in Tel Aviv as he condemned the “unspeakable, horrific acts of terrorism” by Hamas.

After meeting Netanyahu and Herzog, Sunak is expected to travel to a number of other regional capitals for talks on the war.

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