Netanyahu: US response to attack like Oct. 7 would be ‘at least as strong’ as Israel’s

PM, shortly before speaking with Biden, says he doesn’t know what president meant by calling Israel’s war in Gaza ‘over the top’, claims 1:1 ratio between civilian, combatant deaths

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) meets with IDF soldiers in Latrun, near Jerusalem, on February 5, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) meets with IDF soldiers in Latrun, near Jerusalem, on February 5, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The American response to an attack like Hamas’s October 7 massacre would be “at least as strong as Israel’s” and possibly stronger, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a round of interviews to US media outlets aired Sunday.

Speaking with Fox News, Netanyahu responded to a question about President Joe Biden’s sharpest rebuke yet of Israel’s Gaza campaign as “over the top” and said he did not “know what [Biden] meant by that.”

“Look, we were attacked in the worst attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust,” said Netanyahu. “That October 7 massacre was equivalent to 29 9/11s in one day and the equivalent of 50,000 Americans slaughtered — burned, maimed, raped, beheaded — and 10,000 Americans taken hostage, including mothers and children.

“So, what would America’s response be? I would say it would be at least as strong as Israel’s and many Americans tell me, ‘We would have flattened them. We would have turned them into dust.’”

The two leaders were slated to speak on the phone later on Sunday, with a US administration official saying that the call would focus on hostages held by terror groups in Gaza since October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 250 hostages, mostly civilians.

In response to the onslaught, Israel vowed to eliminate the terror group, and launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza that local health authorities say has killed more than 28,000 people since the start of the war. Those figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Following the breakout of the war, Biden offered wholehearted support to Israel. The president visited the country 10 days after the massacre in a show of solidarity and sent two US aircraft carriers to the region to deter the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah from joining the war against Israel.

In the interviews aired Sunday, Netanyahu also asserted that one civilian has been killed for every Hamas fighter killed since October 7. Assessments from military officials in December put the ratio at closer to two civilian deaths per combatant.

“I think that any civilian loss, any civilian casualty, is a tragedy,” Netanyahu told ABC’s “This Week.”

“And it’s a tragedy that’s been forced upon us by Hamas.”

Netanyahu also insisted, in the Fox News interview, that toppling Hamas and bringing all the hostages home — two of the stated goals of the campaign in Gaza — “are not mutually exclusive,” and that the way to get them back is through a “sustained military effort.”

He told ABC that “enough” of the remaining hostages held in Gaza since October 7 are alive to justify Israel’s ongoing offensive.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 29 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively, along with the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014.

Asked how many of the hostages are still alive, Netanyahu said “enough to warrant the kind of efforts that we’re doing.

“We’re going to try to do our best to get all those who are alive back and, frankly, also the bodies of the dead,” he told ABC.

In terms of post-war plans for Gaza, the prime minister said, “I think the Palestinians should have the powers to govern themselves, but none of the powers to threaten Israel.”

“The most important power that has to remain in Israel’s hands is overriding security control in the area west of the Jordan — that includes Gaza,” the prime minister continued. “Otherwise, history has shown us, terrorism comes back — and we don’t want terrorism to come back.”

Recently, Biden and other US officials, while continuing to stand behind Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, have expressed increasing concern over the civilian death toll, suffering and humanitarian crisis in the Strip, and the lack of clarity from Israel regarding the “day after” in Gaza.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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