Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu defends deadly response to Gaza protests

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is defending Israel's use of lethal force against Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip. Dozens were killed as the new U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem Monday. "CBS Evening News" anchor Jeff Glor sat down with the prime minister, and asked if there is anything he would have done differently.

"Well, I wish that it wouldn't have happened at all," Netanyahu said. "I mean, Hamas is pushing people with a view of a massive infiltration into Israel, openly declaring their goal is to destroy Israel. They're paying these people. So it's, it's not the, you know, the peaceful demonstrations that you think about."

Glor asked Netanyahu about claims the protesters are being paid to try and cross the border.

"They're pushing civilians, women, children into the line of fire with the view of getting casualties," he responded. "We try to minimize casualties. They're trying to incur casualties in order to put pressure on Israel, which is horrible."

glor-2.jpg

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with "CBS Evening News" anchor Jeff Glor

CBS News

When pressed about whether Israeli forces went too far, Netanyahu said he didn't know of "any army" that would do anything differently.

"You try other means. You try all sorts of means. You try non-lethal means and they don't work. So you're left with bad choices. It's a bad deal. You know, you try and you go for below the knee and sometimes it doesn't work. And unfortunately, these things are avoidable. If Hamas had not pushed them there, then nothing would happen," Netanyahu said.

"Your own army chief says that Gaza could be on the verge of collapse, could get even worse. If that happens, what happens next," asked Glor.

"Well, first of all let's understand why it's on the verge of collapse, because the Palestinian Authority has stopped giving them money," Netanyahu said. "The money they normally gave them, they stopped giving them, so they're in financial crisis. So having received less money and taking the money they have to their terror machine and to the stuff that they are doing yesterday, that's why Gaza is in crisis."

As for Hamas, Glor asked if Netanyahu plans to target any of its leaders.

"We don't think that anyone is immune if they dispatch terrorists to kill us," he responded.

Netanyahu said he doesn't see any circumstance where he would be open to talks with Hamas in the current climate.

"As long as they seek our destruction, what am I going to talk about?" he said. "I mean, if somebody said, 'Could you talk to al Qaeda? Could you talk -- would you have discussions with bin Laden?' About what?"

Tensions aren't just rising in Gaza. The Israeli military recently attacked Iranian targets in Syria in response to Iranian rocket fire into the Golan Heights. Glor asked Netanyahu if Israel is at war with Iran.

"They're at war with us," he said. "We never sought any enmity with Iran. They openly declared that their goal is to annihilate us. Every day."

Questions remain about the future of Iran, after President Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. But Netanyahu said Israel "will not let Iran develop a nuclear weapon."

"You're handling situations at the border now -- Gaza and West Bank -- and the situation with Iran is only escalating. Too much?" Glor asked.

"We've been there. Been there, done that, and Israel has flourished. We don't really face Arab armies anymore. We've moved to peace with two of them, a formal peace, and frankly, I think we have an informal peace with many of the other Arab states. So it's been changed," Netanyahu said. "First of all, they saw Israel is here to stay. Even though it's a tiny country, it's a very strong country and the strength brings peace. I think the real problem, the biggest problem we face is Iran. The biggest problem the Arabs face is Iran. The biggest problem that the world faces and the United States is this terrorists' regime that calls 'death to America,' chants 'death to Israel' and wants to kill the chances of peace."

So is peace possible in the future?

"I see it already now," Netanyahu said. "We have peace with Egypt, we have peace with Jordan."

As for peace with the Palestinians, he says he thinks it's "possible," but not with Hamas.

Netanyahu enjoys a close relationship with Mr. Trump, who has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner with handling any peace talks. But a plan has yet to emerge, and now that Mike Pompeo is secretary of state, he has given every indication he wants to be involved.