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Netanyahu's foreign policy adviser comments on Israel's possible invasion of Rafah

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden says he's had recent extensive conversations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he's urging Israel to hold off on plans to send troops to Gaza's most crowded area. First, reach a deal with Hamas for temporary cease-fire to get hostages out.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: In the meantime, I don't anticipate - I'm hoping that the Israelis will not make any massive land invasion in the meantime. So it's my expectation that's not going to happen.

SIMON: President speaking at the White House yesterday. Ophir Falk is a foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He joins us now. Mr. Falk, thanks so much for being with us.

OPHIR FALK: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Is President Biden correct in what he anticipates? There's not going to be a major offensive in Rafah until there's a pause in the fighting and the release of hostages?

FALK: Well, the Prime Minister has made it clear, along with the war cabinet, what our war objectives are. The entire - in the state of Israel, the entire state of Israel, the government and the war cabinet are fully united behind these goals. It's to destroy Hamas, to free our hostages and to make sure that Gaza doesn't pose a threat to Israel ever again. Now, we have been able to free 112 hostages so far, including two hostages last week in a heroic special forces rescue operation. There are still 130 hostages being held by Hamas, the genocidal terrorist organization. And we will get them out. We will get out - we'll get these hostages out.

SIMON: Well, but is the president correct in his expectation? Can you say there's not going to be a major offensive in Rafah until there's a deal for a pause in the fighting and the release of hostages?

FALK: Well, I can't get into specifics about our operational plans. What I can tell you that we are...

SIMON: But has the government of Israel...

FALK: ...Trying to get our hostages...

SIMON: Has the government of Israel said - given their assurances to President Biden?

FALK: Well, we have assured the president that we are doing everything we can to get the hostages out. We've done that by - with his help, by the way, with the president's help. We're very appreciative of his help, with helping us get out over 100 hostages by means of negotiations. And we already did a previous round in November where we had a pause, and we got out over 50 hostages. In total, we've got over - we've gotten 112 hostages out. The president helped us out with this. We appreciate that. And right now, the Hamas demands are delusional. They're currently delusional. The president said it's way, way over the top. And once they get down to earth, we can make a deal.

SIMON: Well, you were in Cairo this week, as I understand it, for talks to try and reach another hostage deal. Let me ask you, what's Israel prepared to do in exchange for Hamas releasing hostages?

FALK: Well, clearly, I can't get into details, but as Israel has done in the past, we will do right now as well and in the future. We're willing to be reasonable. We and I think anybody who has humanitarian issues and civilian issues at heart would demand the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages. And on October 7 - Scott, I remember that you wrote a nice article, a very, very moving article, actually, on 9/11, about 9/11, about the atrocities of 9/11. Well, October 7 was like 20 9/11s on Israel. Hamas terrorists stormed Israel, invaded Israel, murdered 1,200 people, slaughtered men, women, children, raped women, beheaded them, burned babies alive and took 250 people hostage. That's what we're up against. We're going to destroy Hamas, and we are going to free our hostages. Now, we appreciate the support of the American people and the American president throughout this entire war. We are fully in line on the need to destroy Hamas. And obviously, nobody wants to free the hostages more than Israel and more than the prime minister.

SIMON: I have to ask, Mr. Falk, though, with so many civilian deaths in Gaza, is Israel's military campaign to get rid of Hamas - is it actually having the effect of generating more support for Hamas in Gaza and, for that matter, around the world?

FALK: Well, any civilian casualty is a tragedy for sure. Israel seeks to minimize the civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize them. We seek to minimize them for two main reasons. That's been our strategy, and it always has been our strategy, because, one, it's the right thing to do. We're the only Jewish country on Earth, and that is our policy to minimize civilian casualties. And the other reason is because it's effective. The Hamas, on the other hand, hides behind their civilians and behind their hostages and behind Israeli hostages, and they seek to maximize the civilian casualties. That's part of their strategy. It's a propaganda tool that they use. And we can't let that to be effective. Now, Col. John Spencer, the head of urban warfare at West Point, an international expert on this issue of urban warfare, maybe, perhaps the most learned, the scholar on this issue of urban warfare - he says that Israel sets the gold standard in terms of preserving civilian lives. We've been doing what we - what the IDF has been doing in Gaza in this war is unprecedented in urban warfare, both in pace and caution.

SIMON: Well, we'll have to note, as of course, you know, the International Court of Justice had a different conclusion. But I want to ask you this in the 45 seconds we have left - go ahead, sir, Mr. Falk. Yeah.

FALK: Well, I'm not sure he - I'm actually I'm not sure they reached that conclusion. To the contrary, they said that they were asked to by South Africa, which was acting as a Hamas proxy. They were asked to force us for a cease-fire, and that actually didn't - they did not ask us to do that because they know we need to win this war. And that's exactly what we're doing. Well, now, when you compare the Gaza - when you compare the war in Gaza to other similar conflicts, and then you look at the...

SIMON: I'm afraid we're out of time, Mr. Falk.

FALK: OK.

SIMON: Let me give you your last sentence.

FALK: Well, my last sentence is that this is a war between civilization and these Hamas barbaric savages. We are going to win. We are going to win this war. And our victory will be America's victory, as well. And I thank you a lot, Scott, for the opportunity.

SIMON: Ophir Falk, foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu, thanks for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.