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Middle East

'Israel has a duty to defend its citizens'

Hamas' attacks into southern Israel will not be tolerated, says Israeli Ambassador to Germany Yakov Hadas-Handelsman. He adds that his country is willing to renew peace talks but will not risk the safety of its people.

DLF: Would you join UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon's call on Israel and Hamas for restraint?

Yakov Hadas-Handelsman: Every state has the duty to defend its citizens. Israel is no exception. If Hamas does not fire rockets at us, then there is no reason for escalation and no reason for war.

Does this mean that Israel is entitled to retaliate in this way?

Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City November 15, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Israel pounded positions in Gaza in retaliation against the rocket attacks

Israel made a decision: Our restraint is over. We have been trying for nearly 10 years, since 2005 when Israel pulled back from Gaza to be precise, to defend our citizens. It is intolerable that almost a million people in Israel are not allowed to lead their lives according to the Gregorian calendar but have to live according to the "Hamas calendar." When someone fires rockets on Israelis, they are attacking civilians. We will not tolerate that any longer.

Do you have the impression that Ban Ki-moon shares this view?

I have heard about the reports from the emergency meeting at the UN Security Council. They all state that Israel has the right to defend itself. Israeli civilians, just like German or American or Palestinian civilians, should not be in a position where rockets land around their heads.

Can the Israeli military win a war against Hamas?

It is not about a war against Hamas or whether we win or lose this war. In my opinion, the answer is "yes." It is about something very simple and basic, namely, that the Israeli people are able to lead normal lives a normal way. When this becomes possible, the region will be peaceful and stable. But if this is not possible, we will defend ourselves and our people. It is not only our right, it is more than that: it is our duty. And we are reacting. It is not as if Israel reached the decision of attacking Hamas early this morning. We are reacting. For almost a week now, rockets - more than 200 of them - have been fired into Israel. Is that tolerable? No.

Many people are under the impression that the region is engulfed in a never-ending spiral of violence. The latest Israeli large-scale attack on the Gaza Strip took place only four years ago and not much has changed since. Hamas is still capable of striking Israel. That is why I ask again: Can Israel actually win a war against Hamas or is Hamas an unbeatable opponent?

Israel's Ambassador to Germany Yakov Hadas-Handelsman (Photo: dpa)

Israel's Ambassador to Germany Yakov Hadas-Handelsman

Much has changed in the past four years. For more than two years there was almost no rocket fire from Gaza because the Hamas had learned its lesson. Nowadays they believe that Israel has its mind set on other things and are therefore resuming the attacks. One thing is clear: The policy of deterrence will be once again implemented. As already mentioned, it is about Israel's duty to defend its citizens and to enable them to lead normal lives just as the citizens in Germany, the United States, Great Britain and, actually, throughout the world do.

What has the Israeli government done to improve the situation of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip?

We have not been in Gaza for more than seven years. We left unilaterally in order to give Palestinians a chance to create something new without the presence of Israelis.

But you are still sealing off the Gaza Strip.

Not at all. Nowadays almost everything Palestinians need comes in through Israel. Besides, for almost two years there has been a revolution in Egypt. The Rafah Crossing Point between Hamas and Egypt is now open and we have nothing to do with it. Palestinians can get whatever they need. There is not much we don't allow into the Strip. They can get it through Egypt. Therefore there is no siege.

Everything is supposed to take place at the border crossing in Rafah?

Yes, that is possible. It is already happening. But please, we must get the facts straight. The siege is or was a result of the rocket attacks on Israel and not the other way round.

Many people are under the impression that the siege is somewhat permanent and that neither Israel nor Hamas is willing to make concessions or to take one step towards peace. What could Israel do to stop the spiral of violence?

There is no siege, as I said before. You do not need to believe me, just ask the U.N. The Secretary General already addressed the issue. It is very easy to stop the spiral of violence: peace, peace, peace. For the past four years the Israeli government has called every day for a renewal of the peace talks. But Palestinians have set one condition after the other doing everything to avoid negotiations. We are willing to renew the peace talks today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. But that is just one part of the problem. Even if we did it, there is still the question of Gaza. Would Abu Masen rule over Gaza despite the fact that he has not been there in the past five years. It is a complicated issue but one or two things must be clear: First, we are willing to resume peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Second: If people in Southern Israel are not allowed to lead a normal life, there will be no peace.

Yakov Hadas-Handelsman has been Israel's ambassador to Germany since March 2012.

The interview with Yakov Hadas-Handelsman was conducted by Tobias Armbrüster from German public radio broadcaster, Deutschlandfunk / gd