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Q&A

Israel’s former U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon keeping up personal diplomacy

Knesset Member Danon sits down with JI to talk about Israel’s military effort against Hamas, hostage negotiations and rising antisemitism abroad

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaks after Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas at the UN Security Council on February 11, 2020 in New York City.

Danny Danon, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, is on a mission. Since the Oct. 7 terror attack against Israel, Danon has given multiple interviews to the foreign media each day and taken delegations of ambassadors and social media influencers to Israel’s south to witness the atrocities.

A member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and its secretive Subcommittee on Intelligence and Secret Services, Danon is privy to highly classified information on the current war. 

Danon was also Israel’s deputy defense minister in 2013-2014, a job from which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired him after he publicly criticized Netanyahu’s handling of Operation Protective Edge, the largest operation against Hamas before this year.

Danon spoke with Jewish Insider, after taking former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson of the U.K. and Scott Morrison of Australia to the western Negev on Sunday. 

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Jewish Insider: Why did you bring Johnson and Morrison to Israel?

Danny Danon: A month after the massacre and atrocities by Hamas, some in the world have forgotten what happened. The discussion is shifting towards the quote-unquote humanitarian crisis of the Palestinians.

I think it’s important to bring leaders to see what happened and speak to the people here, so they can go back and echo what they saw.

That’s what we did today with Johnson and Morrison. I’m sure they brought a lot of media from their home countries, and they will also speak up and send the message that Israel needs not only support but time to finish the job and to eradicate Hamas.

JI: Do you think Israel will have the time it needs to do that job?

DD: I don’t think we have any other option. We have to finish the job this time after many times that we postponed it.

Hamas is not an existential threat to Israel, but if we don’t eliminate Hamas, it will become an existential threat, because others in the region will not be afraid of Israel. That will cause a major problem.

It would be better to do it with the support of the international community, which I believe we still have, but even if we have to confront our allies, I will still push the government and prime minister to eliminate Hamas at all costs. We cannot let them stay in Gaza to recover and rebuild its strength all over again.

JI: Israel’s allies are pushing it to take “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid to get to southern Gaza. Do you think that should happen?

DD: I don’t think we should give any gifts to our enemies. We know that in every pause or cease-fire, they regroup and they can move to different locations. A humanitarian pause basically means increasing the level of casualties. They’ll be better prepared and we will pay the price. I don’t see a reason to do that.

We have to remind the world what I said on the tour: We had a cease-fire with Hamas until Oct. 7, when they chose to break the cease-fire to attack our communities in a barbaric way we had never imagined.

JI: Israel is allowing some humanitarian aid to get into southern Gaza, and some voices on the right oppose that. What do you think?

DD: I think we should demand that for everything we give, we get something in exchange. It can be hostages or Red Cross visits.

I haven’t heard the Red Cross say anything about the 240 Israelis [held hostage by Hamas in Gaza]. They are usually very vocal. We haven’t heard anything so far.

I think if we do give humanitarian support, we should demand from the rest of the world that our humanitarian issue be addressed.

JI: Would that humanitarian aid include fuel?

DD: I hope not, unless we receive many hostages back to Israel. I won’t say a number, but it has to be very significant. That would be fueling the enemy, who will use it for rockets and ventilation in tunnels. Fuel would give them more support for the next fight against our soldiers.

JI: What can you tell us about the conditions of the hostages? Are they still alive?

DD: I am on the Subcommittee on Intelligence, but I can’t share that information. I can tell you to just imagine the situation of a 9-month-old in captivity for a month, children not being able to see their parents for a month. 

When we told Prime Minister Johnson the ages of people kidnapped, he was shocked to hear it. 

JI: Do we know where the hostages are? 

DD: They are not in one location, but I can’t go into details.

JI: Is there a chance for a rescue operation, like we saw for IDF soldier Ori Megidish last week?

DD: That was an inspiring operation by our forces, but we should not expect it to happen in the other cases. It’s very hard not only to gather the intelligence, but also to operate and bring hostages safely back to Israel.

JI: Are the negotiations with Qatar to free the hostages helping?

DD: There were negotiations last week, but they weren’t successful. Hamas is very cynical and they like to play games with us. The more pressure we apply to them and the more they hear our bulldozers getting closer to their tunnels, the more likely it will lead to some kind of agreement regarding the hostages. 

JI: Do you think Qatar is a fair actor in the negotiations?

DD: Qatar developed an expertise in working with bad actors, going way back to the Taliban – the U.S. used them to send messages. Today, they talk to Iran and Hamas.

In the short term, we are going to have to work with them because they are connected to Hamas. We will do anything possible to release the hostages; we will work with anyone.

In the long term, I think not only the U.S. but all democracies should demand more from Qatar. We need more clarity. Do they want to support Hamas financially, and support ISIS-like terror…or do they want to become a member of Western civilization? I think it’s about time we demand answers from them.

JI: Were you surprised by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ stance on the war, contextualizing the Hamas massacre in a way many Israelis saw as making excuses for terror?

DD: I make a distinction between U.N. member states and the secretary-general.

For member states, it’s business as usual. They’re always against Israel and condemn Israel and are not willing to condemn Hamas or Iran even after Oct. 7.

What happened with the secretary-general is shocking. I brought him to Israel in 2017. I took him to see Hamas tunnels. He said that what Hamas is doing is inhumane. Now, when we need moral clarity, he became a Hamas spokesperson. At one stage, he justified this horrible attack in a disgraceful speech at the U.N. Security Council. 

Then, he condemned Israel after we found out that Hamas was trying to use Red Cross ambulances to transfer terrorists. Instead of condemning Hamas, he condemned Israel. I regret it. 

I think Israel should encourage the U.S. and other parties at the U.N. not to cooperate with the secretary-general until he retracts his one-sided approach against Israel.

JI: Do you think the U.N. has a role to play in this war?

DD: We see that they are one-sided…I have no expectations from any organ of the U.N. We should prepare for the day we will have to act independently, even if there are U.N. resolutions against us, because we have seen the silence of the U.N. when Israeli babies are massacred and we realize we should not count on them.

JI: What do you think should happen in Gaza after the war?

DD: This is a legitimate issue to discuss. In the past, when I raised the idea of eradicating Hamas, people told me, “We have no one to hand the keys to.” In 2014, when I was deputy minister of defense, I demanded that Prime Minister Netanyahu finish with Hamas, and he fired me. Back then, people also told me, “You have no idea who would take their place.”

I said, listen, even if we have no one to give the keys to, we should eliminate Hamas and then deal with that. That’s what’s happening now, after we paid a very heavy price.

We have no intention of running the lives of the people in Gaza. There should be some kind of regional cooperation with the international community to find a mechanism that will support the population but allow us the freedom to make sure we are not allowing another terror entity to take control. It should be similar to what we have in Judea and Samaria, with the possibility to go in whenever we need to and make sure we deal with the threats.

JI: What would the Palestinian Authority’s role be in Gaza?

DD: I’m not sure because the PA is very weak. I don’t see them managing the situation today in Judea and Samaria. In Jenin and other places, they are not capable of fighting terror, so it’s very hard to see them now doing anything in Gaza. But maybe after the war, there will be a new reality and they would like to partner with a regional effort. I don’t see them being capable of doing something major themselves.

JI: You’re a lifelong Likudnik. What do you think is in Netanyahu’s political future?

DD: I appear a lot in the media to try to strengthen the people of Israel and I am always asked about that. I say frankly, now is not the time to deal with politics. Now is the time to be united and work together. I spoke with [National Unity Party leader Benny] Gantz before he joined the government, and I think it was a good decision. We should focus on victory now.

The time will come to have inquiries and ask the right questions of all levels: the government, military, Shin Bet – everyone will be accountable for what happened.

JI: What do you think Israel’s role should be in responding to the growing antisemitism around the world?

DD: I know Jewish communities are now under stress. We see the demonstrations all around the world, the attack in Paris and I think the authorities of the governments abroad should take responsibility. They should not only speak about freedom and security for the Jewish community, but should also take proper actions to ensure the safety of Jews all around the world.

Israel is the Jewish homeland… We are open whenever they want to come, but we think the responsibility is on the governments and we should demand answers from them.

I speak with many leaders and they tell me, “We have legislation.” That’s true, but they don’t have enforcement. We should demand more enforcement and concrete action, not just declarations…to make sure Jews can live safely anywhere in the world.

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