Does journalist Christiane Amanpour truly believe the terror group Hamas is a reliable source of combat information? On the Tuesday edition of Amanpour & Co. (which runs on CNN International and later on tax-funded PBS), Amanpour talked with familiar face Mark Regev, senior adviser to Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and defended the fatality tally put out by Hamas as truthful and accurate. She even ludicrously claimed Hamas’s numbers have never been questioned before.
The verbal scuffle began when Regev pointed out what should be obvious to journalists, that Hamas is holding children and infants hostage and is “not going to suddenly become humanitarians. They will only release hostages if they’re under amazing pressure.”
Amanpour inched toward condemning Israel for violating international law, citing a previous video clip mash-up she had run of world leaders suggesting Israel was in danger of violating international law.
Regev reiterated “Israel is conducting itself in the framework of international law,” and argued that Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza could actually reduce civilian casualties by allowing Israeli airstrikes to be more surgical. Then he turned to Hamas’s lack of credibility on combat figures, which Amanpour furiously defended as irrefutably true:
One doesn’t have to go back far at all to see Hamas exaggerating and straight-up lying about casualties – such as the purported 500 deaths in a Gaza hospital after a supposed Israel airstrike that didn’t happen. But Amanpour didn’t care about the facts:
Amanpour then challenged Israeli intelligence about a Hamas command center underneath hospitals in Gaza. “You keep saying that there is a Hamas bunker, command center, tunnels underneath these hospitals. So, it’s fair to ask, based on what intelligence? Can you tell us why and how you know that?,” she chided. A few days later, the Israeli Defense Forces released a video of spokesman Jonathan Conricus playing the role of tour guide as he showed off the weapons hidden in just a few room of Al Shifa’s radiology wing.
Regev responded by pointing out that Israel showed CNN and other journalists footage from the Rantisi Hospital and “the underground tunnel network adjacent to the hospital.” (Although CNN remained skeptical.)
The New York Times issued a helpful primer about the elaborate tunnel system in Gaza, which could help enlighten Amanpour. Perhaps Hamas, which runs Gaza, could afford to feed their people and keep the lights on if they weren’t using money donated to Gaza to dig terror tunnels?
Amanpour & Co. on PBS
1:33:00 p.m. (ET)
AMANPOUR: Netanyahu has so far rebuffed any calls to change course. Here now is the prime minister’s senior adviser, Mark Regev. Welcome back to the program. You’re joining us from Tel Aviv. Can I first start by asking you about these really large marches that are happening and what both your government and President Biden has said? Tell us more about these potential deals when a release could happen.
MARK REGEV, SENIOR ADVISER TO ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: If we are closer to a hostage release, and I’m not sure we are, but if we are closer, it’s because Hamas is under amazing pressure.
As you know, our forces are now in the middle of Gaza City, the epicenter of Hamas’s military machine. They’re taking on the Hamas terrorists in hand-to-hand combat. The — we’re getting close and closer to the Hamas leadership. They are feeling the pain. They might now, I hope, move on releasing hostages. But we have to wait and see.
AMANPOUR: OK. You said, I’m not sure we are. Both your government, I believe, put out some kind of alert or statement that we received. And President Biden says, you know, they believe it is going to happen soon. They’re making progress. You don’t seem to be believing that.
REGEV: It’s not done until it’s done.
REGEV: No, we would be more happy than anyone to see hostages released. But we know who we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with Hamas, a brutal terrorist organization.
AMANPOUR: Right, right.
REGEV: Of the 239 people being held, 32 children, of them babies and infants. These people are not going to do the right thing. They’re not going to suddenly become humanitarians. They will only release hostages if they’re under amazing pressure. They’re under massive pressure from us at the moment. Maybe that is going to expedite a release. I hope so.
AMANPOUR: And also, you know because you have exchanged with Hamas. So, I guess I’m just asking you as somebody who knows, but you are not going there. So, what do you make and what does the prime minister make of the pressure now by Israeli people to actually bring them home?
We’ve seen polls showing that most Israelis now think that should be a prime object of the military operation and you’re seeing actual marches, and they were very pointed angry, angry people, including, you know, the granddaughter of the former prime minister, Shimon Peres, and many others who are very upset that the government doesn’t seem to be doing as much as far as they know — as far as they can see to bring their loved one home.
REGEV: So, I can tell you and all the people watching that bringing the hostages home is a primary goal in our military operation. Once again, the way to do that — I mean, I’d like to tell you that Hamas became, you know, humanitarians, but they’re not. They’re tough brutal terrorists. We saw what they’re capable of when they butchered our people on October 7th. We see what they’re doing in Gaza, the way they’re sacrificing Palestinian lives right and center for their crazy aims. These people will only release hostages as a result of pressure. That pressure is being applied and we believe, we know that’s the best way to facilitate the release of the hostages. What other alternative is there? To smile at them?
AMANPOUR: No, no, Mark. We’re not talking about smiling. These are really smart questions about things that you’ve done before and things that your people are asking you. Nobody thinks Hamas is humanitarian. But we do know that Israel has gone into deals. In fact, 1,000 plus Palestinians released for one Israeli soldier.
So, this is where this question is coming from, including trying to get you to confirm what the president of the United States says. But let’s move on, because you’re talking about the pressure. You heard, because I put a “mash up” of some of your staunchest friends and allies. President Biden, I hope there’s going to be less intrusive activity, those were his words, around the hospital. President Macron, de facto civilians are being killed. This is not comporting with international law. Prime Minister Sunak, the same, you have the right to self-defense, but you also must observe international law. What do you make of those comments and those feelings now amongst your most staunch allies?
REGEV: So, I mean, I could only embrace what’s been said. Israel is conducting itself in the framework of international law, and we’re acting to defend ourself in a proportional way. And also, in a way that is — differentiates between combatants, the Hamas terrorists who are out to kill, and noncombatants, the civilian population, who we don’t want to hurt.
And actually, now that we’ve got our ground troops on the ground, it’s my understanding that the number of civilian casualties has not gone up, it’s going down. That’s a good thing. Having ground forces, boots on the ground allows us to be maybe more surgical than airstrikes, that’s a good thing. And we’re using those forces to hit Hamas and hit Hamas hard.
But it has to be understood, first of all, the numbers coming out of Gaza concerning casualties are provided by Hamas. There’s no other independent verification for those numbers. And so, we have to presume they’re exaggerated. And secondly, they give you no differentiation between of the people who have been fatalities, whether they were Hamas terrorists, and it’s good that they were killed if they were, and between civilians caught up in the crossfire. And no one can give you at CNN data that is more precise.
AMANPOUR: Yes. But, Mark –
REGEV: And so, we’re all — the numbers that people are talking about of the Hamas numbers.
AMANPOUR: Mark, whatever the numbers are, and in history, nobody’s questioned these numbers, in all the previous — and the Hamas was always in charge, all the previous operations, nobody questioned their numbers. And we have seen half of these people or — well, up to half, nearly, four plus thousand are children, all the authorities are saying that.
REGEV: That’s Hamas’s numbers though.
AMANPOUR: Let’s not — please —
REGEV: That’s Hamas’s numbers.
AMANPOUR: Yes. But —
REGEV: When you say 4,000 children, that’s what Hamas says.
AMANPOUR: Well, we’ve seen the pictures, OK. And we did this last week together. We’ve seen the pictures, and it is causing huge unrest and disquiet amongst your closest friends, not to mention in Gaza and amongst the Palestinians and the Arab Street. But what I want to ask you is this, your defense minister has said, and I’m really interested that you make a difference now, you say, presumably, you realize that it was way too much by air. And now, you say it’s more contained and more directed on the ground. Your defense minister has said
that the main objective, Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas, military and politically in Gaza, is hiding in his bunker.
If that’s the case, do you know where he is? Why don’t you go straight after him?
REGEV: So, first of all, I can’t unfortunately share with you any intelligence that I might have. All I can say is it’s clear that the Hamas leadership whether in Gaza or outside Gaza is a target. Anyone who was involved in orchestrating in commanding, in facilitating the October 7thmassacre of our people is a legitimate target in our eyes, just as Osama bin Laden might not have himself flown an airline into the World Trade Center, but he was the man responsible.
So, of course, the Hamas leadership responsible for the butchering of our people, they will be reached and punished.
AMANPOUR: Yes. So, I guess my question was, if apparently your defense minister knows where he is, why isn’t that the target as opposed to a much wider target? And a concurrent question is, you keep saying that there is a Hamas bunker, command center tunnels underneath these hospitals. So, it’s fair to ask, based on what intelligence? Can you tell us why and how you know that?
REGEV: First of all, we know that. And to speak frankly, I think most of the people of Gaza City know it too. It’s — if it’s a secret, it’s a secret that everyone sort of knows. The Americans have confirmed, their intelligence. The European Union came out and said they know for a fact that Hamas uses the civilian population as a human shield.
And actually, the Rantisi Hospital, the one that our forces reached yesterday, we showed to CNN and other journalists the underground tunnel network adjacent to the hospital. So, I don’t think there’s any doubt about this anymore, unless one wants to believe Hamas is propaganda.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, listen, Mark, I saw that piece. I saw the — I saw what you showed the journalists. And from what we saw, there were no Hamas people in there then, then, and there were no huge stockpiles of weapons then. So, it raises the question, where are these people? And therefore, why is the hospital still a target? This is honestly what I’m trying to understand.
REGEV: So, first of all, the hospital is not a target, right? It’s the Hamas terror subterranean network of tunnels and of bunkers and of arms depots and of launching sites for their missiles, their command and control, that is under the Shifa Hospital, but it’s also under the other hospitals, too, as we saw at Rantisi.
But we have to destroy that military machine of Hamas and we are destroying it now. Our soldiers are there on the ground and Hamas is feeling the heat.
And we will reach the Hamas leadership and we will take them out.
AMANPOUR: So, can I just ask you a series of questions about the prime minister? So, you’ve seen all the reporting and they’re very, very good journalists who’ve done a lot of reporting, Israeli journalists, Americans and others. And they have reported a series of whatever you might say, I’m going to just say mistakes, by the government in dealing with Hamas over the years.
Most particularly I want to ask you, and if you don’t know, I’d really love you to get the answer for me, the report that the military intelligence chief, one of them very significant personage, went to the prime minister, went to the Knesset with classified information talking about how he believed and how intelligence believed that the, you know, the uproar in your country over the attempt to overturn the judicial situation was weakening the image, weakening, you know, the military and the intelligence in the eyes of the enemy. And apparently, the prime minister refused to see them.
Then separately, General Halevi, if that’s how I pronounce his name, went to see the prime minister in July with a similar set of concerns. And the prime minister refused to see him. Can you tell me whether that’s true? And if so, why?
REGEV: So, first of all, all these questions will be dealt with.
AMANPOUR: No, Mark, this is —
REGEV: But you have to know — no. But no, I’m answering you, Christiane. Christiane, it has to be said that Israel in the first months of this year had a very polarized politics and there were demonstrations against the prime minister and their demonstrations for the prime minister and some people supported the judicial reform and others were opposed to it. And we had a very, very contentious political debate in this country.
But what we saw on October 7th, as was reported on CNN, is that Hamas didn’t ask Israelis when they killed us, when they butchered us, are we left-wingers or are we right-wingers? Do we like Netanyahu or do we not like Netanyahu? Are we secular or religious? They don’t care. They killed Israelis because they are Israelis, because there are Jews.
There was a report on CNN just before we got on this broadcast about a peace activist, a feminist, a woman who was butchered by Hamas on the day of the attack And I think this has been a wakeup call for Israelis, because as much as we in this country like to debate politics, we passionately argue our positions.
But what is the truth, Christiane? That the Hamas killers don’t care about our arguments. They believe this country has no right to exist, not in any borders. They oppose any peace. They oppose any negotiated solution. And they believe every Israeli, irregardless of his political or her political beliefs, is a legitimate target for terrorism.
REGEV: And that that has brought us together. And as you know —
REGEV: — parties that were in the opposition have joined the government. We’ve now got a national unity government. And when this war is won, there’ll be plenty of time to discuss who was responsible for what and to get back to politics as usual.
But at the moment, this country is united as never before in dealing with a terrorist threat. We will defeat Hamas, we will end its rule in Gaza, we will dismantle its military machine. It’ll be good for the people of Israel, it’ll be good for the Palestinians in Gaza too who deserve better than this Hamas terror regime that’s ruled them for 16 years and has only brought them pain, hardship and poverty.
AMANPOUR: That all may be the case. The question though is, and I’m talking about Israelis asking about whether this government, an emergency government more than a unity government, is in fact capable of being, as Prime Minister Netanyahu, your boss has called himself, Mr. Security for all these years.
Now, according to polls, and I’m just going to tell you which poll I’m talking about, Channel 13 says like 76 percent of Israelis think he should, you know, retire — or rather resign now after the war. So, my question is, this was a really pointed question because it’s about security and he refused to meet the security. It doesn’t matter about the — well, it does matter, the demonstrations. That’s not what I was asking. Why did Mr. Security refused to meet with the security and intelligence chiefs who had worries about something that might happen?
REGEV: Once again, all these questions can be addressed after the conflict. And I’d remind you, and you know this better than most, that when we’ve had security mishaps or challenges in the past, we have known in this country how to investigate ourselves. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War debacle at the beginning where we were surprised, this country had an investigation led by a team of former military people and Supreme Court justices. And people paid consequences. It was the same after the 2006 Lebanon war, there was an official Committee of Inquiry.
I’m sure that when this is over, we will follow the same pattern. There will be inquiries, there will be investigations, questions will be asked. All the people from the prime minister down who are in positions of authority will have to answer those questions. That’s the way it’s done in the democracy.
AMANPOUR: I mean, I could ask, do you think this prime minister will survive as others haven’t? You mentioned after the Yom Kippur war. But what I want to finally ask you is the — there is a report that the American defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, spoke to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and essentially, essentially, and I’m paraphrasing, cool it on the northern border, worried that over provocation or over activity by Israel could spark something wider. Can you confirm that?
REGEV: I cannot confirm it. And I can tell you what our policy is in the north. Israel wants to be able to focus all our military efforts on Hamas in the south, on destroying the Hamas military machine and getting our hostages back. In the north, we prefer deterrence. We don’t want to see an escalation in the north.
Unfortunately, as you know, we can’t be sure that that’s not Hezbollah’s interest in — on the country. Maybe Hezbollah feels it has to come to the aid of its sister terrorist movement. And therefore, we have to be prepared.
And my message to Hezbollah, who might be watching us at this moment, is that they should be very, very careful. Because if Hamas took us by surprise on October 7th, and we paid a huge price in blood on October 7th for not being ready, we are now mobilized. Our eye is on the ball. And if Hezbollah decides to start something serious, they can expect an overwhelming Israeli response. We will respond expeditiously and with force to any escalation by Hezbollah.
AMANPOUR: I fully understand that. I get what you’re saying, just that you also, like all of us, watched Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah last week, who basically said they did it. We didn’t do it. To me, it was like this was a Hamas problem. The question I was asking you is, is it — can you confirm whether the defense minister of the United States warned Israel also not to be provocative and escalatory in your attempt to be deterrent on the northern border?
REGEV: No, I’ve been in meetings with my prime minister, I can assure you. Our policy is victory in the south and deterrence in the north. But once again, we don’t know what Hezbollah is going to do. You refer to Nasrallah’s speeches, but we’re watching not what he says, we’re watching what he does. And we know that he shares that same extreme theology, ideology, like Hamas.
He’s a terrorist, not just in Israel’s eyes, even the Arab League has declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization. He’s an Iranian proxy. He’s, as I said before, like the twin sister of Hamas in Gaza. And we’re watching the ball closely. We would be irresponsible to do otherwise.
AMANPOUR: Mark Regev, thank you very much for being with us tonight.