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Senior Israeli Military Official Says Offensive Against Hamas Is Being Assessed

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a view this morning of the latest Mideast war as it looks to Israel and as it looks to Hamas. For 10 days now, Hamas has fired rockets out of its enclave in Gaza. Israel's military has intercepted many of those rockets, but 12 people have been killed in Israel. Israeli planes have devastated parts of Gaza, collapsing buildings and killing at least 200 people, by the latest count. The international community is pushing for a cease-fire. The Israeli view of this comes from a senior official who spoke with reporters, including our own Daniel Estrin, who's on the line. Daniel, welcome back.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: What did you hear and from whom?

ESTRIN: This was a very senior military official. He would not let us name him. He was discussing sensitive military issues. He said Israel right now is assessing its, quote, "achievements" in this offensive, which are - according to him - killing senior militants, destroying rocket launchers, destroying some of the underground tunnels Israel says Hamas has built inside Gaza. And he said Israel is assessing whether that is enough to deliver a message to Hamas to deter them from firing rockets deep into Israel. Until then, he says, the military is prepared to go on fighting for more days.

INSKEEP: How, if at all, did this official address the damage that's been done to the civilian populace in Gaza? We mentioned 200 dead. Many of them are believed to be children. And we're also talking about loss of electricity, loss of clean water and potential deaths from that.

ESTRIN: Yes. Well, he said he's never met an air force pilot who likes killing children. And, yes, children have been killed in this conflict on both sides. He said, Israel does what it can to avoid killing innocent people in Gaza. Israel does sometimes call Palestinians and warn them to evacuate a building before bombing that building. But he was not apologetic about many things. He said it was more important to protect the lives of Israelis under rocket fire than the lives of Palestinians who live next to rocket launchers. And he said he understands why the media around the world focuses on the deaths and destruction in Gaza. He says, I get it; if the media were leading with pictures of what's happening with Israeli civilians, that would mean that Israel would be the weaker side. And that's not what he wants Israel to be.

INSKEEP: Nevertheless, he's saying it's justified when they attack a target and civilians are killed.

ESTRIN: He says, Israel does everything it can to prevent civilian casualties, but sometimes that is what happens; it's unavoidable, he says.

INSKEEP: Is there a pattern to how these conflicts come to an end?

ESTRIN: There is a pattern. Usually Hamas and Gaza asks for promises of investment. You know, Gaza is under blockade. It faces a deep humanitarian crisis. And Egypt has already pledged money for Gaza. Egypt is a key mediator in efforts for a cease-fire. And despite international pressure for a cease-fire, we have seen in previous Gaza wars that, for Israel, domestic considerations trump any kind of international pressure. And right now, I have to say, Steve, the Israeli public widely supports this offensive. It's an opportunity, Israel thinks, to hit at Hamas.

INSKEEP: Well, what is it like to be in Israel right now, Daniel, particularly for you? Because you've been through a couple of these wars now.

ESTRIN: I have. I mean, I'll tell you, yesterday, the other day, my neighbors were on their balcony, speaking to each other, and one said, it's painful to see what's happening in Gaza, and the other said, yes, but it's better that it happens to them than to us. So it's just very sad to reflect on how far away we are from any kind of peace. I have to say, after this military briefing, I pulled up into the parking lot - I'm here right now - of the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Center. That's the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated after a peace rally years ago. I'm looking at his car, the one that rushed him to the hospital after he was shot. It's just - it's a moment to reflect on just how far away we are from peace, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Tel Aviv, Israel, today. Daniel, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.