Benjamin Netanyahu Says Journalists in al-Jalaa Tower Weren't in Danger Following Airstrike

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday's airstrike on Gaza's al-Jalaa tower was backed by intelligence that Hamas was using the same building as media organizations, noting that journalists inside were given plenty of evacuation warning. He dismissed claims by Associated Press and Al Jazeera journalists that they were "lucky to be alive" following the missile strike that reduced the 12-story building to rubble.

Speaking with CBS News' Face the Nation on Sunday, the prime minister defended the Israeli Defense Forces' action, reiterating that intelligence claimed the tower "contained military assets belonging to the Hamas military intelligence."

"It's inconceivable you would have talked to President Biden and not shared proof of Hamas in those buildings that housed the journalists. Did you share that with him?" host John Dickerson asked Netanyahu on the TV program.

"Well, we pass it through the intelligence services to our people, to those people," Netanyahu said. "Why do you think we brought down that building? The interesting thing is I would say all the journalists, one of the AP journalists said, 'We were lucky to get out.' No you weren't lucky to get out. It wasn't luck. It's because we took special pains to call people in those building to make sure that the premises were vacated and that's why we brought down that building."

Associated Press president and CEO Gary Pruitt called the airstrike on the tower that housed the media organization "an incredibly disturbing development." And Al Jazeera English producer Linah Alsaafin tweeted Saturday: "Israel has given a 'warning' that it will bomb the building that houses Al Jazeera offices and other international media channels in Gaza City in one hour...our colleagues have already evacuated."

She continued: "Al Jazeera broadcasted live the phone call (on speaker) between Israel intelligence officer and Abu Husam, the owner of the Jalaa building. The owner is telling the Israeli to give the media time to evacuate their equipment from the building, the officer said 'no.'"

.@jdickerson: "It's inconceivable you would have talked to [Pres. Biden] & not shared proof of Hamas in those buildings that housed the journalists. Did you share that with him?"
PM Netanyahu: "Well, we pass it through the intelligence services to our people, to those people." pic.twitter.com/bVrxAmg8kv

— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) May 16, 2021

Netanyahu continued to defend the airstrike and the military tactics of urban warfare.

"Look, you [Americans] have your own experiences I think in Mosul and Fallujah and Afghanistan, I think you can appreciate the efforts that we go through in dense urban fighting when terrorists are targeting civilians and hiding behind civilians. How difficult that is, we do our best to avoid civilian casualties and we did that yesterday with that building as well," he said.

During a Sunday press conference, Netanyahu touted the recent actions of the IDF in taking the fight to Hamas militants.

"We severely damaged Hamas' underground activity," he said of the increased Gaza violence. "Hamas invested a fortune and a decade in building these tunnels. And most of them, not all of them, have been destroyed...no terrorist is safe."

Netanyahu dismissed his domestic critics who claim that he is increasing military actions against Hamas as a means of keeping a hold of power, despite winning re-election five times.

"You are under investigation for bribery, fraud, breach of trust," Dickerson commented to the prime minister on Face the Nation. "You've also had some difficult—four failed attempts to put together a government in the last 23 months. This leads to the criticism that your current actions are basically an effort to stay in power."

"That's preposterous," Netanyahu said, before telling an anecdote about a soldier who "died in my arms."

Newsweek reached out to Israeli diplomatic officials in Washington Sunday afternoon for any additional details.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with Israeli border police in the central city of Lod, near Tel Aviv, on May 13, 2021, a day after Israeli far-right groups clashed with security forces and Arab Israelis. He said on 'Face the Nation': "One of the AP journalists said, 'We were lucky to get out.' No you weren't lucky to get out. It wasn't luck." YUVAL CHEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images/Getty Images