Updated Oct 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive video — Bush says Hamas are "cold-blooded killers," lauds Biden's support for Israel

On video obtained by Axios, former President George W. Bush — in his first comments about the attack on Israel — warned that the expected Israeli ground offensive in Gaza is "going to be ugly for a while."

Why it matters: Bush, calling himself "kind of a hardliner," said out loud what other leaders won't — that he believes there'll be a temptation for the public to buckle and think peace is an option.

  • "It's not going to take long for people [to say]: 'It's gone on too long. Surely, there's a way to settle this through negotiations. Both sides are guilty,'" Bush, 77, said on Tuesday at a private event near Santa Barbara, Calif.
  • "My view is: One side is guilty. And it's not Israel."

Details: "You're dealing with cold-blooded killers," Bush continued in the onstage conversation with presidential historian Mark Updegrove, a fellow Texan who is president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation.

  • "You can make all kinds of excuses why they are, but they are," he added in the Texas twang and with the Bushian posture that takes viewers back 20 years.
  • He declared that "negotiating with killers is not an option" for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "His job is to ... protect his country. And anyway, we'll find out what he's made out of."

Context: Bush was president during the first Gaza war in late 2008, which included an Israeli ground invasion that led to thousands of Palestinian casualties.

Flashback: Bush endorsed Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza in 2005 as a positive step toward peace.

  • Bush also supported the 2006 Palestinian elections, which Hamas won before seizing control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 — setting the conditions for many of the conflict's current dynamics.
  • Over the weekend, the George W. Bush Institute, which speaks for the former president, issued a statement strongly condemning "the heinous terrorist attacks on Israel."

The big picture: Bush, who has known Netanyahu for at least 25 years, warned the U.S. and Israel against caving to pressure amid a prolonged, ferocious response, predicting that President Biden is "going to take some heat."

  • Bush said Biden "started off on the right foot, it seems to me. Pretty bold statement, and that's good."

What they're saying: "Don't be surprised if Israel takes whatever actions necessary to defend herself," Bush said.

  • "It's going to be ugly for a while," he added. "Going into the neighborhoods of Gaza is going to be tough. .... [Netanyahu's] got a very seasoned military. But they just called up 300,000 reservists."
  • "And to the extent they'll be put in harm's way, it's going to be awfully difficult on the prime minister. But he's got to do what he's got to do."

"[W]e need to support Israel, no ands, ifs, or buts," Bush added. "This is an unprovoked attack by terrorist people willing to kill innocent people to achieve an objective."

  • "Hamas is a political organization. They do not reflect the majority of the Palestinians. ... I'm pretty confident the United States will stand squarely with Israel."

Of note: Asked about the extent to which Iran is responsible for the attack, Bush said: "I don't know. ... I don't get the intelligence anymore."

  • "I'm kind of a hardliner on all this stuff," he added. "I never thought we should try to accommodate Iran, any way, shape or form."
  • "I always felt the objective ought to be to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon to prevent a cataclysmic event in the Middle East. And these are the kind of people that if you show softness, they will take advantage of it."

Reflecting on how much his own beloved GOP has changed, Bush said both parties "have got isolationist tendencies" and will be inclined to say: "We shouldn't get involved ... Who cares?"

  • "Well, we should," Bush added. "We should care."
  • Bush has expressed support for U.S. military aid to Ukraine, putting him at odds with former President Trump and the insurgent "America First" wing of the Republican Party.

The bottom line: In the Middle East, Bush said, the "immediate future doesn't look very bright, particularly if you're on the Hamas side":

  • "It's going to be chaotic ... [I]n a democracy, the people's voices matter, and there's going to be a weariness. You watch, the world's going to be: 'OK, let's negotiate.' You know, 'Israel's got to negotiate.' They're not going to negotiate."
  • "These people have ... played their cards," Bush continued. "They want to kill as many Israelis as they can. And negotiating with killers is not an option for the elected government of Israel. And so, we're just going to have to remain steadfast."

Go Deeper: How the Hamas attack on Israel unfolded

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