Israeli Knesset Legislator Moshe Arens Discusses the Israeli Perspective
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MARGARET WARNER: And joining me is Moshe Arens, a legislator in the Israeli Knesset from Prime Minister Sharon’s Likud Party. He has previously served as defense minister and foreign minister of Israel.
Welcome, Mr. Arens. Just minutes ago the wires began reporting that Israeli tanks are moving into Ramallah, moving toward the downtown area where Yasser Arafat headquarters are. Can you tell us anything about that, what the intentions are there?
MOSHE ARENS: I think it should be clear as it is to people in Israel that the only way to fight this kind of terrorism, the only way to bring it down drastically is to go to the towns and villages where the terrorist networks are established, where the terrorists are outfitted and armed and where terrorism is planned. It can’t be done any other way, only done there and that’s what the Israeli army is about to do.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you hold Yasser Arafat personally responsible for the attacks, do you think he’s directing them in some way?
MOSHE ARENS: Well, there is no doubt he’s directing some of them. The people who took credit for the atrocity today are the al-Aqsa Brigade, and we know that that’s an organization that’s directly tied to Fatah, which is the organization of which Mr. Arafat is the head. But even when it’s done by Hamas, which was the atrocity committed yesterday in Jerusalem, where 19 people were killed, children going to school or by the Islamic Jihad; these are all terrorist organizations that Mr. Arafat has nurtured and allowed to grow and establish themselves. He’s the head of the Palestinian Authority, and so obviously he has responsibility for the murder that’s going on.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, officials of the Palestinian Authority say that particularly since Israel’s incursion to the West Bank in April that the Palestinian Authority really doesn’t have a security infrastructure left and that it’s not capable of stopping these attacks. Do you put any, any…
MOSHE ARENS: Credence.
MARGARET WARNER: Credence in that, thank you.
MOSHE ARENS: Not really. You know that these acts of terrorism have been going on now for close to two years as a result of Mr. Arafat deciding to launch a wave of violence against Israel after he rejected the proposals that were made to him by our previous prime minister, Mr. Barak. So this is violence that he has started; it’s violence that he has commanded. And in some cases it may have run out of his control. I wouldn’t say that every act of terrorism is under his direction, under his command. But he certainly is making no attempt to stop it, and as I pointed out the people who committed the atrocity this morning, took “credit” for it, credit in quotation marks, are people associated directly with him.
MARGARET WARNER: Now last night after yesterday’s attack the Israeli government issued a statement announcing a change in the way it was going to respond to these attacks in saying Israel will respond to acts of terror by capturing Palestinian Authority territory and every additional act of terror will lead to the taking of additional areas. Are you talking about essentially a broad, potentially broad, reoccupation of the Palestinian Authority’s land?
MOSHE ARENS: In recent weeks it has been the policy of the Israel defense forces to move into certain towns and villages where the terrorist networks were established where some of the terrorists were located, and then after a few days to move out. I think the decision has now been reached considering the continuous – the continuing acts of violence that in certain places the continued presence of the idea will be necessary in order to forestall further acts of murder.
MARGARET WARNER: So in other words, you think by remaining on the ground in these areas you really can stop the attacks in a way that the first incursions, the April one didn’t?
MOSHE ARENS: Well, the April incursions also brought down the level of violence for a certain period of time but see now it’s recurring; we’ve taken very bad losses these last two days and there is really no alternative to going in there and getting them. The only way to fight terror is to fight it.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you talking about simply a military reoccupation, or will the reoccupation be broader, will Israel again essentially be governing these areas?
MOSHE ARENS: Well, I hope not. I hope not. And I hope that the army will be successful in bringing down the level of terrorism, bringing an end to it hopefully. If that happens, then we’ll have – it’ll be a new ball game; it will be possible to talk about negotiations, about a political process, a process that is absolutely impossible, even inconceivable in the present climate of violence.
MARGARET WARNER: But in the meantime the statement also said that these, this reoccupation would remain as long as the terror continued. It sounds fairly indefinite, fairly open-ended.
MOSHE ARENS: Well, we certainly count on the fact that the continuation of the terror will not be open-ended and will not be indefinite. We don’t give up that easy. We think we’re going to do it.
MARGARET WARNER: The… this two days of attacks has, as you know, forestalled the president’s planned announcement of his own Middle East initiative. There had been talk, for instance, that he would propose some sort of provisional or interim Palestinian state and ways to get there. Do you think any proposal by the White House at this point has any chance of flying?
MOSHE ARENS: Well, I have no idea what it is the president intends to propose. I can certainly understand the decision — if that has been his decision — to postpone breaking coming out with any kind of plan under the present circumstances. I think that would really be very difficult and so it’s best I think to wait and understand if that’s his choice.
MARGARET WARNER: And wait for how long?
MOSHE ARENS: Well, again, I think that depends on how successful we are in preventing further acts of terrorism.
MARGARET WARNER: So you’re…
MOSHE ARENS: And I suppose that if we will have a week or two of quiet and maybe, and I’m speculating now, it’s really not for me so say, maybe at that time the president will feel that the time is right.
MARGARET WARNER: So you’re basically saying though he should probably wait a week or two just given the current atmosphere?
MOSHE ARENS: Well it’s not for me to advise the president. My impression is that that’s his judgment and that seems right to me.
MARGARET WARNER: What is your thinking about this idea of some sort of provisional Palestinian state?
MOSHE ARENS: Look, we have three terrorist states in the Middle East today. We have Iraq, Saddam Hussein; we have Iran, we have Syria, I don’t know that setting up a fourth terrorist state, because that’s what it would be, would serve any anybody’s interests.
MARGARET WARNER: And this security fence that the Israeli government is now in the process of installing, how much are you counting on that to stop terror attacks?
MOSHE ARENS: Well, first of all it’s going to take a while, I think maybe something like a year before the fence is completed so we’re not going to hold our breath and continue to take casualties during the year, we’d better fix the problem before that fence gets completed. The fence is not an answer to everything; it’s no magic solution; it’s no silver bullet. It may be helpful in certain places to prevent incursions into Israel’s population centers and that’s the intention.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Moshe Arens, thanks for being with us.
MOSHE ARENS: Thank you.