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House Passes Resolution Backing Israel

July 20, 2006 at 6:15 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent: While Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants continued to trade fire across the Lebanon border today and the death toll mounted on both sides, there were more appeals around the globe for an immediate cessation of the hostilities.

Today, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan pressed for at least a temporary stop in the fighting.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. Secretary General: What is most urgently needed is an immediate cessation of hostilities for three vital reasons: first, to prevent further loss of innocent life and the infliction of further suffering; second, to allow full humanitarian access to those in need; and third, to give diplomacy a chance to work out a practical package of actions that would provide a lasting solution to the current crisis.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Within minutes, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, upheld his administration’s resistance to calls for a cease-fire.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: As we’ve said repeatedly, what we seek is a long-term cessation of hostilities that’s part of a comprehensive change in the region and part of a real foundation for peace. But still, no one has explained how you conduct a cease-fire with a group of terrorists.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And at the White House, spokesman Tony Snow said it wasn’t clear that Hezbollah would even agree to cooperate.

TONY SNOW, White House Press Secretary: We’d love to have a cease-fire, but Hezbollah has to be part of it. And at this point, there’s no indication that Hezbollah intends to lay down arms.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. was not going to pressure Israel for a cease-fire.

SEAN MCCORMACK, State Department Spokesman: We are not in the business of laying out timelines for sovereign countries that are in the midst of defending themselves. Certainly, we would like to see the violence end, but the first steps for violence ending need to be taken by those who provoked this violence. That is Hezbollah. Stop the rocket attacks. Return those prisoners.

JUDY WOODRUFF: McCormack repeated that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would head to the region, quote, “when she believes it’s helpful and useful.”

And on Capitol Hill, lawmakers again threw their overwhelming support behind Israel. By a 410-8 vote, the House passed a non-binding resolution backing Israel’s right to defend itself. The resolution condemned enemies of the Jewish state and specifically criticized Syria and Iran for their support of Hezbollah. The Senate passed a similar measure Tuesday night.

Perspectives on U.S. policy

Rep. Eric Cantor
Republican, Virginia
What we have right now is a situation where Israel, a sovereign nation, was attacked. It was attacked by Hezbollah terrorists and, frankly, as a victim of that aggression, needs to be able to defend itself.

We get two perspectives on U.S. policy from congressmen involved in today's House debate. Eric Cantor is a Virginia Republican and chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. He supported the resolution backing Israel.

Nick Rahall a West Virginia Democrat, was one of the eight no votes in the House today. His grandparents were immigrants from Lebanon.

Congressman Cantor, as we said, you were one of those who voted for the resolution supporting Israel. You are for the administration complete support for Israel and not for any sort of cease-fire?

REP. ERIC CANTOR: Well, you know, I don't think you characterize he's not for any cease-fire. But what we have right now is a situation where Israel, a sovereign nation, was attacked. It was attacked by Hezbollah terrorists and, frankly, as a victim of that aggression, needs to be able to defend itself and has gone about trying to take out the terrorist infrastructure in Lebanon where the Hezbollah operates.

I think all parties want to see the minimizing of the loss of civilian life. And we know that historically Israel continues to take steps to try and minimize that.

But the important thing is that we look over the horizon and say that we want a lasting peace in the Middle East. And the first thing that we need to do is to be able to wipe out and disable the terrorists. And then we can begin to talk peace.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, if that's the situation, Congressman Rahall, if the terrorists have to be wiped out first, is the Bush administration right to give Israel its full backing?

REP. NICK RAHALL: Judy, first of all, the terrorists are not going to be wiped out completely by any military operation. There is no way such operations can kill every Hezbollah member or every Hamas member, as much as we would love to see that happen, but reality is otherwise.

I supported an alternative resolution that expresses clearly Israel has a right to defend itself, condemns these hostage-takings, which I fully condemn, and says that Israel has the right to pursue its soldiers in a measured manner and obtain their release.

Short term, Hezbollah will suffer dramatic damage, as they should suffer. And that has already occurred, I'm confident. Long term, the further this hostility continues, the more seeds of future terrorists are being planted.

I recall back in 1982, during the last heavy Israeli bombardment of Beirut, I was in Beirut leading a congressional delegation at that point, bombs falling all over the place, when then-President Ronald Reagan got on the phone to Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel at that time, and said, "Enough is enough. Stop the bombing."

The bombing stopped; negotiations continued. And let's not forget, it was that invasion of 1982 during which Hezbollah was born, so we are creating a very dangerous scenario here for the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Congressman Cantor, what about this point, that the U.S., by backing Israel, is in effect helping lay the seeds for future terror?

REP. ERIC CANTOR: Well, you know, I take difference with my friend, Nick Rahall, here, because I believe that all signs point to Damascus and then Tehran. And I do not think that we're laying any seeds for the breeding of more terrorism; I think it's just the opposite.

We need to stand by our ally, Israel. They're fighting the same war that we are, against the Islamic extremists. And frankly, the extremists are involved in a death cult being financed by Tehran through Damascus.

And we're never going to see the end of this and the assault by the terrorists until we wipe -- really, do everything we can to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure and go after those who, frankly, are funding their operations in Damascus, as well as Tehran.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that point, Congressman Rahall, that if the U.S. is engaged in a war on terrorism, and unless an organization like Hezbollah is pushed back in the way Congressman Cantor describes, you can't make headway in that war?

REP. NICK RAHALL: Well, Hezbollah will be pushed back during this operation. There's no doubt about it. That's why the U.S. is waiting a proper amount of time to give Israel time to do the job, and then Secretary Rice will go over there, and we'll have a cease-fire, I hope, anyway, that will be the scenario.

As far as the implications of Iranian and the Syrian backing, no doubt about it; 100 percent, I have no doubt that that's true. It's unfortunate that these countries are using proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas to play their games on the innocent chessboard called Lebanon.

Lebanon, a country that has never attacked anybody, has never taken anybody hostage, finds themselves now suffering innumerable civilian damage and damage to their infrastructure after recently being rebuilt from a 25-year-old civil war, now finds themselves completely helpless while these games are being played by outside powers.

If Israel's much superior intelligence-gathering capabilities than anybody in the region finds that their soldiers have been taken to Damascus or Iran or wherever, let them go there and pursue the release of their soldiers. Let them go there and do harm, and not use Lebanon as that chessboard upon which to play these games.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Cantor?

REP. ERIC CANTOR: Well, Judy, I would say this. I mean, the prime minister of Lebanon today was quoted in an Italian newspaper saying that Hezbollah must be disarmed, and that's exactly what Israel is doing.

So, unfortunately, you're right, Nick. The innocent folks, innocent civilians in Lebanon are caught in the middle. But frankly, Hezbollah has set up shop and, frankly, established a network of infrastructure that they have used Lebanon as a launching pad.

And what the prime minister has said there is that it is important for us to allow Israel to disarm and to go after the infrastructure so that we can give the freedom-loving people in Lebanon a chance to re-establish their democracy. And frankly, we need to keep our eyes focused on Damascus and Tehran so that they do not and are not able to go in and influence the rebirth of Lebanon.

Cease-fire and pulling out

Rep. Nick Rahall
Democrat, West Virginia
I was quite startled to hear out of the words of the neo-conservative himself the words "cease-fire." I'm glad to hear that's in their vocabularies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Rahall, what of the point made by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton? Among other things, he said no one has explained how you conduct a cease-fire with a group of terrorists.

REP. NICK RAHALL: Well, I was quite startled to hear out of the words of the neoconservative himself the words "cease-fire." I'm glad to hear that's in their vocabularies.

Obviously, they are the ones that are in control these days, once again back into control of our foreign policy, at least for another week or two. And, sure, he doesn't want to see a cease-fire occur, and neither do the neo-cons in this administration.

They'd just as soon see the United States attack Iran, Syria tomorrow morning. I'm sure that would fit their agenda fine. But, you know, there are more repercussions to this than just what we're talking about in the country of Lebanon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Cantor, you have, you know, this argument back and forth. In your view, what is the right moment for Israel to pull back, to exercise restraint? I mean, how do you measure when enough damage has been done? You have the U.N. secretary general and America's European allies saying there's already been a disproportionate number of civilian casualties.

REP. ERIC CANTOR: You know, I think it is just preposterous to call Israel's response disproportionate. Israel was the victim here. And the civilians in Israel and Haifa and other cities continue to be the targets of rockets manned by Hezbollah guerrillas.

And in fact, the difference that we've got going on here is Israel is really trying to focus on taking out the terrorist infrastructure. That's why you saw the bombing of the airports, to stop the importation of weapons from Damascus and Tehran.

And they're doing everything they can to minimize civilian loss, where you've got the terrorists, Hezbollah on the other side, aiming directly and trying to maximize civilian loss. So let's just establish that point.

And, Judy, I think long term what we're going to have to see is some type of international effort to come in, once Israel has reached the point at which the terrorist infrastructure is dismantled, to minimize the threat that it will have to face to the north, and make sure that we establish a presence along the Syrian border, as well as the border between the guerrillas and Israel.

Formula for ceasefire

Rep. Nick Rahall
Democrat, West Virginia
Let's be clear where Israel is hitting in Lebanon. Yes, they've hit the airport, not once, but come back a second time, and totally destroyed the infrastructure of the Beirut airport.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that formula, Congressman Rahall?

REP. NICK RAHALL: Well, let's be clear where Israel is hitting in Lebanon. Yes, they've hit the airport, not once, but come back a second time, and totally destroyed the infrastructure of the Beirut airport. I hardly think there were Hezbollah rockets hidden there, nor do I think Hezbollah would be so open as to use the Beirut airport to transport their hostages out and/or arms out or into the country.

The Christian suburb of Beirut called Achrafieh, very pro-Christian, very anti-Hezbollah, hit late yesterday. I hardly think there were Hezbollah missiles or Hezbollah even sympathizers in that neighborhood.

The areas of Lebanon in the north, pro-Christian areas that are being hit on a daily basis. And most of the targets, most of the Hezbollah rockets that are being fired are coming from a 30-mile zone from the middle, from the south of Lebanon, in the southern part, in other words. Hardly are these rockets being fired from these areas in the northern part of Israel that are -- in the northern part of Lebanon -- that are being hit by Israel today.

When we look at the civilian casualties, over 300 in Lebanon, of which approximately 25 -- if that many -- are Hezbollah soldiers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, response, Congressman Cantor.

REP. ERIC CANTOR: You know, I just take issue with Nick. I mean, I think there is no way you can compare the actions of the terrorists with those of Israel. Israel is trying to take out infrastructure. And, unfortunately, the Lebanese government has not been strong enough to deal with the terrorists.

And that's why we saw the prime minister today call on Israel to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure to give the Lebanese government a chance to re-establish itself. And I strongly disagree with the notion that Israel would directly go after civilian population in Lebanon.

America's role

Rep. Eric Cantor
Republican, Virginia
Israel needs the United States in order to defend itself. And I think you saw today on the floor of the House an overwhelming vote, bipartisan vote in support of Israel's right to defend itself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Rahall, could Israel be doing what it doing without the full backing of the United States?

REP. NICK RAHALL: Oh, no, Judy, they would not be doing it. I don't say the U.S. gave them the green light; I don't say there was in collusion here. But obviously, you know, we're realists, and we know reality. They would not be doing it if there were any hesitation at all on the U.S. part to give them the go ahead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Congressman Cantor, do you agree?

REP. ERIC CANTOR: You know, I agree that we are Israel's most important ally.

REP. NICK RAHALL: And we should be.

REP. ERIC CANTOR: And Israel needs the United States in order to defend itself. And I think you saw today on the floor of the House an overwhelming vote, bipartisan vote in support of Israel's right to defend itself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The vote, once again, 410-8 on the floor of the House. Well, gentlemen, Congressman Rahall and Congressman Cantor, we thank you both very much.

REP. NICK RAHALL: Thank you.

REP. ERIC CANTOR: Thank you.