Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres Defends Israel’s Actions
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MARGARET WARNER: Deputy Prime Minister Peres, welcome.
SHIMON PERES, Israeli Vice Premier: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Thanks for being with us. Israel today intensified its ground offensive in Lebanon. Why? What is your objective there?
SHIMON PERES: We go from a place to a place where there is a concentration of missile launchers and trying to clean it. I mean, we bomb when there are headquarters of the Hezbollah in the same building, and as you notice nobody was killed because they were empty. Then we go from place to place where they use the villagers as human shield and are trying to cancel the missiles so their basis of the missiles.
MARGARET WARNER: So how far will Israel go into Lebanese territory, and how long will Israel stay?
SHIMON PERES: It doesn’t matter how long we shall go, because we shall not stay there anyway. We go just on caution for a specific mission, and then our people, our soldiers are coming back home.
MARGARET WARNER: But is Israel determined to stay until there is a cease-fire, until there’s an international force, or might Israel withdraw sooner?
SHIMON PERES: We don’t intend to stay there for any length of time at all. As I have said, we do just incursions when we have specific information about the concentration of missiles or launchers.
MARGARET WARNER: So I just want to be clear here. So are you suggesting that this could be incursions such as occurred last week, when Israel sent ground forces but then withdrew?
SHIMON PERES: Yes. We sent forces in Bint Jbail. That was the first place. They were there for a couple of days to clean the place, and they came back home.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, to what degree has the international reaction, even outrage, over the bombing at Qana, where so many civilians were killed, has that forced Israel to adjust its military strategy in any way?
SHIMON PERES: No, we never have had a strategy to hit civilian lives and clearly not to hit a single child. Every child that losses his life is a tragedy for us we never intended. But, alas, at war there are mistakes. The greatest mistake is the war itself, but when, for example, there was operation against Kosovo, they bombed the China embassy.
MARGARET WARNER: The United States did.
SHIMON PERES: Yes, not matter who, because you cannot control every move.
MARGARET WARNER: But your justice minister said today that, when this 48-hour partial bombing suspension ends, which I think is in just a few hours, that Israel is going to resume bombing in earnest. One, can you confirm that? And, two, do you then run the risk of another accident, such as occurred at Qana, where civilians are killed in great numbers?
SHIMON PERES: I hope not.
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Rice left Israel last night, returned here to work on trying to get a cease-fire resolution -- a cease-fire and a resolution at the United Nations. What are Israel's conditions for agreeing to a cease-fire?
SHIMON PERES: To have a cease-fire, which means that the Hezbollah will not return to the southern part of Lebanon as they used to be; that they will give us back the two soldiers that they have taken hostage for no reason, violating the international law; that they will be stop shooting rockets and missiles over our heads every day, 100, 140; and there will be a dismantling of the Hezbollah's military force; and let's let the Lebanese govern their country.
May I say one thing? There are four operations, not one. One is against Israel to break our heart (inaudible) The second is against Lebanon, to de-Lebanize Lebanon and make it a Shiite country, instead of a multinational country. To convert the Middle East from an Arab region to a Persian one, under the spell of Iran. Then again to win in Iraq. There is a great ambition of Iran to take over the Middle East, and those four points, all of them, stem from the same ambition.
MARGARET WARNER: So if Iran is the culprit, why did Israel attack Lebanon?
SHIMON PERES: We didn't attack Lebanon. The Hezbollah attacked us. We never attacked the country unless we were attacked. There is a clear line.
Israel was never an aggressor. We'll never be an aggressor. And even so the Hezbollah has had an arsenal of weapons, that wasn't a good enough reason to attack. We defend ourselves when we are being attacked.
Conditions for a ceasefire
MARGARET WARNER: Let me go back to the conditions for a cease-fire. So are you saying that Israel will not agree to a cease-fire unless you have a commitment for all of those, the withdrawal of Hezbollah, the return of the soldiers, and an international force inserted into that border area?
SHIMON PERES: Yes, and then also to stop the Hezbollah from collecting missiles and rockets and to fire them against Israel.
MARGARET WARNER: How much longer do you believe it will take for Israel to degrade -- I think is the word that's being used now -- Hezbollah's military capability to a degree that Israel would find comfortable?
SHIMON PERES: I can't give you a date. I hope it will be a matter of weeks, not of months. But...
MARGARET WARNER: But weeks plural?
SHIMON PERES: Pardon?
MARGARET WARNER: Weeks in the plural?
SHIMON PERES: Weeks in the plural. I wish it will be one day or two days. You know, the Hezbollah thought they could overpower us quickly that they'll fire missiles at us, we should lose our heart, we shall be in the shelters, and then they will have their way.
We think that our people were able to show their determination, their unity, a fighting spirit. And if we are not wrong -- and I think we are not wrong -- it is the Hezbollah which is beginning to be tired.
MARGARET WARNER: What tells you that?
SHIMON PERES: The number of their losses, which are by far higher than they admit, their arsenal of weapons, and the disappointment of not achieving their main goal.
MARGARET WARNER: But throughout the Arab world, in fact, it is said that -- I mean, Israel defeated four Arab states in six days in 1967. It's now three weeks, and Hezbollah is still standing and, until two days ago, was still firing as many rockets into Israel as before. In fact, has Hezbollah not gained in stature through this operation?
SHIMON PERES: Well, I don't know where they are saying that in the world, but I can tell you what they say is not necessarily what they mean. For them, it's a tragedy as great almost like for Israel.
But when you confront an army, you can with the sweep of your sword a victory to defeat army, yet we don't have an army. You have terrorists who are being -- who are spread a lot of places, and it's very hard to have a victory in the military sense, because you don't have a front. You don't have uniforms. You don't have rules. You don't have armies.
So occasionally we have to go and catch one after another, destroy one nest of missiles after another. We shall do it, and we shall win. Even if it will take another week, it doesn't matter.
In the Arab world, if they really think that it takes too long time, maybe we will see that this time again. Nobody understands, why did Hezbollah start, what does Hezbollah want to achieve, and how are they going to survive?
Israel under pressure
MARGARET WARNER: Does Israel feel that it has a green light from the Bush administration to continue this as long as you feel is necessary or are divisions beginning to appear now between you and the Bush administration on this point?
SHIMON PERES: I'm not try argue with your question, excuse me. I think we have a green light from the administration to defend our life as much as it is necessary.
And may I say, we've never asked for American soldiers to defend Israel throughout our history, and I think we appreciate very much the extent of the administration, its a fair and open support, as we are very thankful to the American people for their moral and political support. We shall do the job.
MARGARET WARNER: But you told an interviewer yesterday in New York from the Wall Street Journal that Israel is beginning to feel some pressure. The implication seemed to be including pressure from the United States?
SHIMON PERES: No, I said it's hard for Israel, it's difficult. Every war is not a great pleasure, as you can imagine. And to keep so many people in the shelters and to have every night missiles falling at random, endangering children and women, clearly, it's hard.
But you know you are as great as the challenge you face. And I'm telling you: I've never felt my country, despite all the difficulties, so united, so determined, so feeling justified in our attempt to defend our lives.
MARGARET WARNER: Shimon Peres, thank you.
SHIMON PERES: Thank you.