APRIL 16, 1996
Tuesday was day six of the bombing and rocketing back and forth across the Lebanon-Israeli border. Jim Lehrer is joined by two former U.S. ambassadors to the region; Edward Djerejian, was former ambassador to Israel and Syria and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs in the Bush administration, William Brown was United States Ambassador to Israel in 1993 when the last major incident occurred between Israel and Lebanon. The forum begins with two reports from ITN.
ROBERT MOORE, ITN: Israeli warplanes have kept up their attacks on South Lebanon, hitting suspected Hezbollah targets around the city of Tyre. Most of the local population has fled North. Those left behind have been seeking shelter at U.N. posts in the area. But the scope of the Israeli air strike has been widened. It included a pre-dawn missile attack on a refugee camp in Sidon, where a Palestinian faction supporting Hezbollah is based. (sirens) But the Shiite militants have been responding. Volleys of rockets fell into Northern Israel's main town, causing extensive damage. More of the missiles could be seen exploding on a mountain ridge just short of their target. The only time that Israeli gunners did not respond was during a two-minute pause this morning when sirens throughout Israel signaled Holocaust Memorial Day. Moments later, they were preparing to fire again, commanders saying their assault on Hezbollah is going according to plan.
ALEX THOMPSON, ITN: Israeli control of Lebanese air space is total. Jets screamed over the southern city of Tyre this morning on bombing runs, averaging over 200 missions every day. At sea, their patrol vessels pass close to the shore. A missile fired into the warren-like streets Einohollah, a densely populated district of Sidon, home to 80,000 Palestinians. Local police said the Israelis were targeting the house of a PLO leader, but a woman and two other men were seriously wounded, the first time Palestinians have been attacked in this war. (sirens) Beirut this afternoon after another air raid designed to kill Hezbollah guerrillas. Instead, a two-year-old girl lies dying of her injuries in hospital. Five air raids in Beirut in six days, the Palestinians have now been targeted and the economic damage after the bombing of the city's electricity supply is now being assessed.
MOUHIB ITANI, Lebanon Electricity: Well, it is obvious. The Israeli attentions are to destroy the infrastructure of this country. This is not the first time they do it. They have been doing it, and they have a habit of doing it, so we know that. Unfortunately, we have to live with it. That's all.
ALEX THOMPSON: At Beirut's foreign ministry, constant activity as an American deal is emerging. Lebanon and Syria must disarm Hezbollah and guarantee the security of Northern Israel. Israel must cease bombardment, divide the peace talks, and express the willingness to end its occupation of parts of Lebanon after nine months of peace.
RICHARD JONES, U.S. Ambassador, Lebanon: We're working as hard and as fast as we can to put this behind us and to move forward so that we can have a comprehensive, just, lasting peace in the entire region, so that people on all sides of the border can live in peace and security.
ALEX THOMPSON: But the French and Syrians are central to any deal. France's foreign minister, Yves De Charet, had talks with President Assad in Damascus this afternoon. The Syrians said the United States can't be an honest broker because of its pro-Israeli stance. The French are also far from optimistic.
JIM LEHRER: Now two views of what it might take to end this outbreak of violence. William Brown was United States Ambassador to Israel in 1993 when the last major incident occurred between Israel and Lebanon. Edward Djerejian is a former ambassador to Israel and to Syria and was Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs in the Bush administration. He's now director of the Baker Institute for Foreign Policy at Rice University in Houston. Amb. Brown, do you agree with what that--how that--what that reporter said at the end, that the--that the Syrians believed the United States cannot be an honest broker in this?
WILLIAM BROWN, Former State Department Official: Well, I don't know the specific Syrian source for that, but no, I don't believe it. We've demonstrated through the years that we exercise a very, very significant influence on all the players there, and surely, the Syrian President Assad is keenly aware of that. Disappointed with us he may be, but I think he recognizes our influence on the situation.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Amb. Djerejian, what is, what is driving this, this particular confrontation at this particular time in your opinion?
EDWARD DJEREJIAN, Director, Baker Institute: Well, Jim, I think we have to put this in a broader context beyond today's headlines. I think there are three factors. One is the retaliatory cycle, the Hezbollah attacks and the Israeli military response, based on very important security calculations. The second factor is the lack of progress in the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. This current lull, the suspension of the talks that make the situation on the ground much more liable for acts of violence and terrorism, and affect the whole political situation in, in individual countries and certainly in the region, and third, I think electoral considerations in Israel, itself. There will be elections at the end of May for the prime ministership, and again the Israeli government has to look strong on security issues, indeed, because of the cumulative impact of Hamas acts of terrorism in Israel, the number of people who have been killed, and then Hezbollah's attacks on Northern Israel. So Shimon Peres's government cannot look weak in the face of this accumulation of acts of violence.
JIM LEHRER: Amb. Brown, would you agree with those three reasons?
AMB. BROWN: I certainly would. I, as you may be aware, had--I was on the ground in 1981-82, as we saw Kiryat Shemona and the Northern Israeli towns bombarded with Katyushas. They were Palestinian. They were Arafat's Katyushas. And there was a massive--
JIM LEHRER: Which is a rocket, right?
AMB. BROWN: That's right. And it was a massive demand that the government act. It did. The results were tragic in terms of the large scale invasion of Lebanon up to and including Beirut. But the rockets stopped at least at that time. Amb. Djerejian and I worked the problem back in 1993. And it was demonstrated there that the Syrian government could and did finally come in and put a stop to it with its very, very strong influence in--
JIM LEHRER: Is there any doubt they could do it again if they wanted to right now?
AMB. BROWN: The question arises back then three years ago they could and they did, the question arises in my mind whether in the interim, Jim, Hezbollah has grown so strong playing on nationalism and on Shiite brand of Islam, acting at the direction, in my view, of Iran-supported and backed in so many ways by Iran. The question in my mind is whether Hezbollah has now so entrenched itself in South Lebanon that it can act almost defiantly. Back then there was no question when the Syrians finally made their decision to put a stop to it. Until now, in my view, it's been an acquiescence in, an unfortunate acquiescence in Hezbollah activity. Certainly, in my view, Syria exercises great influence, but it make take longer than it took them.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read that, Amb. Djerejian, about whether or not Syria can stop this or not?
AMB. DJEREJIAN: I think Syria has major influence on the ground in Lebanon and influence in terms of Hezbollah certainly based on its relations with Iran, and I think that the diplomacy that's being undertaken now, the crisis diplomacy to get the situation back to what I would call a status quo ante, depends a lot on the decision-making in Damascus. I don't think it's an accident that the reports that the Iranian foreign minister has been visiting the leaders in Syria. There have been strong consultations between Prime Minister Hariri of Lebanon and with the Syrian government. So, indeed, Syria plays a central role, and I think perhaps the, the objective now of these diplomatic efforts is to one, cease--stop the fighting, stop the acts of violence; two, to go back to the status that was negotiated, as Bill mentioned, in 1993, which is really to limit attacks to the security zone and not against Israel proper, against the communities and the targets of Northern Israel, and to avoid the targeting of civilians. Indeed, if one can get an agreement, at least on that basis, I think there will be some progress made, but, again, one has to question exactly what Israel's objectives are. Would that be enough? What has this latest Israeli military retaliation done to the considerations and the calculations of the leaders in Damascus and Lebanon? But certainly I think at a minimum we have to get back to the 19--what was negotiated in 1993.
JIM LEHRER: Amb. Brown, you diplomats have always said there is never peace until it's in the interests of both parties. Is it in the interest of both parties? Does Hezbollah have a reason to stop this? Does Syria have a reason to stop this? Does Israel have a reason to stop this right now?
AMB. BROWN: Certainly, Israel has a reason to stop it. I believe that Syria has very good reason to stop it if it wants a renewal of the peace process and ultimately the Golan Heights, which is crucial from the viewpoint of Assad and the Syrian leadership.
JIM LEHRER: While this is going on, there is certainly not going to be any renewal of any peace talks that would lead to Israel giving up the Golan Heights.
AMB. BROWN: Even without this, of course, the Israeli election of itself sort of cooled that. I'm sure that the Israelis would want to re-engage--certainly the Paris government would want to re- engage afterward, however, it's not just these two players of course. It's Hezbollah and there you get a Shiite and ultimately to no small degree an Iranian agenda, to say nothing of the poor Lebanese government, weak, divided, dealing with splits among Christians and Muslims on the one hand, within the Muslim communities between Sunis and Shiite militants on the other. So it's a rather complex quagmire here.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Well, Amb. Djerejian, go back to the Israeli--to the Israeli part of this equation. There--as all the reports say, a reporter just repeated it, they have air superiority, they pretty well can do what they want to do militarily. What is pushing them to end this, if anything?
AMB. DJEREJIAN: Well, they would--I think the Israelis need to have, again, another agreement, strong assurances that Hezbollah will be reined in along the parameters of the '93 agreement.
JIM LEHRER: Because of the--excuse me--because based on what you said earlier, without that, Prime Minister Peres couldn't accept anything even if he wanted to, because of the electoral situation?
AMB. DJEREJIAN: Absolutely. I mean, security, the whole issue in Israel now is peace with security. And the focus is turned really a bit away from peace to security in the wakes of all these acts of violence in Israel from Hamas and from Hezbollah. So the, the Labor Government in Israel has to show itself to be able to respond to the real security needs of the Israeli people, so that is what is driving the Israeli government. On the other hand, unfortunately, when you don't have the peace process making progress, the process, itself, becomes more susceptible to what I call the least common denominator on the ground, the people who have a stake in promoting violence and terrorism to subvert the peace process, and unfortunately, we're seeing that now. There's a lot of deja vu in this because we've seen it in the past, we've seen it in 1993, and the important thing is to establish an arrangement that will hold on the ground and get on with the Arab-Israeli peace process, and especially the Israeli-Syrian negotiations because there will be no progress on the Israeli-Lebanese negotiations unless there is parallel progress in the Syrian track. I, for myself, thought it was a mistake for the Israeli-Syrian negotiations to be suspended. There were very good political reasons for doing that--
JIM LEHRER: Well, that was--
AMB. DJEREJIAN: --Israel--
JIM LEHRER: That was a result of the suicide bombings in Israel.
AMB. DJEREJIAN: That's correct. In that instance, it was the Hamas--
JIM LEHRER: Hamas.
AMB. DJEREJIAN: --bombings. But I thought it was a mistake to suspend those because we have to--the Arab-Israeli peace process, and I've said this before on your program, Jim, has always been a race between violence and terrorism on the ground and substantive forward movement in the negotiations themselves. And we must not allow the terrorists and the least common denominators to subvert that process.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Amb. Brown, based on what you know about this similar deja vu situation that Amb. Djerejian just spoke of, that you spoke of earlier, and what you know is going on there now, is there any reason to believe that this thing could be resolved sooner rather than later?
AMB. BROWN: I think it'll take time. It may take more time than it took in 1993.
JIM LEHRER: Like what? Weeks? Months? This might--we might continue this for a matter of weeks or months?
AMB. BROWN: There are dedicated rejectionists, dedicated fanatics that are involved on this on the Hezbollah side, and whereas in 1993 we emerged from it rather sooner, it may take a bit longer this time for the pain level to radiate out, an unfortunate way of putting it, for the more decisive kind of intervention that we surely need from Damascus.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Amb. Djerejian?
AMB. DJEREJIAN: Well, I don't know how much time it's going to take. The main point here is that this situation can get out of control and Israel obviously remembers its experience in Lebanon in '82, and also in the '93 period. We do not want the situation in Lebanon to grow into a larger crisis, and, therefore, I think there has to be some crisis management now limiting the scope--
JIM LEHRER: All right.
AMB. DJEREJIAN: --of the activities and getting, getting the parties to come to an agreement on security in Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel and getting on with this peace process.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much. We'll see what happens.