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Interview: Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz

He is chief of general staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and was interviewed on March 31, 2002.

What do you regard as the key military objectives of the current IDF operations in Ramallah in the West Bank?

photo of mofaz I would like to start by saying that Arafat chooses to achieve [his] political goals by terror activity and violence. And the main objective of our operation is to fight against the roots of the terror in the territories that are under the Palestinian responsibility.

We are going to fight against the roots of the terror in order to stop the suicide attacks inside the heart of Israel. I believe that this is our main goal, because Arafat refrains to fight against terrorist activity. They are not arresting the terrorists. They are not fighting against them. ...

If that's your military objective, how is that enhanced, how is that promoted by having IDF soldiers just meters away from Chairman Arafat himself?

Well, the question about Chairman Arafat, it is a political question. We've got an order to isolate him, and we're doing our best as soldiers to do it. But, we are in the Palestinian territory just for fighting against the terror. We are not going to stay there for a longer time. We will stay there in order to fight the terrorism, and only to fight against the terrorism. We are not going to fight against the Palestinian people.

We have to be very precise when we are fighting among the Palestinian people. And to find the terrorists, to arrest them, and to destroy their infrastructures, and to be able to give the securities that people of Israel need.

But, isn't there a risk by having soldiers so close to Chairman Arafat that accidentally a stray bullet or something could kill him?

Well, you know that in every war there are some dangerous situations. And we are not going to do any action that will danger him. We gave to our soldiers very precise orders about what they have to do, and what they don't have to do. ...

There have been previous operations of a large scale going into West Bank towns, and doing security sweeps. And this hasn't resulted in stopping suicide bombing and other forms of military action against Israel from within the West Bank. What makes this current campaign different?

Well, this campaign doesn't have only the military channel. It has also the political channel, the economic channel, the media channel. And I believe that this is a larger campaign. And we are going to stay for weeks until we will fight against the roots of the terror inside of the Palestinian towns.

We cannot use all of our military power, and we will not use all of our military power, because we don't want to escalate the situation here.

And I'm saying again, we are going to fight only against the terrorists, not against the Palestinian people. ... It is very important for us because we know that the Palestinians are going to live side-by-side with us for a long time. And one of our goals is to [make] easier the life of the Palestinians.

But, in the same time, we cannot live in the situation that we are a bleeding nation. And they are continuing to send in more and more people for suicide attack in the towns and villages inside of Israel. And I believe that any other country would do the same way that we are doing in order to give the security that the people of Israel need for living in our state. ...

But, don't you feel that [with] the scale of this kind of military campaign, and the isolation of Chairman Arafat, really you are playing into the hands of the agenda of the militants? Isn't this just as likely to increase the number of people who are willing to carry out suicide bombings and acts of resistance against Israel?

You see, we are soldiers. And we have to carry out our mission. And our mission is clear cut, to fight against the terrorism. And the question of isolation of Arafat, it is a political decision, and I don't want to speak about it. But I believe that it will be very difficult to achieve an agreement with Arafat because his goal is to achieve his political goals by terror and violence. I mean, Palestinian states, the borders of '67, Jerusalem as the capitol, and the right of return. And we cannot agree as an independent country that they will force us to achieve their goals, and to agree with their goals by using against us terror environments.

What would you say to those who accuse you of undermining the Palestinian Authority, the very authority that you wish to crack down on what you describe as the terrorism of the suicide bombings? Aren't they the people that you want to crack down on? So, why are you now dismantling the [Palestinian Authority] infrastructure?

The problem is that part of the Palestinian security forces and part of the Palestinian official officers, and some of the leaders are in the circle of the violence in the terror activity against us. Some of the Palestinian security forces are making terror activity against Israel. And this is the reason we have to fight against them. ...

You've been renowned for very precise, in a sense, targeted operations, when you have intelligence as regard to cells of militants who are carrying out acts of violence. But now you're actually going in and occupying a whole city such as Ramallah, and doing house to house searches. I think it would be very difficult for any people not to regard that as non-targeted, and as an action that is against the people.

We're not going to every house. We are controlling the area to ease the military action against Israeli terror targets inside of [a] populated area. The reason that we are controlling this area is that we are fighting against the terror, and to save the life of all the soldiers, to defend the life of our soldiers as much as possible. This is the reason.

We are not going to fight against the Palestinian people, because those that are not fighting against us, there is no reason that we will fight against them. ...

Do you regard yourself as at war?

I believe that it is a war against the terror.

So, whose army are you fighting?

We are not fighting an army; we are fighting the terror activity. And in the last few months, the Tanzim Fatah, they became the main group that are leading the terror activity against the state of Israel. It is Tanzim, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and some of the Palestinian security forces. They are fighting against us. And they are creating more and more terror activity against us. And we are fighting against them.

But, you can surely understand why people have a jaded attitude toward the idea that more military action inside the West Bank will produce less suicide bombers. ... Fatah and the Al Aqsa [Brigades] -- who didn't used to carry out suicide bombings -- are now carrying out suicide bombings. So, it seems to people that the net result of all previous military action is, in fact, to end up with more recruits for suicide missions.

I believe that in any case, and I'm saying again, in any case they will do what they are doing now. ... A wave of terror activity in the heart of Israel.

But, why are they doing that?

I told you, because Arafat and the Palestinian leaders choose a strategy of using terror and the violence for achieving their political goals instead of sitting around the table of negotiation and trying to achieve some kind of agreement with the state of Israel.

There [are] some who have said [that] what you could do, what would be best, is to withdraw. This would strengthen the hand of Chairman Arafat and his Fatah organization to actually close down the militant groups, particularly perhaps the Islamic groups, which might pose more of a problem in negotiations than the main Palestinian political group, which is Fatah.

We cannot negotiate under the pressure of terror activity. And we cannot cower before terror activity. It will give motivation to more and more countries that are our enemies to do the same way of using against us terror and violence. ... I believe that if the Palestinians want peace, and if they want agreement, the best way is not in the field of the terror activity; it is sitting around the table of negotiation. And not using an ugly war against us. ...

I've been interviewing members of Al Aqsa and leaders of Islamic Jihad. And they say, basically, that they will not stop their actions, even if Chairman Arafat asks them to, if there [are] any acts against Palestinian people, including targeted assassinations of what you regard as key militants, which again triggers the cycle of violence. I mean, do you really feel, is it your conviction, that Chairman Arafat could stamp out all acts of violence against Israel?

... Well, we believe that Chairman Arafat is controlling the situation.

So, you regard him as a terrorist then?

I said, I believe two years ago, that the Palestinian Authority, it is a terrorist entity from tie to toe.

So, why have you been asking the Palestinian Authority, which you regard as a terrorist entity, to crack down on terrorists? That doesn't make any sense.

I suggest [to] them to stop the terror activity against us, and to sit around the table of negotiation.

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