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Israeli, Syrian Ambassadors to the U.S. Speak Out on the Middle East Crisis

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Daniel Ayalon and Syrian Ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha discuss the escalation of violence in the Middle East, the capture of two Israeli soldiers and who should take responsibility for the conflict.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, some official perspective on what is happening, beginning with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon.

    Mr. Ambassador, welcome.

    DANIEL AYALON, Israeli Ambassador to the United States: Thank you, Jim.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Is Israel actively working or seeking a cease-fire as we speak?

  • DANIEL AYALON:

    Yes, we do. And a cease-fire means the end of hostility. The end of hostility means bringing back the two hostages, the two soldiers that were kidnapped over international borders in our land. Once they are returned, certainly we can talk positively about cease-fire.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But that's the first step, and that must be done, and it has not been done yet?

  • DANIEL AYALON:

    No. And as long as the two soldiers are being kept hostages, that means a continuation of fire, a continuation of violence and hostilities. So this is the first and foremost objective: to get them back.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    For the record, Mr. Ambassador, is your country certain that the two soldiers are still alive?

  • DANIEL AYALON:

    Yes, we are certain they're still alive, and we hold those who keep them responsible for their well-being and also for their safe return home.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    How do you know they're still alive?

  • DANIEL AYALON:

    Well, we know it from analysis of what happened in the theater of the battle where they were captured and also from intelligence sources.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Is this movement toward a cease-fire — is it fast movement? I mean, do you believe that something could happen in the next 24 hours, the next 48 hours? Can you give us any feel for timing here?

  • DANIEL AYALON:

    Well, unfortunately, I do not see any rapid movement fast. We are dealing with a terror organization, Hezbollah, which is much stronger than the government of Lebanon.

    And we see it now, that they have been amassing a huge arsenal. They've been building up for more than a decade. We have been warning against it; we said that they have thousands of Katyusha rockets and deadly missiles.

    Some in the international community were quite skeptical about it. But now we are subject to the wrath of these missiles, which are manufactured in Syria and in Iran.

    And I think, Jim, that the misfortune is not just of the Lebanese government or the people or the Israelis. It is the misfortune of the entire Middle East, because what's at stake here is not just peace and security on our border, which is very, very important for us, for any country and any legitimate government.

    But it's a crucial moment for the Middle East, which way the Middle East will go. Will it go the Iran way, which is pushing very hard its agenda of radical Islamist terroristic ideas and conduct throughout the Middle East? Or will they stop here and things can become better?

    And the crux here — and I think it's a test for the entire region — if we deal them a real blow, to the Hezbollah, I think that will positively affect the insurgents in Iraq, that will positively affect the entire situation in the territories whereby Hamas, Hezbollah, the insurgents in Iraq will understand that there is a price to pay, that they are not at liberty to do whatever they can with the umbrella of Syria and Iran.

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