LIVNI: “We will act again”

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says Israel is intent on teaching the Islamists of Hamas a lesson in Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (center) at a rocket-bombed school in southern Israel (Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP)

In spite of a U.N. ceasefire resolution passed late last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was talking tough in an interview with NEWSWEEK’s Lally Weymouth. She appeared confident that Israel had dealt a setback to Hamas, the Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip and has been firing rockets into Israel. She warned that further provocations would be met with force.

WEYMOUTH: How does Israel respond to the pressure for a ceasefire from the global community?
LIVNI: I don’t like the term “ceasefire,” since it looks like an agreement between two legitimate sides. At the end of the day, this is not a conflict between two states but a fight against terror. We will continue to fight terrorism. We need to fight in Gaza because [Hamas] has targeted Israel for eight years.

Your aim is to weaken Hamas?
To weaken them and to affect their motivation. [Also,] we need to stop the smuggling of weapons [into Gaza].

Is the idea that Egypt will now take a more active role in stopping the smuggling?
This must be stopped by Israel or someone else. In six months Hamas has changed the range of its missiles from 20 kilometers to 50 kilometers. This now threatens 1 million Israelis.

We need to know that at the end of this military operation, we will not face the rearmament of Hamas.

Do you see the hand of Iran behind it all?
Oh, yes, clearly. When Hamas started, the missiles were made in the Gaza Strip. Now they are professional, coming from Iran.

How long do you think this operation is going to take?
It depends. We need to find out whether they understand that Israel is no longer a state they can target, while hoping for restraint. Israel is going to defend itself.

Have you achieved your objectives?
Some of the goals were achieved. Right now, I think they understand that the equation has changed.

Will Israel reoccupy Gaza?
The idea is not to reoccupy Gaza. When we left, Hamas used to write on billboards that terror won. Now we are coming back because of terror. Terror doesn’t serve the interest of the Palestinians.

It must have been a difficult decision to send Israeli troops into Gaza by land.
Yes, it was a very difficult decision, but right now it looks good.

Are you worried that Hamas will claim victory as Hassan Nasrallah [the leader of Hizbullah] did in Lebanon?
They are [hiding] underground, taken by surprise, asking Hizbullah to do something—nobody [has] helped them. I am sure they will find a place on Al-Jazeera to claim victory. But after what we did there, it is not related to reality.

Are you thinking about stopping the operation?
We have daily meetings asking ourselves whether it is enough or not.

Does the pressure put on Israel by the international community to reach a ceasefire strengthen the hand of Hamas?
Hamas’s strategy is resistance and survival. As long as they survive, this is a victory. When they know the international community is putting pressure on Israel, they can hold out, waiting for Israel to be stopped. It is a pity … [But] I cannot tell you that this is the last operation. If they target us again, we will act again. Strongly.

So that is the message to Hamas?
Yes. Israel is not going to show restraint anymore. We are going to attack strongly if they continue. We are not going to wait years or months.

Do you believe the Obama administration will support Israel the way Bush did?
I do believe that the United States and Israel share not only the same values and interests [but] the same understanding.

People in Washington are interested in what Israel’s aim is.
At the end of the day, a state needs to defend itself. We are not looking to reoccupy Gaza and we do not want to control the Palestinians, but we have a situation in which … Hamas is getting stronger, while Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] is getting weaker. The Palestinians need to understand that Israel can share and implement and translate the vision of two states for two peoples with those who accept this vision, who accept Israel’s existence and renounce violence and terrorism. Hamas does not. The only way to continue the peace process is not only by continuing the dialogue with their pragmatic leadership, but also by weakening those who are not willing to live in peace in this region. This is the strategy.

Would you say Hamas needs to be removed?
I would say that the Gaza Strip controlled by Hamas is a burden not only to Israel but to the Palestinians themselves. It is an obstacle on their way to creating a state, and it represents the kind of radical elements that threaten other pragmatic regimes in the region.

Do you feel you have the backing of the Arab moderates?
I don’t want to embarrass anybody, but I know I represent their interests as well. It is no longer the Israeli-Palestinian or the Jewish-Arab conflict, but it is a conflict between moderates and extremists. This is the way this region is now divided.

Lally Weymouth (10 January 2009) – Newsweek

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