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Peres: ‘We are weakening Hezbollah’

L.A. Times-Washington Post News Service

NEW YORK – Shimon Peres, 82, has served his country in every position from prime minister to minister of defense. The last of his country’s founding fathers, he was in the United States last week to explain Israel’s strategy in its war against Hezbollah to U.S. officials and others. In an exclusive interview, he spoke with Newsweek-Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:Q. Is it true that you were the only person in the Israeli cabinet to raise objections to this operation?A. After two weeks, I forgot everything. We are at war and have to be united. I’m not going to make an account of who was right and who was wrong.Q. Is the operation going according to the original plan or has it expanded?A. We are using more ground forces and have reduced the bombing. The purpose of the bombing was to destroy the headquarters of Hezbollah in the cities.Q. Are Israeli forces going all the way to the Litani River? Will Israel reoccupy southern Lebanon?A. No. We shall make incursions but not stay there.Q. Have you been surprised by the strength and tenacity of Hezbollah?A. Not their strength but the strangeness of this operation. Nobody understands why they started to attack, what the purpose of the attack was and why they are using so many rockets and missiles.Q. The Turks say they won’t go to Lebanon as part of a force if they have to disarm Hezbollah.A. We don’t need a group of observers; we need people who will be effective in fulfilling their task: to implement U.N. Resolution 1559, which calls for the Lebanese army to replace Hezbollah along the Israeli border.Q. Do you believe Israel can win a military victory over Hezbollah?A. I think Hezbollah as a political and military force will emerge in the eyes of the Lebanese as a very costly affair. The tragedy of Lebanon is the result of the ambition of Iran.Q. Did the Iranians order this?A. They are behind it. There is one connection that remains questionable. (Javier) Solana (foreign policy chief of the European Union) visited Tehran on July 11 and got a totally negative response (on restraining the Iranian nuclear program) and Hezbollah struck on the 12th of July.Q. What does Israel have to show after three weeks of this operation?A. What Israel has to show is a great performance of the people. We never experienced having 100 to 150 missiles and rockets every night falling at random. And over a million people living in the shelters, keeping (up) their morale. It’s quite a demonstration of unity and determination. I think in spite of everything, we are weakening Hezbollah. …I see it as three confrontations. One is an attempt to destroy Israel. They thought they’d break our morale and we’d become scared. The second is about Lebanon, which is not less important. They want to de-Lebanize Lebanon – to transform it from a multicultural country into a Shiite country under the spell of the Iranians. And the third – the real confrontation in the Middle East – is between the Arabs and the Iranians for the hegemony of the Middle East. It’s not a surprise that countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan stood up openly against Hezbollah.Q. But that was in the beginning.A. They may have changed their rhetoric, but I don’t think they have changed their minds. And the Iranians are running wild, and their strength stems from the world’s weakness.Q. Do you think Israel has been too dependent on air power in the operation in Lebanon?A. No, we used air power and ground power for different reasons. We used the air power to bomb the headquarters of Hezbollah. … And then we decided to destroy their communication systems. … Now we are using ground forces because they hide weapons in private homes and villages.Q. What do you want to achieve?A. I want to achieve the perception, the conviction, that you cannot bombard Israel. We shall not permit Hezbollah to come back to the southern border between Israel and Lebanon.The second is to stop the firing of missiles and rockets. The third is to release our two soldiers that were taken hostage. And the fourth is to get control over their arsenal of rockets and missiles.Q. You mean stop missiles and rockets coming in from Syria?A. Yes. We bombed the road from Syria to Lebanon so they won’t be able to send rockets in, and we bombed the runways (in Beirut) so Iranian planes will not bring in re-supplies.Q. Many believe that force will not work in the long run.A. No, in the long run we want to see Lebanon governed by Lebanese. We want the Lebanese army to stop being an army that doesn’t participate in the defense of its country. They are 80,000 soldiers, and they will be thickened by an international force. Then we want to demonstrate that the intervention of Iran in the Middle East … is of a limited nature. We also want to contain Syria and eventually to return to see what can be done with the Palestinians.Q. Do you really think the Lebanese army has the power to disarm Hezbollah?A. The answer is they have to try. … You cannot have a state within a state and an army within an army.Q. Do you feel that the military gains you have made have been offset by the damage to Israel’s image? Hasn’t this war strengthened Hezbollah’s image in the Arab world?A. We could do without it, yes. It’s building and destroying (Hezbollah) at the same time. What are they going to achieve – prestige, applause?Q. How much longer do you think this will go on?A. I think this is a matter of weeks and not months. I think that Hezbollah is beginning to feel the Israeli action. They’ve lost two of their six senior commanders, they have paid heavily.


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