Sunday, 23 August 1998
SNOW: We’re now joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his first American interview, since the missile strikes. Mr. Prime Minister, I’m told when you heard news of it, you were on vacation on the Sea of Galilee and you jumped out of your boat. Is that true?
NETANYAHU: I didn’t jump out of the boat, but I did receive upon getting back to shore a phone call from Secretary of State Albright who informed me of the background and reasons for the American attack. And I must tell you that we in Israel support the American action fully, because — I use the word attack, but it really is an act of self-defense against ruthless terrorists who need no pretext to kill people as they did in Nairobi and Tanzania. And will do so again unless they are hit and hit conclusively and repeatedly.
SNOW: Mr. Prime Minister, you’ve been criticized for bombing Hezbollah sites. The United States bombed a couple of sites. Is bombing the best way to fight terrorism?
NETANYAHU: It’s one way.
SNOW: What’s the best way?
NETANYAHU: Look, the terrorists operate under the principle of impunity. They basically think that they can murder innocent people with horrendous and savage attacks, and get away with it. I think that what the American actions signals is a policy that says you can’t get away with it. We’ll get you. We’ll get you either directly, the perpetrators, or the people who give them the means and infrastructure to apply their grisly deeds. And that is I think a very important act and one that all free nations and all nations committed to the fight against terrorism should support.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Prime Minister, the Arab nations have either been silent, or, sort of, taken a neutral stance in the aftermath of the bombings. Does that destabilize the Middle East?
NETANYAHU: No, I don’t think so. And I think you should understand that there is a public response — or public lack of response and a private response. And I think many of the Arab countries themselves are targets of this same terrorism. And surely many of them understand the importance of taking the stand against it even though quite a few of them are reluctant to say so.
WILLIAMS: What about Israel’s security? Is it — it’s likely or do you consider it unlikely that Osama bin Laden would make Israel a target for any response to the American bombings?
NETANYAHU: Well, as I said, these terrorists don’t need any pretext. They have continuously attacked us before this action and presumably they will do so — or will try to do so after this action as well. We understand that to fight terrorism, you have to fight the terrorists. There is no other way. And you have to also apply where possible, sanctions and pressures against the states that give them support. In this case, it’s slightly more difficult because bin Laden has his own independent infrastructure. But the combination of acting against his organization or organizations, and the states that give them the space, the ground, to operate from within their territory, that is the right action to take. And we commend President Clinton for taking this bold and important move.
SNOW: Mr. Prime Minister, is it essential to wage war not merely on Osama bin Laden but also on the states that sponsor terrorism, I speak specifically of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and possibly even Afghanistan?
NETANYAHU: Well, all states that support terrorists or provide them safe haven or the basis from which to operate should know that there is a price. The price can be exacted in a variety of ways. There are political sanctions, economic sanctions, and other sanctions on occasion including military ones. And the precise decision on which of these steps to apply should be taken very carefully. But I believe that seeking to target the organization itself is not only legal, that’s obvious, I mean — it’s not only from a legal point of view, it’s from a common sense point of view. If somebody goes out and bombs an embassy, killing 150 people, they shouldn’t get away with it. And they should know that there is a price to be paid, and that they will pay the price.
SNOW: Prime Minister Netanyahu, you are now prepared to give up 13% of the West Bank in your negotiations with Chairman Arafat, or President Arafat. Is Yasser Arafat in exchange prepped to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure Hamas, Hezbollah, and so on?
NETANYAHU: I won’t go into the specifics of the negotiations because we’re still in them in a critical phase. Our agreement to withdraw from additional territory depends first on the configuration and location of this territory, because obviously Israel is such a tiny country. We’re talking about a country that, you know, that is all of — the full distance is I think, something from Kennedy Airport to downtown Manhattan, just to give you an idea. So we’re obviously very concerned with each piece of land, which also happens to be our ancestral homeland. It’s very dear to us. The Jewish people have been attached to this land for the last 4,000 years. So both for the terms of history and the very real terms of security, we are very careful not to disengage or withdraw from territory that by withdrawing from it could hamper our security. That’s one side of the equation, security.
The second side is Palestinianian compliance. They have promised to take action against the infrastructure of terrorism. Precisely this same infrastructure that we’re talking about, in other terms. It is the infrastructure of terrorism, not only the specific terrorists themselves, that have performed recent murders against Israelis in the last few days that concerns us. And there’s a specific Palestinian promise to act against this infrastructure. We want to see that in concrete terms as part of the deal. Not only the physical battle against terrorism, which the Palestinian authority must undertake, but also the moral battle against terrorism. And that is chiefly exhibited by their willingness to annul the Palestinian charter, which calls for Israel’s annihilation. In fact for Israel’s annihilation through the use of terror.
So, we want to see a moral battle against terrorism and a physical battle against terrorism as part of this package deal. It’s not only Israel that has to give, the Palestinians have to give as well. That is an equitable deal, and one which we will be prepared to do.
SNOW: OK. Mr. Prime Minister, thanks for joining us today.
NETANYAHU: Thank you.