The IDF operation in Gaza is a determined effort on behalf of Israel to put an end to this absurdity of Hamas militants’ daily launching of rockets into our cities.

Interview with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sky News
Monday, March 2, 2008

INTERVIEWER: The Palestinian president has suspended all contact with Israel after another day of violence in the Gaza Strip. A twenty-one month old Palestinian girl, two other civilians and three militants were killed in the latest fighting there. The Palestinian death toll has risen now to more than one hundred after five days of bloodshed. Well, let’s take you live now to Tel Aviv where we can speak to Israel Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Very good evening to you, Mr. Barak, and thank you for joining us on Sky News. You’ve said it’s time for action; you’ve said Hamas will now pay the price. Is this another war?

MR. BARAK: Oh, no, I hope not, but it’s clearly a determined effort on behalf of Israel to put an end to this absurdity of Hamas militants’ daily launching of rockets into our cities. First it was Sderot and the villages around the Gaza Strip, and now they added, with heavier and longer range rockets, a city named Ashkelon with 120,000 people, including some 50 schools with 25,000 students. That’s something that no sovereign state on earth would accept.

INTERVIEWER: And the British Foreign Secretary has acknowledged Israel’s right to defend herself without question. David Miliband has said, though, the response must be within international law, in accordance with international law. What’s your response to that?

MR. BARAK: I talked to David a few days ago and informed him about the escalation that we see in front of our eyes. In fact, I spoke with Condoleezza Rice and to many other foreign ministers of the free world and to members of the Security Council. We think – or rather we perceive it as our self-evident right. In fact, it’s a primary contract between us and our citizens to protect them against indiscriminate rocket attacks from a neighboring entity. And of course we are trying to avoid collateral damage but, as you can ask even Young Prince Harry, it’s not fully avoidable during a war.

INTERVIEWER: But, you see, when both sides continually blame each other, both sides are responsible for the stalemate that you find yourselves in. What does it take to break a cycle like this, and what will it take for Israel to pull back from the brink, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged you to do?

MR. BARAK: It takes common sense from the other side, probably after suffering enough blows, and then perhaps they might come back to their senses. But I totally reject the moral equivalence that you draw between the victims of terror on our side and its perpetrators and the civilian population into which they have deliberately embedded themselves. I totally reject this moral equivalence and the capacity to make this kind of judgment. It [self-defense] is the duty, I believe, of every honest person in the free world.

INTERVIEWER: And while we understand that position that you take also, international observers, people watching this news bulletin, can see that ordinary people on both sides are caught up in this conflict, and that’s why you get a moral judgment like that. But let’s move on from that now. Do you acknowledge that it might be better to stop and talk rather than to pursue this violence now as you suggested?

MR. BARAK: You know, I can hardly think of what we can talk about with Hamas. This is a group of militants, ultra-religious, who claim that they have orders from Heaven to destroy Israel. Try to imagine what it is exactly that we can talk about. Of course, if somehow they would stop –

INTERVIEWER: So if you can’t talk, then what’s the alternative? Are we looking at a ground invasion?

MR. BARAK: If they would have stopped shooting and stopped building up their rocket forces – which because of their inaccuracy, cannot be used but for launches against big villages or cities – had they stopped it, then there would have been no Israeli attacks. We have no fixation about attacking Palestinians. They are our neighbors, they are good people and they will be our neighbors forever. But once the Hamas militants took over and started to launch rockets at us from within the civilian population, we were left with no option but to respond.

INTERVIEWER: That’s interesting because when Hamas took over, many international observers said at last they can get these peace talks, the road to peace, the roadmap to peace on the road, and Hamas were a group that international observers thought that the international community could have a conversation with. Are you saying you’d rather talk to Fatah?

MR. BARAK: We prefer Fatah much better, but we are not in a position to decide for the Palestinian people whom they will choose. We don’t think that Hamas should be recognized by the rest of the world. Basically, the way by which Hamas took over the Gaza Strip had to do with the failure of the Fatah security force to protect itself in Gaza. The Fatah/Mahmoud Abbas people, they had some 16,000 people in the Gaza Strip, and one morning, some 9 months ago, several thousands of Hamas fighters took over the much bigger Fatah force and just disposed of them. That was the failure of Mahmoud Abbas’ government and security forces, and they stand at the head of the causal chain which led to this scandal now.

INTERVIEWER: Just one last question for you, Ehud Barak. The US, the UN, the UK have all asked Israel and the Palestinians to stop this. Who will Israel listen to?

MR. BARAK: We, first of all, feel the commitment to our citizens to put an end to it. Of course, we have no fixation about continued violence but we have to be responsible and make sure that these rocket attacks on our citizenry are stopped. And we are committed sooner or later to take whatever steps that will be needed in order to put an end to it.

INTERVIEWER: Ehud Barak, thank you for speaking to us this evening on Sky News.

MR. BARAK: Thank you.