FM Shalom: I just concluded a meeting with Vice President Cheney where I briefed him about what happened in Gaza. Ahmed Yassin was behind many terrorist attacks that caused hundreds of casualties in Israel. Yassin was personally involved in so many attacks in Israel, and we believe that no terrorist leader deserves immunity. Yassin is the godfather of the suicide bombers. I believe that today we delivered a very important message to all of those who are responsible for terrorist attacks against Israelis, that they will be punished while planning to attack us.
Q: Mr. Shalom, you said that no one deserve immunity over there from those leaders. Are we going to see more attacks against those leaders in the future? Could you tell us?
FM Shalom: Israel took a strategic decision to fight all the terrorist organizations, and it includes its leaders. It can’t be that from one hand we will do everything we can in order to kill those suicide bombers if they didn’t succeed to implement or to carry out their attacks, while in the other hand, the leaders of those organizations won’t be punished.
As I have said, Sheikh Yassin was the leader of a terrorist organization, a terrorist organization that has a very extreme ideology to destroy the State of Israel and to kill its people. Hamas, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, all of them are extreme organizations that would like to implement their ideology to fight all of those societies and countries that are having values of freedom, democracy and human rights.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, was the United States government aware in advance of this strike? And given that Israel has tried to kill Sheikh Yassin before, had the administration communicated over the previous months and years anything about that matter to your government?
FM Shalom: The decision to carry out this morning’s action in Gaza was adopted by the Israeli government. This action in Gaza was carried out as pure self-defense in order to protect our people. We are doing everything we can to coordinate our future moves with the American administration, but it didn’t include this action that was taken this morning in Gaza.
Q: Mr. Shalom, the White House is asking you to exercise restraint, and the other leaders around the world. Don’t you think such action will hurt the peace process?
FM Shalom: We think, to the contrary, it might bring all of the leaders of the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the other extremist organizations to realize that they will pay for their crimes, they will pay for the instructions that they are giving to these suicide bombers, and it might bring them to realize that they should abandon this extreme ideology, and it might bring them to move toward another attitude. We would like to talk to the Palestinian Authority. But on the other hand, we can’t ignore the situation that is taking place in our region. Those organizations are doing everything they can in order to hurt and to damage the Israeli society and the Israeli people.
Q: Mr. Shalom, why now? Why now, why today? And what was the U.S. official reaction to you vis-a-vis this action?
FM Shalom: To ask "why now", I think it’s not the right question. You might well ask, "why not in the past". Ahmed Yassin and his organization, the Hamas, are responsible for the killing of more than 400 Israelis in more than 400 attacks that were carried out against Israelis.
Recently, there were many attacks that were carried out against Israelis that were instructed by Yassin and the leadership of the Hamas. So the question shouldn’t be "why now?" I think it should be "why not before?" But the decision was taken recently and the implementation took place this morning in Gaza.
Q: And what was the U.S. reaction conveyed to you?
FM Shalom: I don’t want to talk about my discussions with the American administration. I had a very good meeting with Vice President Cheney. We talked about various issues. I will have more meetings today with Secretary Powell and with Dr. Rice, and of course we will discuss all the issues in the Middle East.
What we are trying to do is to put an end to the phenomenon that has existed for so many years, and we would like to believe that it’s a very strong message and a very strong signal to all the extremists that they don’t have immunity anymore.
Thank you very much.