CHARLIE ROSE: The assassination of the spiritual leader of the Hamas, Sheikh Yassin, by Israeli forces created shock and protest throughout the Middle East… Earlier today, I sat down with Israel’s foreign minister, Silvan Slalom, at his hotel for a conversation about his views about Sheikh Yassin and his visit to the United States where he has met with the vice president, the national security adviser, and the secretary of state.
Mr. Foreign Minister, tell me why your government believed it was in Israel’s interest to assassinate the spiritual leader of Hamas.
FM SHALOM: I think the world is safer and more secure now that Ahmed Yassin is not with us any more. Yassin was the driving force for the campaign of terrorism that took place in our region. Now that he’s not with us, the region is more stable. And when our region is more stable, the entire world is more stable.
CHARLIE ROSE: But you have killed one leader of Hamas after another, and it hasn’t stopped the terrorism at all, hasn’t stopped the attacks at all. Why do you think one more will have that kind of consequence?
FM SHALOM: Yassin is not one more. Yassin was the founder, Yassin was the leader of the Hamas. Yassin was behind all those terrorist attacks. He planned them, instructed the suicide bombers. And because of that, I believe that now that he’s not with us anymore, it will be more difficult for them to carry out more attacks in the future.
CHARLIE ROSE: This is a man who was blind and deaf and in a wheelchair. It’s more difficult for them to carry it out?
FM SHALOM: I remember that when he was in the Israeli jail, it was said all the time that he had only a few days to live. And since then, seven years after, he still was with us and planned all of those terrorist attacks. So Yassin was the main problem of our region. Now that he is not with us anymore, I think it’s a strong message to all the leaders of the Hamas that if they will continue to plan more terrorist attacks against us, they might be next.
CHARLIE ROSE: But you have no evidence, there’s nothing that tells you that killing another member of Hamas – even if it’s the spiritual leader, even if it’s one who says martyrdom is good, even if it’s one who encourages people to go and engage in suicide attacks, even if that’s true – there is no evidence anywhere in the history of your country that killing another Palestinian of any rank will stop terrorism.
FM SHALOM: If I accept what you have said right now, it means that they will have immunity for life. They can kill us as much as they like, but they will be sure that no one will hurt them. It can’t be. All of the leadership of the Hamas are trying now to hide. They don’t have the same time to plan more terrorist attacks against us. From now on, I believe that all of them know that if they will continue with this campaign of terror, they might pay with their life.
CHARLIE ROSE: Does it bother you that the world opinion seems to be very much against Israel for this act, even in the United States? You went from an early Condoleezza Rice saying one thing, to the State Department later at the end of the day yesterday saying, "We’re deeply troubled by this morning’s events in Gaza. All sides, including Israel, should exercise maximum restraint and do everything possible to avoid any further actions." Even in the Bush administration as the day wore on, they got tougher in their appraisal of what happened. The world is saying very negative things about this action.
FM SHALOM: I’m very upset to find that the entire international community, which decided only a short time ago to include the Hamas in their terrorist lists – the United States, the EU, Australia and Canada – that while they have decided to include them in their terrorist lists, they still believe that we shouldn’t hurt him when he was behind all those terrorist attacks.
But I want to say more than that. I believe that there is no way to continue with the same attitude that, on one hand, I get so many phone calls after so many terrorist attacks, in which my colleagues express their condolences and they condemn the terrorist attacks, while on the other hand, when we strike at the main problem, the main leader of this terrorist organization, that they blame us and tell us that we shouldn’t do it.
CHARLIE ROSE: So you think it’s hypocrisy for somebody to call up and offer their condolences to Israel because it’s been a victim of a suicide bomber, when at the same time they’re condemning you for attacking the man that you believe urged…
FM SHALOM: I believe that when they call me, they are doing it from the bottom of their hearts. And I believe it. But every week, one after another, I know that we will have another attack. I will get tens of phone calls from all over the world that will express their condolences. But what is the solution in order to put an end to these suicide attacks and the phone calls that come afterwards? I don’t think that you know and your viewers know how much we suffered from terrorist attacks in the last three years. We suffered from more than 19,000 terrorist attacks. Can you believe it?
CHARLIE ROSE: Why don’t we know that? We see it on television.
FM SHALOM: But you don’t know that it was 19,000 terrorist attacks, because I was myself amazed to find out that it was 19,000 terrorist attacks. And I would like to tell you that I don’t believe that any other country would act differently after 19 attacks, not 19,000 terrorist attacks. So those suicide bombers that had free access to come and carry out their attacks against us can’t do it anymore so freely. They should know that if they are coming, they will get hurt, and those who send them, those who incite them, encourage them to do it, will get hurt too.
CHARLIE ROSE: Let me speak about what you knew about him and your government knew about him. This was specifically approved and directed by Prime Minister Sharon. The cabinet made a decision before it happened, a week or two, whenever it made a decision. There was an assassination attempt six months ago that failed. It was clear that you were trying to send a message to him that he was next, and that he was in fear. Did you have specific evidence that he approved terrorist attacks, approved suicide bombs, or was he simply a spiritual leader who urged his people to accept acts of martyrdom in the interest of the Palestinian cause?
FM SHALOM: He was not a spiritual leader. I don’t believe in it. We have a very clear and sharp evidence that he was involved, that he planned, that he instructed, that he sent suicide bombers.
CHARLIE ROSE: Why don’t you release that information to the public? Why don’t you say: here are the facts, here is what this person did.
FM SHALOM: Yesterday when I was in the White House and I met with Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell and Dr. Rice, I briefed them about what’s happened in Gaza. I told them that if they would like us to give them this information, we would love to give it to them, but I believe that we can’t do it publicly because some of this information is coming from confidential sources that we don’t want to expose.
CHARLIE ROSE: So you’re saying it would compromise sources, if in fact you released the information to the public. You’ll show it to a government but you won’t show it to the public.
FM SHALOM: Yes, I think so. I think it’s not an appropriate way to deal with it, because we would like to be able to obtain more information in the future.
CHARLIE ROSE: Some will argue that the United States, if it could, today, would try to assassinate Osama bin Laden. It tried to kill him by bombings, failed. Would like to capture him, but even more so, was willing to take the risk of killing him. And that for the United States to condemn Israel or to show that they were troubled by it is holding Israel to an unfair standard in its battle against terrorism. Do you accept that?
FM SHALOM: I’ve heard it from some Americans, from the administration, that believes that they can’t condemn us when at the same time they are trying to hit bin Laden or after they killed the Saddam’s two sons of. I think we have a global phenomena. We have a global battle against this terrorism. And that’s why we should do it together. We should be united in order to win this battle. I’m sure that if we will be united, all the democratic countries that are under the threat of this global terrorism – if we will be united, we will prevail.
CHARLIE ROSE: Here is the argument that is made against that particular point, that this is just one more fight against terrorism – that when we are talking about the conflict between Hamas and Israel, between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, you are talking about a battle for territory.
FM SHALOM: No way.
CHARLIE ROSE: Whereas the battle for the most part in terrorism is not about territory at all. So the larger global terrorism issue is not about territory, where in Israel it is a fight for homeland and territory. And that makes it a very different issue. It ought to be settled by negotiation.
FM SHALOM: I think that after the huge attack that took place here in New York in the World Trade Center on September 11, all the world realized that those extremist organizations, like al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the others, are motivated by an extreme ideology, to change the world. They are fighting those countries that share the same values as we share, of democracy, of freedom, of human rights, of rule of law. They are also fighting those Muslim countries that they believe are too close to the United States, to the European world or to Israel.
So it’s very, very simple. There are extremist organizations that are trying to change the world. They are trying to make Islam more dominant. When they perceive that the other countries have very different ways of behavior or very different systems, very different regimes, they would like to change this. And they are trying to change it by carrying out attacks against those countries. It’s not only the United States and Israel. Let’s talk about what’s happened in Muslim countries that maybe are closer to the United States or to Israel: the attacks that were carried out in Istanbul, Turkey, in Casablanca, Morocco, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Bali, and other places.
CHARLIE ROSE: But that’s the point. The point is that they say what’s happening in Israel is different, because it is about territory, and all these other examples you just cited was not about territory at all. It was a political issue.
FM SHALOM: That’s what many leaders through the world were convinced – that this was a problem of the State of Israel, and that all the others are outside of this threat. Now everyone understands that they are under this threat and they should do everything they can in order to prevent those extremists, no matter if they’re from al Qaeda, from the Hamas, from the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah or the others.
I’ll give you an example. A few months ago, there were two British citizens who came for the first time in their lives to Israel in order to carry out an attack against us in Tel Aviv. They were not in the territories. They were not under the Israeli occupation. They were not under the Israeli press. They had never been to Israel before. But they arrived because they were incited, they were encouraged to carry out attacks against us in their mosque there in Britain.
It’s the same incitement that is taking place in all those extreme mosques all over the world. And that’s why we should do everything we can, because we are protecting our people by fighting against this global phenomenon that is threatening the entire world, all the democratic countries.
CHARLIE ROSE: Two other points are made about this assassination. Number one, was it in response to the attack at the harbor? Was there something about that terrorist activity that made it imperative in your judgment for your country to launch this attack at this time?
FM SHALOM: First, I would like you to know that the first decision was taken six or seven months ago by the "kitchenette" – it’s smaller than the inner cabinet. It’s the prime minister, the foreign minister, the defense minister and the two deputy prime ministers. The attempt then failed. A week ago, it was reapproved.
CHARLIE ROSE: Why reapproved a week ago?
FM SHALOM: It was reapproved because we found that this leader of the Hamas was behind all the last attacks. He continued to plan attacks and to carry out attacks against us by sending those suicide bombers to us. The last one that took place in our seaport in Ashdod was intended to be a mega attack. They came from Gaza in a container built with a double wall. The truck brought the container from their territory to our seaport, because they are sending their exports through the seaport of Ashdod in Israel. They hid in the container, and their plan was to explode a bromide warehouse, and if they had succeeded, it might have caused us hundreds of casualties.
I think if they had succeeded, no one would ask Israel today why we attacked Yassin. It can’t be that because they succeeded in killing only 10 Israelis, we can’t do it. He was behind hundreds of terrorist attacks against us. He’s the godfather of the suicide bombers. He caused us hundreds and hundreds of casualties. I think that although we attacked him only now, the question should be why only now and not in the past? That’s the real question that should be asked.
CHARLIE ROSE: Here is one argument that is being presented today. The prime minister is engaged in or about to be engaged in a unilateral withdrawal behind the so-called fence or wall. And that this is a message that your government wants to send, that this is not a retreat, that you were worried that the perception might be that Israel is retreating because of the suicide attacks, in the same way that the perception after the retreat from Lebanon was that in fact it was a retreat in the face of the deaths of too many Israeli soldiers.
FM SHALOM: I don’t think so. I don’t believe this is the reason, because I’m one of those who made this decisions. I know what’s behind it. I know that we took this decision because we knew that he was behind those attacks, but more than that, he was planning to carry out more attacks in the future.
CHARLIE ROSE: So you weren’t interested in sending a message that we want to accompany this withdrawal with an assassination to show you that…
FM SHALOM: The first decision was taken in August, months before the prime minister thought about this disengagement plan, so they can’t be connected to each other. The prime minister came with his new plan only in December, so there is no connection that I can see between the two decisions.
CHARLIE ROSE: When you talk about this unilateral withdrawal, with the vice president, with the national security adviser, with the secretary of state, three people that you saw on this visit, what did they say? Do they approve of it? Do they agree with it? Do they think it’s a good policy?
FM SHALOM: I believe that there is a change in the American administration. Only a few months ago, they described in very black colors the idea that Israel will withdraw unilaterally from Gaza and/or from the territories. Recently, I can see that there is a change. They believe it’s more positive than they thought before or they described it before to me or to others. They are not against it, and they’re saying that in principle they can’t can’t oppose the occupation of settlements, because they were against them all the time, all the administrations since the establishment of those settlements in the ’60s or in the ’70s.
CHARLIE ROSE: They have no argument with this, they have no argument with the building of the fence, wall, none? Because I mean, if you listen to what Washington is saying, they’re not in favor of that. They’re in favor of the road map. That’s what they prefer, and that’s what is being abandoned. No matter how much rhetoric there is, there is an abandonment of the road map.
FM SHALOM: I think that the prime minister has said very clear that he is committed to the road map.
CHARLIE ROSE: Committed to the road map while he unilaterally withdraws?
FM SHALOM: He believes that there is no partner. In my view, my personal view, we should do everything in order to find a partner.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, why do you believe that, in contrast to what the prime minister believes?
FM SHALOM: No, the prime minister believes that there is no partner and we can’t find a partner. I think that we can create a partner if we will allow this new moderate leadership to emerge. ut it can’t emerge while Arafat is still in the territories. That is my view, that was my view in the last three years: that while Arafat is there, there is no hope for a moderate leadership among the Palestinians to emerge. But I believe that they exist. I believe that they are there, but they’re very much afraid of him. They’re very much afraid to confront him, because they know that they might find themselves with a bullet in their head in one of the caves in the territories. So while he’s still there, it will not allow any leadership of the Palestinians to make any compromise with Israel. So we don’t have a partner yet, but it might be that we will have a partner if Arafat will not be there.
CHARLIE ROSE: The United States is very much opposed to this. They’ve made clear to your government.
FM SHALOM: I know. A few months ago, after one of the terrorist attacks, we took a decision in our inner cabinet on the possibility of expelling Arafat. I got so many phone calls from my colleagues from all over the world that told me, "We know that Arafat is an obstacle to peace, but we believe that it will cause more damage while he’s outside than while he’s inside."
CHARLIE ROSE: Flying from country to country rallying the support.
FM SHALOM: Yes, that’s right. So I asked them, "What is your solution to this problem?" They told me we have only one solution, and that is for Arafat to give the authority to control the security forces to the new prime minister.
I told them that he didn’t do it while Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, was in power, and he won’t do it now when Abu Ala just came to power. So I know that he won’t do it. What does it mean to remain in power in the Arab countries or in the Arab societies? In order to remain in power, you must control the security forces on one hand and the money sources on the other. Otherwise you can’t remain in power. That’s why he’ll never do it.
Only this week "Forbes" published the list of the 100 richest men in the world. Arafat is there in the list, with hundreds of millions of dollars. I believe that he has even more than $1 billion. Only recently the French authorities started to investigate two bank accounts of his wife, and found there almost $12 million. But I believe that for him it’s only pocket money. And he’s using this money for his private goals and aims and not for the benefit of his people.
CHARLIE ROSE: So the cabinet is split. Your defense minister wants to kill him, you want to expel him, and Sharon is scared to do either thing.
FM SHALOM: Sharon, after the massacre on Passover two years ago, he brought a decision to expel him to the cabinet, to the entire cabinet, but he didn’t get the majority then. Since then there has been a debate in Israel. Israeli pubic opinion is in favor of it, but still we didn’t do it and he remains in Ramallah.
But I believe that his presence there doesn’t give the opportunity, the possibility for those moderates to emerge. We tried almost everything in the last three years, but we suffered from more and more attacks, 19,000 terrorist attacks. So maybe the time has come to think differently. But for that, we need a majority was in the cabinet, and it still does not exist.
CHARLIE ROSE: I was just given a note that said that President Bush earlier coming out a meeting at the White House said that Israel has a right to defend itself, but it must be very careful about the consequences, which seems to be a kind of warning, watch out what you do because it might have consequences that you don’t know. That would be my interpretation. It also said that he is thinking about or may send a delegation to the Middle East. What does that say to you?
FM SHALOM: First, I think he’s right that Israel has the right to defend itself. All of these decision were taken in self-defense. We are taking our decisions by ourselves. We are an independent country. All the claims that were made by the Hamas that it was coordinated with the American administration are nonsense.
CHARLIE ROSE: Did they know?
FM SHALOM: They didn’t know.
CHARLIE ROSE: They knew that the cabinet approved, because everybody knew that. So the U.S. had to know that your cabinet approved an assassination attempt.
FM SHALOM: But they did not know where or when we were going to do it, and they shouldn’t know. We had to do it by ourselves. I really believe that the Americans know more than others what it means to fight against those terrorist organizations. They have all the information – who is financing them, who are those leaders that are encouraging and inciting all of those suicide bombers to carry out attacks against us or against others. As I mentioned before, I told the American administration that we would love to give them any kind of information if they would ask us to do it.
CHARLIE ROSE: You share intelligence anyway.
FM SHALOM: Yes, and not only with them. We are doing it all over the world, because all the democratic countries should share this information. Otherwise, they would be hurt by those extremists and those terrorist organization.
About the delegation that President Bush would like to send to the region. They’re always welcome. The Americans are always involved with all the agreements that were achieved in the Middle East. The peace treaty with Egypt was the Americans, and with Jordan was the Americans, and all the other agreements with the Palestinians were accompanied by the American administrations, so I don’t see any problem with this delegation that will come to our region.
CHARLIE ROSE: Some will read it this way. The Bush administration has decided that things are so bad that it has to get involved at a higher level.
FM SHALOM: We are not against the involvement of the Americans, on the contrary. The prime minister is asking for the involvement of the American administration today in order to implement his disengagement plan.
CHARLIE ROSE: Some people, friends of Israel, say that when people call for for America to get involved more, they mean pressure Israel more. Do you see it that way?
FM SHALOM: In Israel, many believe that we are too much under the pressure of the American administration. For instance, that we are not expelling Arafat because of the American administration, that we are not building the fence along the route that we would like to build because of the American administration, that we are not building more settlements or expanding them because of the American administration. So there are many Israelis who think that we are so much under the pressure of the American administration that we are not doing what we should do. But it’s only one group in Israel. Others in Israel believe otherwise.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, but here’s what the world seems to believe. The world seems to say: We blame you, the United States, for every act of Israel that we don’t agree with, that we think is going beyond what is appropriate and what is necessary for Israel’s self-defense. So some Americans believe and certainly the world believes, is — suffers because of the perception that Israel takes all these actions with the U.S. consent. That this is the price to pay for friendship with Israel.
FM SHALOM: No, I think the friendship with Israel is helping the United States, not less that it’s helping us, because we are sharing so many things in common. We are not sharing only information and intelligence. We have very good bilateral relations. Israel is a flourishing country. Our high-tech is well known and the number of Israeli companies that are listed in Nasdaq is number two in the world after Canada. So we have so many things in common. We have been working together for so many years, and I believe that we are protecting the interests of the United States in our region.
CHARLIE ROSE: Some also argue the United States and Israel are becoming isolated in world opinion. Because of the Iraqi war, because of Israel’s acts against the Palestinians, that the world is turning against our two countries.
FM SHALOM: No, I don’t think so. Among friends, we can agree to disagree. I was in Britain two weeks ago. I met Prime Minister Blair and Foreign Secretary Straw. They told me, very sharp and clear, that they don’t believe that there is a way to move towards peace without solving first the security problems. So I’ve heard it only two or three weeks ago in London. I believe that this is their idea. That’s what they are trying to do in Iraq, and the coalition forces are still there. There are many countries that joined the United States.
I believe there is a huge change after the war in Iraq, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, after the statement that was made by Gadhafi, the willingness of Iran to give more free access to the inspectors of the international energy agency. They are more willing to move to a better understanding with Israel, and with the United States, and with the West. They are talking to us. I had so many meetings with them recently, much more than all my predecessor had for years. I visited Morocco. It was a very open visit. One thousand people were waiting for me outside of the palace, because it was published in the press there. I met twice with the king of Morocco, twice with the king of Jordan.
CHARLIE ROSE: What do all these people in the neighboring countries tell you?
FM SHALOM: What I can see that they are taking a strategic decision that is totally different from the decision that they had before. They’re not afraid any more of Saddam. They are not afraid anymore that he will support their opposition groups in their countries. They’re not afraid of invasion to their country like it took place in Kuwait.
CHARLIE ROSE: Are you saying that these governments, that you talked to, whether it’s the Jordanians or the Moroccans, the countries of the the Persian Gulf, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt – are you saying that they believe, in your judgment, in conversations with you that while they oppose the Iraqi war, they think that it was worth it to depose Saddam Hussein?
FM SHALOM: No, they won’t admit that the change of their attitude is because of the war in Iraq. hey won’t admit it. That is my judgment. I can see that a change started a short time after, without entering your internal debate about the war. I can see that there is an earthquake that is taking place now in the Arab world, and I believe that we can do much more in order to narrow the gaps between Israel and the Arab world, because I believe in peace with the Arab world. And do you know why? Because with most of the Arab countries we don’t have any kind of conflict. What conflict do we have with the Arab countries in North Africa or in the Persian Gulf?
CHARLIE ROSE: What kind of a relationship do you have with them?
FM SHALOM: We can have very good relations. We had interest offices of those countries in our country…
CHARLIE ROSE: But not now.
FM SHALOM: We don’t have it now. We can do it once again. Maybe the American administration will ask them to do it. But we don’t have any kind of conflict, neither about territories nor about economy. So I don’t see why we can’t have a real change in our region with most of the Arab countries.
CHARLIE ROSE: Last night, Rashid Khalidi, a leading Palestinian intellectual, professor at Columbia University, said he fears the assassination of Sheikh Yassin is the final straw in a two-state solution. That no longer is it likely there will be a negotiated two-state solution.
FM SHALOM: I think the only men that preventing this two-state solution is the only Palestinian in the world that is not willing to make any kind of compromise, and it is Yasser Arafat. Yasser Arafat is the only Palestinian in the world that is not willing to create an independent Palestinian state. And do you know why? He believes that through the struggle he will remain in power. He believes that if you end the conflict, the Palestinians won’t need him anymore. nd more than that, he still goes with his dream of the greatest Palestinian state that will include the both territories and the State of Israel.
I have spoken so many times with Palestinian leaders who told me: We’re willing to make compromise with you, but we can’t do it while Arafat is still there. He will not allow anyone to make any kind of compromise with the Israelis, because he would like first to be remembered in Palestinian history as the one who was never willing to compromise on one hand, and on the other hand, he’s very much afraid that the day after they end the conflict, the Palestinians will tell him: We needed you for the struggle, we don’t need you anymore for the time of peace.
CHARLIE ROSE: Why don’t you kill him then?
FM SHALOM: I don’t think we should do it. He’s the problem, that’s why I believe we should expel him. I was criticized many times that if he will be expelled, he will visit all the capitals around the world and he will be given the red carpet treatment. He was outside the territories in the past and he was the leader of the Palestinian people, so what would be the difference? The main difference is that then in Tunisia, they didn’t have the Palestinian Authority. But if he will be expelled from the territories, the new Palestinian leadership would have control over the security forces and the money sources, and they would become the real leaders of the Palestinian people while he will be outside, maybe visiting capitals but without any meaning.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is your country expecting a huge, huge response by Hamas or others because of the assassination?
FM SHALOM: I don’t think that the Hamas needs any excuse to kill Jews. There were so many alerts of terrorist attacks that the Hamas wanted to carry out, it was only that we were lucky in one hand or maybe our intelligence was too good to prevent those terrorists or suicide bombers from carrying out their attacks. They didn’t stop it even for one day. They didn’t need this excuse of attacking Yassin in order to carry out more attacks against us. They want to kill as much Jews as they can because their ideology is that they should do everything in order to destroy the state of Israel and replace it by a Palestinian state.
Even today, if our viewers from now will go to the web site of the Hamas, they will find out there that they are talking about genocide. They are talking about the destruction of the Jewish state, and a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. It means without the existence of the State of Israel.
CHARLIE ROSE: They fully acknowledge that, they don’t hide that.
FM SHALOM: Of course they don’t hide it. That’s why they are trying every day to kill us, in order to send us out of this region. Even Sheikh Yassin said more than once that we have only 10 years or 15 years to stay. He doesn’t believe that we will be able to remain there more than 10 to 15 years. He said it only a few weeks ago.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you for this conversation. We look forward to doing it again.
FM SHALOM: Thank you.