WOLF BLITZER: Did you alert the United States in advance that you were about to do this?
FM SHALOM: Not at all. There’s just speculation made up by Hamas that we coordinated with the administration. We are an independent country and, therefore, in self-defense we’re taking our own decisions. We had to do it because Ahmed Yassin was the godfather of the suicide bombers. For so many years, he was behind those suicide bombers, and he was involved personally by giving those instructions to kill Jews as much as they can. So what we have decided is to take this strategic decision to put an end to this phenomenon, in which someone who is sending the suicide bombers is not being punished for his actions against us.
BLITZER: And just to be on the safe side, to be clear with our viewers, you say you didn’t alert the United States that you were doing this, but they obviously know now. What was the reaction that you got from the White House?
FM SHALOM: Of course, I briefed them about what’s happened. I told them that we have so much information about the personal involvement of Sheikh Yassin in hundreds of terrorist attacks against us that caused us hundreds of casualties. And I’ve told them very clear that if they would like us to give them this information, we would like to do it and we can do it immediately.
BLITZER: Were there any complaints, any criticism that you heard?
FM SHALOM: No. I think it’s not something that I should talk about here in your show, that I respect very much. But it was a briefing that was given to the vice president about an operation that was taken in Gaza against Sheikh Yassin, and the reasons that brought us to take this decision.
BLITZER: The Palestinians and other critics of your government are already suggesting the timing, coming just before you’re planning on withdrawing from Gaza, may have been time to appease hard-liners in the cabinet who opposed this unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, dismantling Jewish settlements in Gaza. That’s why you went after Sheikh Yassin right now.
FM SHALOM: No, I don’t think so. I would like to you know that we took a decision regarding the leaders of the terrorist organizations a few months ago. It was approved, once again, just a week ago. So it doesn’t have any connection to the new plan of the prime minister to withdraw from Gaza.
We have done it because we have decided to put an end to the phenomenon that these leaders have immunity. They don’t deserve immunity, and that’s why we believe we brought a very strong message to all the leaders of those extremist organizations that from now on, they will be punished if they will give more instructions to carry out attacks against Israel.
BLITZER: As you know, some Israelis in the past have suggested that you should do to Yasser Arafat what you’ve done to Sheikh Yassin. Is that in the cards?
FM SHALOM: Not at all.
BLITZER: You’re not planning on assassinating or targeting the killing of Yasser Arafat?
FM SHALOM: I think I was very clear. We are doing it against those extremist leaders of Hamas and Islamic jihad who are behind hundreds of attacks against Israel that caused us hundreds of casualties of innocent Israeli peoples. And in order to prevent them from pursuing their plans to carry out more attacks against us, that’s what we have done.
I would like you to know that there are still many ready to carry out terrorist attacks. And it’s only a coincidence that they have not succeeded in carrying out most of those attacks. But from now on, all of those that will be responsible for those attacks should know that they don’t deserve any immunity anymore.
BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is that there’s going to be a new, much more aggressive Israeli policy of going after those responsible for these kinds of terror attacks.
FM SHALOM: I won’t call it aggressive. I would call it determination, that the Israeli government has to try to put an end to this phenomenon that they can send suicide bombers to kill us, and we are not doing anything in order to prevent them personally. From now on, they will be punished if they will continue to act against Israeli citizens.
BLITZER: Going into this assassination of Sheikh Yassin, your government must have been aware that there would be anger, outrage, and efforts for revenge and attacks against Israel. Are you bracing for a new wave of attacks right now?
FM SHALOM: I don’t think so that they need any reason to carry out attacks against us. They’re trying to do it every day, as I just mentioned to you. There are so many terrorist threats that still exist, and existed even before this action that was taken in Gaza. So they don’t need a reason to kill Israelis or Jews. They’re trying to do it every day. And I believe they will try to do it again in the future. But there is no connection to these this attack that was taking place in Gaza.
BLITZER: One final question. I assume all this means the so-called roadmap, the peace process, efforts to get the peace process off the ground with the new prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, all of that is probably dead in the water right now?
FM SHALOM: Maybe it’s not the best day to talk about it, but we are trying so many months to schedule the first meeting between Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia of the Palestinians. But we didn’t succeed yet because Ahmed Qureia is not willing to schedule this first meeting.
And the reason he’s not willing to do it, is because he doesn’t want to bring the roadmap back on track. He knows that a short time afterwards he’ll be asked by the whole international community to implement their commitment according to the roadmap in phase one, and it means to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist organizations. And because he’s not willing to do it, he’s not willing to schedule this first meeting with Prime Minister Sharon. We believe if there will be a partner that is willing to move toward peace he will find a real partner on the Israeli side.
BLITZER: Foreign Minister Shalom, thanks very much for joining us.
SHALOM: Thank you, Wolf.