The situation that has been created in Lebanon over the years required us to establish objectives in order to remove the threat and to establish long-term stability – through both military and diplomatic means.

 Press briefing by FM Tzipi Livni


FM Livni meets with French FM Douste-Blazy in Jerusalem (Reuters)

(Translated from Hebrew)

FM Livni: The German and French Foreign Ministers visited here today, I just left a meeting with the British Minister for Middle Eastern affairs, and members of the U.S. Congress Intelligence Committee and another European solidarity mission were also here. Tomorrow evening, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, will arrive. During the coming week, Finland’s Foreign Minister, the European Union’s External Relations Commissioner and the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister are expected to arrive here as well so, all in all,  we’re in for a week of political dynamics.

Since I hear discussions about whether the time has come to start the political process and what that means, I thought it would be appropriate to state directly how I view the matter and whether any conflict exists between the military and political processes. First, I’d like to clarify that no friction exists – nor should any exist – between the two processes. At this opportunity, I also think it advisable to change the terminology used in the past or processes that we were accustomed to seeing in the past.

In the past, the political process was viewed as way to "buy time" for the military, to gain some sort of window of time to enable the army to act. Alternatively, it was viewed as some sort of negotiating process between the parties, ending in a ceasefire and nothing more. I see things differently, so I thought it appropriate to start these process during the course of the military operations.

We need to understand what we’re faced with. The situation that has been created in Lebanon over the years forced us to determine objectives that would enable us to eliminate the threat and establish long-term stability. In the nature of things, some of those objectives must be achieved by the military, which is what it is now doing. Some of the objectives cannot be obtained militarily and an important part of that is to maintain, over time, the objectives achieved by the army. For example, we would not want to see a situation in which the army clears the area of Hizbullah and the next day they’re back. I consider it my duty to ensure that this area remains clean of terrorists for a long time. The IDF is now impairing Hizbullah’s operational capabilities, such as its missiles. I think it is our obligation and my duty to ensure that Hizbullah does not rearm in the future. The situation we’re fighting in now or in the future will recur, with funds and weapons coming into Lebanon from Iran, through Syria, maybe even with more Syrian arms added along the way. This will bring us right back to the same situation we’re in now – a situation that we’re not alone in wanting to resolve. .

I also see an opportunity here to further interests and objectives that we must strive to  maintain for the long term. So the discussions that we’re now holding must accompany the military process. They’re intended to maintain the objectives achieved by the army while, together with the international community, we strive to achieve a better long-term situation.

All in all, from the standpoint of Israel and the international community, there is international consensus on a series of matters, first of all on who is responsible for the crisis. There is no doubt, and this was also stated in the G8 report, that Hizbullah is responsible. The nature of the threat is also clear – it is a regional threat, related to the Hizbullah – Syria – Iran – Hamas axis. There is consensus that the kidnapped soldiers must be released unconditionally and consensus, which was initiated back in UN Security Council Resolution 1559, only part of which has been fulfilled to date, that Hizbullah must be disbanded and Lebanese sovereignty enforced throughout all of Lebanon.

The Lebanese government’s excuse until now has been that it is a weak government. Only the first part of UN Resolution 1559 regarding the removal of foreign armies, namely removing the Syrians from Lebanon, has been fulfilled. The second requirement of the Security Council resolution, which was to dismantle the militias, including Hizbullah, has not been implemented. So, in effect, we are now facing not only a test for Lebanon or a test of Israel – I think this is also a test for the international community.

I believe that the process we created presents the Lebanese government with a challenge and an opportunity – assuming that it has an interest in fulfilling Resolution 1559, although it lacks the ability to do so. The test of the international community is whether its job is to make declarations or whether it can also enforce them. The responsibility, not only from the standpoint of the Israeli government, but also from standpoint of the international community, must rest with the Lebanese government.

We need to understand that when we speak of a long-term process, and this is also the fundamental concept of the international outlook, we want to see a government that is responsible for everything that occurs within its territory; a sovereign government that enforces its sovereignty. A situation of chaos, in which a government exists and alongside it is an army, a militia or a terrorist organization, is intolerable. This is the situation in a county that has order whatsoever, so the aim is for the Lebanese government to impose its sovereignty. The question is, if it is not able to do so, how the international community can help it to implement its sovereignty.

If we take apart both the G8 and UN 1559 resolutions, I would divide these into three secondary objectives. The first objective involves southern Lebanon. Southern Lebanon is the main friction point between Hizbullah and the Israeli military and the Israeli settlements – an actual physical point of friction. During the IDF operation, we can see the IDF moving this friction point away from the Israeli border. Here it is in our interest to maintain that achievement and, at the moment, it doesn’t matter how much longer operations will continue or what type of operations there will be. We will, however, want to maintain any such achievements by not allowing Hizbullah to return to places they were forced to leave. Southern Lebanon is the real friction point that has worried Israel in recent years.

Here as well, we still need to alter our thinking slightly: southern Lebanon is not the only problematic point for Israel because now Hizbullah not only has the ability to shoot missiles from south Lebanon, they have also armed themselves with long-distance missiles, so Hizbullah must be dismantled, even beyond southern Lebanon. This is a much more complex and difficult process and will require using forces against the Hizbullah, assuming it does not disband voluntarily.

The other issue, which is a very important one, is that of preventing the future rearming of Hizbullah. We are presently attacking Hizbullah targets; we are attacking their munitions. We want to prevent a situation in which they will re-arm themselves within a short period of time, so supervision will be required over the transfer of weapons via Syria, or other places, to Lebanon.

The Foreign Ministry has recently been working in conjunction with the army and the Prime Minister’s office on the question of whether it is best, from Israel’s standpoint, to act in such a manner that future achievements are attained by means of international assistance for the Lebanese government, or by means of forces that will reinforce the Lebanese army, which would enable it to fulfill its obligations under Resolution 1559, assuming that it desires to do so.

It is important to note that, from our experience with the United Nations (and not only from our experience), it seems that even the UN understands that its forces cannot provide what is necessary. Naturally, there can also be a change in the various objectives that must be attained and the type of activity that will take place.

This thought process, as I mentioned, also took place within the government ministries here and it is a process that we will work with. We also hear ideas from the various international representatives who have arrived and will be arriving in the region. From them, we have heard more ideas, some from the UN delegation that was here a week ago and some from the visitors we saw here today, and I assume that this will be part of the discussion that will take place with the Secretary of State.

Aside from the visits that have already taken place here, a conference is set to convene in Rome this week, to address the events in Lebanon. This forum did not begin here and now, nor is it a result of the military operation or the attack on Israel. It originated from the desire to rehabilitate Lebanon as part of the process, including the implementation of Resolution 1559. There is no doubt, however, that now the discussion will take on additional aspects, other than just economic aspects. It is therefore important, from our perspective, that there be Israeli input on the matter. This conference began as conference of donor countries and additional supporters they are now considering inviting, who will address this issue. From the beginning, however, Israel was not a part of this forum.

I would now like to address the position of the entire international community in connection with the events in Lebanon and the operation. I previously stated that there is an international consensus or understanding of what the threat is. To those within the international community who understand the situation and the threat, there is no significance to a ceasefire if it fails to create or reinforce the principles I spoke of earlier.

There is an understanding that there is no point in returning to the situation from which we had started and we must always remember that the starting situation was one of a threat to the region, a threat to Israel, Nasrallah’s desire to take a position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and also the situation prior to the kidnapping of the two soldiers.

So all in all, there is a process in which Israel and the Lebanese government are meant to be partners, in order to achieve the same goals. In speaking of the Lebanese government, I am not referring to the Hizbullah part of that government.

Israel was asked to handle certain situations and provide assistance in a number of issues related to specific crises in certain areas in Lebanon, including the problem of citizens of various countries stranded in Lebanon, if they reached Beirut in some of the cases. The problem focused more on the south, and we tried to work closely with those countries to get their citizens out. Israel decided to open an air and sea corridor which would, on the one hand, provide an exist to the foreign citizens seeking to leave, most of whom have already done so and, on the other hand, would allow for the entry of various types of humanitarian aid into south Lebanon. The IDF also cooperated in the much more complex  task of opening up the areas used to launch missiles into Israel, to enable the international community to take people out.

I think that in the coming week there will be an opportunity for the foreign community to act in accordance with its own principles. Before and after the meetings that took place today, before the meetings that will take place later this week, before the conference in Rome – so that the Lebanese government will also get the message that while the rehabilitation of Lebanon is also economic, there is no point in economic rehabilitation if a situation can arise, as  it has now, in which – in the midst of the tourist season – Hizbullah decides to burn down the region with results that ultimately impact Lebanon.

It  is thus important that the processes which the international community views as the rehabilitation of Lebanon include not only economic rehabilitation – and from our perspective, that is certainly part of the issue – but also military rehabilitation: dismantling and neutralizing Hizbullah in southern Lebanon and ensuring that it does not rearm in the future.

These are processes that we intend to promote in the international community during the coming week. Naturally, we will be holding more meetings throughout the week with the foreign ministers who will be arriving.

Q: Does Israel now support a NATO led force in South Lebanon? And, is there a time limit to the military operation?

FM Livni: I would like to speak about the mutual interest of Israel and the international community. Partly it was expressed in the G8 statement, and mainly the ideas about the goals, the mutual goals and the way to achieve these goals are expressed in Security Council Resolution 1559. The idea is to find the way to implement fully the G8 statement and Security Council Resolution 1559.

Now the Lebanese government says that they do not have the ability or the power to implement these resolutions. So I believe that it is the role of international community to support the Lebanese government in implementing their role and obligations under these resolutions. I am not going to answer in details, what kind of forces Israel will support or will not support in the future. But we are going to discuss with the international community the best way to support the Lebanese government. We believe that the responsibility is of the Lebanese government, but we can support some ideas of effective forces that will help the Lebanese government to fully implement the statement and the resolution, in order to dismantle Hizbullah, to take them out of the southern part of Lebanon and to prevent rearmament of the Hizbullah in the future.

This is a window of opportunity for the international community as well as for the Lebanese government.

Q: President Bush and Secretary Rice are about to meet with the Saudis to press them to put pressure on Syria, to stop the flow of weapons. Do you think that that is enough? Or should the United States be talking directly to Syria and saying, we are going to sanction you; we are going to take action against you if you do not stop the flow of weapons?

FM Livni: It is clear that the threat is not only the threat of the Hizbullah on the northern border of Israel, but there is an axis of terror, hatred, and extremism of which Hizbullah is part, and it includes Hizbullah, Syria, Iran and Hamas. It is clear that Syria supports Hizbullah and the Iranians are using the roads through Syria in order to arm the Hizbullah. There is a need to put international pressure also on Syria to stop arming Hizbullah, to stop helping Hizbullah. But the role of Syria is not only vis-a-vis Hizbullah. We also see the role played by Syria when it comes to the Hamas – the fact that they are hosting the Hamas as a terrorist organization, in Syria, and here, too, there is a need for international pressure.

Q: How did the meeting finish with the Minister from Britain?
He was very critical yesterday; he talked about disproportionate Israeli action in Beirut. Did he have that same message for you?
He said that the air strikes were ineffective.

FM Livni: Most of the ministers who came to Israel today also visited the northern part of Israel. Sometimes – and this is not a direct answer to your question about the British Minister – but sometimes, the pictures that people see outside of Israel are mostly about the civilians in Beirut and there are not always enough pictures about the suffering of the people in the northern part of Israel – in Haifa and in other places. All of the miniisters who came here today visited Haifa in the morning, and they saw the situation of the Israeli civilians. I am sure that they understand that the situation is very complicated and it is the responsibility of the Israeli government to defend its citizens.

When talking about the proportionate and non-proportionate actions, it is also important to understand that the Israeli reaction, since the beginning, is not to an incident. It is not only about the abduction of two soldiers, it is about a threat from an axiss of terror; it is about Hizbullah who wanted to put the region in flames. We know that the international community understands that there is no conflict between Israel and Lebanon, but there is a threat from Iran, through the Hizbullah, to the region, and not only to the region but to the international community. So our expectation from the international community is to help the Lebanese bovernment to implement fully Resolution 1559 and the G8 decision.