"The Lebanese Government must seize the opportunity to wrest their country from the grips of terror"

Video stakeout with Amb Gillerman (July 13)

Statement by H.E. Ambassador Dan Gillerman
Permanent Representative of Israel Before the Security Council
During the open debate on "The Situation in the Middle East"
(14 July 2006)

Mr. President,

Let me take you back to a warm summer’s day in Beirut – 32 years ago – exactly the 14 th of July 1974, this very significant day for you and your people. I want to describe the scene to you and my Lebanese colleague- cafés and bars bustling with young people, beaches filled with happy holidaymakers – the Switzerland of the Middle East.

How different this scene is from the one on Beirut’s streets today, 32 years later. But this difference did not start this week or last year. The difference started only one year after the scene I just described, in 1975, when the Lebanese began their long descent into oppression, depression and terror. This is a country that has been held hostage for more than 32 years by tyrants from the north and terrorists in the south; a country whose fun-loving, business-minded, entrepreneurial and liberal population has been tormented by decades of oppression, sectarian strife, fundamentalist violence, religious conflict, Syrian control, political assassinations, terror and full-fledged civil war.

In May 2000 Israel took the painful and politically difficult decision to fully withdraw from southern Lebanon, having been compelled a few years earlier to establish a security zone there in order to prevent terrorist attacks and rocket shelling from Lebanon into Israeli towns and villages. This Council acknowledged Israel’s complete withdrawal from southern Lebanon and its full compliance with Security Council Resolution 425 in a Presidential Statement on June 18 th, 2000.

This was Lebanon’s moment of truth: Would its government look inward and free its people from the stranglehold of terror, or would it allow its territory to become a base from which Hizbullah terrorists would launch attacks against Israeli civilians? Tragically, Mr. President, the Lebanese government chose the latter.

The Lebanese government got a second chance, after the partial implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, which resulted in the withdrawal of most Syrian forces from Lebanese territory. Again, this Council and the entire world were waiting to see how Lebanon would respond to this historic opportunity. Yet again, unfortunately, the Lebanese government chose to succumb to terror rather than vanquish it; to let its southern region be occupied by terrorism rather than disarm it; and to relinquish control over its country rather than exercise its full sovereignty.

Seldom before has the description of a people as “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity” been so apt.

Lebanon, sadly, did not heed the demands of the international community and did not obey the repeated resolutions of this august Council. Today, sadly, the Lebanese people are bearing the cost of this inaction and ineptitude.

Mr. President,

Two days ago, Hizbullah terrorists, operating with impunity in southern Lebanon, unleashed a sudden and unprovoked attack into Israeli territory. Scores of Katyusha rockets rained down on Israeli towns and villages, causing many civilian casualties. In the midst of this horrific assault, Hizbullah terrorists infiltrated Israel, killing a number of soldiers and kidnapping two more, who were taken deep into the terrorist stronghold of Lebanon.

Israel had no choice but to react, as would any other responsible democratic government. Having shown unparalleled restraint for six years while bearing the brunt of countless attacks, Israel had to respond to this absolutely unprovoked assault whose scale and depth was unprecedented in recent years.

Let me emphasize this indisputable fact: Israel’s actions were in direct response to an act of war from Lebanon.

Although Israel holds the government of Lebanon responsible, it is concentrating its response carefully, mainly on Hizbullah strongholds, positions and infrastructure.

The hundreds of Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon in the last few days demonstrate the magnitude of the immense arsenal of rockets and weapons that Hizbullah has amassed over the last few years, a danger we have repeatedly warned against. Many of the long-range missiles that have hit Israeli towns – including Nahariya, Zefat, Rosh Pina and the port city of Haifa – were launched from private homes with families residing inside, where a special room was designated as a launching pad, with the family playing host to the missile. This is yet another example of the cynical and brutal way the Hizbullah organization uses civilians as human shields, with complete disregard for human life.

Mr. President,

Over the last 48 hours, more than 500 katyushas and mortar shells were fired into the northern part of Israel, killing 2 civilians and wounding hundreds more, among them, women and children. Israeli civilians and eight Israeli soldiers have been killed. Hundreds have been wounded.

It is very important for the international community to understand that while Hizbullah executes this vicious terrorism, it is only the finger on the bloodstained, long-reaching arms of Syria and Iran. Hizbullah, together with Hamas, Syria and Iran, comprise the world’s new and ominous Axis of Terror, an infamous club, the entry fee to which is the blood of innocents and the terrorizing of the entire world.

Membership to this club requires an unfathomable capacity for evil. The president of Iran has repeatedly denied the Holocaust, while gleefully preparing the next one. Many of the long-range missiles fired into Israel in recent days were Iranian missiles, made by the same regime that is now trying to possess nuclear weapons – this same regime that is funding Hizbullah to the sum of 100 million dollars a year. Do we dare ask ourselves how many families in Lebanon today are being prepared to house dirty bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, courtesy of Iran?

Syria, another member of this club, is a well-known protector and financier of terrorist organizations, playing host to them in its capital, Damascus. The Syrian government, which still regards Lebanon as southern Syria, works ceaselessly to undermine all efforts toward a peaceful future in the region.

Lebanon is today occupied by terror, whether in the south, where it is directed at Israel, or in Beirut, where it kills opponents of Syria and former prime ministers. The real occupying power in Lebanon is terror – terror instigated by Hizbullah but initiated, funded and perpetrated by Syria and Iran.

The Lebanese government, having missed so many chances in the past, at such a horrendous cost to its people, today has another chance to free itself from the stranglehold of terror. Another chance, Mr. President, to release itself from the evil control of Syria and the deadly influence of Iran, and deploy its forces in the south, exercising its sovereignty over a free Lebanon.

Mr. President,

There are words that speak far louder and clearer than anything I can voice today. These are voices of Lebanese – brave, patriotic Lebanese parliamentarians and ministers – who just over the last two days have cried out to all of us from the brink of the abyss in their beloved country. Let me quote some of these courageous statements. The words of Lebanon’s communication minister, Mr. Maruan Hammuda, saying only yesterday that “Damascus gives the orders, Iran supplies the equipment, Israel reacts, Lebanon is the victim.”

Or the words of Elias Attallah, a Lebanese politician representing a majority of its parliament members: “ We welcome any Arab and international support but strongly oppose any enforced involvement of Lebanon by regional players’ considerations (a reference to Syria and Iran) that are not within the interests of the Lebanese people for the sole attempt to achieving opportunistic benefits at the expense of the Lebanese people…The Syrian regime indulges itself in teaching Lebanon and Palestine lessons according to its own interests through these peoples. Why do those who always protect this regime express understanding of its reasons and preferences and do not express any understanding of Lebanon’s reasons and preferences?”

Or the words of an unnamed Lebanese minister, who said, “The Hizbullah has not only kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, it has taken the whole of Lebanon hostage.”

Mr. President,

With your permission, I would like to make a personal appeal to my esteemed Lebanese colleague.

Your Excellency,

You know, deep down, that if you could, you would add your voice to those of your brave countrymen. You know, deep down in your heart, that you should really be sitting here, next to me, voicing the same opinion. You know that what we are doing is right, and, if we succeed, your country will be the real beneficiary. I am sure many of our colleagues around this table and in this chamber, including many or our neighbours, share this sentiment.

Mr. President,

This Council and the international community have a duty today to help the Lebanese people achieve the goal of a free, prosperous and democratic Lebanon. The sad and tormented life of this war-torn land has today entered another sad chapter in its history. It is up to every one of us to help write this chapter, to ensure that this opportunity is seized, not only for the benefit of the Lebanese and Israeli people, but for the sake of generations to come.

Thank you Mr. President.