Rice Defends Israel, Calls Criticisms of Bush Policy 'Grotesque'


July 16, 2006 — -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended Israel's right to counter the terrorist group Hezbollah's deadliest rocket attacks in a decade, and resisted calls for an immediate cease-fire.

She told "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," "We support, at this point, an effort to make certain that when there is a cease-fire that it is one that is sustainable."

Rice rejected the notion that U.S. operations in Iraq have shaken Middle East stability, arguing, "Those hostilities were not very well contained, as we found out on Sept. 11, and so the notion that somehow policies that finally confront extremism are actually causing extremism, I find grotesque."

"For all of those who believe that we somehow had stability in the Middle East over the last 60 years and it's now been disturbed: Where do we think Hezbollah and Hamas and these other extremist forces came from?" she added. "They weren't born yesterday, these forces have been developing and threatening the Middle East and arresting positive developments for decades."

Rice defended Israel's right to counter the attacks.

"No state is going to sit and allow rockets to be fired into its country and not defend its citizens," she said. "While Israel defends itself, we would hope that it does it in a way that preserves the way for a broader peace."

Rice described President Bush as "deeply engaged" in the Middle East crisis.

"The president has spoke out clearly about Israel's right to defend itself," she said.

But Rice refused to outline the Bush administration's position on a possible strike against Syria, which has ties to Hezbollah.

"I'm not going to go into hypothetical issues here," Rice told Stephanopoulos, "but obviously … Iran is involved."

"Iran is financing Hezbollah," she added. "Iran is providing technology. Syria is harboring Hezbollah. So yes, what you have here [is] that extremist forces -- Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iran and the Syrians -- recognize that they are facing a different kind of Middle East, the emergence of a different kind of Middle East in which moderate forces will dominate, and they want to stop it. We have to be equally determined that they can't stop it."

On the home front, the Department of Homeland Security has reportedly cautioned local forces around the nation to be on heightened alert as hostilities rise in the Middle East. Rice, however, downplayed any worries of a domestic attack saying, "We're certainly going to do whatever we need to do to increase vigilance." She sternly warned any threatening groups, adding, "We just want to be careful and vigilant -- and we also want all parties to know, all extremist parties to know, that the U.S. will of course protect itself."

Making the Sunday rounds from the G-8 Summit in Russia, Rice repeatedly stressed, "I think that you have to recognize that this is indeed a long process. To take a snapshot some couple of years after these processes are really beginning in the Middle East, I think is enormously short sighted."

Rice admitted, "This is a very turbulent time as the Middle East changes," but argued, "It is better to have a Middle East that is changing in the direction in which moderate and democratic forces can take hold than to pretend that everything is just fine in the Middle East and that we're somehow going to get a stable Middle East out of appeasing and dealing with extremist forces. We should have learned at least by Sept. 11 that that wasn't going to happen."

Rice did not reserve criticism for either party.

"For the last 60 years, American administrations of both stripes -- Democrat, Republican -- traded what they thought was security and stability and turned a blind eye to the absence of democratic forces, to the absence of pluralism in the region. And out of that set of policies we got a situation that produced or helped produce al Qaeda and other extremist elements. That policy has changed."

As the violence continues to escalate, Rice did not rule out her own personal intervention in the crisis.

"I'm certainly willing to play whatever role I'm needed to play," she said. "We have to go at the root cause. … It's fine to have a cessation of violence. We want to have a cessation of violence. We're worried about the escalating casualties on all sides. But unless we go to the fundamentals here, we're going to continue to have these spikes of violence in the Middle East as we have had for the past 30 years."

George Stephanopoulos' entire interview with Rice can be viewed at "This Week's" Web page at www.abcnews.com.