Mideast Crisis: 'No Other Way to Live in Peace'

July 17, 2006 — -- The following is a transcript of Charles Gibson's interview with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Gibson: The Israeli government has said it is the goal to severely weaken Hezbollah -- militarily, diplomatically. Do you think you are succeeding?

Livni: Well, I think so. Until now we used the military forces and I think that now this is also the role of the international community. I mean, it is not only the Israeli government's goal to weaken Hezbollah. This is part of the Security Council Resolution 1559.

This is part of the interest of the free world against the axis of terror and hatred of Hezbollah and Syria and Iran and Hamas. And unfortunately until now, the Siniora government, the Lebanese government didn't implement its role under the 1559 Resolution. And this is the time in which I think that maybe the Israeli government in a way made a favor to the Siniora government, and there is a chance now to implement the Security Council resolution.

Gibson: You have called for the Lebanese government to come down and take control of their southern border, their border with Israel. But is that government strong enough to do it?

Livni: You know the story of the Middle East, especially in the last years, is that the leaders are more moderate and they believe in the right causes, are the weak ones. This is true about Siniora and Abu Mazen when it comes to the Palestinian issue. As I said before, now there is a window for opportunity because Hezbollah was weakened after the Israeli attacks.

I also believe that now there is an understanding within the Lebanese society that Hezbollah is a burden. I mean, Hezbollah tried to sell this organization, this movement as the liberator of Lebanon. But now they understand that the right thing to do, not for Israel, but for the benefit of Lebanon, for their future, is to stop it … not to give them the chance to control their lives.

Gibson: Do you think that the people of Lebanon, the moderate people of Lebanon really think Israel is doing them a favor by what they are doing militarily there?

Livni: No, I said we are doing it for Israel. We are doing it for the Israeli society. We are doing it because we have no other way to live in peace. I mean, Israel and Lebanon have no conflict, and Hezbollah is using the fact that they have the strength in Lebanon to keep an open front for the Iranians and the Syrians with Israel from Lebanon. So maybe doing a "favor" is not the right word. But I think that what Israel is doing is to open a window of opportunity to the Lebanese government, to the international community to pressure now the Lebanese government and to do the right thing according to the 1559 Resolution. It is the Security Council Resolution, not the Israeli government resolution.

Gibson: But for the Lebanese government to come down and take control of that border, it takes a will to do it and it takes a capability to do it. Do they have either?

Livni: I don't know about the will. I heard a Siniora speech a few days ago. Unfortunately, he didn't even mention 1559 Resolution. But yet he was speaking about the need of the Lebanese government to force its sovereignty on the southern part of Lebanon. So this is a good message.

About the ability to do so? As I said before, before the Israeli attack, before the Israeli response, maybe they didn't have the force to do it. But now, Hezbollah is weakened. Israel took Hezbollah off the outpost on the Israeli-Lebanese [border]. There are no outposts for Hezbollah any more. So even technically, it looks that they have now the possibility to try to do something about it, to send their forces and avoid an internal clash between the forces of the Lebanese government and Hezbollah. But Israel is going to work with the international community to find the best way to force the Lebanese government to do it according to the Security Council resolution, and maybe to help the Lebanese government because we cannot afford any other situation. I mean we tried, we've waited. Israel has shown restraint. Not any more.

Gibson: Can you truly weaken Hezbollah, do you feel? Weaken them militarily to the point that they are no longer a threat?

Livni: Well it depends not only on Israel. I mean, the relationship between the Hezbollah, the Iranians and Syria. I mean, the Iranians armed Hezbollah through Syria with Iranian and Syrian weapons. And it is not only the role of Israel to do it. I mean, we weakened Hezbollah after the last actions on Israel. But as part of the United Nations resolution, there is a need to disarm Hezbollah. This is the role of the Lebanese government. Maybe it takes some time, but there is, as I said before, Israel began the work, there is a need for them to implement their forces as a sovereign government. And there is a need also to stop the Iranians and Syrians from arming the Hezbollah. It is about keeping the borders, forcing the Security Council resolution, maybe it takes some time, but it needs to be done.

Gibson: The leaders of the industrialized nations who are meeting right now in Russia issued a statement yesterday and did not call for a cease-fire. Your reaction to that?

Livni: I think the call is the right thing to say and the right thing to do. Because only a cease-fire brings us to nothing. I mean it is to the same situation in which the Hezbollah is on the Israeli border, the Lebanese government is too weak to do something about it. And we are paying the price, not only Israel but Israel as the representative of the Western world in the region, the representative of the values of the international community and the United States as well, so there is a need to do something about it and the reason we [inaudible] opportunity after the Israeli attack. So the message of the G8 was very important because, first, it said the extremist, the Hamas and the Hezbollah are the cause for what is happening in the region. They want to flame, to put the region in flames. Nasrallah is the regional provocateur, if I may say. There is the need to implement 1559 Security Council resolution.

Gibson: The fact that they did not call for a cease-fire, does it say in your mind, Israel, do what you have to do militarily before this thing gets settled?

Livni: First, Israel will do what it has to do because it is about the lives of the Israelis. It is about the lives of people not only in the northern part of Israel. It is about the existence of Israel. Since its establishment, Israel is fighting for its existence. It is not a small event in the northern part of Israel that the Hezbollah caused a few days ago. It is about the threat from Hezbollah as part of this axis of terrorism and hatred.

It is about the goal of Nasrallah to be the one that will have maybe a kind of a veto right on peace in the Middle East. He wants to be the leader not only of the Lebanese, not only to be the representative of Iran, but to be the leader of the Palestinians. He is taking a very dangerous role in the region, and we have to stop it. And Israel is doing the right thing and maybe right now Israel is doing the right thing not only for the Israeli interest, but this is part of the policy of the international community. And this is the reason why our expectation from the G8 was also to say the right thing. And I believe that we are doing the right thing because we are the same side with the G8. We represent the policy and the interests of the free world, of the Western world.

Gibson: So a U.N. delegation comes in here tomorrow to begin to talk about what to do. Do you think that there's going to be a push to get a U.N. force on the border? Is that where we eventually head?

Livni: I think that this will be part of the discussions. We heard some statement, not only from the U.N. -- even today there was a statement by Kofi Annan and Tony Blair and even the G8 statement, part of the statement, refers to the international role, maybe with forces or something like this. We'll have to check with and I am going to meet with these envoys that are coming to this region from the U.N., and to check what is the most effective way to end or to get out of the situation for a better future.

Gibson: But is that not the only practical way to end this? To get the U.N. force on the border given the question of whether the Lebanese government will be strong enough to take control of the border itself?

Livni: The best option, of course, is to get the Lebanese army on the border, but in the Middle East, you have to choose between options. It's not only about the best option and as long as they say that they don't have the ability to do it, we have to discuss with the international community what is the best way to get out of it. But it's too early for me to say something or to make a statement. We are going to sit and find out in the next few days what is the best way to impose, to implement 1559.

In the past, we had some experience with United National forces, which didn't stop Hezbollah from kidnapping soldiers. This was the last event from a few years ago in which Hezbollah kidnapped soldiers and the United Nations monitors just looked and did nothing. So we have to think what is the best way or what is the best possibility to stop Hezbollah from trying to …

Gibson: Reassert itself?

Livni: Yes, yes.

Gibson: But is not the U.N. Force the only practical way in reality to do it?

Livni: First, as I said before, 1559 Resolution speaks about the Lebanese army and this is the goal -- not only the Israeli goal but I believe the international community's.

Gibson: But not a terrible, potent force, is it?

Livni: No, but as I said before, it's too early for me, and I'm not going to use this opportunity, excuse me, to make a statement about the international forces, the U.N. forces or others. We are going to sit. They are coming tomorrow, and it is my responsibility to find out what is the best way to keep Hezbollah out of the southern part of Lebanon and what are the best steps we have to take with the international community.

Gibson: Your government has been very careful to say this is a battle against Hezbollah not necessarily, even though you have said you feel the Syrians and Iranians are behind many of their actions.

Livni: It's not about feeling, it's about information.

Gibson: Information … but this is not a battle against either of those nations. You've been very careful to not bring Syria or Iran as targets of what you're doing militarily.

Livni: We have our own responsibility. I mean, Nasrallah as the leader of Hezbollah tries to put the region in flames. He tries to target Israel, as I said, not as the Lebanese representative but as a representative of this axis of terrorism and hate.

As we see it, and this is the Israeli government policy, and these are the goals of the operation, first the Lebanese government is responsible because the attacks came from Lebanese soil, sovereign Lebanese soil to sovereign Israeli soil. Second, the Lebanese government had to implement 1559 Resolution and they failed to do it. But the most important goal of this operation is to target the Hezbollah. I mean Hezbollah is using Lebanon and we had to stop it and this is the goal of the operation.

Gibson: It's early in the day yet, but we have not seen the kind of missile attacks that we saw yesterday on Haifa, at least as serious. We haven't seen longer-range missiles coming into Israel that we saw yesterday. Do you think that you have degraded the military capabilities of Hezbollah, or do you still worry that longer range missiles could come to the country?

Livni: It's a yes answer for both your questions. I mean, we have degraded it and they have now less missiles. But yet, it's not over yet.

Gibson: You still worry?

Livni: Yes.

Gibson: Madam Minister, thank you. Nice to talk with you.