- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003

Israel defends attacks

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon defended his government’s pre-emptive strikes against Palestinian militants because “Israel is at war with terrorists.”

Mr. Ayalon, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, compared the Hamas organization, which took responsibility for most of the recent attacks against Israel, to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network.

“Hamas … is bent on Israel’s destruction. … They see one Palestinian state, [an] Islamist state, not side by side Israel but instead of Israel,” Mr. Ayalon said.

“They are attacking us all the time in a relentless way. So the only way we can protect ourselves is by pre-emption.”

Mr. Ayalon said Israel, which is striking Palestinians “very reluctantly,” would rather see Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas turn his security forces against the terrorists.

He said Mr. Abbas has “tens of thousands of people on his payroll.”

“What does he do with them?” Mr. Ayalon asked. “He should put them on the streets to fight the terrorists.”

Such action would encourage Israel to take other steps on the U.S.-backed “road map” to Middle East peace, Mr. Ayalon said.

“They need to take concrete actions,” he said. “They should … confiscate illegal weapons [and stop] terrorists. We have not seen anything of that type yet.”

Mr. Ayalon declined to criticize President Bush for rebuking Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week, after a retaliatory helicopter attack.

“We listen to the president very carefully,” Mr. Ayalon said. “The United States is our best friend and ally.”

However, he asserted Israel’s right to self-defense and compared Israeli attacks against Hamas to the U.S. operation against al Qaeda.

Mr. Ayalon also said Israel is worried about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and believes Iraq may have shipped weapons of mass destruction to Syria just before the war.

He refused to say whether Israel would consider destroying Iran’s nuclear program, as it did in Iraq in the 1980s when Israeli planes bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor.

“A nuclear Iran would destabilize not just the region but beyond,” he said. “They are not working only on the nuclear program but also delivery systems.”

Mr. Ayalon said Iran has missiles with a range of 1,000 miles.

“They are working on more ambitious missiles which would reach … most of Europe and ultimately would reach the United States,” he said.

Mr. Ayalon also said his government suspects that Saddam hid or transferred chemical and biological weapons to Syria.

“They had enough time not just to destroy and hide them but also to transfer them over to other places,” he said. “We know for a fact that there were convoys that were leaving Iraq, crossing the border to Syria just before the war. … What were in them I cannot tell you for sure, but this is certainly a warning sign.”

U.S. delays Azerbaijanis

Bureaucratic problems in Washington are delaying the deployment of Azerbaijan’s peacekeeping troops to Iraq, the U.S. ambassador to the Caucasian nation said yesterday.

“The issue that is holding up this deployment is the financial arrangement on the U.S. side,” Ross Wilson told reporters in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

Mr. Wilson did not cite the reason for the delays but explained that Azerbaijan needed U.S. financing to deploy its troops.

Azerbaijan was supposed to send 150 troops to Iraq in mid-May. The Azerbaijani soldiers were expected to help maintain order in the cities of Karbala, Kirkuk, Mosul and Najaf.

U.S. bars Beirut official

Lebanon’s finance minister no longer can visit the United States because he has given money to a Muslim charity with links to terrorists, the U.S. ambassador in Beirut said.

Ambassador Vince Battle informed Faud Saniora, a close aide to Lebanese Prime Minister Rakif Hariri, about the ban two weeks ago, a U.S. Embassy spokesman told the Associated Press over the weekend. Mr. Battle said U.S. antiterrorism laws bar foreigners who finance terrorists from traveling to the United States.

Mr. Saniora, described as a pro-Western official, donated about $650 last year to the Islamic Benevolent Society, which the United States says is linked to the Hezbollah terrorist group.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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