- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Special correspondent Jay Bushinsky interviewed Benjamin Netanyahu, former prime minister of Israel and a leading Likud Party member, for The Washington Times on Monday at Mr. Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem. The following is excerpted from a transcript of their meeting.


Question: The United States has asked Israel to tone down its response to Palestinian attacks, so as not to interfere with the anti-Iraq coalition. What is your reaction?

Answer: Every country has a right and obligation to defend its people, and Israel, of course, is no exception. So Israel is merely exercising that right, which the U.N. supports and understands. And by exercising that, it is not interfering in any way in America's battle against terrorism. This is part and parcel of the war against terrorism. And, of course, Israel will do whatever it can to facilitate America's strategical and operational needs.


Q: It's also a general policy conception? Trying to make gestures, as in the planned withdrawal of forces from Hebron?

A: I don't think it will materially make a difference. I don't think the absence of gestures will hurt, because there's a much bigger picture here. The picture here is that we have a terrorist world a global, terrorist onslaught which is underpinned by terrorist regimes that harbor terrorists and give them the ability to operate worldwide.

I think the big issue here is not placating the Arab world in any way. They are not part of any coalition of any substance. On the contrary, the issue is to send terrorists and their backers everywhere a message that terror will not be tolerated. And therefore, if anything, I believe that it is important to be consistent in this policy. Making gestures to a regime like Arafat's, which is promoting terrorism or at least not lifting a finger to stop it, is a mistake.


Q: Do you think it is legitimate to ask Israel to tone down official statements, at least about the confrontation with Iraq?

A: Israel has not been on the front lines on this issue in any way. But it is no secret that it is on the front lines in the sense that we will be Saddam's first target of choice. It is highly likely that in the dying gasps the last gasps of his regime, Saddam will fire his remaining missiles at us. They might include nonconventional warheads. What Israel has been doing is not to make inflammatory statements of any kind.


Q: Do you have any tactical concepts about how the U.S. and its allies, meaning Great Britain and the others, might conduct a war against Saddam?

A: I think that's probably been thought of with great care by the Joint Chiefs and by the American government, so they certainly don't need my advice. I will say that I believe the power of [the] Iraqi resistance is much smaller than is often assumed. This is a single-man regime that is based on fear. What will happen is that the minute the people and the Iraqi army understand that the war has been won, Saddam will collapse a lot sooner and, in my judgment, a lot faster than most people think.


Q: How would you assess Prime Minister Sharon's talks in Washington?

A: It sounds as if they went very well. I think Israel and the U.S. have a close relationship, which always has been the case. But it has been immensely intensified, immensely strengthened, by the events of September 11. Because the American people realize that Israel and the U.S. are fighting the same war against the same enemy who hates us both with an unmatched fanaticism. And so that creates an automatic kinship, not only of governments but also of peoples.

I have had the privilege of speaking to dozens of American audiences in the last year, including twice in the U.S. Congress and before senators. And the degree of sympathy and identification of the American people with Israel is remarkable. It's never been stronger. [And] vice versa. You know of course that while the Palestinians danced in the streets at the tragedy of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Israelis were grieving. Americans understand that fully well. That really says it all.


Q: Bali ranks as what I would call mega-terrorism. That's really a very large-scale attack.

A: I disagree. I don't think that's mega-terrorism. I think that mega-terrorism is a cannister of toxic germs that are put in a water reservoir. I think that mega-terrorism is a nuclear bomb in the proverbial suitcase that explodes in downtown Manhattan or Washington. I think that this is the true specter that haunts us in the 21st century.


Q: Do you think it will be possible to wind down the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians here?

A: Yes, I think it is. It's possible once Arafat's regime is removed But I'm a great believer in the president's policy of "regime change" in the most fundamental sense of the world. That is not to replace one dictator with another, either in Iraq or the Palestinian areas, but to replace a dictatorship with democracy or, to be more precise, with democratization. That is, with a controlled process, an interim process of introducing democratic concepts, more liberal institutions, freer markets, a market-economy principle, changes and reforms in the educational system. These societies have been toxified by dictators like Arafat and Saddam. I think that this is understood today in Washington. They understand that they have to detoxify these societies just as they detoxified in Germany and Japan after their dictatorial regimes were brought down. I'm not saying that the result will be the same.


Q: Do you think military operations are inevitable, that we're heading in that direction?

A: I think so. because the imperative is to defang the Saddam regime from acquiring atomic weapons, and no inspectors can do that job. After Israel's obliteration of Saddam's Ossirac atomic bomb factory in 1981, Saddam changed the technology that he uses to produce nuclear weapons.

He is using a decentralized system with production sites that are tiny. Decentralized technology with small scale centrifuges that are portable very small fit into a small room. It is impossible in a large country like Iraq to uncover this. And therefore, the inspectors are doomed to failure from the start. I think the president understands that. And this is why there will be no alternative than to take military action to prevent the arming of Iraq with nuclear weapons.


Q: Will the aftermath of the campaign promise peace if Iraq becomes a democracy?

A: I think we have to be realistic in our expectation. Iraq will not turn into a model democracy. Even over many years, it might not become a classic democracy as we understand it. But we have no choice but to begin to ventilate these societies, to give people to hear something other than the drumbeat of a clerical fanaticism or the drumbeat of radical despots. In both cases, they are poisoning an entire generation and even generations, and instilling in them a cult of death. So the process of change has to begin somewhere. And the simplest place to begin change is where you introduce "regime change." That is the most logical place to start. I believe that is exactly what the United States is going to do.


Q: Are you buoyed by your victory over Ariel Sharon for the Likud Party leadership in the vote by the party's Jerusalem caucus last week?

A: This happens to be my birthday, so it was a nice birthday present. I never get carried away by party politics. There are enough faxes and flowers, so the word has got out, so somebody must have good secretaries.


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