- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

JERUSALEM.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the former and, possibly, next Israeli prime minister, believes the rise of radical Islam is a real challenge to Israel and to the entire Western world. Left unchecked, Mr. Netanyahu cautions, the danger will only grow, and with dire consequences.

Speaking to United Press International in his office in Jerusalem last Nov. 16, only days after al Qaeda terrorists coming from Iraq detonated bombs, killing themselves and 67 people in three Amman hotels, Mr. Netanyahu discussed the severity of these threats posed by militant Islamist groups and how that affects Israel and the Middle East.

The former Israeli prime minister warned of a real and present danger from Islamist groups such as Hamas, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and “their associates.” He believes al Qaeda is already operating inside the Gaza Strip, now ruled by the Palestinian Authority but where Hamas wields enormous power and influence.

Mr. Netanyahu singled out Iran as a real menace, not only because of its persistent efforts to become nuclear-armed, but also because the mullahs’ continue to support terrorist groups. Mr. Netanyahu cited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent call for “Israel to be wiped off the face of the map.”

Asked if as prime minister he would commit Israel’s military to tackle the Iranian nuclear question and launch a raid on Iran, Mr. Netanyahu said a nuclear-capable Iran is of concern to many parties besides Israel.

“Europe and the United States are also vulnerable to Iran’s nuclear rockets,” said the Israeli politician. “Europe, too, can he hit by Iranian nuclear weapons,” Mr. Netanyahu told UPI.

To become prime minister again, Mr. Netanyahu had to first win the Likud Party nomination, which he did Monday.

If elected, Mr. Netanyahu said he would adopt the same no-nonsense policy regarding Palestinian terrorism he previously followed. He stressed he would not “reward” Palestinian fanaticism and terrorism by giving up land. “Peace in return for peace,” said Mr. Netanyahu.

The former prime minister said on his watch there would be no unilateral redeployment, no surrender of land in hopes the Palestinians would behave, as Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli hard-liners accuse current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of doing. These Sharon critics believe he was mistaken to give up the Gaza Strip settlements.

Mr. Netanyahu said he would be willing to talk peace with the Palestinian leadership, but when it demonstrates it can impose security on areas under its control. He stressed the need for the PA to control Hamas. He said he believed the current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, was an improvement over Yasser Arafat. “But that is not a difficult thing to do,” said Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Netanyahu notes Israel experienced only three terrorist attacks under his leadership, the lowest ever compared to the scores of suicide bombings under other prime ministers.

Bibi, as friends know him, says he would never negotiate with the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas. “They are dedicated to the destruction of Israel.” Instead, Mr. Netanyahu promises to answer violence firmly.

Mr. Netanyahu told UPI Islamist violence must be “contained and defeated.” He explained how he once telephoned former Palestinian leader Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters to warn him that any violence from Palestinian groups would result in cannon fire from Israeli tanks.

Asked what about Syria, Mr. Netanyahu replied, “What about Syria?” Would he negotiate land for peace with Damascus? Would he be willing to return the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a peace deal?

“Peace in exchange for peace,” reiterated the Israeli politician, saying countries that choose to initiate hostilities and end up losing territory should not expect to get it back.

Asked where he sees Israel in 20 years, Mr. Netanyahu replied, “It depends on the course we pursue and it depends on the course the world pursues.”

Mr. Netanyahu said, “So long as there is a United States, there will be a State of Israel.”

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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