Caroline Glick interviews Ariel Sharon

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Sharon: No military solution to the war with the Palestinians



In a comprehensive, exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offers his perspective on the possibility that Israel is forced to respond to an attack by Iraq during a US-led campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime.

 

 

He also details his thoughts about the path to settling the war with the Palestinians and discusses his commitment to the national unity government.

 

 

Sharon, speaking at his official residence on Wednesday, also reveals the operational difficulties involved in fighting Palestinian terrorism.

 

What follows is the full text of the interview, preceded by some of the highlights of Sharon's remarks:

 

 

 

  • "I don't want to sit in Nablus forever. I do not want to have our country mobilized forever to sit in Nablus and Jenin and Ramallah. "
  •  

  • I have always seen terrorism as a strategic threat, not a tactical threat. But here you have to see the wider picture. You have to understand that over three million Palestinians live here without the million Israeli Arabs. We don't want to return and sit forever in Jenin or Nablus or Ramallah.

     

  • My government also wants to reach a diplomatic agreement. And we're working on this. I've met with people even here, in my residence – not Arafat. It won't be easy…. But one thing must be clear, they must abide by agreements. In the past we didn't make them live up to their agreements. That's over.

     

  • As for Arafat, in my first meeting with President Bush they asked not to physically harm him. I promised not to cause him physical harm.

     

  • A great deal of thought went into the operations in Ramallah [at Arafat's compound]. Our intention is to prevent the Palestinian Authority, which is involved in terrorism and the terror organizations it works with including the Palestinian security forces, from committing and escalating their attacks ahead of a possible attack against Iraq.

     

  • From a military perspective, when we have to take out that group of murderers [in the Mukata] and they are the biggest terrorists that exist, to take them out we could have stormed in. The problem is that this sort of operation involves the possibility of physically harming Arafat.

     

  • I committed myself to not harm him so I didn't order them in. The same is true with taking down the buildings there. We took down the buildings in the compound and left him in a little hovel. We took them down until we got to the point where any further action was liable to cause the structure he is in to fall on top of him. We will do everything we can to bring all these people with him to a fair trial.

     

  • The damage incurred by the Palestinians is terrible. Today we see the beginnings of a thought process among them that it is impossible under any circumstance to break Israel. This was their great hope. Israel wasn't broken. Our volunteering spirit is phenomenal. Our society is fine whereas Arab society is at the beginning of a breakdown. There is no longer hope that they can break Israel by force. Everything that has happened for them is just damage.

     

  • I have no trauma from Lebanon. I think that the war in Lebanon was a war of salvation. I think that if it hadn't been for the attempt, in the middle of the war, to take down the government, we would have accomplished things that we were prevented from accomplishing.

     

  • I also think that the American position then was a mistaken position. In all of my conversations with them during that period I presented the possibility of creating the triangle of Jerusalem, Cairo, Beirut as a triangle in the region with a democratic, western orientation. I viewed this as important. But the Americans ended up among the forces that prevented Lebanon then from reaching an agreement with Israel. I believe they were wrong then.
  • The full text:

     

     

    Q: How do you respond to the statement by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his testimony before the US Congress last week that if Israel is attacked during an American led attack on Iraq that it shouldn't respond?

     

    Sharon: First of all, we support the US's moves. We have not interfered at all. We have not tried to speed up an action or to postpone one. We appreciate the importance of this operation. We will of course provide all assistance that we are called upon to provide, just as we did during the war in Afghanistan.

     

    As to the subject itself, I hope that the US's mode of operation with its coalition partners will be such that a potential attack against Israel will be averted. If Iraq attacks Israel, but does not hit population centers or cause casualties, our interest will be to not make it hard on them. If on the other hand Israel is harmed, if we suffer casualties or if non-conventional weapons of mass destruction are used against us, then definitely Israel will take the proper actions to defend its citizens.

     

     

    Q: Can you imagine a situation wherein which Israel responds with a counter-strike against Iraq even in the face of staunch opposition from the US?

     

    Sharon: I don't think that is the situation that we are facing. I hope that the US, in its understanding of the situation here, will take all possible actions to prevent us from reaching that type of situation. Of course, Israeli citizens cannot be exposed to harm without Israel acting to defend its citizens. I believe that this point is clear in Washington. I made it clear during my conversations in Washington. I also believe that there is an full understanding of the need to act in a manner that will make it impossible to harm Israel.

     

    Q: When Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir acceded to American pressure during the Gulf War and did not respond to Iraqi missile attacks on Israel, he was repaid by the US with a suspension of loan guarantees for aliyah absorption and as a result, lost power in the 1992 elections. Do you think that if in the coming US attack on Iraq, Israel accedes to US pressure and again restrains itself, that the US will respect us for our efforts on its behalf?

     

    Sharon: I think that one of the US's lessons from the Gulf War is that it did not carry out the necessary steps during the war or it did not take enough steps to protect Israel or to prevent attacks on Israel.

    Because they learned this lesson, I think that they will carry out the necessary operations to prevent a situation, where Israel will need to take action.

     

    Q:Today we see a linkage between the gathering US attack against Iraq and the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Last week, while the UN Security Council was discussing possible action against Iraq, the Quartet met and discussed the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This week, the Security Council condemned Israel. Clearly, by publicly castigating Israel this week, the US administration is making it clear that it is having trouble denying the linkage between the ongoing war here and the need to operate against Iraq. Maybe Israel could be most helpful to the US by bringing the war to a swift and conclusive end before the US begins its operations in Iraq.

     

    Sharon: I do not believe that there is any connection between the Palestinian problem and the need to deal with Iraq as a terror center and a center for the development of weapons of mass destruction. These are two completely separate issues. There is no connection between the two. What we have here is a cynical attempt by the Arab states and the Palestinians to put pressure on the US to take action against Israel. This is blackmail pure and simple. Arab states and the Palestinians a
    re blackmailing the US but in reality there is no connection between the issues.

    We see that there have been statements against or criticism against Israel by the US administration. It is important to put this criticism into perspective.

     

    Even between good friends there are sometimes disagreements. We are linked to the US by a tradition of friendship and we have enjoyed an even closer friendship with the current administration. I have the greatest respect for the leadership of President George Bush and for his leadership of the war against international terrorism.

     

    At the same time, I want to make clear: It is the duty of the Government of Israel to defend its citizens. We saw the terror attack on Tel-Aviv's main street. We saw the attack in Hebron, during the Succoth holiday as Jews were leaving prayers an attack on a family.

     

    My policy has always been not to escalate and to act carefully. I see here a Palestinian intention to escalate the terror attacks before a possible US action in Iraq. Their operating assumption is that as the US operation against Iraq gets closer it will become more difficult for Israel to act against them because Israel will not want to make things difficult for the US administration.

     

    A great deal of thought went into the operations in Ramallah [at Arafat's compound.] Our intention is to prevent the Palestinian Authority, which is involved in terrorism and the terror organizations it works with including the Palestinian security forces, from committing and escalating their attacks ahead of a possible attack against Iraq.

     

    As to your question about ending the war completely, our policy is to prevent an escalation of terrorism and in fact to reduce it. In addition to daily or nightly actions, the policy will be to respond forcefully to any attempt to raise the level of terrorism.

     

    Q: Is it possible for us to end this war?

     

    Sharon: I have always acted to prevent escalation of the situation to progress, perhaps more slowly but in a manner that has provided us with freedom to act diplomatically in our struggle against terrorism. I think this has been the proper policy. I think the ideas that have been discussed here in Israel by politicians and others. Their advocacy of our going in and destroying terrorism is a wrong approach. If we had gone that route we wouldn't have been in the place we are today where we can fight terrorism.

     

    Q: When you were a commander in the IDF, you always ensured that the forces you commanded advanced swiftly to bring the battles you commanded to a decisive conclusion. It appears that today, you have adopted a completely contradictory approach. Why is that?

     

    Sharon: This is true. But this is the difference between a military commander and the Prime Minister.

     

    Q: But what is the difference exactly? In both situations the fight was against a terrorist war. It's the same enemy.

     

    Sharon: When you are a commander you have to concentrate you efforts. You have to see things in a much narrower context. You have a goal and you have to achieve it in the best possible way. As a prime minister, the responsibility you shoulder is much wider and you have to see the entire picture. You have to see the present, assess how things will develop in the future and therefore this gradual approach in my view is the proper one.

     

    If I look a year and a half back, when we operated in Gaza, by Beit Hanoun and our forces went 300 meters into Area A, the move was greeted by international shock waves. That is not the situation today. Today we are in all of Area A, not because we want to be there but in order to prevent terror. We have no limitation on our military actions we choose the moves we think are most effective.

     

    This did not happen by chance. It was a gradual process, through our military actions and our diplomatic moves and also because of world developments that made the dangers of terrorism clearer. I always have seen terrorism as a strategic threat. There were leaders in Israel that said that terror is not a strategic threat. I always disagreed with this.

     

    I have always seen terrorism as a strategic threat, not a tactical threat. But here you have to see the wider picture. You have to understand that over three million Palestinians live here without the million Israeli Arabs.We don't want to return and sit forever in Jenin or Nablus or Ramallah.

     

    Q: Is there no chance at victory here?

     

    Sharon: There is a possibility from a military perspective, the ability to level hard blows, and we have done so. But we have to do it in a way where we get a place where we level a decisive blow to terror organizations.

     

    But if we want to get a situation where we can conclude a diplomatic agreement, and I want to get to a diplomatic agreement, we have to achieve a situation where after we leave the areas there will be someone who will oversee things there.

     

    Q:Can you see a situation where the people who supervise the areas are the same people conducting a terrorist war against the State of Israel?

     

    Sharon: No absolutely not. I think that to a large extent that President Bush's plan, the principles of the plan, are acceptable to us. Not only are they acceptable, but we had great influence over the formation of the plan. The key to the proposed settlement is that it be conducted gradually. It is predicated on the understanding that there must be a complete cessation of terrorism and violence as a first stage.

     

    Then there are actions that will be carried out as a function of the development of Israel's relations with the Palestinians. The final agreement or the final settlement is something we will achieve in a number of years to be determined not by an arbitrary deadline but rather by developments on the ground.

     

    Generally speaking, this plan demands serious reform. Serious reform involves Arafat being removed from any position of influence. There has to be an intermediate level of prime minister or as I referred to it at the time "chief executive officer." There have to be governmental ministries that function properly.

     

    One of these ministries is the Ministry of the Interior that will be in charge of the security organizations. The Palestinians need to replace their fourteen separate security/terror organizations with three new and different security organizations. What exists today has to be taken apart. They have to be subordinate to a commander who is not involved in terrorism.

     

    Q:Is Abdel Razak Yihye involved in terrorism?

     

    Sharon: No, I think not. To the best of my knowledge he is not stained by terrorism. Next to him there has to be a team, under US leadership a monitoring team that will monitor all of their activities.

     

    Q: So are you talking about a US trusteeship? Do you mean that the Palestinians will be under a US mandate?

     

    Sharon: No, no.

     

    Q:So what are these monitors?

     

    Sharon: Today the PA's forces are called security forces but all of them are involved in terrorism. We need someone who will supervise.

     

    Q:Why shouldn't Israel be the monitor?

     

    Sharon: I don't want to sit in Nablus forever. I do not want to have our country mobilized forever to sit in Nablus and Jenin and Ramallah.

     

    Q: But why would we have to sit there forever? Why shouldn't we supervise them? Why should the Americans do it for us? Why would the Americans do it better than we would?

     

    Sharon: How would you do it? You have to sit inside there and follow all their activities what are they doing, how are they training.

     

    Q: Who could do that better than Israel? After all, the need to supervise them stems from the need to protect Israel's citizens. The protection of Israel's citizens is the responsibility of Israel's government not the US government. Why should the Americans do our job?

     

    Sharon: We are responsible for our lives. And this is what we are doing. Therefore the solution that I suggested is a phased plan because every step we take is irreversible. We will stay in Jenin and Nablus for as long as it takes but I think it would be a mistake to stay there forever.

     

    So I spoke about the security apparatuses, they have to be completely new ones, completely different ones.

     

    The security reform is only one aspect of the plan I agreed to with the Americans. The PA's finances also have to be transformed. There has to be one address on the financial side. Arafat has to be completely cut off from all the finances. What we see now is a very small beginning of the process. Arafat still controls the financial apparatuses as he controls the security structures and the terrorist structures.

     

    There is also the whole issue of the media and the incitement. The media's incitement is terrible unbridled. The education system also must be revamped.

     

    What I just laid out are the general principles of the plan. These principles must be translated into clear action on the ground by a new Palestinian leadership. These actions include several components.

     

    First, it needs to arrest all the terrorists from all the organizations, investigate them and try them.

     

    Second, it needs to dismantle all the terror organizations Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Aksa Brigades, the Tanzim, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine all the organization must be dismantled. This is the reform as we agreed with the US. It is not by chance that I went to the US six times in one year. We set up joint teams who worked out all of these programs together.

     

    Third, the Palestinians have to disarm and collect all the illegal weaponry in the areas and transfer them to a third party in my view the US in order to take them out of the area and destroy them.

     

    Fourth, they have to engage in real operations to prevent terrorism. In the past when we gave them lists of people or information about terrorist cells about to carry out attacks. Rather than prevent the attacks the PA would warn the cell members to hide and so make it more difficult for us to find them. So we need serious preventative operations.

     

    The fifth thing is an absolute end to incitement.

    I would define these as very difficult conditions but absolutely necessary ones. If they are not met it will be impossible to advance in a diplomatic process. Israel will not agree, under any conditions to enter into a situation of an agreement, let alone a situation of purported peace if the terror continues. These are Israel's demands. These were all agreed upon between Israel and the Americans. And we stand by these demands.

     

    Q: Do you think the Americans will stand by Israel in demanding the fulfillment of these conditions?

     

    Sharon: It is quite possible that the US will see it as important to show that things are moving forward, maybe because of their current situation, but we took this issue of finding a phased solution very seriously because our lives are on the line.

     

    Therefore it is our position, which I made clear to the Americans that we will not compromise on them. I made it clear that for a durable peace I am willing to make territorial concessions. I am not willing to make even the smallest concession when it comes to the security of the citizens of Israel or the security of the state. I said this from the first meeting, from the first day. I haven't moved from this position, not once.

     

    Q:Aren't you making concessions regarding our security by not arresting Yassir Arafat, by leaving Ahmed Yassin free?

     

    Sharon: I don't want to go into Yassin because I don't know what is going to happen with him so I don't want to go into it. We made a concerted effort in Gaza Monday night and had some great successes, we were able to get to key figures there.

     

    As for Arafat, in my first meeting with President Bush they asked not to physically harm him. I promised not to cause him physical harm. My relations with the US and the White House, are based on credibility. In my view credibility is more important than agreeing or disagreeing with someone. In my view, this credibility has been an important foundation of the relationship that developed.

     

    I promised not to cause him physical harm. From a military perspective, when we have to take out that group of murderers [in the Mukata] and they are the biggest terrorists that exist, to take them out we could have stormed in. The problem is that this sort of operation involves the possibility of physically harming Arafat. I committed myself to not harm him so I didn't order them in. The same is true with taking down the buildings there. We took down the buildings in the compound and left him in a little hovel. We took them down until we got to the point where any further action was liable to cause the structure he is in to fall on top of him. We will do everything we can to bring all these people with him to a fair trial.

     

    Q: William Safire wrote this week in The New York Times that the time has come for you to choose between your unity government and victory in the war against Palestinian terrorism. How do you respond to him?

     

    Sharon: There is no contradiction between the war on terrorism and the participation of all the parties in the government. I have not seen even one operation that was not carried out because of the unity government. For instance what is happening now in Ramallah is the result of a unanimous cabinet decision.

     

    I have not heard statements by the Foreign Minister or the Defense Minister that point to a distinction in how we fight the war on terror. There are different approaches to the diplomatic plans but what concerns the war on terrorism, there is a consensus that we must fight terrorism and that you cannot reach a compromise with terrorism. I do not see any problem here.

     

    I have always favored unity governments. I formed such a government with Peres in 1984 when we were in the midst of a terrible financial crisis. I did it for Shamir. I was a partner in the formation of every unity government that we have had. I place great importance in unity. It lowers the local hatreds and rivalries. It brings greater unity among world Jewry.

     

    A unity government is something that the Arabs, including the Palestinians view as their principle weak point. If they succeeded in breaking up the unity government it would be a great accomplishment for them. Militarily, there is no operation I can think of that was prevented because of the unity government. No constraints have been placed on the army.

     

    Q: Perhaps, but it seems that because of the unity government, Israel is not pursuing our enemy with anything approaching a winning strategy. Rather than initiate, all we seem to do is react for a couple of days after every new massacre, declare victory and withdraw until the next massacre.

     

    Sharon: You need to understand, there is a difference between what I call operations in a time of peace and operations in an all out war. It isn't that we are not at war. We are at war. But the general sense of the world is that we are at peace. Operations and activities that you take during an atmosphere of peace are more limited. What you can do today, you might not be able to do tomorrow.

     

    The name of the game is readiness and willingness to take action immediately on the same day, straight away when you have the opportunity. That's one of the things that the military has achieved today. There have been a lot of shortcuts. After the Pessah attack at the Park Hotel the army responded immediately. After Hebron this week the IDF went into Gaza. After Tel-Aviv last week we went into Ramallah, on the same day. Our army and security forces have undergone a serious transformation in the past year and a ha
    lf on these issues. In a substantial way, it was my contribution stemming from the way I commanded when I was in the army. I deal a lot with the issue of formulating how we can be prepared to act immediately.

     

    But the notion, brought up generally by self-proclaimed experts that we can go in and end it in one fell swoop is wrong. In that case, we could only go in once. This way, we can go in any time we need to.

     

    Q: Yes, but to what end? If the Palestinians know, that no matter what they do, all we'll do is go in and then leave, then they know that they can fight this terrorist war against us and at the end of the day they lose no ground. We'll give them back all the ground they forced us through arms to take. Why should they ever stop fighting?

     

    Sharon: They have lost a great deal. What did Arafat give them? He brought them total economic destruction. He brought terrible poverty and suffering. He brought great rifts in Palestinian society. What accomplishments has he brought them?

     

    Q: You, Mr. Prime Minister, in the midst of war say in a clear voice that we will not stay in Nablus, we will give it back to them. So maybe we don't want to be in Nablus. But have we annexed the Jordan Valley? We want to retain the Jordan Valley. But we still haven't shown them that they have lost the Jordan Valley. We still say we'll discuss it. Why haven't you annexed the Jordan Valley? Have you allowed Jews to pray on the Temple Mount? You haven't allowed Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. So what have they lost?

     

    Sharon: The damage incurred by the Palestinians is terrible. Today we see the beginnings of a thought process among them that it is impossible under any circumstance to break Israel. This was their great hope. Israel wasn't broken. Our volunteering spirit is phenomenal. Our society is fine whereas Arab society is at the beginning of a breakdown. There is no longer hope that they can break Israel by force. Everything that has happened for them is just damage.

     

    Israel, in her agreements will insist on security zones. I've already presented this. All of Israel's governments decided not to annex the Jordan Valley outside of an agreement.

     

    Q: But we are at war now because our partner for an agreement decided to explode women and children. So what is stopping us?

     

    Sharon: Our partner has conducted a terrorist war against Israel for more than 120 years. First under the Turkish rule, then harsh campaigns were launched against us during the British Mandate 1921, 1929, 1933, 1936-1939. All these years there was terror. Then of course when the UN decided on the partition plan on November 29, 1947, the same day they started a war. This terror war is a strategic war. It is quite possible that if we hadn't had this terror war, that after the Declaration of Independence, the Arab Salvation Army and all the armies of the Arab states would not have invaded. The terror brought all of the wars.

     

    Q: Let's touch for a moment on the wall being built today along the Green line. Why is it being built?

     

    Sharon: The fence isn't a diplomatic border and it isn't a security border. The fence is another means to make it difficult for terrorists to penetrate and to make it easier for us to combat terrorism. That's the point of the fence. If you see the area of Wadi Ara, we need a fence there. That's where most of the terrorist attacks come from and without a physical barrier around Umm el Fahm it is very hard to prevent those infiltrations.

     

    Q: If the wall is a tactical means of fighting terrorism can you foresee a situation where Israel tears down the wall? As in after we finish the job on terror?

     

    Sharon: There are those with a slogan about how they know how to rout out terrorism.

     

    Q: "Who supports routing out terror!?" I recall someone standing on a stage in 1990 and rousing the crowd with a statement to that effect. [At the Likud Central Committee meeting in 1990, in a challenge to Yitzhak Shamir's party leadership Ariel Sharon took the microphone and began repeating the mantra, "Who supports routing out terror?]

     

    Sharon: That was me. I support routing out terrorism and all my life I have fought against terror and I continue today. But it is not something that we can fight and destroy quickly. It takes time. It demands commitment and hard work and a lot of thoughtfulness, and this is important so that we will be able to continue fighting.

     

    Q: If we go for a minute to the North. Is the diversion of the Wazzani River away from the Hatzbani River a casus belli?

     

    Sharon: It has always been Israel's water policy to prevent harm to our water sources. This means that any move to change the status quo of water arrangements by our neighbors must be agreed upon by both sides. Nothing can happen without our agreement. The Hatzbani river is one of the three water sources of the Jordan river.

     

    Arab states back in the 1960s tried to divert the water sources from the Jordan. This precipitated Israeli actions against these attempts to divert the water. These actions by the Arabs actually were what brought about the deterioration of the security situation that precipitated the Six Day War. Although our struggle on this issue began on November 3, 1964, the situation from then until the outbreak of the Six Day War was one of constant deterioration of the security situation. Israel prevented the diversion of water away from it. From Israel's perspective it is a question of life and death. There is a wall-to-wall consensus on this matter. We will absolutely ensure that no water is taken from us.

     

    Q: Yes, but they are doing it. Everyday there are pictures in the paper of the pipes they are installing on the Wazzani. These are huge pipes. It is being carried out.

     

    Sharon: The thing about those pipes they are using now is that their size shows that the entire operation is aimed at taking water from Israel. They are taking this water to an area very close to the Litani River when the water from the Litani flows into the Mediterranean.

     

    The fact that they aren't using existing water sources, in close proximity to the area where they plan to use the Wazzani waters shows that the whole intent here is to take the water from Israel. The same was true with their diversion project in 1964. They weren't planning to use the water back then either. The plan was to go around Israel and to divert the water to the Yarmouk River where it would then flow down to the Dead Sea. That was their plan. Today's situation is very similar. Therefore we have made it absolutely clear that Israel will not allow them to take the water from us.

     

    Today they are not pumping the water. They are today pumping water in small pipes for local use, as is their right.

     

    Q: The claim has been made that because of the trauma that you went through personally during the Lebanon War the calls "Sharon is a murderer" and the Kahane Commission that you will not take action in Lebanon. How do you respond to these claims?

     

    Sharon: I have no trauma from Lebanon. I think that the war in Lebanon was a war of salvation. I think that if it hadn't been for the attempt, in the middle of the war, to take down the government, we would have accomplished things that we were prevented from accomplishing.

     

    I also think that the American position then was a mistaken position. In all of my conversations with them during that period I presented the possibility of creating the triangle of Jerusalem, Cairo, Beirut as a triangle in the region with a democratic, western orientation. I viewed this as important. But the Americans ended up among the forces that prevented Lebanon then from reaching an agreement with Israel. I believe they were wrong then.

     

    I have no trauma. I think it was one of our most justified wars and I say this as someone who fought in
    all of Israel's wars. There are people who have no responsibilities. When someone holds no responsibility what's to stop him from saying anything he wants to?

     

    As to what is happening today on the Northern border, we see the axis of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah. We see visits by Iranian officers. We see the involvement of Iran in Syria something that we didn't see until the reign of the current Syrian president Bashar Assad. We see his admiration for the leader of the Hizbullah. We see the forces being built up there. We know these people and we are ready to deal with them. The main force there is the Syrians.

     

    Without the Syrians the Hizbullah wouldn't be able to do anything they wouldn't be able to transfer weapons, which now Syria is also providing. Iran couldn't provide weapons to Hizbullah without Syria. We see the presence of the Iranian revolutionary guard forces in areas of Lebanon under direct Syrian occupation since January 1976. So we believe that Syria is principally responsible for everything that happens there.

     

    At the same time, we are not interested in fighting there. As long as it is possible through diplomacy to bring deterrence we need to do so. At the same time, if damage is done to Israel we will deal with this problem. Syria bears the brunt of the responsibility. But if there is damage done to Israel, the ones who will be harmed by it, even if we wish it weren't so, will be the Lebanese and Lebanon itself. There will not be a situation where Northern Israel is attacked and they continue on in peace in Lebanon. As long as we can contain them and deter them through American mediation, we will do so. We don't want to get entangled in war but we are ready to fight.

     

    Q: And if they go through with their plan to divert the waters from the Hatzbani what will happen?

     

    Sharon: Israel will not allow the Hatzbani to be diverted. I want to be very clear on this. And we are ready to deal with this.

     

    Q: From the picture you paint of Israel unable to end the Palestinian terror war and of the high risks we are exposed to in the North, it is hard to look at the coming year with optimism.

     

    Sharon: That is not the way to look at things. We've always had terror, at the same time, we have achieved great things here. We brought in millions of Jews from 102 countries. We have an industrial infrastructure that is among the most developed in the war. Israel today constitutes one of the four most interesting centers for high tech in the world. Our research institutions are some of the best known. We have good music. Our agriculture is among the most advanced in the world. What haven't we accomplished here? We are a world leader in biotechnology research. We have had great achievements in medicine. The problem is that because of the war and blood, Israel is known as a country at war. But we have had great accomplishments.

     

    When I look at the situation I am optimistic. In the government's plans our first priority to increase aliyah. We view this as our goal to bring another million Jews here in the next 10-13 years.

     

    Q: How do you see yourself as advancing aliyah when the government's budget calls for canceling the right of new immigrants to a tax exemption on income from abroad? All the immigrant groups, both here and abroad have explained to you that this will hinder aliyah from Western countries. It will make Jews less likely to come here and perhaps force Jews already here to leave How does this fit in with your plans?

     

    Sharon: It's possible that there is a problem here or there. We are dealing with these issues. Right now we are concentrating on encouraging aliyah from Argentina and Uruguay because of the financial situation there and from France because of the rise in anti-Semitism. Today I see thousands making aliyah from Argentina. I see Jews from France buying apartments here. In our view there are a million potential olim from the Former Soviet Union.

     

    Q: Are they Jews?

     

    Sharon: They are Jews by definition of the Law of Return. I wish you had seen, two days ago I hosted 80 soldiers in my succah. They were absolutely Israeli. They came from all the units in the IDF from some of the most prestigious commando units, and there were officers among them. They are all from families without a Jewish mother. And they are now undergoing conversion. To see the way they spoke, their spirit, and respect and patriotism and feeling of right for the land of Israel, believe me, from an occasion like that you come out with a sense of security.

    I will not allow any change to be made in the Law of return. For as long as I'm here there will be no change. I support doing everything we need to do to speed up conversion processes. I'm talking about the volume. I will not allow under any circumstance to deport the mother of a soldier after he finishes his service. I read about such a situation in the paper and I prevented it from happening and now we've introduced legislation in the Knesset to ensure that such situations do not occur in the future.

     

    Q: What about aliyah from the United States?

     

    Sharon: We have the largest reserve of Jews in America and I want to tell you that there is aliyah from America but not enough. In all my appearances before American Jews I talk mainly about aliyah. But our thought today is to try to take care of aliyah of Jews who aren't wealthy. This is the most important thing in my view. It is important from a demographic perspective although the fear of our losing our Jewish majority here strike me as a bit strange.

     

    When I hear sometimes the Foreign Minister talking about us becoming a minority here, I don't know what he is talking about. We never offered Arab residents of Judea and Samaria to become citizens of Israel. Even those who will stay in the areas will retain after a settlement will be Palestinian citizens not Israeli citizens. This is clear.

     

    My government also wants to reach a diplomatic agreement. And we're working on this. I've met with people even here, in my residence not Arafat. It won't be easy. I read you the conditions the Palestinians must meet. And they aren't easy. They are hard. But one thing must be clear, they must abide by agreements. In the past we didn't make them live up to their agreements. That's over.

     

    Economically we have difficulties, but not just us. But I believe if we abide by the budgetary constraints we have set for ourselves including not going above our three percent deficit target that we will be okay.

     

    Israel has a lot of problems and needs to manage its war properly from a military perspective and I think we are handling it properly. From the diplomatic perspective we need to know how to stand strong on the issues that are important. The Jews have one little country albeit a country with a lot of talent. But only one country and it is the only country where Jews have the right and the strength to defend themselves on their own. This is something that we will never concede because it is our duty to fulfill.

     

    Q: What do you see as the task of World Jewry?

     

    Sharon: There's no doubt that world Jewry and especially US Jewry has to see its responsibility for what is happening here. Not that they can intervene on everything and of course they also are not carrying the full weight of defending this country. But they need to know that what happens here will directly impact the lives of Jews in other places in the world. If Israel, God forbid is weakened, Diaspora Jews will not be able to continue living their lives the way they do today. We saw this. So it is the responsibility of World Jewry to stand with Israel and give us the support and the backing because this also impacts the lives of the Diaspora Jews themselves.

     

    Q:Do you ask them for anything concrete?

     

    Sharon: I think it's important for me to tell you what I expect from
    the Jews in the Diaspora. First off, I expect Jews to make aliyah. That's the main thing. If Jews want to help out then they should make aliyah. They should send their children to study here. They should come for extended visits. They should come and volunteer. But aliyah is the main thing. My call is for aliyah. Of course to have aliyah they need to be educated. We need Jewish education for world Jewry. Aliyah is the main thing.

     

    They should also of course come and visit here. There they just see the pictures, but life is more or less normal here. Tourism to Israel is also a way to help. They should invest in Israel.

     

    The central role of Jews, and Israel does most of the work in this field although good work is also being done in America is to work against anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is growing and spreading like wildfire throughout Europe. Here the Jewish organizations need to stand at the helm of this struggle.

     

    So first, my hope for World Jewry is that they come here on aliyah. They must understand the dependence of Jewish life in other countries on the situation in Israel. And finally, they should fight anti-Semitism.

     

    I want to tell World Jewry that there is no need for despair. Holding the sword in one hand and the ploughshare in the other, Israel has achieved great things already and the future lays before us. I wish all of the House of Israel a hag sameach and Shana Tova.

     

    Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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