Mofaz to 'Post': PA must halt terror by end of September
In a 90-minute interview with The Jerusalem Post Wednesday evening, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned that Israel will have to reassess its relations with the Palestinian Authority if the latter fails to take action against terrorist organizations by the end of September.
"At the end of September, there are three dates that come together," said the former chief of General Staff. "First, it will be three years since the start of the conflict; second, it will be three months since the start of the hudna [cease-fire]; and third, it will be the end of [PA Minister of State for Security Affairs Muhammad] Dahlan's 90-day plan to work against the terrorist infrastructures."
At that point, he said, "We will have to tell the PA, 'Either you're going to take care of this or we are going to take care of this.'"
Speaking from his second-floor office in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Mofaz also warned that concessions to the PA are "reversible."
"If tomorrow there is an attack, I can decide that we are going back into Bethlehem," he explained. The IDF did not redeploy to Bethlehem after last week's shooting attack near there in which Tzila Hayoun and her three children were wounded, but Mofaz did impose a total closure on the city.
Although Mofaz allowed that the hudna had brought about a marked reduction in the number of attacks against Israeli targets, he also sounded a pessimistic note on the likelihood of continued quiet.
"The PA has taken no action against [the terrorist organizations] or their infrastructures," he said. "The security services have to prepare for the possibility that there will be an outbreak of renewed violence, and the army has received orders to prepare for such an eventuality."
Setting out what Israel requires of the PA in combatting terrorism, Mofaz was categorical: "These organizations have to cease to exist as organizations." He warned against a "honey trap" in which Palestinians maintain relative calm, demand negotiations, but allow the terrorist structures to exist and grow unhindered.
"We must never allow this to happen," he said. "We must stand on our demand that the PA's dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure must come before we move ahead in any way in the process."
Mofaz bemoaned Israel's failure to deport PA Chairman Yasser Arafat in the course of Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002.
He now considers such a step "provocative," but warns that "If we see that... Arafat is the main obstacle to the process, I think it would be reasonable to think about what the proper thing will be to do regarding Arafat."
Over the course of his 10-month tenure at the Defense Ministry, Mofaz has burnished a reputation as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's closest ally in the government, with no political camp of his own.
The full interview with Shaul Mofaz
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz spoke with The Jerusalem Post in Hebrew on the occasion of Tisha Be'av.
We meet on the eve of Tisha Be'av and I am wondering whether you think that we have given up the Temple Mount. Jews haven't been allowed to pray there for almost three years except for a couple of weeks this past month. Have we given up the Temple Mount?
I think the issue of the Temple Mount is very sensitive, especially now that we are involved in a diplomatic process with the Palestinians. I think we are forbidden to concede the Temple Mount. We just have to enforce our sovereignty in a proper, measured way. The way to do this is by acting in a non-provocative way. But I believe that the issue of the Temple Mount is felt very deeply in the hearts of the citizens of Israel.
Yes, we feel it, but we can't act on it. We aren't allowed to go up to the Temple Mount and aside from that the Palestinians are working steadily to destroy all the archeological remains of the Second Temple.
I believe that the steps being taken now are sufficient to enforce our sovereignty on the Temple Mount. I just believe that we must not make provocative moves. In the past, through wise moves, we have achieved much without provocation. I believe that on the Eve of Tisha Be'av especially, but also more generally, there is no dispute in the government about where we stand on this issue. We just have to find the right timing and way to demonstrate our sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
Well, on the provocative side, we have statements by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas where he denies that the Temples existed.
I don't think we have to pay attention to every statement made by the Palestinian side. This is a very sensitive subject. He makes a statement like that. Arafat would probably make a statement much worse and large numbers of Palestinian leaders would make similar statements. I would be surprised if they said anything different.
We have to take into account that this is not a subject on the agenda of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. My view is that united Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel.
Yes, but Abbas's denial that there ever was a Temple on the Temple Mount goes along with his denial of another important event in our history the Holocaust. I hear this and say to myself here is a man who doesn't recognize our history, doesn't recognize our rights, and doesn't recognize our disasters. He doesn't even recognize our existence as a people. How can such a man be a partner in peace with us?
We have entered into a process, a renewed process that is not an agreement process. It isn't Oslo, it is different from Oslo, because Oslo was based on agreements and the notion that peace would bring security. We are talking about a process that isn't signed, it is a declaratory process that is based on the road map. The idea is that security will bring peace. This is the elected government of the Palestinians.
When was it elected? There were no elections.
No, there weren't elections, but he was elected by the legislative council. He at least declared at the Aqaba summit that he plans to lead the Palestinians in a different way. That is, not by terrorism and violence. Eight months ago he said that the Palestinians' biggest mistake was the decision to achieve their goals through violence and terrorism. He and Arafat have the same goal the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories with its capital in Jerusalem and with the right of return for refugees. Their mode of achieving it is different.
Now, as for the denials, in my view we can't choose their leaders he was elected by the Palestinians, not by us. On the other hand, he has enough time to learn what he doesn't know. These statements don't need to move us away from our path even if it hurts my ears to hear them. And they hurt my ears. It doesn't make him an unacceptable leader. When the day comes when we arrive at the stage of negotiations, the central issues will be on the table borders, territory and there are things that in my view we will have to insist on. At the same time they are things I can say today, like the fact that Jerusalem united with the Temple Mount is the eternal capital of Israel.
The Palestinians have called their war, not the Palestinian war against Israel, but the Aksa intifada. In doing so they have signaled to the Islamic and Arab world that they are not fighting in their name only, but for the entire Islamic world. As well, they have received funding and instruction in this war against Israel from the Saudis, the Iranians, and other foreign sources. Given all of this, can you really say that it is possible to see this war as a local fight between the Palestinians and the Israelis or are the Palestinians simply the representatives here of a larger group of people?
There is no doubt that the Palestinians are receiving support from parts of the Arab world and particularly from states that don't have peace treaties with us.
These groups support the Palestinian Authority and are attracted to the demand for Islamic control of the Temple Mount. It isn't just the Temple Mount, of course.
They support the terrorist organizations. A large amount of the money that comes to the Palestinian terror groups came from Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia. We can today point to a number of the terrorist cells still actively involved in terrorist attacks against us that receive support and instruction from abroad, mainly from Iran and Hizbullah. And the connection that exists between the terrorist organizations and the PA, when Arafat led it, to this confrontation with us with Iran was most clearly exposed with the Karine A weapons ship. With the Karine A the strategic link between the PA and Iran was exposed.
Given this, can you describe this war as a local Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
I believe that it is mainly a Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but the Palestinians are supported and encouraged by parts of the Arab world, particularly those that openly call for the destruction of Israel. These forces are mainly led by Iran through Hizbullah. Iran is involved in two different ways that are aimed at bringing about bloodshed and the destruction of the State of Israel. First, through its support for terrorism starting with Hizbullah and the threat from the northern border as well through its support and instruction of Palestinian terrorist organizations. More gravely, we see Iranian action in their moves to acquire surface-to-surface long-range ballistic missiles. They already have the Shihab-3 with a range of 1,300 kilometers. And we see their actions to attain nuclear capabilities.
So are the Palestinians independent actors who can be dealt with independently?
The terrorist organizations have two leaderships. They have leadership in the territories and leadership outside. The leadership here sits mainly in the Gaza Strip and the leadership abroad sits mainly in Damascus. The infrastructure is based on split leadership when the leaders here and the leaders abroad communicate with one another, sometimes they agree with one another, sometimes they don't, but they communicate with one another. During the conflict the strength of the local leadership increased naturally, because of its direct involvement in the violence and terrorism.
Now, as the local leadership has agreed to a temporary cease-fire, their power has decreased and the leadership abroad has been strengthened, because it objects to the cease-fire. They demand that the terrorists continue to hurt Israelis and prevent an agreement. I would say that it manifests a continuation of terrorism against us.
At the same time, I would say they constitute a threat to the Palestinian Authority, because they are becoming an alternative leadership for the Palestinian people. I think that the Palestinian Authority understands this today. They understood it in the past, but the PA exploited the terrorist organizations as a means to achieve their goal of suicide bombings. But today, as the terrorist groups get stronger because the PA has taken no action against them or their infrastructures they can make it impossible for the PA to achieve its goal of achieving an agreement and ending the violence.
Concerning this alternative leadership, do you think the fact that Egypt invited Hamas to Cairo to participate as an equal side in diplomatic negotiations toward the hudna [cease-fire] strengthened Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians?
There can be no doubt. First of all, it gave legitimacy to Hamas. It turned them into partners. At the same time, we claim that terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. We say you cannot be a partner in a dialogue with terrorists certainly they cannot be our partners. The Palestinians and the Egyptians have chosen this path, because they fear that a conflict with Hamas can lead to bloodshed and a civil war.
But that is what is demanded of them. When we say that they have to dismantle terrorist infrastructures, we mean that they have to go to war with Hamas.
That's right. But they have chosen as their strategy to bring about quiet and to avoid a conflict with Hamas. By their way of thinking about it they will go with Hamas unless or until later on, as they move ahead with the process, if Hamas stands in their way then they will deal with them. That is their strategy. That is how they see it.
We say that as long as there are terrorist infrastructures that are getting stronger because the PA is doing nothing against them, that can one day be a threat to us and to the Palestinian Authority, we cannot proceed with the process.
Also regarding the Egyptians, we know that most of the weapons being smuggled to the PA are being transferred from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. Do you believe the Egyptians are doing enough to stop the smuggling from their territory?
It is hard to give them a grade. I don't think that Egypt has an interest in seeing additional weaponry getting to Hamas. As a result they are taking some action to thwart it. I don't know how to characterize the strength of these actions. What is clear, they aren't making a 100% effort to prevent the smuggling of weapons through the tunnels.
The security cabinet met today [Wednesday] to hear a report on the fact that the terrorist organizations are using their self-declared cease-fire to rearm. The PA is doing nothing to stop them.
What preparations is the IDF making for the day they decide to end their cease-fire?
The security services have to prepare for the possibility that there will be an outbreak of renewed violence and the army has received orders to prepare for such an eventuality. The army knows what it needs to do to be ready for the possible outbreak of renewed terrorism or for the possibility that this process is halted or ends or doesn't succeed.
At the same time, we are watching everything going on in the Palestinian-ruled areas very carefully particularly what is happening in the terrorist organizations. And we are responding very forcefully to every terrorist attack or attempted attack. For instance, after a Palestinian terror cell from Bethlehem attacked the Hayoun family on their way to Gilo, I informed the Palestinians that we are not handing over additional cities to their security responsibility.
Are we redeploying back to Bethlehem?
Not at this stage. But we have closed off all the routes leaving Bethlehem. We are not allowing workers out of Bethlehem. The city is surrounded by IDF units. And we have demanded that the PA take action inside Bethlehem to find those responsible for the attack and to arrest them.
Are they doing anything?
From what I can tell they are taking some limited actions. I can't say exactly what the quality of their actions is, but they are making some moves to locate those responsible. What we have done is a measured response. It says we aren't willing to accept any terrorist attacks of any kind, because we are involved in a process with the Palestinians and we are giving them responsibility.
What do the Palestinians have to do for the government to reach the conclusion that their whole peace rhetoric is fiction? Do they have to shoot a Kassam rocket at Ra'anana? Will that end it? Will blowing up another bus suffice? What is the redline for the government that will bring you to the conclusion that the risk we are taking in giving them territory is too big?
I don't think it is dependent of this or that event. I think the minute we assess that, as we move forward, there is a fear that the security situation will deteriorate, we will at that stage have to stop and make a new assessment.
When will that happen? We've been in the hudna now for a month and they are rearming. How long will it take?
There is no precise time. I think we have to see what is happening. But if you ask me when is a good time to evaluate the situation, I believe that at the end of September there are three dates that come together. First, it will be three years since the start of the conflict; second, it will be three months since the start of the hudna; and third, it will be end of the 90 days of Dahlan's 90-day plan to work against the terrorist infrastructures.
If we see that at the end of September our security situation is better fewer attacks, fewer indications of attacks, that is one thing. If we see increased armament and strengthening of the terrorist organizations, we will get to a point where we will have to tell the PA, "Either you're going to take care of this or we are going to take care of this."
Why aren't we telling them that now?
We are telling them. We tell them that today there are two developments that concern us in particular. First there is the weapons smuggling from Egypt. Second is all the work on the Kassam rockets both the increased production and the extension of the range. We tell them that if they don't take action against this, then we will have to take action. They know this. They say that they need time.
How much time do they need? It's been two months since Aqaba, a month since their hudna, and they have done nothing.
They are talking about 90 days.
Ninety days. Well, since we have already been to this movie, I have a question for you. Say it's September 27. The next day will be three years since the war and three months of hudna and all that. You come to Dahlan and say, "What have you done?"
He looks at you and says, "Well, yesterday I arrested 100 Hamas members." After all, in 1996, after the attacks in February and March, Arafat arrested several hundred of the usual suspects. After a week he had already released over a hundred of them, but those arrests sufficed to convince all concerned that he was fighting Hamas. Arafat also arrested Rantisi several times. What will you do if Dahlan tells you that on September 27?
When we talk about dismantling terrorist infrastructures it is a very broad thing. These organizations have to cease to exist as organizations. Their armaments have to be taken away from them the arms and the explosives and their ability to produce Kassam rockets and other weaponry all have to go. The incitement has to be changed dramatically, all the poisoning of the minds has to end, because it is what gives them the ability to create an atmosphere conducive to and encouraging of terrorism.
I think that it is too early to eulogize the process, but we have to watch very carefully everything that is happening in the Palestinian areas especially what is happening with the terrorist organizations and what the PA is doing about the terrorist infrastructures. We are doing this on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to see the trends.
Yes, but when I hear reports of the rearmament and mobilization of new terrorist recruits on the Palestinian side and I hear on the other hand that the government is giving them territory and dismantling roadblocks and letting out security prisoners and letting Palestinians work in Israeli cities and the IDF is curtailing its counterterrorist operations and not killing terrorists, I wonder if you aren't endangering the security of the citizens of the State of Israel?
No, and I will tell you why not. You have to judge an issue like this by its results. As of now, there are fewer Israeli casualties and there are fewer attempts to harm Israelis. As of now, we are continuing to operate against terrorism in the cities we haven't transferred. In the past few weeks we have arrested [would-be] suicide bombers and other terrorists in these areas. So there isn't a situation where we have ceased to operate. The IDF continues to operate. The Shin Bet continues to operate.
I think that there is an overall improvement in the security situation and there is an improved sense of security. That doesn't mean that we can rest on our laurels. We aren't going to let the decrease in attacks blind us to the fact that the terrorist infrastructures are getting stronger. As I said, that is why we have to carefully watch the Palestinians and continue to pressure them on all levels and in all channels, to dismantle the terrorist infrastructures. And if this doesn't happen and we see that there has been an overall deterioration in our security situation if the terror organizations get to the point where from then on they constitute a danger to our security situation we will have to tell the Palestinians that we have had enough.
Why is what we are doing making concessions to the Palestinians and receiving nothing in return any different from what we did in Lebanon? We left without an agreement and allowed our enemy to take over and become stronger. Here it seems we are doing the same thing. How is it different?
Because if there is no agreement, this whole situation is reversible. If we reach the conclusion that the situation that develops constitutes a danger for the future even larger than what happened before, we will exercise our right to fulfill our duty to our citizens. There is no question. If tomorrow there is an attack I can decide that we are going back to Bethlehem.
In the future, there is nothing that will prevent us from returning to Palestinian cities and acting. I believe that if we want to go ahead with the process we have to move step after step and act in a measured way.
Avi Dichter, the head of the Shin Bet, said on Monday that one in eight released terrorists on average return to terrorism. Today the government released some 350 terrorists from jail. So does that mean that there are now more than 40 terrorists on the loose?
I don't believe that the PA will allow their people to carry out terrorism, because the PA has an interest in beginning negotiations as quickly as possible. Here we can fall into a trap which we call a "honey trap," because they will create a reality here where there is quiet while they do nothing against the terrorist infrastructures. They will say, "We ended the terrorism, so now let's open negotiations on an interim accord or the permanent status." We must not ever allow this to happen to us. We must stand on our demand that the PA's dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure must come before we move ahead in any way in the process. This has been made absolutely clear to them.
The Americans are "de-Ba'athifying" Iraq. So why is it wrong for us to do the same thing regarding Arafat and the PLO? What's wrong with us taking away the remnants of his terrorist regime and giving voice to those Palestinians willing to live at peace and in freedom? Don't the Palestinians have a right, wouldn't they be better off with a different regime?
We did it in a different way. We conducted Operation Defensive Shield. We degraded the terrorist infrastructures, brought about the delegitimization of Arafat. I thought at the time that we should have deported him.
Why don't we do it now?
Because now we are in a dialogue with them.
So does that make him legitimate?
No, but a step like that would be considered provocative. We should have deported him a year and a half ago. But if we do it now then it could cause the process to move in a direction we don't want it to move in. But if we see that Abu Mazen [Abbas] is working against the terrorist infrastructures and that Arafat is the main obstacle to the process, I think it would be reasonable to think about what the proper thing will be to do regarding Arafat.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post