WASHINGTON (Apr. 10)
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. senators that the United States may be wavering in its commitment to fight terrorism — and that Israel must expel Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat it wants to end violence in the region.
“Until last week, I was absolutely certain that the United States would adhere to its principles and lead the free world to a decisive victory. Today I, too, have my concerns,” Netanyahu said in an address Wednesday to about 20 senators on Capitol Hill.
“I am concerned that the state of Israel, that has for decades bravely manned the front lines against terror, is being pressed to back down just when it is on the verge of uprooting Palestinian terror,” said Netanyahu, who recently became an official spokesman for the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. .
The United States has called on Israel to withdraw troops “without delay” from the West Bank — where it is in the midst of an operation aimed at dismantling the Palestinian terror infrastructure — and resume political negotiations with Arafat.
But Netanyahu told the senators that there is no political solution to terrorism — and that if Mideast terrorism is ignored the terrorists eventually could strike the United States.
“If we do not shut down the terror factories that Arafat is hosting, those terror factories that are producing human bombs, it is only a matter of time before suicide bombers will terrorize your cities here in America,” Netanyahu said. “If not destroyed, this madness will strike in your buses, in your supermarkets, in your pizza parlors, in your cafes.”
Netanyahu outlined three things he said Israel must do to control terrorism in the region — dismantle the Palestinian Authority terrorist regime and expel Arafat from the West Bank; clean out illegal weapons and explosives in Palestinian areas; and create a physical barrier between Palestinian and Israeli population centers.
Netanyahu made clear that Israel would do what was necessary to prevent terror attacks, even if it meant defying Bush administration demands. He estimated that the current campaign, Operation Protective Wall, would take several weeks.
“With or without international support, the government of Israel must fight, not only to defend its people,” he said, “but also to ensure that the free world wins the war against terror in this pivotal arena in the heart of the Middle East.”
He noted that Israel took military action alone before — in 1981, when it destroyed an Iraqi nuclear facility — and was condemned internationally. Only after the 1991 Persian Gulf War did the world realize how farsighted the Israeli strike had been, he said.
Netanyahu expressed support for toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and said Israeli action against Palestinian terror will not hurt U.S. efforts against Iraq. Many commentators believe the United States must check Israeli- Palestinian violence if it wants Arab support for an attack on Iraq.
Netanyahu drew many parallels between Israel’s military campaign in the West Bank and the U.S. war on terrorism launched after the Sept. 11 attacks. He suggested that Israel was being held to a double standard for taking anti-terror actions similar to America’s.
“At the very moment where support for Israel’s war against terror should be stronger than ever, my nation is being asked to stop fighting,” he said. “Though we are assured by friends that we have a right to defend ourselves, we are effectively asked to suspend, not to exercise, that right.”
Advocates for Israel have been concerned that Israel is being pushed to withdraw from areas it invaded after a string of terror attacks culminated in a massive bombing on the eve of Passover, and predicted that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s mission to the region would only increase the pressure on Israel.
Sharon asked Netanyahu to come to the United States to explain Israel’s military actions to American audiences, and to balance the onslaught of pro-Palestinian voices in the American press.
Netanyahu accepted the position, despite the fact that he and Sharon are political rivals who most likely will challenge each other for the Likud Party leadership in the near future.
Netanyahu likely chose Congress for his major address because it is a bastion of pro-Israel sentiment. He also is expected to highlight a major Israel solidarity rally on the Capitol grounds Monday.
Netanyahu took questions from several senators, who agreed with his view that Arafat needs to be expelled from the West Bank and Gaza Strip if peace is to be achieved.
Asked about Israel’s refusal to withdraw its troops, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer replied Wednesday, “The president has made abundantly clear that he believes in Israel’s right to defend herself.”
Yet he added, “The president has also indicated, regardless of the type of weaponry, that the time has come that Israel should pull back.”