Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Newsweek-The Post’s Lally Weymouth that the conflict in Gaza is not a fight of Israelis against Palestinians but a case in which Israel represents moderates in the region, including the Palestinian Authority. Excerpts:
Q. How do you respond to the pressure for a cease-fire from the international community?
A. I don’t like the term cease-fire since it looks like an agreement between two legitimate sides. At the end of the day, this is not a conflict between two states but a fight against terror. . . . We need to fight in Gaza because they [Hamas] have targeted Israel for eight years. We are fighting in order to weaken them and to affect their ability to target Israel in the future.
To do that, don’t you need the Egyptians to exert tighter control over the border crossing?
Yes, there are three parameters. One is missiles coming from Iran. The other is Egypt itself, and the third is the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
Is the idea that Egypt will now take a more active role in stopping the smuggling?
This must be stopped by Israel or someone else. In six months, Hamas has changed the range of the missiles from 20 kilometers to 50 kilometers. This now threatens 1 million Israelis. We used to say it was just the southern part of Israel but . . . now parts in the center of Israel are under threat. We needed to give an answer to their rearmament. . . .
We need to know that at the end of this military operation, we will not face the rearmament of Hamas.
Is Iran behind it all?
Oh, yes, clearly. We know that. When they started, the missiles were homemade — made in the Gaza Strip. But not anymore. Now they are professional, coming from Iran.
How long do you think this operation is going to take?
It depends. First we need to find out whether they understand that Israel is no longer a state which they can target while hoping for restraint. Israel is going to defend itself.
Have you achieved your objectives?
I think that some of these goals were achieved. . . . At first they were shocked by the air raids. Then they thought Israel would never enter the Gaza Strip in a ground operation. So I think this is the point in which they understand the equation has changed and we have gained deterrence.
Will Israel reoccupy Gaza?
The idea is not to reoccupy the Gaza Strip. When we left the Gaza Strip, Hamas used to write on billboards that terror won and Israel left Gaza because of terror. So today the message for the Palestinians is that we left the Gaza Strip in order to create hopes for peace. But now we are coming back because of terror.
It must have been a difficult decision to send Israeli troops into Gaza by land?
Yes, it was a very difficult decision, but right now it looks good.
Are you worried that Hamas will claim victory as [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah did in Lebanon?
Even Nasrallah said after the war in Lebanon that if he had known that this was what we were going to do. . . . I think that most of them have the same feeling after a few days of war.
Are you thinking about stopping?
On a daily basis. We are not looking to reoccupy the Gaza Strip. But we need to see that we achieved our goals.
Do you think the fighting will be over by the time that President-elect Obama is inaugurated?
The shortest period of fighting is better for us. But at the end of the day, it is an ongoing war against terror. We don’t ask the international community to fight with us. We ask the international community to give us some understanding and time.
Does the pressure put on Israel by the international community to reach a cease-fire strengthen the hand of Hamas?
Hamas’s strategy is resistance and survival. As long as they survive, this is a victory. When they know the international community is putting pressure on Israel, they can hold out and take some oxygen, waiting for Israel to be stopped by the international community. It is a pity.
Are you still in favor of an international monitoring group to help control the borders of Gaza — especially its border with Egypt?
I am not against the participation of the international community, but it doesn’t replace our need to fight terrorism. And sometimes, when you have monitoring forces within a place, it makes it more difficult for us to defend ourselves, because the last thing we want is to kill people by mistake. . . .
Israel is not going to show restraint anymore. . . . it is not a missile against a missile. We are going to attack strongly if they continue.
Do you believe the Obama administration will support Israel the way Bush did?
I do believe that the United States and Israel share not only the same values and interests and the same understanding.
People in Washington are interested in how long the operation will last and what Israel’s aim is.
The Annapolis process is based on the understanding that we are working with a pragmatic leadership in the Palestinian Authority while fighting terror. It is a zero-sum game when Hamas is getting stronger while Abu Mazen is getting weaker. The Palestinians need to understand that Israel can share and implement and translate the vision of two states for two peoples with those that accept this vision, who accept Israel’s existence and renounce violence and terrorism. Hamas does not. Hamas does not represent the national aspirations of the Palestinians. It represents extreme Islamic ideas, which they share with Iran, Hezbollah and Syria.
Your goal is to continue the dialogue with the Palestinian Authority but also weaken the extremists?
Yes. . . . We are willing to . . . try and find a peace treaty with the moderates as long [as] at the end of the day, we don’t fight a terror state on the other side of the border.
Would you say [Hamas] needs to be removed?
I would say that the Gaza Strip controlled by Hamas is a burden not only to Israel but to the Palestinians themselves.
Do you feel [you] have the backing of the Arab moderates?
I don’t want to embarrass anybody, but I know I represent their interests as well. It is no longer the Israeli-Palestinian or the Jewish-Arab conflict, but it is a conflict between moderates and extremists. This is the way this region is now divided.