Lebanon Must Disarm Hezbollah, Israeli Foreign Minister Warns

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Lebanese government must fully implement a recent U.N. resolution requiring the disarming of the militant Shiite group Hezbollah or Israel will be less reluctant to attack the Lebanese state if Hezbollah resumes hostilities, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said yesterday.

Livni, in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Post, said that when the fighting began in July after Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers, Israel heeded calls from world officials not to undermine the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora because the formation of the government and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops was an "achievement of the international community."

Israel launched attacks across southern Lebanon, Hezbollah's base, and it demolished bridges to Syria and bombed Beirut's airport. Livni said Israel's efforts to keep the military campaign limited made it more difficult to achieve its objectives.

"The result is it was more difficult to find these terrorists among civilians, compared to attacking a weak Lebanon," Livni said. "We could have done Lebanon in a few days, I think, if we had decided to attack Lebanon as a state."

"Now there is a need to implement fully and completely 1701," Livni said, referring to the resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council that led to the cease-fire between Israeli and Hezbollah forces. "If Israel will be attacked, this is the Lebanese responsibility."

Since passage of the resolution, 4,000 international troops have moved into southern Lebanon, as has the Lebanese army, and U.S. officials say arms shipments have been halted. But Hezbollah's leader, Hasan Nasrallah, said this week that Hezbollah fighters are still in southern Lebanese towns near the border with Israel.

If Israel is attacked again, "we are not looking again to find these terrorists among the civilian population," Livni added. "We are going to face a state which does not implement its responsibility or maybe does not exercise its sovereignty. And so in French, they say tant pis " -- which translates as "too bad."

Asked specifically if Israel would attack Lebanon, Livni replied: "It is the responsibility of the state of Lebanon. I don't want to say so clearly that next time this is what we will do. But we will take it into consideration that this is part of their responsibility."

Separately, Livni expressed concern that a proposed unity government in the Palestinian territories will not explicitly recognize Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who supports peace talks with Israel, is attempting to reach a deal with the radical Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, which won legislative elections earlier this year. The victory of Hamas led to a broad cutoff of international aid, leaving much of the Palestinian territories increasingly destitute.

Hamas won on a platform of reform against the increasingly corrupt Fatah movement, which had long led the Palestinians. But Livni said the aid cutoff has greatly weakened the appeal of Hamas -- which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel -- making it imperative for other nations to insist that the new government renounce terrorism and accept Israel's right to exist.

The Quartet -- a coordinating group for Middle East peace made up of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- will meet on Wednesday at the United Nations. Livni said next week will be an important test of the international community's resolve.

"Hamas has to decide what they will do. Abu Mazen has to take some decisions," Livni said, using Abbas's nom de guerre. "They are looking outside; and if the international community will show some hesitation, we will face a unity government, which will be the most dangerous situation."

Livni said "it is easy for us to see something black, Hamas, and white, Abu Mazen, but sometimes the in-between, the gray, is sometimes the most dangerous" because it will appear legitimate through the presence of Abbas while Hamas continues to be an anti-Israeli militia movement. "They can get legitimacy and get the checks, but we cannot end the conflict."

Asked if the Israeli government would refuse to deal with a unity government, Livni said: "The question is not the formation of the government but its platform."

Livni said it was a mistake to believe that elections would transform terrorist groups. "I believe deeply in democratization, but the question is what is the best way to implement it," she said. "The idea is not only voting, one vote for one person, but the acceptance of the values of democracy."

She said that some have argued that governing will transform militants into responsible parties, but she noted that she believes that "if you are political party which believes in an extreme Islamic ideology, when you have the power you will use it in order to force your ideology. It will look like something which is legitimate because it won the election."

She noted that many nations are working to strengthen the Lebanese army in an effort to transform Lebanon into a normal state. But Hezbollah is a minority in the Lebanese government now, she said, so one day "we may face Hezbollah winning the election and it would have the legitimate control of the Lebanese army."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company