A Mini-Interview With David Siegel, The Spokesman At The Israeli Embassy In Washington

Yesterday, I did an interview with David Siegel, the spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Washington. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation, including part of the pre-interview, which he agreed to allow me to include. Enjoy!

John Hawkins: If you notice, in general, the right side of the blogosphere is extremely pro-Israeli.

David Siegel: Oh, …we’ve noticed. We actually do a lot of blog work. So, you’re pushing through an open door whenever you need us. We do a lot of work with lots of (blogs).

John Hawkins: Is…that on the record, can I say that?

David Siegel: Oh yeah. We treat the blogosphere just like we treat the mainstream media. We don’t see any difference. In fact, we…believe in explaining what we’re doing and why we’re doing it to all sectors of America and if you ignore the blogosphere, I don’t know how you’re supposed to be communicating these days. It just doesn’t make any sense…

John Hawkins: That’s great…well, let’s get started. Give us a general run down on how things are going so far in Lebanon and where you see this conflict going?

David Siegel: …This is a war against an insurgency, a terrorist organization, and it began that way from Day 1. So you need to have different measurements to define how you win this sort of war, what your objectives are, and so forth. Hezbollah hides among the population. They don’t have defined camps, they don’t have defined targets. They launch their rockets from inside people’s homes.

Their whole purpose is to engage our civilian population while hiding in their civilian population. Our approach is to try to “conventionalize” the warfare which means to separate them from their population while defending our population.

…We believe that in the three weeks we’ve been in this campaign, we’ve been very successful and for some reason, the perception in the American media has been very different. …But, let me give you the hard facts. Nasrallah, three weeks ago, the head of Hezbollah, had (weapons) and deterrence over the state of Israel. He built these capabilities over the last six years. He had 13,000 missiles facing Israel. Iran gave Hezbollah everything it needed to threaten Israel all the way down to Tel Aviv, basically the upper half of Israel.

Now, he does not have that capability any more. In the last three weeks, we took out roughly 70%-80% of the launchers or their missile capability. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to try to shoot more, but the facts are, that even today, when there were over 200 missiles fired at Israel, most of them were short ranged missiles. Those are missiles that are much more difficult to target because they don’t have launchers. Those are things you can launch from your home, your window, and you can hide them under your bed. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the long range, strategic arm of Hezbollah that they would use to hold Israel hostage in a future regional conflict.

…Well, Hezbollah doesn’t have the capability of threatening Israel with strategic weapons anymore. That’s #1.

#2. We have taken out Hezbollah in its totality. We have targeted its headquarters, its command and control, its arms depots, its communications, …its cash dispersal system. They’ve all been taken out. We have film of Hezbollah terrorists being sent into these bombed areas to try to look for cash. All of it was burned. We’ve taken down their financial structures, their charitable structures.

It doesn’t mean they don’t have the residual capability to fire missiles at Israel, but it does mean that they’re on the run. Their leadership has been underground for three weeks and they barely communicate with the world. When they do, they sound defensive…and we believe, more and more, that they’re isolated inside of Lebanon and inside of the Arab world.

John Hawkins: Here’s the thing: No matter how much you degrade Hezbollah’s capabilities, can’t Syria and Iran just send them more missiles?

David Siegel: That is the most important problem that we face….We will push them far away from the border and create the conditions for bringing in the Lebanese army and an international force. And believe me, we will be vigilant whether that international force is effective or not.

…The ability to deny Hezbollah (more supplies) is the 2nd part of this and probably the most important part. …Iran is trying to resupply them as we speak and every day our air force interdicts more and more convoys coming into Lebanon from Syria. Right now, we can do that. But, what we expect to see is a security structure in place…that will patrol that border and as Prime Minister Olmert has said very clearly that Israel will not tolerate Hezbollah being reconstituted…In the future, (Israel will defend) itself by denying Hezbollah any rocket capability.

John Hawkins: Now, …(as we’ve seen), any international force that doesn’t have the United States or Britain in it has just never been effective if they have to fight. I know…they haven’t worked well in the area either. So, how do you deal with that?

David Siegel: …We have not had a good history with international observer forces. UNIFIL is a prime example. They’ve been in Lebanon for 28 years and they’ve…seen Hezbollah grow and allowed Hezbollah to hide behind them while they attacked Israel. So, this is not the kind of force we want to see. …We expect this to be a robust force that can enforce stability in Southern Lebanon and enforce the border traffic.

…We got to the point where we said, “Enough is enough.” We’re not leaving that point. We will be active and vigilant in ensuring that Hezbollah will not become the threat that it has become in the last 6 years. …We are determined to ensure, by force if necessary, that this will never occur again.

John Hawkins: Everyone seems to acknowledge that Syria and Iran are obviously the ones pulling Hezbollah’s puppet strings, yet they don’t seem to be paying any price for these attacks. While it’s obviously a good idea to kill Hezbollah and destroy their supporting infrastructure, doesn’t the road to peace involve harming or threatening to harm Iran or Syria?

David Siegel: Sometimes you have to make sure that the school is drug free before you chase every single drug supplier. Forgive me for the analogy…Israel can’t police the world and there are things that we think the (rest of) the world needs to be responsible for. The problem that we have with Hezbollah is a product of a failure of the Europeans, the failure of the international community, the failure of the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions, 1559, which called for disarming Hezbollah.

…We, at this point, don’t have any intention of extending this war to other fronts. …We believe there has to be a division of labor. Israel will deal with Hamas and Hezbollah, which are two terrorist organizations sworn to our destruction, and the world, eventually, will have to deal with the threats of Syria and Iran.

John Hawkins: The Iranians have threatened Israel with destruction countless times and now they’re moving forward on nuclear weapons, with which they could achieve their aims. If the international community and/or the United States don’t stop Iran from getting nukes, is Israel willing to use any and all methods at their disposal to stop the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons?

David Siegel: …We’ve always believed in robust diplomacy as the best option, because any other option would be very dangerous. If the diplomatic options fail, it would be very unfortunate for this part of the world and for the entire world…

…Everyone understands the stakes and what this is all about. It’s not just about Lebanon, it’s about the future of the Middle-East. It’s not just about the border between Israel and Lebanon, it’s about whether Iran takes over the entire Middle-East or not. Everyone understands that, whether it’s open or quiet, in the way that they approach this.

…Had Iran been nuclear, there is no doubt that this would have been much, much, worse and therefore, I think we should be very thankful that what is enfolding now, with all its difficulties, is enfolding now and not in 5 years. I believe that there is still time to stop Iran and the source of Iran’s strength is international weakness. Iran…can pressured, can be sanctioned, and this program can be stopped diplomatically. If that doesn’t happen, it will be very unfortunate for the United States, it will be very unfortunate for the entire West, because we will lose the Middle-East.

John Hawkins: Last question, …people have taken a very tough tone with Hamas, which is appropriate. But, how much of a difference is there really between Fatah and Hamas? I mean Fatah says that they’ll accept a two state solution, but do you really believe them?

David Siegel: …It’s less important what the organization is and more important what the organization does. Hamas won the elections and we believe that has led to the problems we are facing now and the crisis in the Middle-East. What basically happened was that Hamas won, but they couldn’t deliver. They had no money. They couldn’t change their ideology. They couldn’t rule, the world wouldn’t let it rule under conditions where it denied Israel’s right to exist and called for its destruction and continued terror. Then they opened an attack on Israel, in terms of rockets, kidnappings, and so on as a result of their inability to rule. We believe that terrorist (organizations) need to be dismantled whether they’re Fatah or Hamas or Hizbollah or any other organization. It’s time to draw a line and not to be tolerant of terrorism in any case. Both Fatah and Hamas…are terrorist organizations with blood on their hands: these organizations need to be dismantled.

I’ll tell you (what’s ironic): Israel and the Israeli people have voted for peace repeatedly. Even four months ago, everyone forgets, that we had elections where the government was voted in on a platform for peace, for creating a Palestinian state under certain conditions, and so on. The tragedy of the Palestinians is that time and time again through history, they’ve chosen the extreme…and now they have to bear the consequences (of) that. So, all we can do is defend ourselves and try to get the world to be with us…and convey the message that terrorism doesn’t work, that it’s self-destructive, and that the only way is to put aside guns and to negotiate…

John Hawkins: That’s it…(thank you for your time).

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