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Interview: A chat with Benyamin Netanyahu

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor   |   Nov. 16, 2005 at 9:08 AM   |   Comments

JERUSALEM, Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Binyamin Netanyahu, the former and, quite possibly, the next prime minister of Israel, believes the rise of radical Islam is a real challenge to Israel and to the entire Western world. If left unchecked, Netanyahu cautions, the danger will only grow, and with dire consequences.

Speaking to United Press International in his office in Jerusalem only days after al-Qaida terrorists coming from Iraq detonated bombs, killing themselves and 67 people in three Amman hotels, Netanyahu discussed the severity of these threats posed by militant Islamist groups and how that affects Israel and the Middle East.

The former Israeli prime minister warned of a real and present danger emanating from Islamists groups such as Hamas, the Lebanese Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida and "their associates." He believes al-Qaida is already operating inside the Gaza Strip, which is now ruled by the Palestinian Authority, but where Hamas wields enormous power and influence.

Netanyahu singled out Iran as a real menace, not only because of its persistence to become a nuclear-armed power, but also because of continued support to terrorist groups offered by Tehran's mullahs. Netanyahu reminded the recent statement made by Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling for "Israel to be wiped off the face of the map."

Asked if as prime minister he would commit Israel's military to tackle the Iranian nuclear question and launch a raid on Iran, Netanyahu replied the issue of a nuclear-capable Iran concerned far more than Israel.

"Europe and the United States are also vulnerable to Iran's nuclear rockets," said the Israeli politician. "Europe, too, can he hit by Iranian nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told UPI.

To become prime minister again, Netanyahu first needs to win the Likud party's nomination, something political pundits in Israel believe he can do without too much difficulty given Ariel Sharon's loss of popularity within the party following Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

If then elected, Netanyahu said he would adopt the same no-nonsense policy regarding Palestinian terrorism he previously followed. He stressed he would not "reward" Palestinian fanaticism and terrorism by giving up land.

"Peace in return for peace," said Netanyahu.

The former prime minister said that under his watch there would be no unilateral redeployment, no giving up land and then hoping the Palestinians would behave, as current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is accused of doing by Netanyahu and Israeli hard-liners who believe that giving up the settlements in the Gaza Strip was a mistake.

Netanyahu said he would be willing to talk peace with the Palestinian leadership, but only once it demonstrates it is capable of imposing security on areas under its control. He stressed the need for the PA to control Hamas. He said he believed the current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, was an improvement over Yasser Arafat. "But that is not a difficult thing to do," said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu recounts that under his leadership Israel experienced only three terrorist attacks, the lowest ever when compared to the scores of suicide bombings that have taken place under the leadership of other prime ministers.

Bibi, as friends know him, says he would never negotiate with the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas. "They are dedicated to the destruction of Israel." Instead, Netanyahu promises to reply to violence with a firm hand.

Netanyahu told UPI that Islamist violence must be "contained and defeated." He explained how he once telephoned former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his headquarters in Ramallah to warn him that any violence coming from Palestinian groups would be met with the reply of cannon fire from Israeli tanks.

Asked what about Syria, Netanyahu replied, "What about Syria?"

Would he negotiate land for peace with Damascus? Would he be willing to return the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a peace deal with the Syrians?

"Peace in exchange for peace," reiterated the Israeli politician, stating countries that choose to initiate hostilities and end up losing territory should not expect to get it back.

Asked where he sees Israel in 20 years, Netanyahu replied, "It depends on the course we pursue and it depends of the course the world pursues."

Netanyahu said, "So long as there is a United States, there will be a State of Israel."

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(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)

© 2005 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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