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Several hours before the renewal of hostilities on the border of the Gaza Strip following the terrorist bomb that killed an IDF soldier and injured three others, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told JNF UK solidarity mission, who had come to identify with Israel, "If circumstances require it, we will respond to Hamas in a manner that will make them regret they pushed us to take action. I think they have learned a lesson from the "Cast Lead" campaign, but I don't know if it is enough. Will they go back to their previous acts? They would have to be idiots to try."
The Prime Minister made these statements during a meeting in the Israeli cabinet with a solidarity delegation headed by JNF UK chairman, Samuel Hayek. Mr. Hayek began his remarks by stating, "We came here as a mission of solidarity with the Israeli people, with the State of Israel, and with you personally, Mr. Prime Minister."
The Prime Minister spoke mainly about the origins of the "Cast Lead" campaign and the continued discussions in Israel and throughout the world regarding how Israel should respond to aggression. "The main issue that is being contested on an international level is the right of the State of Israel to defend its citizens like any other country. Do we have to put up with daily aggression of rocket fire on innocent civilians? Do we have the right to respond, and how? I asked my colleagues, other international leaders: 'Do you think this is a game? We are responding to terrorists who hide and launch attacks from densely populated areas. How will we defend ourselves? We will defend ourselves by attacking where they are hiding: inside buildings where there are also people who are uninvolved - whom we ask to leave before we attack, and they remain. Is that what we like to do? No, but we must choose between security for the children of Sderot and other civilians or harming innocents. Our primary obligation is to defend our citizens."
Prime Minister Olmert described his contacts with European leaders and with the General Secretary of the UN who visited the area at length. "I asked the General Secretary of the UN if he truly believed that I or anyone else had given an order to attack the UNWRA facility. The person who fired at the facility was a 22-year-old boy wearing a uniform who had been fired upon from the direction of the UNWRA building and was returning fire. Do we have a policy of attacking UNWRA facilities? Our only policy, which any other nation in the world would understand, is that when you are talking about national interests you protect yourself."
In response to a question posed by one of the members of the delegation of why Israel waited eight years to launch a massive attack, the Prime Minister answered, "During the eight years preceding the "Cast Lead" operation, approximately 2,000 Hamas militants were killed in our acts of reprisal. Intervention using extensive force took place only when the local and international circumstances to launch such an action arose. In order to go to war we first need a national consensus, but we also need the full understanding of our allies. Support for the campaign on both levels was only obtained after it was clear to everyone that we had already tried every other logical means."
Another member of the delegation asked Prime Minister Olmert for a calming statement in light of the fact that many political changes are currently taking place both internationally (with the inauguration of President Obama in the United States) and in Israel (the upcoming general elections) that are liable to result in additional crises during this intermediate period. The Prime Minister's answer was clear: "There is a saying in Hebrew: 'Blessed are those who are always afraid.' We always have to be prepared for the unexpected, and I can promise you that if the unexpected happens, we will be ready." In answer to another question the Prime Minister answered that under certain circumstances an agreement can be reached with the Palestinians within three weeks, but Israel totally rejects the idea of offering total "right of Return" to Palestinians. "Just as our best friends throughout the world demand us to retreat to the 1967 borders, they also unanimously support our position of refusing total right of return."
Regarding his predictions of the results of the upcoming elections in Israel, the Prime Minister told the delegation that he does not negate the possibility of the formation of a national unity government after the elections, in hope that his successor will continue his overall policies, including, among other things, recognition of the need for drastic concessions in order to attain peace. He presented the chances of a peace agreement with Syria as an example. "Syria is asking us to return all of the Golan Heights. While I am willing to accept such a demand, I also present our demands, because within the framework of a peace agreement we are not talking about unilateral Israeli concessions. I expect the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon entirely, to terminate their contacts with Iran, with terrorist organizations that are based in their territory, and with the extremist organizations in Iraq. They also need to understand that in any peace agreement, both sides need to pay a heavy price for peace with open borders, full relations, and financial ties. If they agree, the conditions will be laid for a true peace. If they don't agree, the present situation that is not to the benefit of either side will continue."
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