Haifa mayor: Danger not over yet

Yahav supports cease-fire, but residents not safe until Hizbullah disarmed.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav told The Jerusalem Post Saturday that he supported the cease-fire arrangement worked out by the United Nations Friday to halt hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah. Anything that would free the two soldiers that were taken hostage by Hizbullah on July 13 and pushed Hizbullah out of southern Lebanon was acceptable, Yahav said. But in an earlier interview on Friday, he warned that Haifa - which has been hit by more than 150 Katyushas during the war - and its 270,000 residents remained in danger until Hizbullah was dismantled and Iran no longer had the power to threaten Israel or the Western world. As he spoke, a siren warning of a possible impending missile attack interrupted the conversation. He left his lemonade on the glass table in a hotel lounge and headed for the nearest stairwell until it was safe to continue. Earlier in the day, a missile left a large crater when it hit a major artery leading into the city. Still, Yahav said he believed the violent conflict between Israel and Hizbullah that began last month would soon be over. "At the beginning of the war I said it would last a month, didn't I say that?" he asked as he turned to his his assistant. She nodded in agreement. But even if hostilities ceased and warning sirens stopped being sounded, life in his city would not quite return to normal, he predicted. Until the first missile fell on Haifa on July 13, Yahav worried about dangers from a Palestinian suicide bomber or a natural disaster like an earthquake, given that the city sits on a fault line. Now he has added Hizbullah-launched rockets to the list. As long as Hizbullah was armed and had the capacity to launch a rocket at the city, which has suffered 14 deaths in the last month, he and other residents would continue to live with concern, he said. "While Hizbullah continues to be armed, we continue to be in danger," said Yahav as he sat at an observation point above the city providing a clear view of the bay and the northern coast up to the Lebanese border. There is a connection between Iran, Syria and Hizbullah, said Yavah, who added that "We are now the first front in the war with Iran." Hizbullah fighters in Lebanon were not guerrillas, he said. "What they have armed themselves with is enormous. We are fighting against an Iranian army," Yahav said. "What is going on in Haifa has to be the concern of the Western world," Yahav added. Both Israel and the West were the targets of terror groups like Hizbullah, said Yahav, who connected what is happening in his city with the al-Qaida-linked plot to blow up airplanes uncovered in England his week. He described how during one recent interview with a foreign network, he was asked how he felt about the destruction in Lebanon. Yahav told his interviewers that he had been planning a vacation in London next year, and that the military operation in Lebanon "is to ensure that when I take the Underground (in London) I will travel safely," he said. At the end of the day, he said, he would consider Israel's operation against Hizbullah successful only "if Lebanon will turn into a normal state which can exercise its sovereignty over the whole area of Lebanon. That is the best for us." "If we do not achieve three things: the return of the prisoners, the dismantling of Hizbullah and an international power spread along the border, then the rest is a waste of time," Yahav said. He warned that if these conditions were not fulfilled then violence would erupt again within a few years. In the interim, now that he knew first hand that his city was under the threat of further missile strikes, he was rethinking the issue of safety in the city. He plans to push to add security rooms to public buildings and schools, a move that would be difficult given the enormous cost of such a project, he said. "It will take a long time and cost a hell of a lot of money," he said. He dismissed headlines attacking the manner in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had conducted the war, but would not state what his own opinion was regarding the government's handling of it. "Everyone does his job. He has to run the country and my job is run the city," he said. Yahav limited his criticism to what he considers to be the government's failure to provide an economic recovery plan for the indirect losses Haifa and the North have sustained as the result of the violence. "In this respect, they did nothing," Yahav declared. He said he was particularly concerned about news that the government could cut 9 percent from the 2006 budget. "What I am going to do over the weekend is to call them and to drive them nuts and to say that if they are going to cut the budget they have to exclude the North," he said. The city was facing the loss of small businesses, income tax dollars, money from tourists and foreign investments that could cost it billions, the mayor noted. It was hard to sell the city as an attractive place to visit or invest in once it had been seen as a war zone, adding it was hard to get rid of that stigma.