SPIEGEL Interview with Avigdor Lieberman "Israel May Have to Act Alone"

Deputy Israeli Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman on his country's response to the Iranian nuclear program and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

SPIEGEL: Minister Lieberman, the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah are currently keeping themselves very occupied with their own problems. Even as their leaders negotiated a unity government in Mecca, the militias waged bloody fighting in the streets. Does the fact that they are busy with their own problems comfort you?

Arab Israelis in Jerusalem: "They want to enjoy all the advantages of the modern Israel, but on the other hand they want to destroy us from the inside."

Arab Israelis in Jerusalem: "They want to enjoy all the advantages of the modern Israel, but on the other hand they want to destroy us from the inside."

Foto: AP

Lieberman: It does not comfort me, but I am happy that the number of attacks against Israel has gone down drastically. I do not expect the fighting to spill over to Judea and Samaria ...

SPIEGEL: ... you mean the Palestinian West Bank.

Lieberman: But I think that there is a danger of Hamas winning the fight in the Gaza Strip.

SPIEGEL: With their summit between Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas, Ismail Haniyeh, Khaled Mashaal last week, Saudi mediators had sought to prevent exactly that.

Lieberman: I am worried that the formation of a Hamas-Fatah unity government will give Hamas the international legitimacy it doesn't have today, without having to make any real changes to its platform of the non-recognition of Israel and the continuation of terror tactics against Israel. A unity government with Fatah shouldn't be a carte blanche for Hamas; this would be a very poor reflection on the international community. This is a further test of the resolve of the international community against worldwide terror.

SPIEGEL: Will there be an Israeli ground offensive into the Gaza Strip?

Lieberman: I think that statistically it is only a matter of time before one of the hundreds of Qassam rockets fired into Israel from Gaza falls in a kindergarten or marketplace. Then public pressure will force us to launch a ground offensive into Gaza, and in such an event I believe that world opinon will understand that we have an obligation to defend our citizens.

SPIEGEL: You said the Israeli army should raze the Gaza Strip and apply the same methods that the Russian forces are using in Chechnya. So you have never been to Chechnya?

Lieberman: I said it does not make sense for Israel to launch an operation in Gaza as long as we do not have allies there. The Americans for example don’t have allies in Iraq, and Russia only succeeded to establish order in Chechnya after it relied on the local Kadyrov clan.

SPIEGEL: A man who is anything but trustworthy.

Lieberman: That is not important. We never succeeded in the Gaza Strip by relying on those people who think rationally and have a secular orientation. The moderate people always have been on the defensive against the extremists. We will never be able to establish order their on our own.

SPIEGEL: With your 11 Knesset seats, you support prime minister Ehud Olmert who is now seeking a dialogue with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas -- something you can’t be in favor of.

Lieberman: The question is what will be the result? Abbas's most important obligation according to the "road map" is to dissolve the extremist militias and to collect the weapons. If something concrete happens in this respect, we will support it.

SPIEGEL: Olmert says he abides by the "road map," the internationally accepted peace plan. You reject the "road map" as well as the Oslo Process.

Lieberman: Oslo happend 14 years ago. We have since reached a dead end. The "road map" was adopted in 2003, and three-and-a-half years later the results are zero. The Israelis are today interested in security, the Palestinians in economic prosperity. As long as we cannot guarantee this to both sides, we will not have progress. Fourteen years after Oslo, the Israelis enjoy much less security and the Palestinian living conditions are much worse.

SPIEGEL: Your suggested resolution to the Palestinian conflict is to make Israel Arab free. Do you really want to remove one-fifth of the Israeli society, i.e. cleanse Israel ethnically?

Lieberman: On the contrary. What is the core of the conflict? Wherever in the world there are two languages, two religions, two people, there are tensions and conflicts: in Québec in Canada, in the former Yugoslavia, in the Russian Caucasus or in Northern Ireland where the confessions have fought each other for many years. It is crystal clear: The more homogeneous a country is, the better it develops.

SPIEGEL: So you do believe there should be a separation of the ethnic groups.

Lieberman: When Ariel Sharon developed his disengagement plan for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, I argued: On the one hand you are establishing a monolithic Palestinian state without a single Jew, while Israel maintains an Arab population of 20 percent. It cannot be that there are one and a half states for one people and only half a state for the other. The connection between the Arabs in Israel and those in a Palestinian state will destroy us for sure.

SPIEGEL: Jewish and Arab settlements lie next to each other like a patchwork quilt. How do you intend to create a homogeneous map?

Lieberman: First of all one has to agree on the basic principle. My plan is an exchange of territories and population. All people stay where they currently live. We will hand over territorries like the Wadi Ara triangle where mostly Arabs live to the Palestinian jurisdiction; territories with a large Jewish population will be transferred to us.

SPIEGEL: The chances for success are close to zero: What Israeli Arab wants to become part of Palestine?

Lieberman: Of course they do not want this. On the one hand they want to enjoy all the advantages of the modern Israel, but on the other hand they want to destroy us from the inside. During the last war in Lebanon, Arab Knesset members went to Beirut and Damascus to show their solidarity with Syria and the Hezbollah -- that is absurd. Can you imagine an American Congressman traveling to Afghanistan in order to meet with and publicly support Osama bin Laden?

SPIEGEL: You responded by demanding that Israeli-Arab members of parliament who are in contact with Hezbollah and Hamas should be executed like "Nazi collaborators"?

Lieberman: I meant Hezbollah henchmen in our country. They have to be put to trial like the Nazis in Nuremberg. When the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, kills two Arab children with his rockets in Nazareth and the father declares his children to be martyrs and Nasrallah to be his brother; when the same father says Israel is guilty and then receives financial support from our National Insurance Institute, this is absurd.

SPIEGEL: Israel feels threatened not only by Hamas and Hezbollah, but also by the regime in Tehran. Can you confirm reports that your government is preparing for a nuclear strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities?

Lieberman: No, Iran is not an Israeli problem, it is a problem for the whole free world. What we have here is a clash of "different" civilizations, and Israeli is located at the front line. Bin Laden for example is not a rational person. What do you want to offer him? Money, territories? He would not accept anything in return for ending terror. The same is true of (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad.

SPIEGEL: A scenario in which Israel undertook a military strike is not far-fetched. In 1981, under then prime minister Menachem Begin, Israel bombarded a nuclear facility -- the Osirak reactor in Iraq.

Lieberman: That was one of Begin's most important decisions. Otherwise Saddam Hussein would have found himself in a different position. Even those who criticized us at that time do acknowledge this today.

SPIEGEL: If you rule out negotiations with Iran, you are either left with sanctions or a military solution.

Lieberman: Iran has a big business community which reacts very sensitively to sanctions. The fact that Ahmadinejad lost the municipal elections shows that the business community is dissatisfied with the fact that he is isolating Tehran. A great part of Iranian exports go to Japan, the Arab Emirates and western Europe, also to Germany. If all these countries were to uphold sanctions as they have done in the case of North Korea, Iran would break apart, even if China, Russia and India didn’t participate.

SPIEGEL: You said recently that Israel might have to stand alone and therefore must be ready to deal unilaterally with the Iran problem.

Lieberman: That is the worst-case scenario. The differences in opinion between Russia and Western Europe, between Europe and the U.S., between the U.S. and the United Nations have destabilized the global political system. We have to take into account that the international community may not do anything and that Israel may have to act alone.

SPIEGEL: Your meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice didn't make you more optimistic?

Lieberman: I am sensing on the part of the Americans an understanding for the Iranian problem, but currently I do not see in Washington enough political energy and determination for an independent step against Iran. The developments in Iraq are having a very negative effect, and nobody knows where this will end.

Interview conducted by Christian Neef and Christoph Schult.

Die Wiedergabe wurde unterbrochen.