Half an hour with Benjamin Netanyahu

I just had the opportunity to participate, along with half a dozen or so other bloggers, in a conference with Benjamin Netanyahu. The former (and I hope future) Prime Minister spoke with us for half an hour, most of which involved answering our questions. He once again showed his profound understanding of the situation the West finds itself in with respect to Islamic fundamentalism. According to Netanyahu, that situation is that the Sunnis and the Shiites are competing to create an Islamic empire. Both understand that this objective starts with the destruction of Israel. Shiite Iran, by moving to arm itself with nuclear weapons, has become the primary threat.

The proper division of labor for dealing with the threat is as follows: Israel should dismantle Hezbollah and the U.S. should disarm Iran. As to the latter, President Bush has emphasized his commitment to preventing a nuclear Iran, and Netanyahu believes that Bush is truly committed to that imperative. As to Hezbollah, the recent war was only the first round in a protracted battle that Israel will win. Netanyahu was reluctant to criticize the Israeli government while troops are still in Lebanon. He said he has substantial concerns about its handling of the war, but that expressing them should wait for later. When asked why the government didn’t act more aggressively during the war, he answered “I don’t know.”

Netanyahu stated categorically that Hezbollah will not disarm itself and that the forces sent into south Lebanon under the cease-fire agreement will not disarm Hezbollah. In this connection, I asked the former Prime Minister whether he viewed Israel as bound by the cease-fire agreement to wait for the next attack (at the time of Hezbollah’s and Iran’s choosing) or whether Israel is free to act if (when) it finds that Hezbollah has not disarmed and that the international force and the Lebanese army are not taking effective action. Netanyahu replied that the cease-fire agreement permits Israel to take defensive action to protect itself. He acknowledged that there can be much debate over what that means, but (as I understood his answer) the concept does not necessarily preclude preemptive action.

Many thanks to Rick Richman of Jewish Current Issues for putting the conference together and, of course, to Prime Minister Netanyahu for taking the time to talk with us.