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World holds breath on Lebanon cease-fire -

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World holds breath on Lebanon cease-fire

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

KERRY O'BRIEN: After a month-long conflict that's killed some 1,300 people, displaced many more and
left much of Lebanon in ruins, and some parts of Israel, a fragile cease-fire between Israel and
Hezbollah appears to be holding tonight. But intense fighting continued to rage during the lead-up
to the United Nations-brokered cease-fire, which came into effect this afternoon Australian time.
While Israel has begun withdrawing troops from Lebanese territory, its sea and air blockade will
remain in place. With Hezbollah refusing to give up its weapons, the big question now is, can the
guns remain silent until an international peacekeeping force is deployed, or is this just a
temporary lull? Several hours after the cease-fire came into effect, I spoke with Israeli Foreign
Ministry spokesman Mark Regev late today, via satellite from Jerusalem. Mark Regev, was it really
necessary for Israel to still be launching deadly air strikes on Lebanon virtually right up to the
cease-fire deadline?

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: I think the cease-fire was agreed to, and the
timing of that was fixed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. I think combat operations went on
until the hour that the cease-fire kicked in. I think Hezbollah rockets were landing in Israel also
until the very last moment.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now that the fighting has stopped for the moment, how confident are you that this
cease-fire can be sustained? And I would suggest that given that the fighting continued right up to
the last moment, doesn't give you great cause for hope?

MARK REGEV: Well, I can assure you that my country, Israel, we will do everything that we are
obliged to do under that UN Resolution 1701, which is the basis for the cessation of hostilities.
We have an interest in that resolution succeeding, that resolution creates a better strategic
reality for Israel, for Lebanon, for the region and so we will do our part. We will do - every one
of our obligations in that resolution we will meet. And if the Lebanese side does the same, we
really can move forward to a better future.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But Hezbollah has said that for as long as Israeli forces are in Lebanon, they'll
keep fighting?

MARK REGEV: Well, let's be clear, the UN resolution - it's not Israel speaking here - the UN
resolution says that the pullback should not be haphazard. That the idea is not to create a vacuum
that Hezbollah could just exploit. The resolution says specifically that Israeli forces will pull
out incrementally and the international forces and the Lebanese Government will move in to make
sure there isn't a vacuum. Now if in that interim period Hezbollah attacks us, that's a clear
violation of the Security Council resolution. That's a clear violation of the cease-fire and we
will be entitled to respond. I hope that doesn't happen, though.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How proactive do you expect the international force to be as part of the process of
disarming Hezbollah?

MARK REGEV: I think everyone understands that this is not a sort of force that you're sending token
soldiers, that any country participating in this force, it doesn't mean their forces are coming
here for ceremonial duty. I think everyone understands that the force, to quote Kofi Annan, it must
be a robust force, it must be a fighting force, and the idea is that they have to implement what is
in that Security Council resolution.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Not only is it going to be difficult for anybody to disarm Hezbollah without their
full cooperation, but it is going to be difficult, isn't it, to know that they have genuinely and
completely been disarmed. What evidence will Israel be requiring or demanding of that fact?

MARK REGEV: Well, let's go step-by-step, 'cause you can't do everything in one day. The resolution
says we should create, the international community is committed to creating a Hezbollah-free zone
from the Litani River down to the international frontier - what's called the "blue line". Now
obviously our forces are there in south Lebanon today dealing with Hezbollah there and so part of
that job has already been done. But the idea is that in that part of south Lebanon you will no
longer have a Hezbollah military presence. You will no longer have that state within a state.
That's an important part of the UN resolution and I think that's an important challenge for the
Lebanese army and the international forces. Another challenge that I think is very important is the
UN resolution talks about an arms embargo, that weaponry will not come into Lebanon for Hezbollah.
Specifically, that's designed against Iran and Syria to prevent missile supplies coming in, new
rockets coming into Hezbollah. I mean, during this conflict we managed to hit the long-range
strategic capability of Hezbollah and no-one wanted to see a cease-fire where that could just be
replenished. So on those two counts I think those two issues, which are very tangible - the area of
south Lebanon and the area of the embargo - we'll be looking to see the Lebanese army and the
international forces will expect activity there, first.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I'm not sure whether you're aware of it but Seymour Hersh, the investigative
journalist in the 'New Yorker', has just written a story saying that the Bush Administration was
closely involved in the planning of Israel's retaliatory attacks, that President Bush and Vice
President Cheney were convinced - according to sources, to Seymour Hersh - that a successful
Israeli airforce bombing campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon could ease Israel's security
concerns, but also serve as a prelude to a potential American pre-emptive attack to destroy Iran's
nuclear installations? Now, are you in a position to say that America was not privy to Israel's
retaliatory plans and a part of the process?

MARK REGEV: Seymour Hersh is a friend of mine, so I don't want to say anything disparaging, but I
can say the following. It's very clear that anyone who looks at what happened in Lebanon and in
Israel when this crisis started - that we weren't ready. And it took us a while to have a forceful
response, the sort of response that we needed. I'd also remind you that we were very much, at the
beginning of June, very focused on what was going on in Gaza and there was intelligence information
that Hezbollah, in fact, was planning some sort of activity. We sent messages, both directly and
indirectly, through some European countries saying we don't have an interest in this crisis. So the
whole idea that Israel initiated this conflict for some sort of grand strategic design is just
simply not true.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And yet, Israel's response was very prompt and ongoing. The rest of the world has
seen maybe 10 times as many Lebanese civilians killed as Israeli civilians. The hundreds of
thousands of refugees who've been seen fleeing have been mostly Lebanese. The destruction has
overwhelmingly been Lebanon's. Can you understand why Israel may have lost sympathy in parts of the
world as a result of those images?

MARK REGEV: I'm not sure about the refugee figure, because our numbers here are also quite high. On
the issue of casualties, I think in many ways we had a bit of luck. Because we took more than 3,000
incoming missiles. Had one of those missiles hit a petrol chemical factory in Haifa we could have
had amazing tragedy, and then I could tell you more Israelis died, but I wouldn't be more happy to
say that, obviously. I think we were very lucky that we didn't take more significant civilian
casualties on our side of the border and thank God we didn't.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mark Regev, thanks for making the time to talk to us on this cease-fire day. Thank
you.

MARK REGEV: My pleasure. Let's hope it works.