Statements by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer at press conference following Cabinet meeting
Jerusalem, March 29, 2002
PM Sharon: Good morning,
In the past few days we have witnessed horrific terrorist attacks -
the attack during the Pesach Seder in Netanya, where 21 people were
killed, tonight's events in Elon Moreh, resulting in 4 deaths, and
the incident which is currently taking place in Netzarim where so far
two people have been killed.
I take this opportunity to extend my condolences to the bereaved
families. I know that there is no remedy for your pain, and I believe
that we all share this expression of condolence and sympathy. I also
wish a speedy recovery to the wounded, among them there are still a
large number of people who are very severely injured.
All this has happened at a time when Israel's hand was - and still is
- extended towards peace. We have done everything in our power to
achieve a cease-fire and an immediate entry into the Tenet process in
order to advance any possibility of a cease-fire. All we have
received in return was terrorism, terrorism and more terrorism.
No sovereign nation would tolerate such a sequence of events.
Therefore, the government, in a special session lasting throughout
the night, and in accordance with the recommendations from all the
security agencies - the Chief of Intelligence, the Chief of the GSS,
and the Director of the Mossad - has made the following decision:
The Government has approved principles for extensive operational
activity against Palestinian terrorism. As we speak, the IDF is
already inside the 'Mukta'a' in Ramallah.
Israel will act to crush the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, in
all its parts and components, and will carry out comprehensive
activity to achieve this goal.
Arafat, who has established a coalition of terror against Israel, is
an enemy and at this point he will be isolated.
The Government has authorized the mobilization of reserve forces, in
accordance with the operational needs, in order to enable the IDF
ongoing, lengthy activities in various terrorism centers.
On behalf of the government of Israel and the citizens of Israel and
on my own behalf, I wish to extend my best wishes to the IDF for
success in this mission.
At times such as these we are all required to demonstrate
responsibility and mainly unity, and I am confident that we will do
DM Ben-Eliezer: At the outset I would like to extend my condolences to the families
of the recent victims. The sheer number of people, and a massacre of
this nature is something that no nation can live with.
On the eve of Passover we witnessed the Passover massacre. Yesterday
evening, an entire family was slaughtered. This morning, a laborer,
who usually works in Netzarim, went in and killed two people.
Consequently, the security forces decided to initiate extensive
operational activity aimed at a conducting an all-out war
against terrorism - a war whose aim is to crush all forms and all
elements of the terrorist infrastructure. This war will know no
geographical, or other, boundaries. Its aim is to provide maximum
security, as is our obligation to the citizens of this country. We
have been forced to take this path, to mobilize extensive forces and
to operate over a wide area.
As I speak, operations are focusing on Ramallah, which, as mentioned
by the Prime Minister, has become the capital of terrorism. Action is
in progress, and will continue, against the entire infrastructure
there. Nobody has immunity from the IDF as long he bears the mark of
What has happened during the past few weeks, and particularly during
the last two days, has thwarted all our efforts over the past year,
during which time we welcomed and embraced anyone who came in the
service of peace. Unfortunately, in the case of General Zinni who
recently came here in good faith, armed with the goodwill of a great
nation that is our friend, the only thing we could do was to be at
his side and to assist him. It is not an easy thing to say, but I
will mention here that for an entire week we restrained ourselves. We
did not respond to a single terrorist attack in the hope that maybe,
maybe [it would stop]. But that did not happen. I believe that, in
order to avoid questions, Arafat has made himself into the enemy. He
cannot absolve himself from responsibility. He bears a heavy
responsibility for the terrorist elements, through both his actions
The very nature of the Cabinet decision, as read out by the Prime
Minister, makes it clear that we have now started moving towards a
war against the forces of terrorism in the coming days, possibly
weeks. We have stated at every turn the fact that we have no interest
in continuing in the use of arms, but given no other choice, we owe
it to our homes, to our children and to our people.
Thank you very much.
Questions and Answers
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, two questions - first, what is
actually happening in the area of the Mukata'a right now, what
updates are you receiving?
My second question is - During the government's session you spoke
with Colin Powell. How much are the Americans in the picture, and to
what extent do they support this move?
PM Sharon: As I have already said previously, at
this time IDF forces are carrying out operations in the Mukata'a
compound and, I am sure, will complete their mission in the manner
decided and dictated by the General Staff, the Minister of Defense,
and approved by the government.
The Secretary of State did call, and we did speak. I filled him in
about the terrorist attacks which show no signs of stopping, and
about the fact that the Palestinian Authority has not taken any steps
- any steps at all - against terrorism, neither during recent weeks
and certainly not before that, nor after the terrible murder, the
massacre, in Netanya during the Seder service. No order was issued,
no instruction was given [by the PA], and so the State of Israel will
take all steps necessary to protect its citizens. Those were the
issues I explained, and I think they are clear. Naturally, we never
give out details of operations or of any operational plans. But
Israel's position, the position of the government regarding what is
happening, was made absolutely clear.
Q: I'll address my questions first to the Prime Minister and
then to the Minister of Defense.
Mr. Prime Minister, what does the decision to "isolate Yasser
Arafat" actually mean? And with your permission, a second question.
Has a military objective been defined - [i.e.] a rolling operation
that re-conquers the areas of the Palestinian Authority, including
the Palestinian cities?
Minister of Defense, Mr. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. You said that nobody
would have immunity from the IDF's operations. Does this also include
Yasser Arafat, will he also have no immunity from the IDF's
PM Sharon: The term "isolated" means exactly what
it says. He will be isolated, period.
Q: What does that mean? He won't be able to receive
telephone calls? Nobody will call him, or speak to him?
PM Sharon: I think I have answered your question.
He will be isolated.
DM Ben-Eliezer: Allow me to expand on the question.
There is not, nor was there any decision by the government regarding
the re-conquering of any areas. We would like to see the continued
existence of Areas A as they are. Our interest in those areas is for
one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to fight against the
terrorist infrastructure. Period. Once we have achieved this, or once
we see that there is calm, we will be extremely glad to see life in
these areas returning to normal, and that is what I hope will happen.
The more we keep to this goal, the better. I would like to reiterate,
we have no interest in conquering territories and staying there. This
is not one of the goals that I know about.
Regarding your second question, when I said that nobody would have
immunity from IDF operations, I include everyone - everyone.
Obviously this includes anyone trafficking in terrorism, irrespective
of his rank. As to the specific question about Yasser Arafat, I
presume that it's your question, whether we plan to harm him. The
answer is no.
Q: Two questions for the Prime Minister. Mr. Prime
Minister, you decided to isolate Arafat at this stage. Does this mean
that in the future there will be no option of expelling him from the
territories? Does this mean that the whole issue of Arafat is
My second question is: did you put out any political feelers before
today's session to ensure that if the Labor Party left the coalition,
because of decisions taken, you would be able to put together a
right-wing government that would include the National Religious Party
or the National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu?
Two questions to the Minister of Defense. Mr. Minister, you were
quoted in the headlines of the Passover eve edition of the newspaper
Ma'ariv as saying that it was a mistake to prevent Arafat from going
to Beirut, and that it would lead to further escalation of terrorism.
Do you still believe this is true? We are receiving another report
from MK Ahmed Tibi claiming that IDF tanks are shelling Arafat's
headquarters and that there are already thirteen wounded at his HQ.
Can you confirm this report?
PM Sharon: I would just like to reread the section
of the government decision that refers to your question. Arafat, who
has established a coalition of terror against Israel, is an enemy,
and at this point he will be isolated.
Q: Meaning, at this point? It's not written, perhaps
you could clarify what the next stage will be.
PM Sharon: I suggest that this remain exactly as
it's written. I feel that this is exactly the right answer that
should be given. He will be isolated at this point. Regarding your
second question, I see no reason for any part of the government to
break away, nor any sign of it happening. Certainly not a key partner
like the Labor Party. The issue was never raised, nor discussed, and
was never a part of any discussion held today - never.
Q: But did you initiate any political contact prior
to this session?
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon : I have ongoing political contact, and
always did, regardless of today's session. Today I will meet with
several party heads who are currently part of the opposition, because
my plan is to expand and strengthen the government.
Yoni Ben Menachem : Do you plan to co-opt the National Religious
Party and to bring back in ministers from the National Union?
PM Sharon: I said that I am holding meetings. I
know you have been waiting here for a long time - I think it's now
three o'clock - so it won't take more than another two to three
hours. The meetings will start and I'm sure you'll be able to follow
them and faithfully report about them.
DM Ben-Eliezer: Firstly, regarding the first issues
you quoted. I did say the things reported in Ma'ariv, and that is
what I thought, and I say what I believe. Today, we are facing a
different situation in which I, as Minister of Defense, have to
respond, as you forecast, following a whole week during which we did
not respond because we want, and we wanted then, to give Zinni the
opportunity to go ahead with his mission.
The unequivocal response [from the Palestinians] - as we all saw -
was fire and then more fire that culminated in a massacre. That was
why I said no nation can accept a situation like that. That was why
we said "Enough". This resulted in the decisions that were taken.
As to your second question, I heard the report. I cannot confirm it.
What I can say is that, where Arafat is sitting is not our target and
we do not plan to go in there. As I have said, we plan to go in
anywhere, including the Mukata'a, that there is terrorist
infrastructure. I cannot comment at this stage on whether there was
or wasn't firing. I have full confidence in the IDF's commanders who
have been given clear instructions and guidelines on how to act. I
know that there is firing on IDF forces - that I know - and that it
is heavy fire. I have no answer about whether Arafat's HQ has been
hit or not.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, will General Zinni's mission
continue, along with the security and other contacts between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority?
I also have a question for the Minister of Defense, Mr. Benjamin Ben-
Eliezer. Is there a scenario that deals with the possibility of the
breakout of a regional war following the IDF's operations?
PM Sharon: No. We placed our confidence in the
arrival of General Zinni, a professional military man, who took his
mission very seriously and made an enormous effort to promote a
cease-fire and to get the Tenet process underway.
We provided him with all the assistance he required. This fact - the
assistance provided by the [Israeli] security forces for his mission
- was mentioned by every level in the United States that we had
contact with. Who caused the mission to fail were the Palestinians.
This is the case with his current mission, and was the case with
previous missions. They torpedoed the mission then, and they did it
again this time. That should be remembered. It is a pity, because we
definitely wanted to move ahead, but the only response we got was
terror, and terror alone. Terror is a part of the strategy of
terrorism and the terrorist coalition that has been established.
DM Ben-Eliezer: In answer to your question let me say
that we, as the security forces and as the Israel Defense Forces,
take all possibilities into account and are ready for them all. I do
not believe there is reason for the situation to degenerate into an
overall war. We are making every effort to focus only on targeted
infrastructures and terrorist targets, and we [continue to] explain
this fact, as we have always explained it. We are not fighting
against the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian people are not
our enemy. We are fighting terrorism and I believe that the world -
when it sees the pictures from Netanya and from Elon Moreh - is
capable of understanding that. In any event, we are doing everything
we can to prevent our actions from causing [the situation] to spiral
out of control. But, as I said, we are prepared for all