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Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israel Embassy in D.C., Jeremy Isaacharoff, on the Gaza operation and Iran’s influence in it.

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HH: Jeremy Isaacharoff is the Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission to the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. He joins us now. Minister Isaacharoff, welcome to the program, and thank you for your time today.

JI: Hi, good evening. Thank you.

HH: Earlier today, I read in Ha’aretz that three rockets came into Israel from the north. What is the reaction of the government to this? And do you think Hezbollah is joining the fray?

JI: Well, the initial information that we’ve received is basically that two…there were four rockets actually launched. Two hit in Nahariya, a northern town in Israel, and there were a few people injured. We immediately returned artillery fire back to the source of the rocket where it was launched. This in our initial estimation was fired by radical Palestinian elements in the south of Lebanon, but we, our assessment is that nothing really happens in South Lebanon without Hezbollah allowing it to happen. So from our point of view, we’re watching it very closely. In fact, we’ve been watching this area very closely over the last few weeks and months, and especially since this situation has developed in Gaza. So we’re still being very careful about what’s going on in the north.

HH: How closely do you believe Iran is influencing Hamas actions in Gaza?

JI: Well look, first of all, Iran is clearly, has been financing, supplying weaponry…the rockets, the longer range rockets that Hamas has, the Grad rockets of 20 kilometers, and they improved Grad which gives the Hamas a reach of 40 kilometers into Israel, into the second biggest ports in Israel of Ashdod. These rockets have been supplied by Iran. Iran has financed Hamas, it has provided training, cutting edge training to Hamas operatives. So from that point of view, as in Lebanon, where Iran supports it through Hezbollah, as in Iraq where Iran has supported the insurgency and in Afghanistan, Iran is true to its colors and has supported Hamas as well.

HH: Have you been able to detect any attempt by Iran to resupply or provide strategic direction to Hamas since the initiative began 13 days ago in Gaza?

JI: As yet, I would imagine, I would imagine that they would be making efforts in that regard. But I don’t know beyond that.

HH: How much damage has the IDF inflicted on Hamas in Gaza?

JI: Look, the first and most principal two objectives of this operation, and as you know, we resorted to this operation after a six month calming down period that didn’t have to end, and in which the rate of rockets had gone down. We initiated this operation with two principal objectives – to damage to the greatest extent possible the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas in a general sense, and in particular, number two, to target their capability of launching rockets and mortars against Israel. So that is the, those are the key elements of our objectives. And these are the things that we’ve pursued in the initial phase of the war, in the air phase of the war, and also in the ground phase of the war which is happening now.

HH: Minister Isaacharoff, at this hour, the Guardian in the UK is reporting, and Drudge has picked up a headline, “Obama camp prepared to talk to Hamas – Incoming administration will abandon Bush’s isolation of Islamist group to initiate low level diplomacy, say transition sources.” Your reaction?

JI: Well, I would personally, I can’t speak for anyone else other than Israel and myself. I would approach that report with a great deal of caution. You know, people have come and said, and they throw out the idea to Israel, well why don’t you talk to Hamas? The simple reason is that we are talking to the Palestinians. We’re talking to the legitimate Palestinian Authority under Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad in the West Bank. They, the Fatah forces were kicked out by Hamas in the summer of 2007. From that point of view, we have made the choice of who we want to talk to. Now if one would approach and engage Hamas, essentially you’d be totally under…apart from the fact that they have remained a terrorist organization by their own definition, it would undermine the Palestinian moderate camp. And I think that these considerations that would be important for us would also be important for any American administration, so I would treat that report with a great deal of caution.

HH: I’m speaking with Jeremy Isaacharoff. He’s the Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. So Minister Isaacharoff, today Time Magazine has a report by Tim McGirk, I don’t know if you’ve seen it. Have you had a chance to read it yet, Minister?

JI: I wish (laughing)

HH: Well, it is…

JI: I wish I’ve had the chance of sitting down and reading anything, paper…

HH: No, I don’t think you would. This would make you ill. Along with the standard anti-Israel canards, there is this wonderful line. “The application of force won’t extinguish the militants’ ideological fervor.” And that raises the question, what is the long run strategy vis-à-vis Hamas?

JI: Well, you know, it might not extinguish the ideological fervor, but what we’re trying to do is to extinguish their capability to take that ideological fervor and launch rockets against Israeli civilians in such an indiscriminate manner as they’ve done over the last eight years. And we think that if we can severely curtail their capabilities in that regard, we can also have an impact on their intentions. As we started this conversation, one thing is very clear. Beyond the issue of the firing of the rockets in the north and Hezbollah, what it did or didn’t know, Hezbollah in my opinion is not running to get involved in this. They know what happens in such situations, and that also shows that you can affect these organizations’ behavior even though they are extreme, they’re ideological, and they’re often in our terms, very illogical.

HH: What are you communicating to the government of the United States about Iran and its nuclear program? What is the understanding of Israel about how close Iran is to having nuclear capability?

JI: I think of all the things that are concentrating the mind of moderate Arabs in the area, of Israelis, and of something that becomes a real regional game changer is the issue of Iran acquiring a nuclear capability. There is no stronger supporter of states, no stronger state sponsor of state terrorism than Iran. And to have that joined with a nuclear capability is the defining threat of the Middle East. The phase of the nuclear program is moving on very fast, and that there’s not a lot of time left to stop this program and reverse it. And this is going to be a very critical year in being able to produce enough nuclear materials, and also move much closer to being able to weaponize and possess a nuclear weapons capability.

HH: Turning back…

JI: That is the message. It’s an imminent threat, it’s an urgent threat, and one that needs immediate action.

HH: Turning back to Gaza in our last two minutes, Minister Isaacharoff, how long, what is the minimum amount of time you expect this operation to continue?

JI: I…look, it’s very difficult to give timelines. Look, in terms of the operation, the operation could be scaled significantly providing the Hamas stop firing on Israeli citizens. And so far, we’ve seen is at the beginning of this operation, they were firing 80 rockets or mortars a day. The last few days, it was something down to around 30 rockets day. In the last day or so, we’ve seen it go down every more, to maybe 10 to 20 rockets. So we’re still following that rate of attrition closely. From our point of view, we didn’t want this whole episode to come, to develop. Now it has. We have to deal with it, and I can’t give you a timeline, but we want to make sure that we do the job that we set out to, and that’s to safeguard and give the Israeli citizens of the south of Israel the security that any citizen in the world deserves.

HH: Last question, Minister Isaacharoff. Are elements within Fatah helping the IDF extinguish the Hamas threat?

JI: Look, we’re doing what we’re doing. That’s what we’re doing. That’s nothing to do with anyone else. We’re not doing it for anyone else. We are acting vis-à-vis this organization in our own way. What the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian security forces do in the West Bank, you know, is a whole different story. That is something that they do. And while they may not be contradictory either to the Palestinian Authority’s interests or our interests, they go on their own volition, and we work on our own interests as well.

HH: Minister Isaacharoff, thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to speaking to you again as the conflict goes forward.

End of interview.

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