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Israel Hopes U.N. Peacekeepers Will Do Their Job


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.



And I'm Melissa Block.

There were more calls for troops for the expanded U.N. force in southern Lebanon today as some Lebanese army troops reached the border with Israel for the first time in decades. At the United Nations Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown said it was important that Europe step forward now and offer more troops. Those sentiments were echoed by President Bush today, who called on France to increase its commitment of 200 new soldiers. Coming up we'll hear from our reporter in Lebanon.

First we're going to hear from Mark Regev. He's spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. When I spoke with him earlier today, he said Israel is happy with the U.N. resolution but is waiting to see how the international force takes shape.

Mr. MARK REGEV (Israeli Foreign Ministry): Well, a lot of people in the international community were very quick to propose Security Council resolutions, to propose ideas for a cease-fire. And we got a package together which is very, very good. But ultimately it depends, also, on the international community putting - how do you say it in America? Putting their money where their mouth is? In other words, for them to actually follow through on commitments made and we're still waiting to see how that international force develops.

BLOCK: Well I know one concern that Israel has raised has to do with Malaysia and Indonesia, both of which have said they would like to contribute troops. Your government has objected to that. Why is that?


Mr. REGEV: Well, one of the considerations we put on the table is countries that don't have a relationship with us. In other words, the idea was that you'd have countries that would have good relationships with everyone involved, with both Lebanon and Israel. And about Malaysia, I mean, one of the matters that concerns us, it's just a week ago they had that summit in Kuala Lumpur and Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, gave a speech and he called for Israel to be wiped off the map. He said that's the real way to solve the Lebanon issue. And we didn't hear any of the hosts at all disassociate themselves from those extreme remarks. And so obviously, I mean, it's best if the foreign forces coming in - and we want them to come in - that they talk to all sides.

On the other hand, we Israelis tend to be frustrated because it was very easy for everyone to say yes, we support international forces and that was one of the basis for the cease-fire because if you read Resolution 1701, the international forces have a real function and we can discuss that if you like. But the idea is that everyone's very quick to say yes, we support international forces. But when it comes to delivering, then unfortunately it appears some people at least have had cold feet.

BLOCK: Well, one of those functions has to do with the disarming or the goal of disarming Hezbollah. According to the U.N., its force is not going to go into Lebanon and attempt large scale disarmament. The Lebanese government is not really talking about disarming Hezbollah. It doesn't seem that anybody actually there has the appetite to do what it is that you've been calling for them to do, which is disarm Hezbollah.

Mr. REGEV: In the first days the role of the international force, according to Resolution 1701, is very clear. It has two specific functions. One is to enforce that goal that south of the Litani River, that that's a Hezbollah-free zone. That's one of the main things they have to do.

And the other one is, the idea is to enforce the international arms embargo to make sure that weapons and equipment don't come to Hezbollah. We don't want to see them replenished with more and more Iranian rockets and Iranian missiles. Now if the international community can't follow through, I'd be very concerned.

BLOCK: Would you assume that there are Hezbollah arms that have been hidden in the south that are still waiting there?

Mr. REGEV: Correct. I would assume that.

BLOCK: So to what extent would that be a Hezbollah-free zone then?

Mr. REGEV: I think in the real world it's never perfect. There aren't perfect solutions. But you've always got to do what is the most practical. And the idea of taking the Hezbollah armed presence and pushing it north of the Litani River, that's a policy goal that I think the whole international community has already agreed that that should be done and I think that can be done.

BLOCK: I'd like to play you a bit of tape. This is an Israeli army reservist who was returning home from Lebanon and he spoke with our correspondent Eric Westervelt earlier this week. This is what he had to say.

Unidentified Man: The reason for the war was for the release of the hostages and to defeat the Hezbollah. And we didn't do this.

BLOCK: That reservist actually called the Israeli invasion a fiasco. What would you say to him?

Mr. REGEV: Well, first of all, that's a legitimate comment. But I think Mr. Olmert put it best when he said the aim of the conflict is, of course, to cripple Hezbollah. And if you look at that resolution that we've been discussing, Resolution 1701 of the Security Council, it very much does that. It forces Hezbollah out of the south and it must be remembered that up until now they had an independent state within a state in south Lebanon. It was like independent Iranian territory. So with that being now eliminated as part of the resolution, I think we have succeeded substantially in crippling Hezbollah.

As far as the hostages go, this is a real blow because we wanted them back and we wanted them back. Not today, yesterday we wanted them back. I'm hopeful that the resolution provides a platform for their expeditious release.

BLOCK: Mark Regev, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. REGEV: My pleasure.

BLOCK: Mark Regev is spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.