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Interview with Ambassador Martin Indyk - 2002-01-11

Jan. 9, 2002

MR. BORGIDA: Well, here now to discuss the Middle East and how the continuing difficulty there impacts on the war on terrorism, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. Ambassador Indyk joins us, as you see there, from Washington's Brookings Institution, where he is a Senior Fellow. Thanks so much, Ambassador Indyk, for joining us.

AMBASSADOR INDYK: Good to be with you, David.

MR. BORGIDA: You presumably heard what we were talking about leading into this story, and so we'll use that as a launching pad to discuss this issue. Obviously this story about the alleged connection to Iran and the arms going to the Palestinian Authority is troubling for many, many reasons. Do you want to just give us your take on that, and then we'll move on?

AMBASSADOR INDYK: Sure. Maybe we could start with the Iranian dimension to this. This should not come as a big surprise. Since the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon back in 2000, the Iranians have been pushing very aggressively in the context of the Palestinian Intifada to try to build a foothold in the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza. We saw this through Hezbollah activities not only for the first time on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza but also through a determined effort by the Iranians to put together a kind of coalition involving Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Hezbollah.

One dimension of this was smuggling of arms. And there was an earlier incident in which the Israelis intercepted another ship carrying arms from Lebanon that was a Hezbollah operation to get arms into the territories. This comes in the context of a broader alliance that has been going on within the Intifada between the Islamic fundamentalist groups, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Fatah, the main political organization of Chairman Yasser Arafat.

So it's in that context which this kind of thing is going on. The Iranians have been pushing very hard, very aggressively, through Islamic Jihad, which has been responsible for many of the terrorist acts, and now through this arms shipment. I think the basic purpose is for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian intelligence service to try to stir up the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians so as to improve their position of influence in the West Bank and Gaza.

MR. BORGIDA: Ambassador Indyk, thanks for your take on that. Let's talk about how the Middle East situation, in the next few minutes we have, bears upon the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan. What is your view of that? How much more does this difficulty, continuing difficulty in the Middle East, make the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and the search for others around the world more difficult?

AMBASSADOR INDYK: Well, it does to some extent, but I think two things have revealed themselves in the period since September the 11th, or particularly since October, when we started military activities in Afghanistan. The first is that the events of September the 11th have given, I think, both Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Sharon an incentive to try to stop the violence and terrorism. And Yasser Arafat, you saw in his declaration a few weeks ago, in his call for a cease-fire, an indication that he understands, post-September the 11th, that he can't afford to be on the wrong side of the terrorism issue. He can't afford to be seen to be harboring terrorists.

And the number of terrorist incidents that took place just made that decision all the more important for him to take. Under a lot of international pressure, he did it, and things have calmed down in the last few weeks. And Sharon had started to respond to that by easing up the pressure on the Palestinians.

The second point is that even though a lot was made of the connection between the Palestinians and Osama bin Laden, particularly Osama bin Laden claiming he was doing this for the Palestinians, the Palestinian leadership was quick to stand up and say: "He's not part of us. We are not associated with this. And we don't want him as a kind of Johnny-come-lately," or Osama-come-lately as I would call him, "to imagine that he is somehow representing us. He has never fought for us before and he is not doing it now."

MR. BORGIDA: Ambassador Indyk, thanks so much for your time over there at the Brookings Institution. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, at the Brookings Institution in Washington.