Israel’s Deputy UN Ambassador Defends Israel’s Attacks on Lebanon: “We Cannot For Sure Prove That All Of The Civilians In Southern Lebanon Were Purely Innocent”

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Ambassador Daniel Carmon refuses to respond to Amnesty International’s report on Israel deliberately targeting Lebanese civilians. “There is hardly any distinction between Hezbollah and the civilian population,” Carmon said. “This whole region was a region in which you could not make the distinction between one and the other.” Carmon also questions the war’s death toll Lebanon and refuses to confirm whether Israel used cluster bombs. [includes rush transcript]

  • Ambassador Daniel Carmon, Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Daniel Carmon, Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: Thank you very much, and thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you respond to the Amnesty report?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: Well, I’d rather not respond specifically to what I’ve heard. Amnesty International is a very respectable organization, and I’m sure they’re doing a good job, but I still feel that many things have been lacking, from what I heard. We haven’t seen the report yet and will be glad to comment later on the specifics.

But I think that we should not forget the background to all of what happened. And if we are talking about a war that has been inflicted upon Israel, something like six weeks ago, it didn’t come out of nothing. There is a whole infrastructure that was amassing during all those years. I’m talking for at least six years, of a whole region. Lebanon, as a country, southern Lebanon especially, were completely hijacked, occupied by terror, by terrorism, by a terrorist organization coming as a subcontractor for two very unrespectable states like Iran and Syria, who have decided to divert the world’s attention from their own problems by inciting Hezbollah, and Hezbollah gladly did so.

Now, we’re talking about a region — my predecessor in this program talked about distinction. We are talking about a region where there was no distinction, and quoting leaders — I would quote leaders not selectively. I would quote leader on both sides. I would quote Lebanese leaders or Lebanese officials, including the ones we meet here at the United Nations, who said and who will continue, I guess, explaining that there is hardly any distinction between Hezbollah and the civilian population. And this whole region was a region in which you could not make the distinction between one and the other.

Now, during all of those years, the whole region was filtered by these terrorist organizations with the great help of those two countries in Iran and Syria. And what we saw is a state within a state. Thousands of missiles being directed against Israel. The potential was there all the time. We warned the international community. And then, one day, 12th of July, the war erupted. It was probably an irreversible process that started. And the main obligation, the main obligation of any democracy, the main obligation of any state, is to protect its citizens, and this is exactly what Israel has been doing.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Ambassador, I understand you don’t want to respond to the direct allegations of Amnesty International in its report, but on this whole issue of distinction, areas that were hit, like the television stations, like these hospitals, like the roads, that while they may have had military use by Hezbollah, clearly they were crucial for the civilian population even to be able to get out of the area. How do you respond to the issue of these kinds of targets being hit on such a systematic basis by Israel?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: Well, we did make or we did try to make the distinction. And we also, in some way, in the way Israel acted — and I must say that Israel acted prudently and cautiously towards the civilian population, the one that you can make the distinction about, before attacking. And there is, I think — I hope there is no — we cannot argue about the right or the obligation of Israel to act in self-defense, as it did against the threat. Before attacking, Israel did ask for hours or for days before attacking — by the way, endangering the success of the attack — asked the population to leave the areas in order for itself not to be in danger. In many instances, the population did leave and left the area to — just left the terrorists — were there and were attacked. I mean, we did make the distinction that maybe it’s pretty difficult to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Carmon, the figures of fatalities. You have Lebanese, 1,183 fatalities, over 90% of them civilian, about a third of the fatalities children. You have close to a million Lebanese people displaced: 970,000. Israeli, you have 120 people killed, 30% of them civilian. How do you justify the overwhelming number of civilians, over a thousand Lebanese who were killed?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: If those figures are true and the number of civilians is as you have described, this is something that really has to be checked. And if we already have said — and this is something that is in line with what even my predecessor in this program has said, we cannot for sure prove that all the civilians in southern Lebanon were purely innocent civilian. But we cannot justify and we do not try to justify the killing of innocent civilians. And I must tell you, and I’m sure that you know the Israeli doctrine, in which deliberate killing of civilians is beyond the question. But we should go back to the background. We should go back to what was the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Without going to history, the response of the human rights community that Israel has long said it respects, not afterwards looking back, but throughout the conflict from July 12th, repeatedly said — Human Rights Watch coming out with a report also saying that Israel is guilty of war crimes for indiscriminately hitting civilians. I think the figures of numbers killed are not in dispute, particularly by Israel or Lebanon, that over a thousand Lebanese were killed, a third of them children. If we just take the kids, are you questioning that they were not innocent civilians?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: I’m not questioning, especially when we are talking about children. I was questioning the high number of civilian, or if you wanted to call them innocent civilian casualties. But I’m not sure that we should be going into this discussion. One thing is certain. Israel respects international humanitarian law. Israel does not deliberately target civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: But when you heard, through the time of the conflict, day after day, the number of civilians who were dying, when you heard the human rights groups that you say you respect, saying Israel was guilty of war crimes, what is your response? You knew at the time that the civilians were dying.

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: Well, I’m sure that we cannot ignore the fact that there was a war going on. My predecessor has talked about assessing the damage in Israel. We’re not talking about assessing damage in Israel. We had a similar situation on both sides of the border. Those two countries, Israel and Lebanon, were held for years. And I’m sorry you don’t want me to go into history. I’m not going into history. I’m going into way back, weeks and not years back. Those two countries were held practically hostages by terrorism. And when war broke, war has its prices. It’s not that —

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador, let me ask you a question. When you say held by terrorism and terrorists, in a sentence, how do you define terrorism?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: I would like maybe to make a comparison. Terrorism deliberately, deliberately targets civilians, innocent civilians, and for every Israeli civilian that is injured or killed on the Israeli side of the border, it’s a great success for Hezbollah, for Iran, for Syria, for Hamas, for the Palestinian terrorist organizations, and I think if not defining terrorism, it says it all. Answering maybe in some way to your previous question, —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me just —- let me respond to that one -—

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: — for every Lebanese innocent civilian injured or killed, we see it as a failure.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ambassador, I’d like —

AMY GOODMAN: So do you consider what happened over the last month a failure? Would you consider Israel’s bombing of Lebanon a failure?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: Not at all. What we have been trying to do, and I think with quite a great amount of success, is not to win a war. We’re not talking about a basketball game. We’re not talking about comparing casualties, which is something that I’m pretty — I must say I’m pretty annoyed by the comparison of numbers from one side to the other side. What we have been doing — and I don’t think it’s a matter of declaring a victory.

What we have been doing is changing the reality in a way that the international community, who was warned during all of those years about the danger, the great danger of what — the great danger to Lebanon and to Israel, not only to Israel, so that the international community, who had the provisions with all the UN Security Council not implemented resolutions. What we have been doing is preparing the infrastructure in a way that could bring the international community now, and I hope it is doing it now, to change the reality in a way that on our northern border we don’t have a terrorist organization that is threatening Lebanon and Israel, the citizens, the civilians, the innocent children on both sides. This is one thing.

And it has, if I may say, regional implications with anything that has to do with terrorism, the fundamental Islamic terrorism, and policy that might endanger not only northern Israel and southern Lebanon. And this is what we have been doing.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ambassador, I’d like to ask you — earlier, in your beginning remarks, you mentioned that once the war began, it was irreversible. I’d like to ask you about that, because obviously every day that the war went on, decisions had to be made as to whether it would continue or not, and eventually Israel did decide that it could accept the agreement that was reached at the United Nations for a ceasefire. So how do you say that it was irreversible once it had begun?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: It had begun with an incident, which was local in its scope, but much larger in its implications. And what happened — and I’m sure you and your listeners have not forgotten what happened. After the first reaction, the first almost natural reaction was a barrage of thousands of rockets. And I hope you do not forget the pictures on the Israeli side and do not talk only about what happened in Lebanon. A barrage of rockets, some of them long-range rockets, some of them endangering very central targets within Israel, a barrage of 3,500 rockets inflicted upon Israel against its population, against its sites. And this is what I meant when I said it was irreversible. The next stages, we all know what happened in the next stages of the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Israel’s use of cluster bombs, the cluster bombing of the civilian population of Lebanon?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: What I can tell you, that Israel abides by the principle of international law and international military law. I don’t want to go specifically into details of something that has been written in one report, respectable as it is or not. I’d rather not go into the details.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Israel hasn’t denied that it’s used cluster bombs in Lebanon. And now, after the hot conflict has begun to simmer down, you still have these bomblets on the ground that are exploding.

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: Well, I didn’t deny it either. What I was saying, that we are abiding by the international law, the military and the international humanitarian law. And I would leave it at that.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you have done this differently, given what we see today, given the damage, given the casualties? As you said, every civilian killed is a failure. You know that the figures are very high for the Lebanese civilians, whether you would dispute one number or another. What would you have done differently?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: It’s somewhat an unfair question, because it’s —- as we say, it’s to be very smart after the deed. I would go and answer with a question: what would the international community do differently if it had known that what Israel has been saying during all those years, namely that southern Lebanon has been hijacked, occupied, terrified by terrorism with a big threat to both countries, and it had the utensils in its hand? The international community had those resolutions, could implement, could try implement, and did nothing. And I would ask the international community, what would you have done differently, knowing the outcome of this threat that was inflicted upon both countries? And again -—

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador, one last question.


AMY GOODMAN: Do you think you could have accomplished this without the U.S. government’s support?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: Well, we value very much the support of our friends. May I say that the help of the U.S. government in everything is really very valuable, but I would like to add something that maybe is not known and maybe not so public. Discreetly, behind the scene, we have received the understanding, if not the support, of many in the international community who understood very well what Israel is doing, Israel not only implementing the first and foremost obligation of any democracy, which is — of any state and any democracy, which is to safeguard its security and the security of its citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Support from what country?


AMY GOODMAN: Support from what country?


AMY GOODMAN: Support from what country?

AMBASSADOR DANIEL CARMON: I don’t want to go into details, but I can assure you that in our diplomatic channels, many a country in the international community, including in our region, has expressed at least understanding, at least understanding, to what Israel was doing in its actions of self-defense, trying to bring a new reality to our northern border, to the southern border of Lebanon. And what we have to see now is how does the international community take it from there.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, the Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations from Israel, Daniel Carmon. Thanks for joining us.

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