Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Wednesday, March 19, 2008
No nation in the world can be attacked incessantly and have its population killed and intimidated without responding. That's one of the first obligations of government is to provide security for all of its citizens," the Arizona senator told reporters while visiting the rocket-plagued southern Israeli city of Sderot.
"The Israeli government has to act in that fashion, and I understand it, but hopefully we will have a peace process that will bring all of this to an end. In the meantime, every nation has the right to defend itself against attack," he said.
McCain, who was here for just one day accompanied by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and got a birds eye view of Israel's borders during a helicopter tour with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
In Sderot, hit by hundreds of rockets during the last few years, McCain visited a home that had been struck by a Qassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, spoke with residents of the city and saw the remains of rockets at the local police station.
"The fact is that I come from a border state, and if people were rocketing my state, I think that the citizens from my state would advocate a very vigorous response," McCain told reporters.
In his meeting with Olmert, the prime minister said that he did not trust the current calm in the Gaza Strip.
"I am skeptical about what appears like a temporary calm and am doubtful about whether it will continue," Olmert said.
"Israel will not be able to continue suffering Qassam fire and the fact that hundreds of thousands of its residents are living under daily missile fire. In the end, we will stop the Qassam fire," he said.
Asked by Lieberman if there was a way to put an end to the rocket fire without conquering the Gaza Strip, Olmert answered affirmatively.
"We will stop the Kassam fire by the creation of deterrence in the South, which will make [Gaza militants] think twice before they shoot again," he said.
McCain is one of a number of dignitaries visiting Israel this week. Israeli officials appear to be taking every opportunity to warn of military action against the Gaza Strip not just for the sake of halting rocket fire but also preventing the military build-up there.
In McCain's meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, she told the Arizona senator that a change in Gaza was "essential."
"Since your last visit the conditions in Gaza have deteriorated. Iranian armaments are smuggled into the Gaza strip, rocket range has increased, and many additional civilians are now exposed to threats," Livni told the senators.
Livni said that Israel would insist on three things: a halt to rocket fire, termination of weapons build-up and the "prevention of the consolidation of extreme Islamic rule" on Israel's southern border.
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