“I think it’s important that we not fall into the trap of moral equivalency here,” Ambassador John Bolton told CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.”
“What Hezbollah has done is kidnap Israeli soldiers and rain rockets and mortar shells on innocent Israeli civilians. What Israel has done in response is act in self-defense. And I don’t quite know what the argument about proportionate force means here. Is Israel entitled only to kidnap two Hezbollah operatives and fire a couple of rockets aimlessly into Lebanon?
“The situation is that Israel has lived under the terrorist threat of Hezbollah for years, and these most recent attacks have given it the legitimate right, the same right America would have if we were attacked, to deal with the problem. And that’s what they’re doing.”
The fighting began July 12, when Hezbollah fighters killed three Israeli soldiers and abducted two others in northern Israel.
Since then, Israeli warplanes have bombed Lebanese towns and villages deemed Hezbollah strongholds and its forces have moved into Lebanese territory in what Israel has called temporary incursions intended to push Hezbollah fighters far enough from the border so they cannot threaten Israel.
In doing so, Israeli forces have killed at least 271 people and wounded at least 711, according to officials with the Lebanese security forces.
The United States has taken note and responded accordingly, Bolton said. “We have urged the government of Israel to exercise the utmost care in the conduct of its military operations, to avoid innocent Lebanese civilians, and to avoid damage to the democratic government of Lebanon, and I think Israel, being a responsible democratic state itself, is trying to carry that out.”
Hezbollah attacks have killed seven Israeli civilians and 20 soldiers and wounded more than 300 civilians and more than 60 soldiers, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Bolton bristled at last week’s suggestion from Louise Arbour, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, that Israeli leaders could be charged with war crimes.
“You know, in America, prosecutors are not supposed to threaten people in public based on press reports,” said Bolton, a graduate of Yale Law School. “I would just say as one lawyer to another, that — to Mrs. Arbour, that she should consider her professional ethics and responsibilities very carefully here before threatening criminal charges based on press accounts.”
And Bolton gave little weight to Saturday’s comment from the British minister of state, Kim Howells, critical of Israel’s attacks on Lebanon.
“These have not been surgical strikes, and it’s very, very difficult, I think, to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used,” Howells said. “You know, if they’re chasing Hezbollah, you go for Hezbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation, and that’s the difference.”
Asked whether the remark represents a rift between the Bush administration and the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bolton said, “I don’t think so.”
Bolton said Bush has spoken several times with Blair about the matter, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been in touch with her British counterpart.
“So, there may be individual comments here and there. That even happens in the American government from time to time. But I think we’re working very closely with the United Kingdom on this matter.”
Rice is preparing to travel to the region for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. She also plans to attend an international conference in Rome, Italy, on crafting a peace agreement and shoring up Lebanon’s government.
She did not plan to meet with Hezbollah or with Syrian leaders