August 11, 2006
Ignatieff explains wait to weigh in on Mideast
Opinion better late than never, Dion says
LINDA DIEBEL, STAFF REPORTER
Liberal leadership contender Bob Rae yesterday criticized rival Michael Ignatieff for waiting for his return from a European vacation to call for a ceasefire in the Mideast crisis.
“It’s interesting that Michael has waited until this point to make his position clear,” said Rae, former NDP premier of Ontario. “The debate has been going on in Canada for the past two-and-a-half weeks. There have been a number of calls, both in Canada nationally and internationally, for a concerted effort to create a ceasefire.
“I hadn’t heard from him at all until (yesterday).”
Yesterday, Ignatieff said he waited to express his opinion in a Toronto newspaper because the situation has only recently reached a point where “catastrophic” violence appears imminent.
“I’ve been following it minutely from the beginning and watching it unfold and figuring out when was the time when a statement would be important and relevant,” said the MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
Several top leadership contenders called for a ceasefire in the early days of the war, which began in mid-July, including Rae and Montreal MP Stéphane Dion, a former federal minister. Of the 11 contenders, all except Ignatieff agreed last week to be interviewed by the Toronto Star on the Mideast.
Better late than never, said Dion.
“Well, it’s what our (interim) leader (Bill Graham) requested and most candidates are in agreement,” Dion said last night. “Now that we have another candidate weighing in with the same view — after the others but, anyway, coming in — is positive … He’s following me.”
Ignatieff said it would have been too early to push for a ceasefire last week because “it was very important for Israel to send Hezbollah a very clear message” that kidnapping soldiers and firing rockets on Israel will not be tolerated.
“A ceasefire on the Israeli side becomes logical for Israel when it has achieved its military objectives and when it reaches the point of diminishing returns, and that is the point we’ve reached now,” he explained.
He was asked if a turning point came when Israel bombed the Lebanese village of Qana on Sunday, with 54 civilian deaths, 37 of them children.
“It wasn’t Qana,” replied Ignatieff, formerly head of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. “Qana was, frankly, inevitable, in a situation in which you have rocket-launchers within 100 yards of a civilian population. This is the nature of the war that’s going on.
“This is the kind of dirty war you’re in when you have to do this and I’m not losing sleep about that.”
Now, however, the combatants are on the verge of tripping “escalation thresholds” and creating extreme danger.
“The longer this goes on, the greater the risk of regional conflict drawing in Iran and Syria,” Ignatieff said. “At this point, there has to be a diminishing set of returns in Israel’s legitimate pursuit of security.”
Without a ceasefire, he said, “the chief concern I have is the possibility that Hezbollah may be tempted or green-lighted by Iran or Syria to use long-range weapons against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and that would be catastrophic … an all-around disaster.”
Canada must “stand up and say that loud and clear.”
He said “we are in a race against time.”
He supports an international force for the Lebanese border, without Canadian ground troops, however.
“I think Mr. Ignatieff is much too quick to take the view of Ottawa that because we’ve got all our troops in Afghanistan, there’s no possibility of any other commitments being made,” said Rae, who argues that when Canadian troops were approved for Afghanistan, the commitment was made that Canada would have resources for other missions, if necessary.