Wearing white and trusting that God will watch over him in a war zone, the American Christian Evangelical leader Pat Robertson is visiting Israel this week to offer his support for a country whose very existence he believes is threatened by Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Arriving on Monday for a three-day visit, he has since traveled up to the northern boarder where, in spite of the warning sirens and the constant thud of rocket explosions, he televised a segment of his evangelical TV show The 700 Club, which is produced five days a week and broadcast around the world.
"We are praying for Israel during this time of crisis," he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday over coffee and tea before he left for the northern border.
"The Evangelical community is standing with this nation," said the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, who has received a number of awards recognizing his long time friendship to Israel. The strong US support for Israel in general is partially due to the Evangelical community, he told The Jerusalem Post.
Robertson added that he plans to express this support to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he meets with him on Wednesday. But in spite of the warm friendship he feels for Olmert, he will also tell him, diplomatically, that the Evangelical community is opposed to any plans to give up land and that it would be a mistake for Olmert to link his realignment plan to withdraw from areas of the West Bank with the fight against Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Was this a previously scheduled visit?
It was totally spur of the moment. I wanted to get over here before the war was over. I didn't know they [Hizbullah] were going to heat it up the way they they did in Haifa a couple of days ago.
Do you think the war is going to be over soon?
Those who would like to see Hizbullah eliminated would like to see the Israelis have the time that is necessary to finish the job.
Where do your sympathies lie?
Finishing the job.
How would you explain what is happening here within a religious framework?
It is self-defense [by Israel], which is cause for just war. Israel is the spear against what you would call the Islam-o-fascism that is threatening all of the free loving people of the western world. There is no question that Hizbullah is the proxy for the Iranians.
Is there a message from God that is being played out here? Do you put it in those terms?
The Jews are God's chosen people. Israel is a special nation that has a special place in God's heart. He will defend this nation. So Evangelical Christians stand with Israel. That is one of the reasons I am here.
Do you see the violence between Israel and Hizbullah as part of the US's struggle against Iran?
It is a struggle against Islamo-facism, which is a radical branch of Islam that is threatening democratic institutions everywhere. It is part of the struggle that we have in Iraq. The nexus of this one comes out Iran, which is ruled by a man who seems to be wild-eyed fanatic.
In the US, has evangelical support remained firmly behind Israel in the last few weeks, even with all the painful footage of the conflict from Lebanon being broadcast and even though there are many Christians who live in Lebanon?
The images that are being portrayed in the press and the United States are not deterring the Evangelicals from wholeheartedly supporting Israel.
I personally have had warm relations with the Christians in Lebanon for many years. They are our friends and brothers and sisters. It is tragic what is going on.
Lebanon was just a lovely, charming country, where they had peace between Christians and Muslims. When [Palestinian Authority head] Yasser Arafat came into the peace-loving country, he tore it all to pieces. There was a terrible civil war. It has continued to this day. The harmony that existed between the Christians and the Muslims has been tragically severed.
They (the Lebanese government) didn't deal with the PLO. They were too weak to do it. They haven't dealt with Hizbullah. They do not have an effective army. The Syrians came and abused the Lebanese terribly for a number of years.
Under the United Nations they (the Lebanese army) were suppose to come down and occupy that southern sector that Israel withdrew from. After Israel withdrew Hizbullah came into the gap. I think they persecuted the Christians. They made it difficult for them to exist. I am very familiar with the people and the situation. We ran a television station there for 18 years.
The only thing that dismays the Evangelicals is when Israel gives up territory that it should have and seems to cater to the whims of the world pressure.
What, then, of Prime Minister Olmert's convergence plan?
It's an absolute disaster. Can you imagine instead of Hamas in Gaza you would have Hamas all over the West Bank threatening Israel. Between the Kassam rockets and the Katyusha rockets and other more advanced rockets there would not be even one place in Israel that would be safe. I can not even conceive of anyone doing anything in light of what is happening today.
When you speak to the prime minister tomorrow are you going to tell him this?
I will do it in a diplomatic fashion. I just can't conceive of it, knowing the fragile nature of Israel, the lack of defensible borders... to give away that territory. I flew a helicopter along the wall and looked down. In one of the Arab villages on the West Bank you look right down to the main runway on Ben-Gurion airport, which means even a conventional mortar would interrupt any civilian air traffic from the major airport in Israel...
[Still,] Olmert has been elected as the leader of Israel. The Israelis have to be responsible for what their leaders do. It's up to them as a free society to determine the course of action of their nation. I would be surprised in light of the current military situation if the Israeli people favor convergence.
In the past you made comments that seemed to indicate that former prime minister Ariel Sharon's illness was divine retribution for his withdrawal from Gaza.
My comments frankly were distorted by the press. I was merely pointing to the Prophet Joel. In speaking for God, Joel calls this land God's land. There is a warning against those "who divide his land." I didn't say there was some judgment against Sharon. He was a friend of mine. I liked him very much. What angered people is not what I said but what was said that I said.
And if Olmert relinquishes land?
I don't think the holy God is going to be happy about someone giving up his land. But that would be between Mr. Olmert and his God. It isn't for me to say.
Ehud Olmert and I have been good friends. I got to know him when he was mayor of Jerusalem. I have been at a pro-Israel rally with him in Washington. He has been on my program on several occasions.
I made a speech to the Herzliya conference several years ago. I said, 'We stand with you but your evangelical friends make one request, please do not commit suicide.' I make the same request: I love you but please do not commit suicide...
We have been asking our audience on a daily basis to pray for Israel. We have been mobilizing support. People in at least 20 different nations around the world have been joining in prayer for Israel at this time.
Are there special prayers you are asking people to say?
Not specifically. Just, God stand with the people of Israel during this time of crisis. There are fervent prayers going up for Israel right now, all over the evangelical community all over the world.
Do you see this as the biggest crisis that Israel has faced?
Israel has had bigger crises than this one. But Israel is as vulnerable as it has ever been in its history. This is the most dangerous time in the existence of the modern state of Israel. Just take for example the new Iranian rockets missiles that are now in the arsenal of Hizbullah.
What happens if they are tipped with chemical or biological weapons and dropped into Tel Aviv?
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced his goal is to destroy Israel and to establish chaos in the world. When you have an absolute fanatic in charge of a major country that is wealthy from oil it is a very dangerous situation. Not to mention the fact that nations of the earth have not been exactly friendly to Israel. The United States is her greatest supporter. That is partly due to the fact that so many of the evangelical Christians are in the US and support this country.
You weren't scared to come here?
Because of the missiles? This is like home. We trust the Lord, my wife does and I do.
Do you trust the Lord to stand on the side of Israel?
I think he will but we can not guarantee that God is going to rescue us from our own foolishness. It would be presumptuous of me or of anyone else to say, 'God, I am going to make foolish mistakes. Please protect me from them.'
In the long run, God will look after Israel. The prophecies of the Bible will come to pass. We just need to pray that there will be wise leadership for this nation and that they will make the appropriate moves to keep this country strong.
Do you worry that we could be on the verge of some of the apocalyptic visions that are portrayed in the scriptures?
There was a prophet Ezekiel in the time of the Bible who wrote that in the last days there would be an invasion of Israel by a coalition that would include Iran, Russia, Turkey and the Sudan and Libya. God himself is going to defeat that great army that had come against his people. That is a prophecy of one of the Jewish prophets that has yet to be fulfilled. It said that it would be in the later days when Israel has been brought from the nations of the earth and are living in peace in their land.
Are we on the verge of this apocalyptic vision?
Do you think that what is happening now speaks to the fact that Israel's withdrawal from the south Lebanon buffer zone in 2000 was a mistake?
It has made it more difficult for the country. There was a great deal of public sentiment against staying in southern Lebanon. There were continuous killings. Hizbullah would plant road-side bombs and then they would go up to the hills with binoculars and watch till an Israeli convoy would come past that site. Then they would detonate the bombs.
I was there on the day or two after a terrible explosion took place just down the street from our studio. It was a particularly gruesome example of young soldiers screaming in pain after they had been blown up by a Hizbullah bomb. Israel public opinion was very strongly against staying there. But it's always a mistake to give up territory that is needed for your defense.
When Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon, Hizbullah rode tanks to the border shouting, 'On to Jerusalem.' They proclaimed that they had defeated the IDF. The Muslim world hailed it as a great triumph. It enhanced the prestige of Hizbullah dramatically.
Do you think the US should go to war against Iran?
No. I think the Iranian people favor the US. What ought to happen is some movement to cause a popular uprising against [the rulers of the] country. The people hate them. It is a repressive regime that has taken away the freedoms of those people. If the United States went to war, then that hatred would be turned against us. The vast majority of Iranians are under 30 years old and they think that America is great. So why would we go to war with them?
But the US went to war with Iraq?
If had been running the country I would have engineered a coup in Iraq that would have disposed of its leader Saddam Hussein. I would have gone to war against Hussein and not the Iraqi people. I have strong reservations against going to war in another country. But once there are troops in the field you have to support them.
But you support Israeli action in Lebanon?
It's a little bit different. Hizbullah is stronger and the Lebanese government is weak. I do hate to see this fledgling [Lebanese] democracy go down in flames [because of Hizbullah] and it is it is mortally wounded right now.