Introduction: Hamas managed to pull off a surprise attack on Israel, leading to many casualties and political consequences. What does this mean for Israel's domestic debate? For the rapprochement with Saudi Arabia? For the Palestinian Authority? Will it lead to fundamental changes in Israel's security establishment? Will Hamas survive? How will Hezbollah respond? And what about Israel's Muslim citizens?
To make sense of this complex, fast-moving scene, the Middle East Forum hosted a roundtable discussion for a full hour on Monday. Participants include Daniel Pipes, MEF's president; Jonathan Spyer, the director of research; and Nave Dromi, the director of MEF-Israel. Gregg Roman, MEF's director, moderated.
Gregg: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Gregg Roman and I'm director of the Middle East Forum. Today we'll be joined by MEF president Daniel Pipes, and MEF's research director Jonathan Spyer, perhaps adding other guests from Israel depending on their availability, considering the events on the ground. The topic of our discussion today will be a one-hour special webinar as it relates to the Israel-Hamas war, starting with 48 hours ago the most massive invasion of Israeli civilian communities since 1948, then over the last 48 hours, Israel's response. First, to discuss Hamas and the wider implications of its work as it relates to the MEF's Israel Victory Project (IVP), Daniel Pipes will present. Daniel.
Daniel: Thank you, Gregg. Saturday's massacre has been a long time in the making. Its origins go back to 1987 with the beginning of Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization based in Egypt. Hamas formed a charter a year later, 1988, in which it declared its intent to obliterate Israel. Islam will obliterate Israel. It's not particularly Palestinian in orientation, it's more Islamic. Islamist.
Hamas grew in influence and power over the years, and the key next event was in 2005 when the Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, decided to withdraw unilaterally every Israeli troops and civilian from Gaza. This was unexpected, because he had run on a platform where he rejected that approach, but then for unknown reasons to this day, he changed his mind, and every Israeli troop and civilian was withdrawn in 2005. Two years later, Hamas pushed aside the Palestinian Authority and became the ruler, violently pushed aside and became rulers of Gaza.
Since that time, from 2007 until today, Hamas has at its discretion, at its whim, decided to attack Israel in various ways, be it rockets, missiles, kites, balloons, condoms with incendiary devices attached, it built tunnels, it tried to go by sea, you name it, everything. Generally it had some success. It killed some Israelis. The Israelis pummeled Gaza and the Hamas infrastructure in response, and things went on for 16 years. The Israeli approach has been called mowing the lawn, namely, every so often the Israelis go in, take care of business in Gaza, and hope that there'll be a peace for a while, not expecting it will be too long, but for a while.
And this was the general approach. In other words, it was management of the problem, not solving it, not dealing with it in any kind of fundamental way, but managing it. The Israeli security establishment felt that this was the best it could do, particularly as Hezbollah presents greater threats on the northern border and Iran, a far greater threat at a distance. Hamas was seen as the least of these dangers, and could be contained.
More than that, the Israeli security establishment had decided that Hamas, like the Palestinian Authority, although despicable and an enemy, was nonetheless the devil it knew, and could be worked with. And so the Israeli security establishment urged and succeeded in getting the government, whether it be Olmert or Netanyahu or the other temporary prime ministers, to accept funding of Hamas from abroad, especially from Qatar. And so the general view was that things are under control, this is manageable. A certain number of Gazans, the number grew over the years to reaching about 20,000, would work in Israel, and the Hamas approach was to go easy, go quiet, because it wanted to maintain a certain equanimity and economic stability and wouldn't make trouble.
All this forgot that Hamas is an Islamist organization with jihad in its mind and the obliteration of Israel as its goal. I have to admit, I certainly wasn't expecting what happened on Saturday, but in the larger sense it was inevitable, just as the 100 and who knows, 150,000 rockets and missiles that Hezbollah has. Well, inevitably some portion of them will fall on Israel. These organizations exist to fight and destroy Israel.
In response, our approach has been for decades now that Israel should not manage its Palestinian problem. It should win over its Palestinian enemies. It should defeat its Palestinian enemies. And towards this end, we have been arguing that management is foolhardy, it's just not working, and that instead the Israeli to fix the problem, to defeat the enemies of Israel. Now, the good news is that the Arab states have basically left the military battlefield, with only two exceptions in the past 50 years being in Syria, 1982, and Iraq in 1991, have the Arab states attacked Israel. The Arab states are gone. Iran is in, Turkey's in to some extent, and the Palestinians are completely in. The Palestinians are far more defeatable enemy than the Arab states, you would think. But no, the Israelis have been unable to impose their will.
The tragedy that has just taken place is at the same time an opportunity for Israel to recalibrate. From what we can tell in the last couple of days, there has been an anger at the security establishment for its inept assumption that it knows what's going on and it can handle it. And there is, from what we can tell, at least at a distance, there is an urgency to do something different, to deal with the problem, to destroy Hamas. Now, this is not going to be easy. Hamas is well entrenched. It has tunnels, it has people, it has institutions, it has international support, it has hostages. It's going to be difficult. But for the first time in decades, there's a sense in Israel that something has fundamentally gone wrong and something fundamentally has to change. And we at the Middle East Forum are pursuing Israel victory, are doing everything we can to build on this new sense of urgency and ambition that simply was not there in years and even decades. I'll stop there and hand it back to Gregg.
Gregg: Thank you very much, Daniel. We are now joined by major in the reserves in Home Front Command in the Israel Defense Forces, as well as MEF's Knesset, Israel liaison, Major Alex Selsky, who will give us an update from what's going on on the ground. Now, Alex is currently on duty, so he's joining us from his car, but his analysis will be no less prescient as it usually is when he's reporting from his office. Alex?
Alex: Yes, Gregg, thank you. Good evening to everyone. I'm next to Jerusalem, and I'm next to a Israeli channel, one of the biggest Israeli channels, because I'm going inside after this webinar to what I do, I brief the civilians how to defend themselves from the terror, from the rockets. Well, we have a war, and I think that as we see the numbers of the murder grow, and we already see that they reached 900. Now, I cannot even express how big this number is for Israelis. Just remember that the whole Yom Kippur war, about 2,200 people were killed, and these were primarily soldiers. Here we have about 300 out of those 900 are young people that were on a peace party in a forest dancing, and the terrorists just slaughtered them.
And I know a family that received just a few hours ago, my colleague from the army, they received information that her nephew was just slaughtered in front of the eyes of their friends. A few kibbutzes were just occupied and slaughtered. Be'eri, Re'im, parts of [inaudible 00:10:11] It's something that we cannot understand how it happened. It's definitely a very big failure on a tactical level, and definitely on a conceptual level. And we in IVP spoke about the threat of Hamas for many years, trying to push and explain that these threats will grow to an extent that it must be neutralized. We spoke about the disarmament of Hamas. If then this policy would have been implemented, I think this strategy wouldn't have been happening now, but now we must go to the next stage and defeat Hamas and eliminate it.
At the moment we have the situation that still in some of the communities around the Gaza, we have terrorists that are inside the communities, apparently those the terrorists that entered then on Saturday, and stayed on the ground within the forest, in order to later attack again the cities. And that's what's happening at the moment. We have three small cities where all the people are instructed to sit in the shelter, all the time to stay in the shelter, without leaving these shelters. And these people sit there from Saturday. Some of them cannot even go out to buy food for themselves or for the babies, and in some of the areas of these three cities I'm talking about now at the moment, it's Ashkelon, Netivot, and Sderot. The same situation was in Ofakim until yesterday, but in Ofakim, IDF and the police reached control, and it was released.
All the rest of the southern and central area, let's say from be Beer Sheva to even Netanya, are now instructed to be next to the shelters, not to move, to be next to the shelters, to be able within the time that they have in their area in the moment of a siren to get in. All the rest of the area of Israel, up north and down to the Negev, are preparing to any change and any attack on them. Definitely the north, as you definitely know, Hezbollah already made few attacks, not only by rockets, but also some terrorists entered the Israeli area and few small communities next to the border, within the two kilometers from the border, entered few little communities, and IDF neutralized them, but we had losses. And everybody understands that this war will expand to the north.
Now, Israel now, the IDF is striking Gaza very hard, and there is a significant change in the tactics. Israel, I think for maybe even first time that I can recall from the previous operations, stopped supplies not only of the fuel, but also of electricity. And we spoke about also cutting the water, and I didn't say that, but I'm sure you know that there are 130 hostages captured alive. We don't know who is alive and who is dead, but the majority of them are alive in Gaza, including children and including the elderly. So, now there is a huge siege, and we in Middle East Forum and Israel Victory Project do everything to deliver the message of, not even a hard message, not only from Israel but also from Egypt, to defeat Hamas, to bring them on their knees. It must be done.
I think that if we speak about the civilians, it might be the biggest loss of Jewish innocent lives since the Holocaust. Think of it. Think of it, in one day. We are in the moment where we understand now, it's not about another operation, it's about war, which we must win and defeat Hamas, because it's either us or them. If we don't do it now, all our enemies from the north and the further north will understand that they can defeat us. So, it's either us or them. We must defeat Hamas and deter all the others. Thank you.
Gregg: Thank you, Alex, for that hard but heartfelt presentation. And I think it goes for all of us that we are with you, and we will do everything that we can at the Forum to support the destruction of Hamas so that Israel can live a safer, better day.
This is Nave Dromi, MEFs Israel director, who has also been on the airwaves for the past 48 hours, and she'll share two or three minutes about a personal story that's affected an employee of the Middle East Forum, and how close to home this has really felt.
Nave: Yes. I mean Alex and I, the entire . . . since everything began, we are going from one studio to another, to a radio station, to deliver a message. And we have a colleague, Ashley Perry, everyone in MEF knows him, and he is not with us now because his nephew got killed in one of the battles in the first day of the war. His name was Roey Weiser. Just to let you know, I don't know what to tell, what to not tell, I don't want to somehow affect Ashley's family and say something. But it seems like everyone in Israel, each one of us, Alex, I, we all know someone who got killed in this war. And Alex described what's going on and the chaos and the loss, but I want to try and give you something optimistic.
Today I had a chance to speak with Air Force pilots, and they told me everything changed. This is not the same things that we did before. Before, we used to use a different, we call it a tool, an IDF tool, they used to strike one time with a little rocket to sign to the residence of the building to escape from the building. So they're saying that this time, everything is different. They have less limitation. The borders are not so thick as before, and the Air Force have more permission to work in Gaza. Things have changed. It's not the same. And when you speak with them, they always use the word victory in different language, and it's something that you can see from everyone, from the public, from the IDF people, from the politicians. Everyone finally says the word victory.
Gregg: We're going to get to the regional implications now, and we'll get Jonathan, and then we'll open up the webinar. We've made this an hour today rather than our usual half-hour presentation, so we can really get to what everyone would like to discuss. So without further ado, Nave, I ask you to stay on the line with us, but we now have Jonathan Spyer, MEF's research director, who has visited countries where Iranian militias are active. You've been in Syria, you've fought in Lebanon, you've been in Iraq. Jonathan, what's the regional aspect and takeaway from all of this?
Jonathan: Yes. Well, thank you, Gregg. And let me start then by considering the Iranian angle, and then I'll go on to look at a couple of other countries and contexts, which I think are useful here. With regard to Iran, it's important a bit of background is needed, because the relationship between Hamas and Iran is not simple, and needs I think to be understood properly, in the sense that Hamas does not belong to that group of organizations that we can call simply franchises of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, that's to say, organizations that Iran created, dominates, has established control of from the beginning. Lebanese Hezbollah belongs to that group, the Iraqi Shia militias belong to that group, but Hamas does not.
So, I think we need to first of all take a quick look at the background to that relationship to understand where we're at here. Hamas' relationship with Iran really begins in the early 1990s, when 400 Hamas leaders were expelled to Southern Lebanon and established acquaintance with and then friendship and closeness with Lebanese Hezbollah. But it's interesting to note that that relationship, which flourished for the subsequent two decades really following that, received a very severe blow just a decade ago, because Hamas, reflecting its roots as a Muslim Brotherhood Islamist organization, supported the Sunni Islamist uprising in Syria, and as a result, the relationship was very severely damaged. Hamas has been trying over the last now-half decade, since the civil war in Syria effectively ended, to find its way back to Iran.
And the indications are that it indeed, over the last year or two, has succeeded in doing so. We've seen over the last year Iran-associated leaders in Hamas coming to the fore, most importantly Yahya Sinwar, who is the leader of Hamas in Gaza now, and equally importantly a man called Saleh al-Arouri, who is effectively the coordinator of Hamas' international relationships now, not only with Iran, but also with Iran, it is a very closely Iran-associated figure, such that we are able to say that at the outbreak of this war in late 2023, Hamas once again does have the status, having lost it, has regained the status of a fully-fledged member of the Iran-led regional alliance.
Now, what does that mean in terms of the practice of this war? And this is something worth noting and focusing on. I think everybody listening here is familiar with the Wall Street Journal's latest reporting from yesterday, where the Journal appeared to present proof or the claim that Iran had specifically ordered this, and was in control of this operation. Whether or not the evidence so far presented by the Journal is sufficient to close that discussion, I think is still a matter of opinion.
But what we can say is the following. Whether or not the Iranians ordered this war to be launched, and whether or not the Iranians or Iranian personnel are micromanaging the war, in a certain sense it's immaterial or it's secondary, because it is a fact that can be studied plainly that the Hamas military capacity, Hamas' military abilities, Hamas' ability to produce weaponry, the weaponry that Hamas possesses, are all the result of the relationship with Islamic Republic of Iran. Hamas has no other military backer. It has economic backers; it has diplomatic friends. The only country that provides Hamas with a military capacity is Islamic Republic of Iran, such that it is impossible to imagine what we're now experiencing taking place were it not for the core relationship between Islamic Republic of Iran and Hamas. It may well be that there's a deeper relationship than that. The Iranians may have ordered this. We don't know yet, I don't think. We do know this is an ally of Iran, and therefore its abilities are dependent on that Iranian support.
Thus far with regard to Iran, except to say the following, Alex mentioned this. There are already indications that the northern front is heating up, and he mentioned, and let me just talk in a little bit more detail about what happened this afternoon from Lebanon. We know that there has been rocket launches already yesterday, but this afternoon a group of four armed operatives crossed the border seeking to engage in a terrorist act of one kind or another, and were neutralized. Three of them were killed, and the fourth managed to make his way back across to Lebanon. And the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization have now claimed responsibility for this.
A couple of points on this. Gregg mentioned that I've spent time in Lebanon. That's correct. Also as a soldier, but that's less important. Also as a journalist, I've made my way through Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon, south of the Litani, through the villages, through the towns. And I can say as an eyewitness, and also as an analyst, nothing moves south of the Litani without Lebanese Hezbollah's permission, and therefore probably Iran's permission too. So, the fact that Islamic Jihad crossed the border isn't because Islamic Jihad had the notion of helping out their friends in Hamas, it's because they received permission and/or instructions from Hezbollah and therefore the IRGC to do so. So, it means that this is a very strong indication that the Iran-led regional alliance wants to heat this thing up, encouraged by what they regard, of course, as the great success of the slaughter of a large number of Israeli civilians, and indeed some military personnel yesterday and day before as well. They appear to want to heat this thing up.
Whether this was all part of some pre-arranged plan, or whether they're responding to a developing reality, we don't know. But I do not believe, it is my considered opinion as an analyst, that I do not believe that Palestinian Islamic Jihad could possibly have launched anything from southern Lebanon without the permission of their Hezbollah hosts and their Iranian masters. So, this is a very, very important point to bear in mind. This thing is broadening out. The Iran-led regional alliance is at the center of this.
That was the main point I wanted to say. Just a couple of points about other regional countries which are connected to Hamas in different ways. Turkey, of course, has been a major host of Hamas's office in Istanbul from where, we are aware, the 2014 abductions of three Israeli kids that led to the Gaza operation in 2014 were planned. Israel has since last year restored full diplomatic relations with Turkey. It remains a fact that the Istanbul office is still in operation. It remains a fact that Saleh al-Arouri, the key operative I mentioned, who basically handles Hamas' international relations, no longer lives in Turkey. He was expelled as part of the process of restoration of diplomatic relations. But Saleh al-Arouri still travels freely, backwards and forwards, into Turkey and out of Turkey. There are no indications of a breaking of the strategic connection between Turkey and Hamas.
Arguably the relationship between AKP government in Turkey and Hamas, isn't in some ways deeper than that of Hamas and Iran, in the sense that these two movements, AKP and Hamas, have more in common with one another than either of them do with the Shia Islamists in Tehran. They are very much birds of a feather. They go back as branches to the tree of the Muslim Brotherhood, if I can put it that way. And the fact that Turkey has been offering itself as a potential mediator over the last 24 hours should not be taken with a great deal of seriousness.
And just lastly, in a couple of sentences, Qatar, just to say once again we've seen that Qatar, according to media reports, has been offering itself as a mediator on the issue of hostages taken by Hamas over the last 48 hours. And once again, we should bear in mind the fact that Qatar is a country which has formed a strange kind of strategic alliance with Muslim Brotherhood forces across the region over the last decade as a way to, I would say, increase its own power projection. The Hamas leadership, political leadership, is resident in Doha. We've received reports that Ismail Haniyeh, former prime minister of Hamas authority in Gaza, from his house in Doha, that was following developments in real time over the last two days. So, we should not be any illusions that Qatar remains also in many ways a partner of Hamas, if a different partner with different objectives and a different modus operandi than Islamic Republic of Iran.
My time is probably up, so I'll leave it there. I was going to talk about the upside in terms of Israel's friends in the region and how they've responded, but I'm happy to get into that in questions and answers if people would like to. I wanted mainly to focus on Iran, and I hope that's helped the picture to be a little bit clearer for people.
Gregg: Jonathan, I think that we may need a little bit of an upside, so I'm going to take the moderator's privilege and ask you to expand upon that.
Jonathan: Well, it's not too much of an upside, let's not get too exciting, but it's notable that the United Arab Emirates, for example, has been on the record as condemning the taking of civilian hostages, and this is small of course, but it's something which would've been hard to imagine even in previous conflicts between Israel and Hamas. So, this does represent the fact that there is a different mood in at least parts of the Arab world. We hope very much of course that this latest war does not prevent the continued advance of Israel-Arab diplomacy, which has been encouraging over the last few years. So, we'll need to watch that front also very carefully.
Gregg: Okay. Thank you, Jonathan. The first question that we have comes from an anonymous attendee, but they would like to know... And I ask that our panelists keep their answers short. We have over 30 questions, so we're going to try to get through these 30 questions in 30 minutes, and there might be more questions as follow-up. But I'm going to direct this to Daniel Pipes. The question, Daniel, is will the nations of the world allow Israel to do what it needs to do to defeat Hamas?
Daniel: The Western democracies are unequivocally and eloquently saying, "We stand with Israel, we will do what we can to help Israel." That's a great start. What will it mean when the Israelis start or continue and increase their war against Hamas? I don't know. I'm skeptical that that support will remain as strong as it is. At the same time, we're seeing things we haven't seen before. For example, our writing fellow, Michel Gurfinkiel, reports from France that Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Rally, has come out for Israel in a way that she and her father have never done before. He has a sense that something has really changed in French politics. It's a little bit early to predict. I'm skeptical that this solidarity we're seeing today will be seen in a month, but maybe I'll be wrong.
Gregg: Thank you, Daniel. And this question goes to Jonathan from Larry Greenberg, and also I think Daniel might be able to answer this. Is one of the main impediments to Israel's failure to at least at this point defeat Hamas the United States, which does not wish to rile the Muslim world?
Jonathan: My sense is that there is an element with this. I mean, I would say specifically with regard to Iran, it's a fact that this administration has a very particular policy regarding Iran, that it wants to not bother Iran. It wants Iran not to bother it. It wants to try to meet Iran halfway, and to get [inaudible 00:31:34] silence as a result. In a certain way, that policy is a little bit like Israel's policy towards Hamas that Daniel described eloquently earlier on, writ large, writ on regional level.
So, I think there is a difference there between what's been the Israeli position and that of the administration. I noticed Secretary Blinken's statement that they don't yet have clear indications of Iranian involvement and so on. So my sense is, there's a little bit of concern there.
I also note, by the way, it's not exactly in the question, but it's relevant also to our whole discussion today, that the Israeli government has not yet unequivocally announced its war aims in this war, and it certainly has not said unequivocally that its goal is the bringing down of the Hamas authority in Gaza. It's not said that. The kind of tough sounding rhetoric has been things, I'm translating from Hebrew here, but things like, "Hamas won't have the ability to harm us again after this engagement." And that, to me, is regrettable. I think we need to have a clear strategy right now. It may well be that consideration of the American position could be contributing to preventing the emergence of that, but I hope it does emerge in the near future.
Gregg: Now I'd like to go to another question, and this is for Alex and maybe for Nave. What will be done to find the missing individuals, all of these hostages in Gaza? How can Israel recover them and retaliate?
Alex: Yeah. Well, that is the major question, and it's a very, very significant dilemma operationally. And I think that all the Israeli society now, before thinking about the defeating, first of all, they try to understand and feel the pain of the loss, and it's a huge, huge, huge loss. As we said before, it's the biggest civilian Jewish slaughter since Holocaust, definitely in one day.
Now, we hear about the negotiations through Egypt that Egypt announced. Israel has so far denied these negotiations. We know about the pressure that Israel presses now, cutting the water and cutting the electricity, and all the rest of the supply. I think this is part of an attempt to get the captured. Will we succeed? I don't know. I remind you, Gilad Shalit. It was only one. And I remind you all the others that we didn't get still, like [Hadar] Goldin's body. It's a huge challenge, and I don't know. I really hope that it can be some exchange at the first stage, or that Hamas will do it after the pressure. We must see. We must wait and see.
Gregg: All right. I'm going to turn towards Daniel for a second. The next question is from Scott Miller. Why can't Israel level Gaza and start over? After all, Gaza residents voted in Hamas as their leadership.
Daniel: I believe that the majority of Gazans do not want this. I think there's a great deal of anecdotal and a fair amount of polling data to suggest this, one. Point two is, I don't think the Israelis should engage in indiscriminate massacres such as Hamas has imposed on Israelis. I do think there is a way forward. I am optimistic that, if the Israelis do manage to extirpate Hamas, to root it out, and if the Israelis do control Gaza as they did in the old days, then it will be possible for the Israelis to sponsor a Gazan administration and autonomous ruling quasi-government, that would be decent. I think the Gazans have learned a lot, in the past 16 years especially. I do not think they are as radical as they're portrayed to be. In fact, polling consistently shows, for what it's worth, that Gazans are more cautious than West Bankers. So no, no leveling, no returning to the Stone Age. This has to be done carefully and constructively.
Gregg: Thank you, Daniel. This is for Jonathan Spyer. What role do you see the United States engages in this conflict, especially if Hezbollah and if Iran gets involved?
Jonathan: First of all, there's a clear role for the United States on the diplomatic level, which was hinted at in statements by others earlier on, which is that the current levels of support that Israel is enjoying, I'm afraid, are very unlikely to be sustained. The fact is that war is not a pleasant thing, and if there is a ground operation into Gaza, which I think it looks like there probably will be, then there is going to be a considerable amount of civilian death. There's simply no way of avoiding that. No army in the world, including the United States Army or any other, could move forward without that being part of the reality, which means there will be some cracks, I would suggest, in the levels of support that Israel will enjoy.
Now, the United States has always been, for the recent decades, the most staunch diplomatic partner of Israel, and it will be, I think, of great assistance to Israel for the United States to engage itself in that task of ensuring as best as possible that allies stay on board, and certainly preventing any attempts through international institutions, which will of course come, to condemn Israel, to force Israel to desist, and so on and so forth.
We saw the United States playing that role, very constructively actually, in 2006 in the Lebanon war. The fact is that, at least in my view, Israel did not make sufficient use of the window of time afforded it, but there was a window of time afforded to it by U.S. diplomatic assistance of the Bush administration at that time, and that kind of role will be very important.
If the war escalates to a point where we are fighting on two fronts, and if, and I think this is not impossible, but it's not immediately looking imminent, but if we end up being then in a situation where the entirety of the Iran-led regional alliance is turned upon us, that's to say also militias and capacities in Syria and possibly even further afield, then of course the question would arise of a direct alliance between Israel and America to combat that, because American troops and American air power are also stationed in Syria, are also stationed in Iraq. So, I'm not saying I think this will happen, but it's also not impossible should things reach that point, then of course we would be looking for a direct... We'd be fighting on the same side, so to speak, as the Americans against an anti-Western regional alliance. That's not impossible. It's not looking immediately likely, but that would be an additional aspect to consider, I would say.
Gregg: And as a follow-up for Jonathan, Steve Waldman asks, it seems as if though Israel has just found out what reality is. This is frightening because of the capacities of Hezbollah, and this is even before mentioning an Iran with a possible nuclear weapon. Is reality not frightening for Israel's long-term future?
Jonathan: Well, that's a very interesting question. I and others on this call have spent many years now trying hard to focus the attention of our policymaking echelon on the Iran-led regional alliance, which the questioner mentions. Also it now is an alliance that has threshold nuclear... It's on the threshold of nuclear capacity. But also it has been steadily building up franchise organizations around Israel's border, slowly and slowly building their capacity over the last decade. We've been trying hard to focus attention on that. Attention has now been focused on it in the most brutal of ways, not by us, but by the enemy itself.
Yes, of course, this is a very major challenge to Israel. The Iranians, the Iranian regime, identified what is regarded as a weak spot in Israel, namely Israeli society and what it sees as the Israeli society's unique sensitivity to casualties and losses. They looked at the 1973 war and they said, "Okay, you've got an iron wall of armor and air power there that can keep back any conventional enemy, but what about if we could bypass that and hit directly at Israel's civilian infrastructure and population?" They are now testing that theory in the last 72 hours, in a way which has never been seen before, that theory is now being put to the test.
Absolutely, Israeli society will need to reach down into the very deepest levels of its capacities and abilities for endurance, already now, and I have no doubt in the weeks and months ahead. What can I tell you? I do think that our society has hidden strength of a kind which the Iranians don't notice. I was on the Gaza border yesterday in my capacity as a reporter. I visited Barzilai Hospital. I visited Kibbutz Zikim, talking to newly mobilized reserve soldiers and medical staff also at Barzilai. The tremendous sense of voluntarism in Israeli society, the way that I've witnessed already free food being brought along to be given to medical staff and soldiers, by just Israeli civilians who had chosen to mobilize themselves. These are also parts of Israeli society which are quite outside of the caricature that Islamic Republic of Iran has of us. But yes, certainly there's a very major test ahead. I believe Israel will come through it, but the question you ask is entirely on point.
I'm going to direct this question to Daniel as our resident historian. This comes from Trey Reynolds. Trey says, "I've been on this all weekend with friends and groups in social media. One common theme from the apologists is that the Mossad created Hamas, and existence of Hamas is solely because of Israel, specifically a General Yitzhak Segev, as published in a publication by Glenn Greenwald, the Intercept, in 2018. I think it's crazy talk. Where is this coming from?"
Daniel: Hi, Trey. It is crazy talk, but there's a kernel of truth. The Israeli security establishment has for 35 years had a certain soft spot for Hamas as the anti-PLO, as the anti-PA force. In particular, in recent years, the existence of Hamas has meant that the PA is no longer in charge of the entire Palestinian territories, and no longer poses the same kind of two-state solution threat to Israel. So no, Hamas is certainly not a creation of Israeli intelligence, but Israeli's security establishment has abided by Hamas, has not been as aggressive as it could have been, has managed it in ways that can lead to these kind of conspiracy theories and suspicions.
Gregg: Thank you, Daniel.
Jonathan: Can I add something, Gregg, to that?
Gregg: Sure. Sure, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Just to say the following thing. When people make these kinds of claims regarding Israel's supposed responsibility for Hamas, it's worth mentioning to people that parallel movements to Hamas of a similar type as, say, Sunni Islamist movements, exist in all the surrounding countries too and are significant also in Egypt, in Jordan, in Lebanon to a degree, certainly in Syria. Therefore, if the person wishes to claim that Israel corrected Hamas, is Israel also responsible for the entirety of Sunni Islamist movements throughout the region? And if it's not, then isn't it more likely that Hamas is a local manifestation of an existing and genuine political phenomenon, rather than being the work of this or that Israeli government agency?
Daniel: Trouble with asking that question is that they might answer, "Yeah." [inaudible 00:44:11]
Jonathan: Yeah, I guess some of them would. Yeah.
Gregg: That's a great point, John, and good rejoinder, Daniel. Our next question comes from an anonymous attendee. How much of Israel's losing battle with managing the existing jihadi problem continues to be rooted in appeasing foreign politicians and public opinion? As we witness left versus right politics grow increasingly polarized in Israel as elsewhere, how do we separate this out from the legitimate needs for Israel to use any force necessary to defend itself? I'm going to direct this to Alex Selsky.
Alex: Thanks. Sorry, can you please repeat?
Gregg: Sure. How much of Israel's losing battle with management of the existing jihadi problem is rooted in appeasing foreign politicians and public opinion? As we witness left versus right politics grow increasingly polarized in Israel, how do we separate this from the legitimate needs for Israel to use any force necessary to defend itself?
Alex: I can answer about the past, but I think that it's not relevant anymore. We hear now from people, from the most left, they speak IVP. I think people that saw this massacre, this slaughter, this pogrom, I don't think that we... At the moment, again, at the moment, neither politically, and also in the society, I don't think we have someone now that can speak about other than just destroying Hamas. People are very, very, very, very angry. We are under existential threat now, and Israelis unite when these threats come. Israeli society was always divided. Before the Yom Kippur war it was divided. And we are Jews, that's what we do, we debate and fight and everything. We have more opinions than people in the room. That's what Jews are. You can love it, you can hate it, but that's who Jews are.
So, I say it cynically, but it's clearly serious that when we don't fight our enemies, we fight each other. When we have enemies, we unite. This is, I think, a more uniting moment than any other that I can definitely recall, because what we see, you just cannot imagine. Just during this talk, I saw in the news that just another 100 dead bodies were discovered in Kibbutz Be'eri. Another 100 dead bodies in Kibbutz Be'eri. Now, every family I speak, I find someone who has someone that is killed or kidnapped. We're a very small society. It's not a joke, in Israel, in one call you get to everyone, you know everyone. It's really a small family.
So, I don't see any leftists now. We speak about the unity government. It's really the feeling. People put everything aside and say, "We are in a war, and we must win, because if we don't win now, we'll not have a state to debate. We will not have anything to debate about. This is the moment." And I really, really hope that all the establishment, the political and the security one, understands that, and I feel that this understanding is coming definitely to everybody. I hope I answered.
Gregg: Thank you, Alex. I'm going to combine Wise Carson, Robert Robertson's, and Nomi Kluger's questions, and this will be for Jonathan and then perhaps Daniel as a follow-up. Reconquering Gaza will take a few months, says Brigadier General Amir Avivi of the Israeli Defense And Security Forum. Considering the fact that this will take a long time in the general's opinion, if Iran is behind the attack, could the Gaza operation just be the first stage as part of a larger plan, so that while Israel fights Hamas, Iran opens phase two, and so on? And with regards to this perhaps being a multi-phase war, does Israel have enough ammunition and supplies to combat both Hamas and any other fronts that may open up?
Jonathan: We got to the first part of the question, because I think we already kind of discussed that the answer is yes, that is possible. That is one possible scenario. I don't personally know yet, and I don't think anybody in the public level of discussion has revealed sufficient information yet, to say with certainty that this war was launched as a result of an Iranian order. Hamas' capacities, as I said, come from Iran. Did an order come from Iran? We don't yet know. Is it possible that it did? Yes, it is possible. We may be about to find out also in the days ahead, as I said, or as I wish to make clear, if the northern front opens up, then we could be heading for a situation in any case of a general confrontation with the Iran-led regional alliance. It is certainly a possible scenario.
With regard to whether Israel would have... So, Israel has sufficient to deal with these two threats for now, yes, but of course at a certain point, like anything else, Israel will need spares, spare parts, and some of Israel's systems are American systems, and some parts of the system are American, and then of course there'll be a need for assistance from our allies. But certainly for the dealing with an immediate threat, and dealing with the days and maybe weeks ahead, Israel is equipped for that, in terms of the Western, let's say, Gaza, and Northern France. Yes, as of now, the inventories are full and we have what we need. But if it goes on for weeks, then of course there'll be need for replenishment from our allies.
Daniel: And of course replenishment will be difficult in a time of war in Ukraine.
Jonathan: Yeah. That's a good point.
Gregg: I would just add to that that it was actually the U.S. who requested Israel to transfer munition stores, which are supposed to be emergency stores to help Israel in the time of war, and those munitions that were supposed to supply the IDF have been depleted in order to supply the Ukrainian army and their war against Russia. So, I don't know what the current status of that is, but that has to be a question that's being evaluated by war planners both in Israel and the United States.
This question, combined also from [inaudible 00:51:28] it comes regarding the possible strategies to extirpate Hamas, Daniel, as you refer to in your opening remarks. They ask, "Should there be a repeat of Beirut in June of 1982 with the removal of Black September from Lebanon? Is it possible to remove Hamas to another Arab country?"
Daniel: It's possible. I don't think that will be or should be the Israeli military goal. It should be to eliminate Hamas; it should be to kill Hamas. Not Gazans, Hamas. Members, and particularly leaders, of Hamas. I don't think the mood in Israel is such as it was in 1982, when actually Yasser Arafat was within the sights of Israeli snipers, and they let him go. I don't think that would be the case now. I think they will take out, they will kill, the Hamas leadership. I would say that's justified.
Gregg: And I'm going to also direct this one to you, Daniel. When will Israel, the U.S., and the UK learn that we pay our enemies too high a price for hostages, and so encourage further hostage-taking? Many of the 1,027 Palestinians released by Israel for Gilad Shalit have been involved in the preparation for this weekend's attacks on Israel.
Daniel: In the course of writing my book, I did some research into the Israeli trade of live prisoners for live hostages, not corpses. And over some 10 years before 2013, or no, 25 years before 2013, the ratio was something like 460 prisoners in Israeli jails for each Israeli hostage or captive. An incredible ratio. And finally in 2014, the Israeli parliament passed a law barring future such exchanges. That law is now in effect. Will it hold even today? I'm skeptical, but if you ask me to predict, I would say I do think it's likely that there will be an exchange of prisoners for hostages. I also think it's likely that Hamas will say, "You attack us, and we kill our hostages one by one." I think Israeli society is going to be in a very difficult position moving forward.
Gregg: This question... [inaudible 00:54:08]
Jonathan: Can I add to that? Just on that point.
Gregg: [inaudible 00:54:10]
Jonathan: Yeah, just a factual point. I'm just on a couple of Israeli media feeds, and I just received literally 10 minutes ago from one of the sites I get stuff from the following. Hamas says it will execute a hostage for any new Israeli bombing of civilian houses without pre-warning. That just came in.
Daniel: It was in the cards. Yeah.
Gregg: Jonathan, this question is directed to you. Aren't the efforts from Qatar, Turkey, and Egypt that you had described a direct result of Biden's efforts to get regional powers to contain the conflict, à la Jake Sullivan's deconfliction mechanism in theory?
Jonathan: Maybe partly, but I think we need to differentiate. It's not possible to put Qatar, Egypt, and Turkey into one response, because these are very different countries and with different agendas. Egypt is on one side, to some degree. Egypt is a country under Sisi which has developed very close relations of cooperation with Israel in a number of very successful areas, including counter-terror and intelligence sharing.
Qatar and Turkey are very different. These countries, I think when they talk about assisting in the conflict or conflict management, are not doing so from a point of view of sincerity. They're doing so actually from a point of view of hostility to Israel and the West, and they're doing so each in their different ways, in order to increase their own diplomatic and strategic footprint in the region. Both in the different cases of Qatar and Turkey, what they have in common is for them, involvement in this conflict is about power projection and gaining power for themselves. So, I wouldn't say in a certain sense, one can blame or give responsibility to this or that United States administration about this. These are not countries that make their agenda in terms of fitting in with American desires. They each, and particularly Turkey I would suggest, have a quite different agenda and potentially also even an anti-American or anti-Western agenda of which these kinds of practices play a part.
Gregg: Another question comes in, and Daniel, I'm actually going to take this one. Do you expect that those American Jewish and Christian leaders who visited Qatar and praised its leadership, and some of whom even took money from Qatari agents, will now apologize and admit they were wrong? Simply, if you visit Qatar under the aegis of the lobbyists working on behalf of the government, now's the time for your mea culpa. If not, you will ever be considered in the annals of American and Israeli history as an agent of the Qatari government. And more than that, if there are currently American Jewish leaders and lobbyists who are working for the government of Qatar, you're essentially constituting the Hamas support network in Washington D.C., and I would encourage you to sever that relationship immediately.
This is maybe for Jonathan. Isn't the Biden administration in effect still giving funds to Gaza, sending money to UNRWA, and some of that is used for schools in Gaza, which Hamas would have to pay if the U.S. wasn't paying, and maybe Daniel too. We'll have one more question after this, and then we'll end our webinar.
Daniel: Yes. The U.S. government is funding UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the special agency for so-called Palestine refugees, of whom there are maybe 10,000 left. But UNRWA thinks there are 6 million. Yes, we are funding that, and yes, if we stop funding it, someone else will have to. It could be Hamas, it could be the States, it could be the Europeans. It's unclear at this point who would take up our slack, but I would expect somebody would, a country, an institution, or even an individual. UNRWA's had a magical existence, it should have closed down 65 years ago, but it's still in business, stronger than ever.
Gregg: And we'll have one more question, and I'll maybe address this and asking for 30-second responses from each speaker. Can the decades-long war between Israel and the Palestinians be resolved in the world's policy for a two-state solution, or do we have to consider something new? We'll start with Alex, then Jonathan, and let Daniel have the last word.
Alex: You want this in 30 seconds?
Alex: Yes. There are many solutions. There are many proposals. I just want to say that from our perspective of Israel Victory Project, it doesn't matter what the solution and what is the final regiment is. It can happen only after -- only after that all our neighbors will understand that Israel cannot be defeated, that Israel defeats his enemies, and then we'll see what is best for us. But it can be only done when they put their hands and weapons down, and I hope that this war will cause that understanding.
Gregg: Thank you, Alex. Jonathan?
Jonathan: Well, if we've got 30 seconds, I give you the short answer. My short answer is no. But my 20-second answer is that, given the nature of Palestinian politics and Palestinian political culture as currently constituted between the fake nationalism of Fatah and the Islamism of Hamas. As currently constituted, there is absolutely no way to settle the conflict between Israel and that politics on the basis of partition, i.e., two-state solution. And we know that because we've tried it consistently over the last 30 years and failed every time. So, certainly in terms of the currently constituted forces the answer is no, it cannot be solved in that way.
Daniel: And I have a minority position which holds that yes, a two-state solution is possible, but only after the Palestinians have been defeated. That is to say, the end of rejectionism, the dream fantasy ambition of destroying Israel. When that happy day comes, yes, I can see it, but that's a long way off. So, no, two-state solution is an absurdity at present. You cannot have that be a solution when one side wants to murder and destroy the other side. Only when the Palestinians have come to terms with Israel, have accepted Israel, and I do believe that's possible, can a two-state solution take place and be implemented. And so, I don't close the door to it. I just say it's a very distant prospect.
Gregg: Thank you to Daniel Pipes, Jonathan Spyer, and Alex Selsky, both Jonathan and Alex joining us from the ground on Israel, and Daniel and I in Philadelphia. For more news on the Israel-Hamas War, please subscribe to the Middle East Forum's mailing list at www.meforum.org. And we also are launching a special campaign to support our staff in Israel, and also all of our policy objectives, to ensure that this is the last time that Hamas is able to wage war against Israel, ensuring both American, Israeli, and hopefully global support, and our ultimate policy goal, which is the destruction of the Hamas Tarot organization along with all of its supporters and adherence. Thank you very much for joining today's MEF webinar, and I hope you all have a good day. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us on all of our channels, Twitter, Facebook, email, or our website. Have a nice day.