David Ignatius of the Washington Post on Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, then, questions for Attorney General nominee Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.
The Israeli military claims it has fired at more than 400 Hamas militant sites in Gaza. More than 32 Palestinians were reportedly killed. In the past few days Hamas militants have launched at least 150 rockets into Israel, some deflected by Israeli militants, but others striking 80 miles from Gaza into Israel. The latest burst of violence is linked to the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenage boys followed by murder of a Palestinian teenager. Please join us to discuss the crisis and what, if anything, the US can do to defuse the tension.
- Aaron David Miller vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and former U.S. Middle East adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations.
- Yochi Dreazen managing editor for news at Foreign Policy and author of the upcoming book "The Invisible Front."
- Nadia Bilbassy senior correspondent, Al Arabiya.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Israel stepped up its air strikes on the Gaza strip and called up thousands of reservists. Hamas militants have launched rocket attacks into Israel far from the border of Gaza. Both sides seem to be gearing up for long military offensives. And it's unclear what, if anything, the U.S. could do to diffuse the tensions.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the current crisis, Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, and Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya. I do invite you to join the conversation, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Thank you all for being here.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYGood morning.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERThanks, Diane.
MR. YOCHI DREAZENPleasure, Diane.
REHMThank you. And, Yochi Dreazen, Israeli officials are saying the government is taking the gloves off. Mahmoud Abbas is calling Israel's offensive a declaration of an all-out war on the Palestinian people. How do you see the situation?
DREAZENYeah, the rhetoric is terrible. The number of rockets flying, particularly getting close to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I think if one hits Tel Aviv and causes casualties in Tel Aviv, in some ways, it's a game changer. But the rhetoric, it's a little bit diffused and divorced from the reality. There's a cold phrase in Israel in Hebrew and in English of mowing the grass, which they call -- it's a very chilling phrase, but periodically going in to destroy Hamas rocket launchers, Hamas arms caches and military sites.
DREAZENSo far, that's what this appears to be like. You have 40,000 troops called up. Called up and invading are very different things. Right now, they haven't invaded. So I think where we are right now is not all-out war. It's not full invasion. It's the step before. And the question is, do we stay at the step before? Or does it rock to the side of the border literally and figuratively where it becomes the kind of war that we're talking about now?
REHMIs Hamas the only group sending over rockets?
DREAZENIt doesn't appear that way. I mean, it appears they have Islamic jihad also now sending out rockets. And the kind of scary dynamic here is that for the last couple of years, Hamas, for the most part, has both cooperated with Israel and kept its side of the border quiet. So it's not a remotely a situation where there was a peace treaty. But Egypt had brokered a cease fire in 2012 that, for the most part, had held.
DREAZENIt wasn't -- again, it wasn't peace. It wasn't war, but it wasn't this. You didn't have rockets flying over. I mention that because, as part of that deal, Hamas kept Islamic jihad in check, again, to a large degree, not perfectly but to a very large degree. The dynamic now is Hamas, first of all, not keeping Islamic jihad in check, second of all, using its own forces to fire rockets to line the border to prepare for what it says is an Israeli invasion. So you have one group that had been kept in check now being energized again, the other group that had kept them in check, being energized itself.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, what about all these leaflets being dropped?
BILBASSYWell, apparently, the Israelis have been warning certain families of wanted people, whether from the Islamic jihad or from Hamas, particularly in (word?). There was one incident of a woman who received a phone call from somebody called David, and they told her to leave the house within five minutes. The only difference, Diane, that in Israel, when you have a siren, people go to shelters, and they're familiar with that. In Gaza and the Gaza strip, they don't have anywhere to go to.
BILBASSYSo apparently the woman ran to the street, but in the process, many people went back to the house. And the house was attacked twice with heavy casualties. So far, according to Palestinian sources, since the operation started 48 hours ago, 35 Palestinians have been killed, 170 wounded. Half of them are civilians, including nine children. So the Israelis said that they're trying to avoid civilian casualties by these phone calls or targeting directly Hamas militants or the Islamist jihad, but it's very hard to avoid civilians in Gaza because, as you know, it's the most highly densely populated area in the world.
REHMAaron David Miller, you've seen this all before. The current escalation came about because of the brutal killings of three Israeli teenage boys, then a Palestinian teen. How did all this start?
MILLERYou know, Mark Twain said that history doesn't repeat as much as it rhymes. And it's the rhythmic patterns, I think, of the past we need to look to. This is a variation on a movie that's been playing now for at least seven or eight years. First incarnation was 2008, '09 in which the Israelis launched Operation Cast Lead. It lasted three weeks. The Israelis unilaterally declared a cease fire. And it ended in a relatively stable situation. It lasted to the second sequel which was 2012, Operation Pillar of Defense.
MILLERThat operation took a week, and that ended as a consequence of an American, but primarily Egyptian, brokered cease fire paradoxically under the supervision of Mohamed Morsi, who is no longer the president of Egypt, which is an intriguing issue with respect to Egypt's role right now. So that lasted one week. So you had a three-week operation. You had a one-week operation. But the problem's not fixed, and that is the real, I think, the real distressing piece of this, Diane.
REHMIt's interesting that the families of some of these boys had themselves called for peace (unintelligible).
MILLERYou know, on an individual level, there's this tremendous empathy in humanity that bind Israelis and Palestinians, their bond by proximity. Their lives are inextricably linked together. I ran Seeds of Peace for three years. I've seen the humanity of Israelis and Palestinians. It's just -- that's saving the world one person at a time, an individual who's capable of great kindness. It's just the group, the state, the national movement, in conflict, you have a much different outcome.
MILLEROne additional point, I think the basic problem here is what I call the under-over problem. Hamas tries to create an infrastructure, tunnels, command and control, deeply ensconced, and it's very tough for the Israelis to get out. And they have an over-advantage. They've discovered high-trajectory weapons, far more effective than suicide terror as leverage and influence.
MILLERIsrael is trying to deal with the under-over problem and has not found an effective way to do it. And I doubt if they will this time. So I would argue that, yes, could it go to all-out war with a ground attack as it did in '08 and '09? The Israelis mobilized four brigades, and relatively effective. Sure, it could. But in the end, unless the Israelis are prepared to reoccupy Gaza, uproot the Hamas government, this is going to end up in an impasse.
REHMYochi, what about the people themselves, the people in Israel, the people in Gaza, the Palestinians? Could they themselves move toward some kind of judicial outcome here rather than military force?
DREAZENI don't really, to be honest, know what that would look like in practice. I think what you might have is a much more -- Hamas had been a very unpopular government, and this was not a government that had brought support. Services were not good. Corruption had gone down, but services were not good. Quality of life had not been good.
DREAZENI spent some time in Gaza last summer. The difference between being there and being in Tel Aviv, it's the same shore line, and you're not separated by that much distance. But you might as well be on a different planet in terms of the quality of life in the one and the other. So you might see that public opinion, which had been sort of anti-Hamas now hardening to become pro-Hamas.
DREAZENI don't know practically what that would mean, except that Hamas, should it decide to go to war, should it decide to react to an Israeli border, even a border buildup, let alone a border crossing, would have more support than it did in the past. What's alarming here, I think, is that the rockets that have been flying in -- for a long time, Israel had been concerned about Hezbollah getting rockets from Iran, Syria, that had the range to hit Central Israel. They had the Iron Dome system, the other missile defense systems, arrayed primarily along the northern border to try to block Hezbollah rockets.
DREAZENNow these same rockets, these same long-distance rockets, are flying in from Gaza, hitting parts of Tel Aviv, hitting Ashkelon, hitting Hadera, hitting -- flying over Jerusalem. If these start to hit, particularly in Tel Aviv, that's the game changer, when you start having Tel Aviv residents have to react, as Nadia said, to the way that Gaza residents have had to react. Tel Aviv residents in Israel's biggest, richest city trying to flee a rocket attack that could hit downtown, that's a game changer that has not happened yet. And that could be the moment here, the signal moment.
BILBASSYWhat's also interesting that both Hamas and the Israeli government are actually dragged into this war. Let's just give you the background of why we started this. As Aaron said, we had three military clashes between Hamas and Israel in the last three years, 2008, 2012, and now. And the reason was, after the kidnapping and the killing of the three Israeli teenagers who lived in the settlement, Israel arrested a thousand Palestinians. Most of them were Hamas leaders. And Hamas were obviously not very happy about that. They're trying to link them immediately to the killing.
BILBASSYAlthough, until now, there is no hard evidence, whether it was Hamas (unintelligible) that operated separately from Hamas in Gaza. As Khaled Meshal, the head of the political wing of Hamas said, I think they were quite unaware of it. So Hamas at this stage, considering what's happening in Egypt with Gen. Sisi coming to power, they don't want any clashes. They already have the city consolation with the Palestinian authority although they're not part of the government. They form what they call a technocratic government.
BILBASSYSo -- and the money's drying out for them, especially with this conflict between Qatar and the rest of the Gulf states, pressure from Saudi Arabia not to give so much money to Hamas, et cetera. And the drying of the towers, the destruction of the towers, so they were not in the position really to open a war now with Israel. And it's the same for the prime minister. But I think, with Netanyahu now, that even his Foreign Minister Lieberman decided to quit the coalition because he said that he was not tough enough on Hamas.
BILBASSYIsrael has to show that they -- actually, Netanyahu has to show that he is tough enough. So what we see now is both sides are dragged into this war despite the fact that nobody knows the consequences. But the underlying reasons for all of this is, as we said, Hamas exists in Gaza. Israel has wanted to go and for all open war. And (unintelligible) Hamas, who is going to fill the void?
BILBASSYYou have more extremists in Gaza even then, Hamas. But the underlying cause is occupation (unintelligible). The peace process is dead. And if you don't have a political -- there is no military solution to the situation in Gaza or to dealing with Hamas. We need to go back to negotiations. I don't know if he's viable now under this current government. We'll see.
REHMNadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya. Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, he's author of the forthcoming book "The Invisible Front." Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He's author of a new book coming out in October, "The End of Greatness: Why America Cannot Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President." Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the current situation between Israelis and the Palestinians. Aaron David Miller, you wrote a piece for Foreign Policy, "Why John Kerry Has No Business Trying to Make Peace between Israel and Gaza Right Now." Why?
MILLERYou know, crises, at least in my experience, have a certain rhythm, an ebb and flow. Parties who want to resolve crises need to reach a particular moment when in fact they are interested in resolution. I think that at the moment I don't think that is the case. I think this is going to have to play out for a while longer. That's point number one.
MILLERNumber two, it's not as if we have a crisis between Mahmoud Abbas on one hand and Benjamin Netanyahu on the other. We do. It's a longer term crisis where the United States has influence, has leverage, has the capacity to do proximity talks to direct intervention. This is not an Abbas-Netanyahu problem. This is an Israel-Hamas problem. And direct mediation in those circumstances is difficult.
MILLERIf John Kerry gets a call from Benjamin Netanyahu who says, John, I'm in trouble, all right. I need your help. And if the Egyptians are prepared on the Hamas side to get serious, and I think they do have leverage to bear, under those circumstances, with those two phone calls, 100 percent. John Kerry, see what you can do.
MILLERBut the notion that John Kerry plunges himself into this crisis now with rockets still flying and Israeli airstrikes sitting there unable to do anything about it would be the counterpart to his inability over the last ten months to deliver on peace. If you can't deliver on peace and you can't diffuse war, what does that say about your credibility? Time is not right.
DREAZENYeah, you had comments last week from Martin Indyk, who'd been the head of the Kerry negotiating team in shuttling back and forth, that were rather staggeringly pessimistic. He used phrases like that Bibi Netanyahu and Abbas loathe each other, despise each other. He basically said that there was really no possibility of a deal in the foreseeable future that talks themselves might be useless.
DREAZENBut when you have the former peace negotiator, who left not even two weeks ago, come out and say basically, there's no chance for a deal, that's striking. He was trying to simultaneously defend Kerry against the charges that are already beginning to be fueled again of John Kerry, Iraq is melting down, Syria's melting down, Egypt is melting down to a lesser degree. Why are you focusing so much on Israel when the chances of a deal of any kind are so historically remote?
DREAZENI think that that's frankly a fair question. That question's being asked by Democrats, by Republicans, has been asked in the past. Now it's being asked even more loudly. And I don't think there's a good compelling administration answer. I think not in the distance past the defense minister of Israel said that John Kerry was trying to do this for a Nobel Peace Prize and because he had messianic tendencies. The State Department exploded, not surprisingly, and said, why would a close ally say this about Secretary of State? It's despicable.
DREAZENHe is not the only person in the Israeli government who feels that way. He's not the only person in the Arab world that feels that way. The level of distrust towards this White House among Gulf State Arabs in particular is staggeringly high. That was high before this. They see the U.S….
REHMAnd that includes John Kerry.
DREAZENThat includes John Kerry personally. And it includes President Obama even more personally. They don't trust him on a personal level. But they don't understand this White House. This White House is being oriented towards the Shiite part of the Arab world, not towards them and obsessed with this remote possibility as opposed to the countries they see as threats, which are Iraq and Syria.
BILBASSYI agree with Aaron that John Kerry has no leverage with Hamas. And therefore he's not going to interfere. But yet that administration has been called on both sides. They have leverage with the Israelis. And they can call them to restrain themselves from carrying out so far 500 military strikes on Gaza in the last 48 hours.
REHMNow stop right there. Aaron, do you agree with her that the U.S. has leverage there?
MILLERNadia, I've written those talking points. I wrote them for 20 years. Exercise your strength but the reality is -- and let's be clear -- we have a extraordinarily close and special relationship with the Israelis. In these circumstances, the chances of an American president in a serious way moving to restrain and Israeli prime minister, particularly in view of long-range high-trajectory weapons used against densely population centers, chances of that happening are slim to none. Sure, on paper, we have theoretically extraordinary leverage on Israel. But, point number one, we are not going to use it in these circumstances.
BILBASSYSure. But let me say that, thank god, I mean, already they fired maybe a hundred or so rockets. But so far not one single Israeli has been hit as a result of these rockets. I mean, let's just state the fact. Some of these rockets are homemade. They are manufactured in Gaza itself, so although the fact that every now and then Israel tests Hamas' ability, and for the first time they reach cities like Haifa or Hadera, which is far away from Gaza, almost like 100 kilometer. In this concept, the Israelis wanted to check Hamas to see their abilities, but so far they have not been able to cause any serious damage into Israel.
BILBASSYBut saying that what I meant by leverage on Israel as well is they can use the Egyptians. And it wasn't just during Mohamed Morsi. (unintelligible) Hosni Mubarak himself -- you remember (unintelligible). He was a point man dealing with Hamas at the time. So it doesn't have to be (unintelligible)...
REHMBut who's there now?
MILLERThis is exactly the point. I mean, the Egyptians had...
REHMWho is there now?
MILLER...the Egyptians, for years, had individuals, particularly the head of intelligence who had tremendously influential ties with the Israelis, with his own government and with the Palestinians. I'm not sure the Egyptians are in that position right now. And frankly, I think they would like to let this play out a little while longer...
MILLER...to see Hamas further weakened.
BILBASSYI agree with that. I think Gen. Sisi wanted -- especially the dynamic has changed now. He came over after the takeover of Mohamed Morsi. I think the fact that he wanted to see this play out for a little bit, and then eventually they will interfere after they give a blow to Hamas that's no doubt (unintelligible) ...
REHMSome believe that there won't be any peace until Israel retakes control over Gaza.
DREAZENThat's the idea. Israel A. wanting to do it and B. having the capability of doing it strikes me as remote to the extreme. And nobody wants Gaza is the truth. Dating back a century it's been offered to Egypt, to Jordan, to Turkey. Nobody wants it because if you go it's hellish. It's overpopulated, has no real economy. It's a miserable place to live. Israel doesn't want to control it. Egypt doesn't want to control it.
DREAZENYou know, the one name that so far we're talking about John Kerry, about President Obama, the name that matters most is General now President el-Sisi. What's happening in Egypt, the dynamic there that shifted, which doesn't get enough attention here, is not simply that Israel is ecstatic that the president of Egypt is no longer Mohamed Morsi. It's now Gen. Sisi who has cooperation with Israel. They know him.
DREAZENIt isn't simply that they have interest on paper that align. The Egyptian military has gone after Hamas in its border with Gaza in a way that's unprecedented. They have themselves been shutting down tunnels. They have themselves -- Mohamed Morsi opened the border. Now with el-Sisi it's been closed again. They are trying to crack down militarily on Hamas in a way that in the history of Hamas has never happened before.
DREAZENSo you have not simply that Israel likes this president in some vague femoral way. They like what he's doing. And that change is not the attention here that it deserves. You have Hamas now being squeezed by Israel, Hamas also being squeezed by Hamas. One last point there, Hezbollah, when Israel went into the north, we armed instantaneously. Nobody, I think, at the time thought Israel could keep it from the army. Hamas, they could keep it not from the army fully but Hamas does not have the ability to rearm that Hezbollah does. And that's important as well.
MILLERYou know, I'm sitting here thinking about the U.S.-Israeli relationship. And I need to make two points. We are not an honest broker, and we never have been. We are, what I would argue, under certain circumstances, we can be an effective broker. Under certain circumstances, and we have. Kissinger's disengagement agreements following the 1973 war, Jimmy Carter negotiating Begin and Sadat, Jim Baker bringing the parties together at Madrid under George H.W. Bush's supervision.
MILLERBut the reality is we have this extraordinarily unique relationship with the Israelis. And in times of crisis, particularly when the region is melting down, we are simply not willing or able frankly to look at this problem symmetrically. We have an asymmetric relationship. And this president, who in my judgment, cares more about the middle class than he does about the Middle East, whatever his personal feelings about Netanyahu -- and I think they're pretty raw frankly, they're pretty raw. I've seen prime ministers and American presidents now for 25 years interact. This is one of the worst personal relationships. But...
REHMThat's very frank talk.
MILLERIt is, but this man Barack Obama knows he's got less than a thousand days left in his presidency. He is not looking for a major fight with the Israelis, particularly now.
REHMAll right. We've got so many calls, I'm going to open the phones. We’ll get to as many comments as we can. First to Gina in Port Orange, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
GINAYes, thank you for taking my call.
GINAA personal observation. I believe that when President Obama was campaigning early on in 2007, he said that he had sympathy for the Palestinian condition. And I think that's when Netanyahu put up the fence. There's been no casualties in the Israeli side. The rockets are being blocked by the Zion dome defense shields. But as usual, disproportionate numbers of Palestinians will be killed, just like in Lebanon in 2006. Now my question is, this all started with the tragic death of the three Israeli students. But does the -- do the Israeli officials have absolute proof that Hamas was responsible?
MILLERI would argue they don't. Otherwise I think if they had compelling evidence that this operation was launched by the Gaza leadership or the outside leadership, they would have responded as soon as they had an opportunity with targeted killings. I don't -- of Hamas officials, I don't think they have compelling evidence.
MILLERThey may have some links between Hamas cells. The two individuals who are under suspicion for doing this have longstanding ties to the organization, the (word?) family in particular. It may have been in a Hamas cell. No, there's an assumption here, in fact, that Hamas condoned it. They certainly applauded it, but whether they were directly responsible for orchestrating it, I don't think the Israelis know.
DREAZENI think that's right. And I would just amplify slightly Aaron's last point. The fact that Hamas did applaud it and did celebrate and then when Mahmoud Abbas condemned it, on a human level he was then immediately hammered by Hamas, viscerally, personally. Part of the outrage within Israel, when you read the Israeli Press, is that it is believed that Hamas on some level condoned it. But it's also just a sheer hatred of how a group could be celebrating the murder of three teenagers. So when you look at the Israeli public opinion, which is now overwhelmingly in favor of some kind of massive operation in Gaza, part of it is on that level.
REHMAnd what about the young Palestinian boy?
BILBASSYExactly. And unfortunately too there's on the Israeli side, on the extreme Jewish side they have celebrated the death of the 15-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir who burned to death as a result -- many people believe it was a revenge attack for the killing of the three Israeli teens. But there is always a glimmer of hope actually. There is 350 Israeli families who visited Mohammed Abu Khdeir's family in Shafat in east Jerusalem, and they expressed condolences. So, I mean, as we said before, on a personal level…
REHMNot entirely welcomed.
BILBASSYSome of them were not welcomed. And even Prime Minister Netanyahu's call to the family was not welcome because, you see -- I mean, I guess the situation is very tense there. I was there three weeks ago and all what you need is just a spark. I mean, this was an incident that's meant to happen. The situation even in the West Bank, let alone in Gaza, it's very dire. And without the peace process, I don't know how far we can go without a major war or an incident that can lead to something like this.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Benson, N.C. Hi, Tony.
TONYHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
TONYI'm a Palestinian American, was born here in the states. I spent 10 or 11 weeks in Ramallah back a couple of years ago. So I have kind of an intimate feeling about what we're talking about today. But what I don't hear a lot about is if you could call this a relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians because of their closeness in heritage and proximity, then Israel would be the parent in this scenario. And being the parent because of the amount of authority -- the amount of -- I mean, they're a nuclear power.
TONYThe greater burden of living an example as far as the state, the military, the police -- and, yes, I'm thinking about the 15-year-old Tampa boy that was beaten by the police right now -- the greater burden is on the Israelis to live the example. As far as the three teenagers, it's my understanding that -- and I'm not condoning what happened to them, but it's my understanding that two of them were actually soldiers in the Israeli army. And one of them is a citizen of the settlement, which the Geneva Convention even considers -- I don't know if combatant is the right word.
REHMAll right. Yochi?
DREAZENNo, that's actually inaccurate. These three boys were boys. I mean, they were 15 and 16. They were not old enough to be in the military. I think also you hear voices on especially the Hamas side, which are arguing that all Israelis living in settlements are therefore legitimate targets. Mahmoud Abbas would not say that. The great Palestinian center would not say that. The Palestinian left would not say that. I think trying to justify this in any way by saying they live in settlements is -- it's hard to justify (unintelligible) on a human level.
REHMAll right. To San Francisco, Calif. Hi, Denise.
DENISEHi. Good morning. You know, it's amazing to me the first word I heard about settlement was just in the last minute but in a negative connotation. I mean, looking at the history of this conflict, it's almost like there's a season to every summer we're expecting some kind of bombardment coming from both sides. And it's almost like any excuse will do. But in reality, as Americans, don't we need to start being more critical of the Israeli government that pursues continued settlement building, bulldozing homes, going into their -- this is the source of all of the conflict. This is the source of all the rage.
REHMAll right. Aaron.
MILLERYou know, the answer theoretically on paper is, of course. And we have spoken out repeatedly over the years. My former boss Jim Baker actually, in the middle of a negotiation in the run up to Madrid, actually denied his loan guarantees in an effort to demonstrate to then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that in effect the U.S. couldn't be taken for granted.
MILLERSo, yeah, there's no question that on the Israeli side, there is no single action that is more humiliating, more prejudicial, more unproductive to the prospects of a two-state solution. The problem is when you reconcile the thought experiment with reality, you come up with a problem. And Barack Obama experienced it in the first year-and-a-half of his administration. And...
REHMAaron David Miller, he's vice-president, distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Short break here. More of your calls, your emails when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Aaron David Miller, just before the break, you were talking about the settlement issue. And I had to interrupt.
MILLERYeah. I just wanted to make ne additional point. You know, I found in 20-plus years of working on this issue that there are productive fights worth having with the Israelis, and there are unproductive ones. The -- our president went after the Israelis in the first year of his administration. He talked tough on settlements and wasn't prepared to back up that rhetoric with concrete actions.
MILLERAnd it is my own view, if you want to fight with Israel -- and every successful mediator who has ever gotten anywhere in this conflict -- has moments of tension, awkwardness, and, yes, fights with the Israelis. Then you fight over what I call a productive issue. And there's only one issue, in my judgment, worth fighting over, and that is an agreement. You want to have a fight with the Israelis? Fight with them over territory, over borders, over Jerusalem, over refugees, over recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, a package deal. That's worth an argument. Settlements -- a fight over settlements will not get you where we all need to go.
BILBASSYI agree actually. And I think the administration had tried in the first and second time to do something. But the problem is Prime Minister Netanyahu. I believe, even the people who are very close to him, including Martin Indyk, who is to be the envoy for John Kerry, who came out, and he said it's impossible to deal with Netanyahu.
BILBASSYSo if you don't have the intention of a prime minister who's willing to compromise on the peace process, you're not going to go anywhere. Of course, there is the side of the Palestinians, the division, et cetera, now they're trying to get together. But the bottom line is the administration was sincere. I think they're trying to do something, but I agree with Aaron, that they were not willing to back any threat of something seriously to push the two sides together. And therefore, they lost in two fights.
REHMHere's a tweet from Mike: "The U.S. should stop acting like Israel's lawyer and uphold the Leahy Law." Yochi.
DREAZENThe Leahy Law is a provision that says that the U.S. cannot provide aid to countries with gross human rights record -- violations of -- excuse me -- records of long human rights violations. The chance of that being used against Israel is less than zero, infinitely less than zero. It had been talked about being used against Egypt which has had the show trials of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood opponents, say nothing of arresting its elected president. The odds of that being used, whatever one thinks of the merits, is non-existent.
REHMSo where do we go from here, Aaron?
MILLERWell, first of all, we -- at the appropriate moment, if it comes in the parties, in this case, the Egyptians and the Israelis really do want America involved, we work to see the degree to which we can actually diffuse this particular crisis. But I have to say, over the long term, it's not that I'm cynical or even pessimistic.
MILLERThe reality is a conflict-ending solution between Israelis and Palestinians, which is the answer to all of this, it won't immediately fix the Hamas problem or the Gaza problem. But it will create a foundation that will restore a measure of hope and confidence in the future, which Israeli -- both Israelis and particularly Palestinians are losing, I just don't see right now that you have the leaders on either side willing and able to make the kinds of decisions on the six core issues that drive this conflict to get us to a conflict-ending solution.
MILLERI do believe -- and it's one of the two predictions I'll make here today -- that, in the remaining thousand days of the Obama presidency, probably after the elections, unless what Yochi argues is correct and this gets totally out of hand and the U.S. has to intercede, that this administration will make another run based on what John Kerry had achieved during the past 10 months.
DREAZENAn interesting dynamic here is that the last two years, Israel has been pretty quiet. In the years since the wall went up between the West Bank and Israel, the number of suicide attacks went to almost zero. So if you're the average Israeli citizen, certainly the average Israeli politician, the incentive to make a painful deal begins to disappear. You feel like your country is safe. Your economy is booming. Why give up something when you don't have a need to?
DREAZENSo, in a very weird way, if we're going to try to find even a glimmer of optimism, it may be that this is a reminder to the Israeli center that there is a threat, that these walls will not keep you safe indefinitely and that even if for the last couple of years you've had quiet, that quiet will go away. I'm not optimistic. I share Aaron's pessimism, cynicism, whatever word you want to use. But I think if there's any glimmer of hope, it's that this could remind people that the peace that's been there, the quiet that's been there will not hold.
REHMWhat about nuclear weapons, Yochi?
DREAZENIn terms of Israel's possession of them or in terms of the kind of broader issue here?
REHMNo, Israel's possession thereof.
DREAZENYou know, it's something that, one, gives Israel this qualitative military edge over all of its neighbors, and it's, two, it's the issue that, beyond this, that hangs over Israel's dealings with almost every other Arab state, and certainly the way that Iran and its neighbors and its allies look at the U.S. They say there's a base hypocrisy. You're willing to use sanctions against Iran. You're willing to threaten military force, et cetera, et cetera. Meanwhile you have an ally that has a large weaponized U.S. -- not U.S.-backed, excuse me, but U.S. condoned a large nuclear weapons arsenal, and you have no problem with that.
DREAZENThe dynamic that's very scary is you have the Saudis, the Egyptians, all saying that if Iran goes nuclear, they'll go nuclear, too. So you have this real possibility of proliferation that goes beyond Israel, beyond a potential Iranian weapon to powerful Arab states also.
MILLERWell, it's an intriguing paradox. And it's a reminder that just because we Americans have freed ourselves from the forces of history and geography that other powers in the world have not. This is still a small country. And in '06, 5,000 guys with relatively crude weapons, Hezbollah shut down the northern half of the Middle East most pre-eminent military and intelligence power for almost a month. And that is a painful reminder that, despite the possession of nuclear weapons, this is an asymmetrical conflict. And Israel still has significant security problems.
REHMAll right. To Michael in Bethesda, Md. Hi there. You're on the air.
MICHAELHi. Thank you. I just wanted to make a comment about someone mentioned proportional casualties or proportional damage on people. Proportional doesn't mean one for one. Proportions are ratio. Hamas' ration, Hezbollah's ratio has generally been one Israeli traded for 400-plus of theirs. That's roughly the rate they've seemed to value human life at.
MICHAELIsrael, to be successful at deterring at least further attacks, needs to inflict damage at that rate. You kill one of our people. We kill four or 500 of yours. That worked very well for (word?), 10 Israelis dead, thousand Palestinians. People were pretty quiet for a while. So -- but proportional definitely does not mean one for one. It means enough to deter the other side from doing something.
BILBASSYActually, despite the escalation, Hamas military wing spokesperson yesterday came out, and he put some conditions to stop this further escalation. And he said that one of the conditions was to release the people who were re-arrested during the Gilad Shalit deal, the thousand-plus. So if the caller refer to the number of people who are being released as a result, Israelis went and re-arrested them again.
BILBASSYAnd this is, yes, absolutely. It's a factor of this is why some people doubt that the fact that Hamas was behind the killing of the Israeli settlers because they thought if they did it, it would be done for a purpose which is to exchange them for prisoners. And as a result, they were killed immediately. Could be also because they'd been discovered or -- I don't know. I mean, I don't have the inside information to that.
BILBASSYBut they doubt that. But despite that, I think Hamas is very keen to have some kind of a cease fire with Israel. And it has been working for a while. I mean, every two years, they will have something together, and they will stop the fighting. And they go back. But the problem with the casualties is civilians. This is again in Gaza where you are, as a result of the last two days, half of their casualties were civilians.
REHMI want to go back to the point you made, Yochi, that perhaps this ongoing destruction, mutual destruction, could in fact lead to new realization that, you know, this is terrifying for both Israelis and Palestinians. How long do you think this is going to go on?
DREAZENI love to gamble on sports.
DREAZENAt the risk of gambling on a much grimmer subject, I think this is a matter of days, maybe a week or two weeks. This is not to my mind something that's going to go on for months...
REHMWhy? Why do you say that?
DREAZENBecause I don't think either side wants it, including Israel. I think Israel has called up and mobilized 40,000 troops. It's threatened. It's said we're going to send them in.
REHMAnd you think that it would end without U.S. involvement or the president or secretary of state picking up the phone?
DREAZENI do. I think the likeliest interlocutor who has influence here is President el-Sisi and his security establishment in Egypt. It's not -- this is not an American issue that we want to solve particularly. It's not something we can solve. The Egyptians have been very, very effective in the past. I think they'll be very effective here.
REHMDo you agree with that, that el-Sisi will get into it and will exert influence?
MILLERI think he'll have to. The Egyptians and the Israelis have seen this movie now twice before. They know how to restore calm. The question is to what degree Hamas needs to have this play out to demonstrate their resistance credentials. Cast Lead was three weeks in '08. Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 was a week.
MILLERIf I had a bet -- and I hate it -- I'd go for a week to 10 days, unless Yochi's notion of high-trajectory weapons impacting in Tel Aviv or some of its suburbs materializes. If that happens, then the political and psychological calculation for Israel has changed, and I suspect that the Israelis may have to consider a much more ambitious -- I think ultimately fruitless -- operation into Gaza.
REHMBut what would be the incentive for Hamas to go after Tel Aviv, knowing that that would truly explode the area?
DREAZENI think part of it's to show that they could, show -- to say the Israelis, this asymmetric edge -- and I agree with the way Aaron's phrased it in both the political and also the military sense of the word -- that it is not as great as Israel has once thought it to be, that, yes, Israel could bomb and kill. Its air superiority is pretty much total, but, yes, we Hamas can hurt you. We can hit your biggest city. We can hit your biggest population center, your wealthiest city. You are not immune to us. You are not safe from us.
REHMHere's an email from Joe in Ann Arbor. He says, "This violence serves both Hamas and the Israeli government. It projects the image to Palestinians that Hamas stands up to Israel. It justifies the continuation of Israeli settlement in the occupied territories. Neither leadership is interested in peace because it serves neither of their ends. And the losers are the Palestinian and Israeli people."
BILBASSYSadly, I tend to agree. Many people think that Hamas lost popularity in Gaza, especially when people tested them as a government. And if there is an election now in Gaza, many people predict that Hamas will lose. So when you have somebody like this standing to the superiority of the Israeli military, whether these rockets has managed to kill Israelis or not, but the fact that they have terrorized 3 million Israelis and make them rushing into shelters, especially major cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Haifa, that created for Hamas.
BILBASSYSo people are rallying around them, especially now that the peace process is not going anywhere. The Palestinian authority in the West Bank is not very popular. And Israelis continue with the sentiment activities. And there is no glimmer of hope that anything would -- going to change dramatically on the ground for Palestinians. Checkpoints are there everywhere. The West Bank is cut off just like (unintelligible) from place to place.
BILBASSYEven if you're a West Bank -- from West Bank and from (word?), you cannot go to an abyss without having a checkpoint there. So let alone Gaza. So Hamas is seen as the only credible force at least that is standing for Israel, and therefore they're going to be popular. And the Israeli government is also tending to the right-wingers within the Israeli coalition.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Monkton, Md. Hi, Dustin. You're on the air.
DUSTINHi. Thanks for taking my call.
DUSTINI just had a quick question about what percentage of the reservists might be American-Israeli dual citizenship people. And, you know, that may really cause some problems with Hamas as well, having a large portion of them, you know, the reservists come in. And then the other quick statement I might have is that any attack on Israel should be considered as an attack on American soil with our relationship being so close to them.
REHMAaron, what about that dual citizenship?
MILLERWell, I don't think it's relevant, frankly. And I don't think it's relevant from Hamas' perspective or from Israel's. And there are quite a number of Americans who have taken up Israeli citizenship and who serve in the Israeli army. As for an attack on Israel being an attack on the United States, we don't have a formal alliance with the state of Israel, in large part because neither side wants it. It restricts Israeli maneuverability and flexibility in terms of their own responses. And the American government, no matter how close we've been, has been reluctant to commit itself to a formal alliance.
MILLERHowever, if Iran -- look, if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons or -- theoretically -- I don't think the probability is very high -- or made its intentions clear to do so, yeah, we would be definitely -- we would rally at Israel's defense. There's no question about it.
REHMDo you agree?
DREAZENI do. I mean, that would be a game changer. That is almost the impact of which is almost incalculable.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Orlando, Fla. Austin, you're on the air.
AUSTINMy question is, what would be the viability of a U.S.-brokered peace deal between Israel and Iran with Israel freezing its settlements and Iran freezing its nuclear program? Thank you for taking my call.
REHMAll right. Thanks.
BILBASSYI don't think that's going to happen. I think the deal between the superpowers, which is the P5 plus one, and Iran is completely separate from anything that's happening in the region to the degree that even a bigger war that's happening in Syria and what's happening now -- the threat of ISIS, which is offshoot of al-Qaida and Iraq -- has not been discussed, according to some officials I spoke to.
BILBASSYSo the Americans wanted to separate it completely from any other track, so I think the Israeli-Palestinian question -- and Israeli governments does not want to link it anyway. They might have tried. I don't know. Maybe Aaron has more information than I do. But I think they wanted to keep it completely separate.
MILLERI think by and large that's right. And, you know, Iranian politics and its own regional ambitions compel it to use its confrontational relationship with Israel, at least on paper, to advance its own interest. So, no, I don't see, even though (word?) was close to the Israelis, under the mullocracy in Tehran, the chances of some sort of reproach, you know, it'll be hard enough to get a U.S.-Iranian reproachment, let alone a an Israeli-Iranian one.
REHMAnd finally to you, Yochi.
DREAZENI think the issues are separate. The deal right now, the talks right now, they are P5 of one. This is the U.S., its allies, Iran. Israel is not part of it.
REHMWell, such a -- in one way -- discouraging discussion. But in another, if we can hold out some hope that reasonable thinking will ultimately prevail, it's my hope (word?).
BILBASSYLet's hope that, too.
REHMAll right. Aaron David Miller, Yochi Dreazen, Nadia Bilbassy, thank you all.
MILLERThank you, Diane.
DREAZENThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Alison Brody. The engineer is Timothy Olmstead. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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