Fighting escalates between Israel and Hamas. Politicians in Baghdad delay forming a new government. And U.S.-German relations sour over spying allegations. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nathan Guttman Washington correspondent, Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward.
- Indira Lakshmanan diplomatic correspondent, Bloomberg News.
- Paul Danahar Washington bureau chief, BBC; author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Israel and Palestinian militants exchange rocket fire as the death toll nears 100 in Gaza. Germany expels the CIA's Berlin station chief over a widening spy scandal. And tensions mount in Afghanistan over an ongoing election dispute. Here for this week's top international stories on the "Friday News Roundup," Paul Danahar of the BBC, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, and Nathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward. Do join us. Questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. PAUL DANAHARGood morning.
MR. NATHAN GUTTMANThank you.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANHi. Nice to be here.
REHMGood to have you here. Nathan, rockets from Lebanon hit Israel today. Does that indicate this whole thing is broadening?
GUTTMANWell, not necessarily. It's probably too early to know if it's broadening. But the fact of the matter is that what we've seen from the last week is that even from Gaza alone, there's enough rocket coverage to threaten most of Israel -- to put most of Israel under rocket range. So, definitely this already broadened in the sense that it used to be a contained conflict between Gaza and the Jewish -- the Israeli towns next to the border. Now it involves the entire country with rockets reaching major centers in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and of course, now Haifa as well.
REHMIndira, let's go back a little bit. What started all of this?
LAKSHMANANWell, there's no question that all of the resentment on both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian side, has been there. That has not gone away. This is the first major fighting we've seen in two years, since 2012. But I would say that the spark for this, most people agree, was the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers on the West Bank, who were seminary students. And then the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager, who was picked up by some Israeli ultra-nationalists, who've since been arrested. So, you know, this back and forth, when you touch peoples' children in that way, when you kill young people, I think that's an obviously emotional spark that set this off.
LAKSHMANANAnd I think the real problem now is what kind of influence do outside actors like the United States even have to try to bring about a ceasefire, particularly when peace talks so recently collapsed?
REHMAnd we'll get to that, but Paul Danahar, there have been some questions about exactly who killed these three Israeli teenagers.
DANAHARYeah. The belief is that it was probably people related to Hamas, although perhaps unlikely that Hamas leadership directly asked for these people to be kidnapped and killed. Hamas normally tries to kidnap people and hold them as hostages. They call them -- they're cards. I remember speaking to someone from Hamas in Gaza a couple of years ago. And they talked about the Shalit card, the Israeli soldier that they captured a few years ago. Now, this is probably an opportunistic attack. The fact that they were killed almost immediately again suggests that they were acting pretty much unilaterally.
DANAHARBut unquestionably, this is what sparked it. They were searching for these boys, they were carrying out raids, and then Hamas began firing rockets into Israel in response. And it's kind of gone from there.
REHMAnd then a Palestinian youth burned alive?
DANAHARYeah. Picked up by what we, as Indira was saying, we believe a kind of an extremists in Israel, Jewish extremists. And they set him on fire, it's believed to have been burned alive. That's been condemned by everybody, as have both -- both of these murders have been condemned by everybody. Nobody wants children dying in Israel and Palestine areas. And it's only the very, very extreme minorities that would talk about justification for these kinds of acts. But it's changed the atmosphere.
REHMSo extreme minorities set this in motion. Would you agree with that, Nathan?
GUTTMANYes, definitely, but once these things, once these extreme minorities take their actions, certain things just are set in place and these events, many times, have a life of their own. Once Hamas increased the rocket firing from Gaza Strip, Israel feels a need to react. Some would say, even, that Israel sees this as an opportunity maybe to increase its pressure on Hamas in Gaza to make sure that it degrades its military capabilities for future attacks. And that's why these things get a life of their own. And right now, we're in a junction which Israel basically has to make a decision.
GUTTMANIs it continuing with the air strike campaign that it's conducting for a few days, or is it moving ahead with a ground operation?
REHMAnd what is it targeting in Gaza, Indira?
LAKSHMANANAt the moment, Israel has been targeting these underground tunnels and stockpiles of rockets. But the problem is that all of these tunnels have been built, literally, almost under every road in Gaza, so when you bomb these tunnels, you're bombing ordinary streets that have cafes and houses and businesses. So, that's a problem, because all of this is planted in civilian areas. I mean, I think what's different -- a lot of people would look at this and say, oh my goodness, it's another flare up of the crisis, another war, we had this eight day war back a couple of years ago.
LAKSHMANANI think what's different this time, from the last flare up, is that now we've got these long range rockets by Hamas that reach all the way to Tel Aviv. That's new and these are apparently -- Israel wants to stop that and we know that these rockets are supposedly Syrian made, supplied by Iran. And the Iron Dome, the US funded Iron Dome missile defense has been critical in all of this, because it has really kept out many of the rockets from hitting Israeli population centers and prevented casualties.
REHMBut up to now, it's been claimed that 90 percent of those rockets could be repelled. And now that's being brought into question.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. It has not been 90 percent. But it certainly has been a majority and it has prevented Israeli citizens, civilians, from being killed. On the other side, we're talking about 100 Palestinian deaths, many of them civilians, children, women, grandmothers.
REHMEight within a single family.
LAKSHMANANEight within a café -- right. And also the café where people were watching the World Cup. That got airstruck by Israel and they've not had a good explanation for why a café was struck. And the other issue is, of course, that, you know, when all of this happens, you know, there continues to be, as I said, calls for who is gonna get involved. Now, Egypt was the one who last time got involved under Mohammad Morsi and negotiated a ceasefire. He's now not only not in power anymore. He's in custody in Egypt, so the Muslim Brotherhood can know...
REHMAnd El-Sisi is not very happy.
LAKSHMANANAnd Sisi's not as inclined, although he has said that he would be willing to do something, but not as inclined to do something that's gonna give Hamas face.
DANAHARNo, and the reality is that the Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. There's absolutely no love lost between the Egyptian military and Hamas. It was much easier under Mubarak. They didn't like Hamas either, but they were willing to manage the situation in a very different way. The problem we have now is, in 2012, in November, we had a range of actors that wanted to get involved. Now we have nobody that really wants to get involved. The Qataris who were involved -- I was in Gaza in the last conflict. There was a parade of Gulf leaders wandering through Gaza. They don't want to get involved with Hamas anymore. The Turks.
DANAHARProbably Israel doesn't want to get the Turks involved, because they know that they will expect something in return from Israel. The Americans don't really have much leverage at all with Gaza. And the -- and people sometimes say, well, why doesn't, you know, Mahmoud Abbas get involved, but he hasn't got any control over Hamas either. The reality, I think, of this conflict is, however it comes out, the Hamas organization, politically, will be stronger than when they went in, and that's not what anybody really wanted.
REHMDo you agree with that, Nathan?
GUTTMANRight. Of course. Just rewind a month or so. We saw Hamas in one of its weakest points agreeing to join a unity government with Fatah under conditions that were seen, basically, as favorable for Fatah, for the moderates. And now, things have changed. Hamas is once again leading the front of the Palestinian resistance. It would embolden its standing within the Gaza Strip. It's probably likely to speculate that -- it's reasonable to say that the National Unity Government won't actually materialize because of the recent events.
GUTTMANBut Hamas is stronger, will emerge stronger, even though it will probably incur some military defeats on the way.
REHMNow, Israel has called up thousands of troops. Do you expect a ground war?
LAKSHMANANWell, they've made available tens of thousands of troops. In terms of the actual reservists they've called up, I think it's been not more than a thousand that have actually been mobilized.
LAKSHMANANBut I think -- okay, so 1500. But I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu has tried to make clear that he will do a ground offensive if he needs to, and Shimon Peres, the President, even said a couple of days ago that a ground offensive could be days away. You know, I think they want to put that threat on the table and everybody knows it's very real, but I don't think they actually want to have to do that. Because that puts Israeli soldiers at risk and, you know, it causes the situation to further escalate. Look, I mean, Israel has the power and the military force that it could do -- it could go right back into Gaza. It could re-occupy Gaza, if it wanted to.
DANAHARThey kind of said the same things last time, in 2012. They made the same threats.
LAKSHMANANRight. But I don't think they want to do that. So the question is will they do a sort of limited campaign to take out these rocket facilities and show that they have the power to do more, or will they actually get engaged? I don't think they want to get embroiled in another ground war.
REHMI can't help but wondering, could either side have acted differently with the killings of these three Israeli youths? And brought about a whole different kind of situation?
DANAHARThese were incredibly emotive killings. I mean, I think, to be -- you know, many people in the center of both political streams did their best to calm the situation, because these kind of things easily spiral out of control. The problem was, you just, you can't sit back and do nothing when children are being taken from the streets and murdered. It was inevitably going to lead to some kind of escalation. And the problem in this part of the world is it's very hard to stop an escalation. The thing is, this is a war that nobody really wanted and now they don't know how to stop it.
REHMPaul Danahar of the BBC and author of "The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring." Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Two emails on Israel, first from Wayne. "Does it bother no one that over 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire and not a single Israeli killed by rockets from Gaza? This is not retribution. This is a slaughter. I am Jewish and I am ashamed," says Wayne.
DANAHARWell, the reality of Gaza is that many of the deaths are basically because it's very, very built up. Now, Israel considers the houses of the senior Hamas leaders to be legitimate targets because they consider them to be commander control center. What they've been trying to do is basically give them a warning literally, ring them up and tell them, we're about to bomb this place. You better get out.
DANAHARNow sometimes those warning don't work. Sometimes people don't leave their homes. And sometimes, frankly, rockets go in the wrong direction. It happened in the last war. There was a family called the Dalu (sp?) family that were killed in a similar way and eventually Israel said, you know, we made a mistake, but mistakes happen in war. When you've got a very densely populated area and you've got Hamas firing from within civilian areas, you are going to get civilian casualties.
REHMAnd here is another from Leonard in Fort Wayne, Ind. He says, "To those who criticize Israeli airstrikes in Gaza I ask, should they respond to the missile attacks? And if so, how should they respond? I ask too, how would we respond in missiles from Cuba targeting Florida or Texas or Mexico," Indira?
LAKSHMANANYeah, I mean, I think you picked out two emails which really give very good counterpoints. And, you know, to the first person's point I want to say, I did mention the 100 Palestinians who have been killed, many of them, you know, women and children, or at least some of them. And we know that something like more than 900 Palestinians have been displaced from their homes and that hundreds have been injured.
LAKSHMANANSo, you know, that is all out there. And, for example, at the UN Security Council yesterday there was an emergency meeting and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made the point of saying, look there have been 500 rocket attacks by the Hamas side against the Israelis and more than 500 airstrikes by the Israelis against Hamas. And this all needs to stop. So, you know, yes, it's all bad. And, you know, the reason that there's this disproportion is because obviously the Israelis have a much better defense system and much better weapons than the Palestinians do.
LAKSHMANANBut I also just want to quickly make one point that we should not be equating Hamas with the Palestinians. This is not all Palestinian people doing this. And in fact, Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian authority was one of the first to loudly condemn the capture and killing of these three Israelis. And he actually got a lot of heat at home from some of the more radical elements among the Palestinians for having condemned that. So, you know, I don't -- this is not a mainstream view among the Palestinians.
GUTTMANRight. No, I agree. And just to the symmetry of the -- the asymmetry of this conflict, obviously Israel is a strong military power with advanced military capabilities. It has missiles and rockets that can hit precisely in Gaza. And given that Gaza is a very dense and populated area it's practically impossible with all the measures and the precautions that Israel is taking, it's almost impossible not to hit civilians. Once you decide to launch an airstrike, most people will take into consideration that civilians will get hurt.
GUTTMANOn the other hand, Israel has a very advanced civil defense and missile defense air system which so far at least was successful in alerting people and making sure that civilians aren't hurt on the Israeli side. This is the reason for this -- what we see as a disproportion of impact of this conflict.
REHMBut Nathan, you used a phrase I've never heard before during the break. You referred to mowing the lawn.
REHMWhat did you mean?
GUTTMANThis is something that Israeli generals and the military strategists talk about sometimes when they refer to the way that Israel deals with the Gaza Strip. And that is this need -- it sounds very cynical, of course, or stern, but they use it in closed-door discussions. This is -- basically it refers to the need that once in a while, every two years, every four years, you just need to launch some kind of a military operation to degrade the capabilities of the other side, the other side being Hamas this time.
GUTTMANAnd that's why to a certain extent this recent operation was also an opportunity for Israel, an opportunity -- of course it was a response to rocket attacks but it was also an opportunity to deal with the military capabilities with a buildup of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. You mow the lawn once in a while and then the grass is shorter.
REHMWhat do you think, Paul?
DANAHARWell, it's the reality of the region. I mean, while Israel and Egypt now in particular try to stop weapons going in and out of Gaza, some of them can be made frankly in workshops in Gaza. Some are smuggled through bit by bit. And what happens is that I don't think anybody necessarily wanted a battle now, but everybody in that part of the world knows every three or four years, often is the time scale, there is another battle. Because one side or the other believes they have an opportunity to take an advantage of a military situation.
DANAHARIt's been going on for a long while now and it probably isn't going to stop. And the reality is that Hamas is, in many ways, the least worst option for Israel in Gaza because if Hamas was to disappear overnight, there are even worse organizations -- there's Islamic Jihad or even al-Qaida-linked organizations. And Hamas does have some statehood responsibility. It's not only geared up to attack Israel. It's got to manage that population. That's a better scenario than having Islamic Jihad running Gaza for Israel.
LAKSHMANANI think it is true that Hamas' military wing is probably under pressure from Islamic Jihad and the more radical elements that Paul refers to. But I also want to say that, you know, let's not forget the political and diplomatic backdrop to all of this. This is happening on the heels of the collapse of the peace process that the U.S. and John Kerry were trying to shepherd along. And in the wake of the Palestinian authority in Hamas announcing, you know, a unity government. And nobody outside of them was happy about that.
LAKSHMANANThe Israelis were furious and they use that as an excuse for ending the peace talks. The U.S. wasn't that happy either although the funny thing about it is that the U.S. and Israel have both called on the Palestinians to have unity. But then when Hamas becomes part of the unity government, they don't like that either. And it's entirely possible that the military wing of Hamas is also using this as an excuse to try to get out of a unity government with the Palestinians.
LAKSHMANANBecause again, there were those within the more radical elements of Hamas who were not happy about having a unity government with Mahmoud Abbas who is seen by the, you know, very radical elements as being too much of a patsy and too soft on Israel and the West.
GUTTMANAnd it was a sign of Hamas' weakness but they had to form a unity government. They had nowhere to go. No one was talking to them. They were running out of money. They were being blockaded not only from the Israeli side but from the Egyptian side who for the first time really did start shutting down those smuggling tunnels.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to the German spying scandal. Germany says it's uncovered two American spies. Tell us about these accusations, Paul.
DANAHARYeah, well, it appears that the Americans have managed to upset Germany again. First, they were listening to Mrs. Merkel's telephone. And in the meantime they've been also encouraging Germans to hand over secrets to America. There's a lot of fake, oh my goodness, what's going on here. Because let's face it, everybody does it. The reality is that it's not very good if you get caught, particularly by your friends.
DANAHARSo what we have here is German government actually taking quite robust action and basically kicking out America's top spy in Germany. Normally that's done when you really, really don't get on with people. But I think after the phone tapping exercise and because of the political situation in Germany, they had to be seen to be doing something quite robust.
REHMActually there are now two Americans who've been thrown out.
GUTTMANWell, the Germans suspect that there are two moles -- low-level or mid-level moles within the German security apparatus that were selling secrets or passing documents to the Americans. It doesn't seem as if they revealed any one major spy or some kind of a spying network that would really endanger German interests or would really cause real damage to its intelligence. But again, a lot has to do with the perception and the public opinion coming on the heels of the wiretap or the phone tapping incidents.
GUTTMANAnd there's just a feeling in Germany that America's doing it all over again. And there is some problem with this alliance here after Chancellor Merkel received assurances from the Americans that they're not going to listen to her phone line, that they'll be careful in dealing with Germany. Now you find out these two mid to low-level security officials sending secrets. Well, yes, it's a problem for them.
REHMSo how has the U.S. responded to all this, Indira?
LAKSHMANANWell, with -- I would say, you know, they've said, you know, we don't comment on intelligence matters. No question there's a flurry of diplomatic activity in efforts to, you know, smooth ruffled feathers. And Secretary Kerry, when he's going to be in Vienna this weekend on a separate issue on the Iran nuclear talks, is also kind of going to have an opportunity to talk with the German Foreign Minister Steinmeier about this.
LAKSHMANANBut I want to say from the German point of view, I think this was a long time coming. I mean, you know, this is not just like oh, one spark and they call for the, you know, dismissal of these -- this American, you know, CIA station chief from Berlin. I mean, we had first -- even before Angela Merkel's cell phone was tapped, you had the revelation that National Security Agency was picking up, you know, sweeping up Germans', you know, emails and communications.
LAKSHMANANSo we knew that basically anyone in Germany was subject to the NSA picking up their communications. Then we found out about Angela Merkel's private cell phone. Then all this time Germany has been asking the United States for help in their investigation into all of this. And apparently they already knew about spying allegations. The U.S. was not helping. And then within eight days we have two different -- you know, even if they were low-level people, people who had been recruited as American agents.
LAKSHMANANAnd what I find fascinating about this is the way that Angela Merkel, you could argue, has held off for so long. She's under tremendous pressure at home to, you know, not -- again, to not allow America to walk all over her. And I find it incredible because there are a lot of diplomatic things at stake. There's the U.S.-Europe Free Trade Agreement, which could go down the drain if there's enough political opposition in Germany against her government and against her support for it. There's support for sanctions against Russia. And we critically need Germany for that.
LAKSHMANANAnd so in a sense for the U.S. to have been so sloppy as to allow this to happen, for minimal, minimal gain -- I mean, what Angela Merkel said was fascinating. She said, you know, this is basically common sense that spying on your allies is a complete waste of effort. And her finance minister said, this is so amateurish it makes you want to cry.
DANAHARAnd the thing about Germany is, it really resonates because of the old East German Stasi activities that used to go on. And you can get away with that maybe in the UK where we don't have this history. But in a place like Germany where they -- within living memory they lived their lives like this. It really hits home and that's why she's been remarkably cautious and remarkably restrained. But this was a step too far really. And she had to take action.
REHMSo how do you think the U.S. can mend the fence?
DANAHARWell, they can keep apologizing and promise they won't do it again. But the reality is, I mean, you know, they are going to be -- everybody's spying on everyone. I mean, the embarrassing thing is that they got caught so they were careless and sloppy, as Indira was saying. But are they going to stop spying on their allies? No, they're not.
LAKSHMANANBut not just careless and sloppy. Why do it for so little gain?
REHMYeah, yeah, yeah.
LAKSHMANANYou know, if what you've gotten is not fantastic intelligence information but just daily activities of the Russian -- I mean, of the German spy services, it really doesn't seem worth it for the price.
DANAHARBut it goes back to 9/11 and the Hamburgs -- I don't know the rest of it, so there's a little bit of history there too.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's turn to Iraq and Iran, the takeover of chemical weapons by ISIS, Nathan. What's happening there?
GUTTMANWell, I think, yeah, it's incredible that in 2014 we're discussing again the Iraqi chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction as if history is repeating itself in a very weird and ironic way. And basically the ISIS forces just outside Baghdad managed to take over a stockpile of very old shells and rockets filled with chemical weapons that were basically waiting for -- to be dismantled according to a UN protocol that had to deal with them.
GUTTMANAnd then Iraq just announced and sent a note to the UN saying, well we don't have these things anymore. The ISIS rebels took over these stockpiles. Now, on the one hand it sounds really alarming because no one wants a terror organization like ISIS to have hold of such weapons. On the other hand, experts say that given the time that's passed and the situation in which they were, everything is probably the greater. It's probably not active as a chemical weapon or as chemical agents any longer. So it might sound scary but there is no practical significance on the ground.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. The U.S. State Department has really tried to downplay concerns about this saying that all of this stuff had already been degraded -- started to be degraded at the time that UN weapons inspectors put out their report a year after the U.S. invasion. So in 2004, so by now ten years later, they believe that it is even more degraded.
LAKSHMANANBut, you know, the larger question is, you don't want to have radical Islamic militants capturing, you know, major cities throughout Baghdad and oil wells and refineries and also chemical weapon storage facilities.
LAKSHMANANYou know, all of this is a larger problem.
REHMAnd now Defense Secretary Hagel is saying this week that ISIS poses a threat to the U.S., not just Baghdad.
DANAHARYeah, I think at the moment they are concerned with the Middle East. They are concerned with consolidating the gains that they've made. And ISIS is different from al-Qaida. I mean, al-Qaida actually has disowned ISIS for being in some way too extreme, which really tells you something about the state of the Islamic state.
DANAHARBut the realities at the moment they are focused on consolidating where the other bigger danger I think is not necessarily ISIS. It's the people that are going to fight for them when they return home. Because you don't need to actually get a command from anybody anymore to say, go do this. Once you've learned how to do this you can go and do it all on your own. And that's the big problem.
DANAHARNot that ISIS is going to become another al-Qaida central, but that the people that are with ISIS will go off on their own and do things. That's what's happened in other parts of the world. That's what happened in the UK. The 7/7 bombings in the UK, they were pretty much guys acting on their own with their own ideas but they had the technology. They had the information and the ability from going off and fighting somewhere else.
GUTTMANBut also going back to the chemical weapons and anecdotally also ISIS people apparently took hold of a uranium compound from a laboratory in Iraq. It's not enriched uranium that can be used for a bomb but still it's a scary thought. It also makes you think once again about the way the U.S. left Iraq after all. Because there was a symptom out of haste there.
GUTTMANAnd the fact that eventually you leave without an agreement with the Iraqis, without forces, with chemical weapons even if they were degraded sitting there and waiting to be taken care of, it just highlights the fact that in the departure from Iraq probably didn't take care of all the problems left on the ground, which we see with the whole ISIS crisis now.
REHMAnd in the meantime you've got this deadlock in the Iraqi parliament.
GUTTMANRight, of course. Nouri al-Maliki seems to be wanting to cling onto his job even while his...
GUTTMAN...even while his country is falling apart. So --and he seems to be successful with it so far. The latest news is this boycott by the Kurdish representatives that are now refusing to attend the cabinet meetings because of Nouri al-Maliki's accusations that they hosted or welcomed ISIS to their territory.
REHMNathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward. Short break. When we come back, we'll open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup. Let's open the phones now to Rita in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air.
RITAHello, Diane. I hope my comment isn't alarming. But no one has ever mentioned that Gaza is a tiny place, 139 square miles. Israel was granted 7,992 square miles of land when it was formed. And that's about the size of New Jersey. Gaza isn't even the size of my county in Ohio. It's maybe half of my county. And what are these people supposed to do when they're locked in. They can't even fish, and they're right on the coast. What are they supposed to do? Just lie down and die?
DANAHARLook, I think the issue for Israel is that they did occupy Gaza, physically. They pulled out. They believed that by pulling out there would be an opportunity for there to be less violence with regard to what was happening to their citizens. And what they say is, we pulled out and we got rockets. That's why they basically are blockading Gaza now. There are many, many people in Gaza that don't want a Hamas government. Realistically, they have no capacity to get rid of them. So both sides are locked in what is basically an unsolvable situation.
DANAHARI remember speaking to Egyptians and they don't want Gaza. I remember speaking to the chief of staff of the Israeli defense forces. He said to me, nobody wants Gaza. That's the real problem. Nobody knows what to do about Gaza. And the people of Gaza are the ones that are stuck in the middle.
REHMAll right, to Margie in Baltimore, Md. Hi, you're on the air.
MARGIEHi, thank you. I just wanted to make the point. You had said eloquently that you're wondering if the two sides would have done something differently when this -- when these murders occurred, would the outcome be different. And I wanted to make the point that the Israelis handled it by arresting the murderers, putting them -- they will be put on trial. And the people of the country were truly sorry. They even went to visit the Palestinians -- the family. On the other hand, you have the leader of Palestinians coming out and saying it was wrong.
MARGIEBut you don't have any of their army going, arresting the murderers or the people of the country. On the other hand, they are celebrating. There are pictures of them giving out candy and treats. So it's -- it can raise an awful lot of angry feelings. And I'm not condoning the actions. But I just wanted to make the point that the...
MARGIEIt was handled in a different way.
REHMAll right. Nathan.
GUTTMANWell, I think we have a tendency sometimes in these situations to look at the extremes. And it's easier with the pictures that we see on TV and on the Internet to see the extremists on both camps actually capture the headlines. The fact of the matter, as I see it, is that, yes, the Israeli government, of course, condemned the murder of the Palestinian kid and acted swiftly to arrest the suspect and will probably bring them to trial very soon. And the Palestinian authority, first of all we should say, doesn't really have the military or police power to find or to go after these alleged terrorists that -- the alleged murderers of the three Israeli kids.
GUTTMANAnd then, it's probably that Israel will do itself, will not count on the Palestinians to do it. By and large, my impression is that those who celebrated on the Palestinian side are a minority. And it took a lot for Mahmoud Abbas to come out and speak out against it at a time where his political situation isn't great, where he has a lot of opposition. And he did do it. So I think we should look more at the mainstream and less at the margins of both sides.
REHMAll right. To Richard, who's here in Washington D.C. You're on the air.
RICHARDMy question is, in light of the fact that you have really tremendous extremism on both sides -- both Israelis and Palestinians. Is it at all possible that these murders were committed by extremists of either side. In other words, could an Israeli extremist have been responsible for the deaths of the Israeli children and vice versa?
LAKSHMANANI don't think that there's any evidence of that. I mean, but in terms of extremists being responsible, yes. It seems that extremists, potentially within Hamas, although Hamas has not admitted any connection to the death of the Israeli teenagers. So it might have been rogue elements within Hamas who were responsible for that. And certainly it appears at least that those were Israeli extremists who were responsible for the death of the Palestinian. But I don't think anyone is doing it against themselves.
LAKSHMANANBut, you know, again, on the larger question -- and let's not forget also, I just wanted to say about the Palestinian victim, that his cousin, who happens to be an American from Florida, was also apparently...
LAKSHMANAN...beaten up badly by Israeli authorities. And that was one of the issues that President Obama brought up in his phone call with Bibi Netanyahu yesterday, his concern about that. And at the same time, his offer to quote "facilitate" efforts towards a ceasefire, which I thought was really interesting because he didn't use the word mediate.
LAKSHMANANAnd immediately people jumped on the White House statement and said, oh my goodness, is he offering to mediate? Is this giving face to Hamas? Is the U.S. going to talk to Hamas? And of course the White House had to clarify. They never said mediate, they said facilitate. So it's not really clear how they would do that without talking to Hamas.
DANAHARAnd I think it's been clear that Netanyahu has spoken, you know, privately to people in the Knesset basically saying we're not ready to do a ceasefire yet. Israel believes it's got certain military objectives that it has to meet.
DANAHARWell, it needs to stop Hamas firing very large rockets at Israel. And until it feels that it's dealt with that, politically and militarily, it would be very, very difficult to stop it now. The problem is the government of Netanyahu doesn't have a lot of political support apart from the Americans. And we know the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. So at the moment, Netanyahu...
REHMWhich is not good.
DANAHARWhich is not great. So we have a situation here where politically he may be -- he's isolated with the rest of the world, while he has the massive support within Israel because they always support their leaders when they're under threat. But it's a very difficult political situation to resolve. We've got no mediators. They've got very little confidence amongst all the people involved in this in the past. And their problem is, in this part of the world, if things don't get dealt with quickly, they just get worse.
REHMSo how much longer would you believe this will go on, Nathan?
GUTTMANWell, there is a certain playbook for these situations. We've seen it in the past. It usually gets worse and then, when things really reach a point where both sides think that they have more to lose than to gain by continuing, someone steps in. The problem, as mentioned before here, the problem is, first of all, we don't have anyone to step in right now. We don't have the Egyptians or the Qataris or the Turks or the Americans in any really efficient way, to step in and to stop the violence. I think the sentiment in Israel is that most of the public does not want to see a ground operation.
GUTTMANIt's clear that the military doesn't -- is not eager to launch a ground operation because everyone understands that that will be -- the returns on that will be very low, that it won't reach any military goal. So the only question is now where you stop it. The problem is that, as is the case with wars, you can't really plan what will happen next. And Israelis right now, as we speak, are relatively safe. There were no Israelis killed. But you can never know when and where the next rocket will hit. And that will change the whole dynamic within the Israeli public opinion.
REHMIt has been said on this program that if those rockets hit within Tel Aviv and people die, then you will have a whole different set of events.
GUTTMANFor sure. Then you'll see the public demanding some kind of response. And even though -- looking at it with a clear head from outside, you would say, well, a ground incursion to Gaza won't lead to any meaningful results. If you will see, in the center of Tel Aviv, in the center of Israel's major metropolitan, people dying from rockets, definitely the sense of the need to revenge and to send a message would be stronger than these voices.
DANAHARAnd that is the kind of thing -- that's the only thing that's making both sides think. Because neither side really wants a ground invasion because they know -- well, the Israelis know that more Israelis will die in a ground invasion, because they'll be fighting people on the ground. And we know from the Cast Lead Operation that many, many more Palestinians will die, because we were in the thousands last time. So I think that we'll get to a situation where the Qataris will get called in. They dealt with the -- with recent incidents of kind of intervening with militant groups. I think they are really the only people that could probably do it.
LAKSHMANANI think widening the frame here, let's not forget that this is a very, very stark reminder that nothing short of a two-state solution is going to solve this problem. This is going to keep coming up time and again. Nathan used a very striking term of mowing the grass, which is so disturbing. But, you know, if the Israelis feel that that's a necessity for their own protection, I don't think anything is going to, you know, stop this from recurring and recurring unless there are the two states with security and, you know, peace for both sides. And that's something that we know has not, you know, that effort is not going so well.
REHMWe have an email asking, "How independent is the Kurdish portion of Iraq? Is it more internally stable than the rest of Iraq? And would the new Islamic State militant group eventually turn its eyes there? Indira.
LAKSHMANANI thought it was really interesting that Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish foreign minister of Iraq, said today that, you know, he's so disillusioned by Nouri al-Maliki's sectarian policies and determination to hold on, trying to go for a third term and everything. He used this phrase. He said, the country is now literally divided into three states, Kurdish, a black state -- by which he meant the part controlled by the Islamic militants -- and Baghdad.
LAKSHMANANNow that's really scary, because that means if you're looking at a fracturing where, you know, we refer to this terrorist group as the group that formerly called itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Are we going to be calling it the former State of Iraq? I mean that's a terrifying thought. And it does seem that the Kurdish part is more stable. And clearly, they're looking at this as perhaps their golden opportunity to get independence after all.
LAKSHMANANWe know that Kurdish peshmerga soldiers have gone in and taken control of two oil fields near Kirkuk. They've expelled the Arab workers. They've put in Kurdish personnel. You know, so this could fracture really out of control. And I want to specify, of course, that I know that the border of Iraq, to begin with, is a bit artificial, since it was drawn by the British.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, to begin with it's a made up...
DANAHARWe drew a lot of very bad lines.
LAKSHMANANYeah, in a lot of parts of the world.
DANAHARBut I think we are looking at the de facto breakup of Iraq. I mean, it's been a bit of a fiction for the last few years that there really was an Iraq holding together. But you did have this situation where, you know, the Kurds were slightly worried about getting into a war with Maliki's forces. They have now seen that Maliki's forces are really not very good and a lot less to be worried about. So, you know, you do have a situation now where the Kurds have pretty much been running their own state anyway. They do have an army. They have a kind of president. They have a political structure.
DANAHARYou've only got to look at a picture recently of when John Kerry went to Baghdad and to the Kurdish side. He got out of the helicopter in Maliki-controlled area and he had a bulletproof jacket on and all the rest of it. And he got out of a helicopter in the Kurdish areas and they were all standing around in their t-shirts. I mean, it's a completely different situation. And that's what the Kurds are looking for in the future.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about Afghanistan. Nathan, the Afghan presidential race there is certainly in flux.
GUTTMANWell, we've seen that there was a runoff between the two end candidates have made it to the second round, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. And to the surprise of Abdullah Abdullah for sure, but for many others, Ghani came up, according to the unofficial tally I guess, him leading by at least 10 percent or more of the votes. And there have been widespread cause for investigation because of election fraud.
REHMAnd the recount.
GUTTMANAnd the recount. There's -- actually there's evidence. There's even recordings of activists instructing others to stuff the ballots. It wasn't done in a very sophisticated way. But the question is how do you move forward now? Abdullah Abdullah basically threatened to set up what he calls a parallel government if he's not -- if there is no recount of the votes. And now Secretary Kerry is making an unexpected stop in Afghanistan trying to discuss the issue. And the United States, of course, is in a very difficult situation because the last thing it wants is for Afghanistan to fall apart or for the fragile democracy there to fall apart.
GUTTMANOn the other hand, does America want to weigh-in on one of the sides in this internal political debate within Afghanistan. So it's a difficult situation.
LAKSHMANANSo far the U.S. has not weighed-in on either side. And that's an interesting point to make because Ashraf Ghani is someone who has a lot of friends in Washington. He's a former World Bank economist who spent many, many years here and knows literally everybody who's anybody in Washington. I don't think anyone would have expected him to win, even a year ago, given that in the last election he got less than 5 percent of the vote. He got only a couple percent. He certainly upped his game this time.
LAKSHMANANBut we had even the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, a U.S. official, saying that there do seem to be signs of fraud, although not necessarily blaming it on the Ghani camp -- that it could have been done by the Karzai camp, who really, you know, he's a long-time rival against Abdullah Abdullah, who's from a different ethnic group.
LAKSHMANANBut I mean, ultimately, what is the U.S. interest here? It is to get the signing of the bilateral security agreement. Both of these men have pledged that they would sign the agreement that would allow U.S. -- a limited number of U.S. forces to stay on beyond the end of this year. So the U.S., in a way, would be happy with either man. But what John Kerry is asking for now is some sort of a coalition government. And he's wielding the threat of cutting off U.S. aid if they can't come to some sort of solution.
DANAHARAnd what they really want to avoid is a situation after the Soviets left, where you had the president and prime minister of Afghanistan literally firing rockets at each other. I mean you had the situation where the prime minister of Afghanistan was bombing his own capital. So that's what they're really trying to avoid this time around. I think what's slightly odd here is if you look at the results of the first round, Mr. Ghani was well behind Abdullah Abdullah.
DANAHARAnd Abdullah Abdullah nearly took it in the first round.
DANAHARThen suddenly everything changes. And that's what's really got people upset. And if you remember, last time around Abdullah Abdullah said he got cheated out of the presidency. So for him and his supporters in particular, this is going to be very, very hard to swallow -- the sense of being cheated twice.
REHMWell, we shall see in the coming weeks. Thank you all. Paul Danahar of the BBC, Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News, Nathan Guttman of Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward. Have a great weekend everybody.
DANAHARThanks very much, Diane.
LAKSHMANANYou, too. Thanks.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.