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Israel prepares ‘ground manoeuvres’ against Hamas – Ehud Yaari interview on ABC Radio National

Oct 14, 2023 | AIJAC staff

IDF paratroopers outside the Gaza border (File photo: Isranet)
IDF paratroopers outside the Gaza border (File photo: Isranet)

ABC RN “Saturday Extra” – 14 October 2023

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Geraldine Doogue: But first today, to the question that’s preoccupied us here at Saturday extra, how to respond usefully to the exceptionally confronting violence in Israel and Gaza and potentially the region, as if the slaughter last weekend wasn’t enough to overwhelm. We know there’s more suffering to come, maybe much more. As one writer put it, how can Israel respond to a war crime without committing another war crime? So we decided to return separately to three people from the region whom we’ve introduced to you before, who all know their neighbourhoods well. Ehud Yaari from Israel, Rajaa Shehada from the West Bank and Kim Ghattas from Beirut. First to Ehud, a media commentator and observer for many decades, to whom I spoke earlier this morning from his home in Jerusalem.

Ehud Yaari: Thank you.

Geraldine Doogue: I’ve interviewed you many times, Ehud, to gauge sentiment inside Israel and beyond. What for you are the key reactions personally, first post the weekend events and then what’s less obvious? What’s happening in the world around you?

Ehud Yaari: I have heard your list of speakers and I have my assumptions, but I’m not going into that. And I will say that what we had here was an attack by Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organisation which is amplifying the Einsatzgruppen of the Nazis, more than even ISIS slaughtering babies, decapitating babies, raping young girls and then burning them down. And then the state of Israel has to decide, after 1300 killed, what do we do? What do we do is very simple. We retaliate. We dismantle Hamas. It cannot stay there. We cannot tolerate such an entity next door. And this is what will happen. Now, I know your Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, is calling for restraint. Would she call for restraint vis a vis the Nazis, vis a vis the Japanese, vis a vis ISIS? These are worst. So we are going to do it. We are trying to do it as humanly possible, as possible as we can. We are calling on the population of Gaza to remove themselves from the areas of future fighting. We are giving them times. We are doing everything we can.

Geraldine Doogue: So I see that your Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said, we’re fighting for the homeland and we’re fighting like lions. Does this definitely suggest a ground invasion? Because there are obviously traps there for the IDF as well?

Ehud Yaari: Geraldine, you know, many, many years. I don’t have any more much respect for our current Prime Minister. He has lost it. Yes, we are going into Gaza. We are going in force. It will not be nice because it will be a screen of fire before our divisions entering Gaza. But we have no choice. We cannot have any more this monstrous entity called Hamas next to us. When you don’t want, you don’t know when they spring an attack against us. Oh, I can see, I know Australia as you know. I can see some of the reactions on ABC especially and in Australia. But yes, we have no choice if we want to live.

Geraldine Doogue: Can I quote you, the New York Times commentator Tom Friedman, who has, he says has been covering the conflict for almost 50 years, has lived in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And he said Israel has never needed to be smarter in all its history, that its leaders need to think to themselves, what do my worst enemies want me to do? And how can I do just the opposite? By the sound of it, you don’t agree with that?

Ehud Yaari: No, I’m telling you, Tom Friedman is my good old friend. If you read his books, you will see many mentions of my name as a source in his books. I don’t understand what he’s trying to say. We are faced now with an Iranian plot to try and derail the American-led effort to have a normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which changes the lay of land in the Middle East. They have assured Hamas that if Hamas takes the lead, then Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will come at one point to support them. I’m not sure about that. That’s what we are facing. What we have now, is not an Israeli, Palestinian and Israeli Hamas confrontation. What we are confronting now is a regional confrontation about the landscape of the Middle East. And this is exactly why the American aircraft carriers are coming to the region. While Blinken is here. While Defence Minister Austin is here. Why President Biden made this unbelievable speech that he made the other day. Because it’s not about the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. It’s about much bigger issues.

Geraldine Doogue: Yes, I can see that. But it is also about quotes, smaller issues in terms of how Israel lives in its region. Another thing that Friedman said the other day, and I think you’ve even said it or alluded to to me, Netanyahu has never wanted the world to believe there are, quote, good Palestinians ready to live side by side with Israel in peace and try to nurture them like the West Bank people that the Palestinian Authority, whom he’s always sidelined. And basically, you know, it’s almost like when he’s talking to the Saudis, I think there was even a map shown, Palestinians didn’t exist. So, I mean, can you not see any movement there, particularly thinking of the West Bank in all of this?

Ehud Yaari: Geraldine, not true. One thing is Hamas was never, never, not even today about negotiating with Israel, about having a peace with Israel, about having two peace solution, two-state solution with Israel. That’s nothing in Hamas agenda.

Geraldine Doogue: Not Hamas, but people in the West Bank. Yes, there could have been.

Ehud Yaari: One second. The West Bank is a question about what the Palestinian Authority is willing to do in order to curtail the rising terrorism coming out of there. The incitement coming out of there. Pay for slay to people who kill Israelis, everybody who kills an Israeli, gets a stipend, gets a salary from the Palestinian Authority. It’s extremely complicated. Complicated. We would very much like to have the Palestinian Authority as an ally. They are unfortunately too weak, too incapable. I think we need the international community and the donor states to help us and other good Palestinians to try and fix it. But so far, there is only, you know, a lot of talk from the EU and UN etcetera, but nothing is being done. And in the West Bank you have a situation in which you have a deteriorating, a state of terrorist attacks to which we unfortunately have to respond.

Geraldine Doogue: The settlers are also they’re becoming very, very difficult to manage as well.

Ehud Yaari: Some, some of the settlers. Yes. Agreed. Some of the settlers are becoming too aggressive. They are not being controlled by the current government of Mr. Netanyahu and his allies. But this is not the cause. If you ask me whether this is happening. Yes it is. Is it the main cause for the security situation, the deterioration? The answer is no.

Geraldine Doogue: You also have a lot of links with the surrounding region. How do you sense the Saudis are going to continue to respond at the moment they’re playing what I would say is a dead bat. They’re saying no more talks at the moment towards this big deal that Netanyahu wants to pull off. But what do you think they’ll they’ll do if this greater violence occurs that you’re foreshadowing?

Ehud Yaari: Geraldine, the whole idea of getting the Hamas to mount this attack, vicious attack against Israel was Iran. And the reason was that they want to derail the process, led by the US of normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, because they know it will change the lay of the land in the region. And they are, they suspect that it will allow Israel to have assets closer to Saudi Arabia, etcetera. So what they did was tell Hamas, Hamas were not eager to pick up a fight with Israel on their own. Believe me, I know them. I know them really well. They were not. The only reason they have accepted to mount this attack on Saturday was because they got an assurance by the Iranians and Hezbollah in Lebanon that if the sword is, is the knife is at their neck, they will come to the rescue. I’m not sure they will. But what we have here is not an Israel-Hamas, an Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. It’s a regional contest, which is based on the attempt to change the region through an Israeli-Saudi normalisation. And this is why the Americans are here with two aircraft carriers. And this is why I think, Geraldine, I think you will see a very, very forceful Israeli operation in Gaza trying to avoid hitting civilians but trying to knock out, uproot Hamas there.

Geraldine Doogue: Alright, Ehud, I’m sure we’ll speak again in these exceptionally challenging times. Thank you very much indeed for your time today.

Ehud Yaari: Most welcome.

Geraldine Doogue: Ehud Yaari, a fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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