Transcript- Yossi Alpher Emergency Briefing 10-11-2023

Hadar Susskind  00:14

Hello, everyone. I'm Hadar Susskind. I'm the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now. Thank you for joining us for this discussion. And what has been, obviously just an unbearably difficult week. The week is not over, the conflict is not over, we know that. I'm going to ask those of you who are regular guests of ours, you know, to sit here and filibuster for a moment while while folks come down to the Zoom. Then I will make some very brief remarks. And we'll of course introduce our our guest for today and get started. But we have many, many hundreds of people who registered to join us. And I see folks coming in quickly, but the number is still going up. So I will wait one more moment. And again, I just welcome you all: Welcome you to this webinar, I welcome you into our community, because that is definitely what we are in. Just an unspeakably awful week, I, you know, I wish I had more, I don't know, fancy professional words than that. But as you know, I do not. I will, again, go ahead and get us started. So I'm Hadar Susskind. I'm the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, thank you. Before we introduce our guests and turn it over to him, I know I've been in touch over email and social media and on the phone with many of you already. I thank you for all of your comments and your support. You know what's happening on the ground there, what happened on Saturday, and is continuing to happen. And frankly, what is coming is just a tragedy and horrific on every front. And I don't think there's... certainly I know, Yossi, Ori and I... Yossi is of course, there, you know, know many people that are deeply directly affected. And I know for so many of you, you have friends and family who are there, I send you all my love, and I hope they are all safe. And I know for many of us without we already know that not everyone is safe. And that's just our reality at this minute. And so again, I just want to thank you all for being in this together. And Ori, I want to hand it over to you.


Ori Nir  02:34

Thank you, Hadar. So, as you all know, we start with the mundane comments, you know that this is being recorded, and the recording will be available in video on our YouTube channel, and in audio on our podcast, PeaceCast. The audio will be probably ready sometime today, and the video sometime tomorrow. You also know that you're more than welcome to post questions using the Q&A tool, not the raise hand but the Q&A tool that's on the bottom of your screen. Keep your questions short, please. We'll try to accommodate as many of them as we can. And lastly, I'm sure that most of you, if not all know Yossi Alpher if not in person at least through the analysis that he writes for APN on a weekly basis. It's called "Hard Questions, Tough Answers". And, in my opinion, Yossi is truly Israel's leading strategic analyst. A real expert on strategic issues. He's the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former official with Israel's Mossad. And a former IDF Intelligence officer, he has a very long resume that I won't burden you with now. And Yossi will start with some introductory remarks and then we will ask him your questions. So Yossi the floor is yours.


Yossi Alpher  04:15

Thank you, Ori. Thank you, Hadar. Hello, everybody, good afternoon. We're talking about an extremely dynamic situation. And I want you to bear that in mind because the remarks I make this evening may be passé within a few hours or by tomorrow. And I'm gonna open with a few... try to describe where we are right now, but again, it's extremely dynamic, extremely fluid, and beginning with the events of the last hour. Israel as of tomorrow, the Knesset will approve a unity government and unity cabinet, a wartime cabinet if you like. Very limited to Bibi, to Benny Gantz from the coming from the opposition. You have Yoav Gallant, Minister of Defense with with a number of observers, including Gadi Eizenkot, an invitation to Yair Lapid to join if he so desires as an observer. And this will be... basically we're looking at a decision to put decisionmaking in the hands of three people, including representatives from the opposition, Benny Gantz. How this will work, given the backdrop of enmity, and mistrust between Gantz and Netanyahu is anyone's guess. And my guess is it won't last very long. But that's just my surmise. We also in the last hour, half hour, have some sort of a mini-invasion of the Galilee from Lebanon by hangliders. Not clear how many, not clear who, not clear when. But the entire Galilee Golan and Beit She'an region are on alert. I don't think this is the beginning of any sort of major offensive by Hamas or Hezbollah in the north. But it's certainly part of an escalating campaign by Hamas with the forbearance or backing of Hezbollah in Iran to open up some sort of additional front in the north as Hamas readies for some sort of Israeli action on the ground in Gaza in the days ahead, and presumably reach the formation of this unity cabinet as a prelude to this IDF action on the ground in Gaza, on the ground, from the air, from the sea. On what scale we don't know. But another clearly another stage of this war, and one that is likely to be escalatory and produce far more casualties than even we've seen so far. That in a nutshell is this situation right now. And I emphasize that it's in constant flux. Israel's operational plans or strategy for Gaza, from what we've been told by Netanyahu and this is prior to the formation of a cabinet that includes the input of Gantz and Eizenkot. Very wise and cool heads at a strategic level. But the idea that Bibi has given us until now is what began his talk of destroying Hamas in Gaza. It now sounds more like destroying the Hamas leadership structure or infrastructure in Gaza, which presumably could be easier to do without fully occupying the Gaza Strip, with the more days go by and the more people sober up from the events of Saturday and think about this. Nobody really wants to do it. But I would venture to say that the expansion of the decision-making body expansion for the better. We'll see some new definitions of war aims because dismantling Hamas in Gaza is pretty vague. And it's reminiscent of things that have been done in the past. We've decapitated the leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and they grow new heads and recover relatively quickly. But beyond some sort of ground operation in Gaza, I don't have any immediate thoughts about what Israel is planning to do. Clearly, we don't want this to expand. We don't want it to escalate to the north. We now have the input of President Biden from his speech last night, which touched a lot of Israelis and caused a great deal of positive commentary. But I would just like to offer a note of caution here. Will the American presence of the fleet of one or two carrier groups nearby in the Mediterranean, with all the aircraft they have, with all the intelligence they have, prevent escalation? Or is it liable to inspire Iran and Hezbollah to test the United States and escalate and even try to draw it into some kind of fighting on the assumption that history proves that the US doesn't usually... when it gets involved on the ground in the Middle East, it doesn't come out well. And I just offered this as food for thought. For Israelis, it's very comforting to know that these one or two carrier groups are there and that we have such firm and inspiring support from the President of the United States. How this will be translated into reality, we have to wait and see. Israel doesn't want the US to fight for it and hopefully won't have to call on the US for anything. But what Biden seems to be saying is if Iran and its long arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, are thinking of getting involved, they'll have to deal with the United States. That's the way it seems to be interpreted here. And the question is, does this deter them or not? I frankly, don't know. A word about the hostages. From the Hamas standpoint, given that, in my understanding, Hamas' number one objective with this operation is to free its prisoners in Israeli jails. Thousands of terrorists were jailed in Israel. This, I believe, is its number one objective. Important to note that you hear Yehia Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, himself spent some 20 years in an Israeli jail. He's committed to this. And from his standpoint, grabbing grandmothers and babies, from his standpoint, was a brilliant stroke. Because it's not just Israeli soldiers, POWs and we say, "Okay, Gilad Shalit spent five years and he came out okay. And they're young, and they're strong" and so forth. No, Hamas is going to play up these grandmothers and these babies and, and, and young women, to the hilt to apply pressure via the Israeli public, on the Government of Israel, to make their concessions. I fear it's going to use them as human shields. This is going to be a major element of whatever conflict we see on the ground. Not all of these hostages will survive this that's for certain. And, and we should be prepared for Hamas to exploit this to the hilt. And I've met a number of people who say "Yeah, but why did they take grandmothers?" Some of these 85-year-olds are demented. With their Filipino aids. Why did they take them? Precisely because it's going to bother you so much, be on your mind, and become a major source of pressure on the government of Israel. A final word of introduction about the Israeli approach to Gaza over the past decade or so, and how it contributed to this to this war. We have had to a growing degree Netanyahu governments, particularly this one that are openly anti-two-state solution, openly anti-any direct political negotiations with the PLO, the Ramallah-based PLO, led by Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen. In parallel, it looks at Gaza with its Hamas leadership. Hamas, which opposes the two-state solution, is not interested in a two-state solution and is using this war, among other things to enhance its prestige to eventually take over the West Bank. And the Netanyahu approach has been one of what I call, I'm not the only one who calls it "economic peace". We can't have political or diplomatic or strategic peace with these guys. But they want to live better. And if we can improve their lot, for example, by employing 20,000 Gazans in that same Gaza periphery they just invaded, then they'll be interested in a relatively peaceful coexistence with us. Hamas exploited this to the hilt, to lull the government and the intelligence authorities into thinking that we had a modus vivendi with them, that it was possible to coexist with them. They even in recent weeks and months, they were negotiating with us, Hamas leadership, via Qatar and Egypt for more financial aid for Israel to employ more Gazans on our side of the fence. And in general, to put the whole arena, strategic arena to sleep. This exploited a government, which so opposed making any concessions in the West Bank that it was prepared with Netanyahu who's prepared to talk with a PLO that at least officially and not only officially is prepared to discuss a two-state solution. So opposed to this, so much do they covet the land of the West Bank, that they were prepared to look for ways to improve the lot of Gazans, to allow Hamas to stabilize its role, with collaboration from Egypt Qatar, and Iran. And in the hopes that this will split the Palestinian polity, which of course was done, and enable them to say Westbank nobody to talk to look at Gaza, we can't we have peaceful coexistence whether we just make sure the Qataris show up with suitcases full of money. Well, this idea that if the dedicated Islamist enemy, which refuses to recognize us as a people, which refuses to recognize Israel at all, as an idea or as a physical entity, which is dedicated to destroying Israel, we can coexist by making sure they have full bellies. This is now flown in their face. Some of you know I've been warning about this for many years, this idea, of economic peace working. It's now exploded. And yet, I fear that if the Israeli war aim is conceived by Netanyahu as being just to dismantle Hamas, destroy the leadership, destroy the Hamas infrastructure, then if this succeeds, two years from now, we might be back where we are right now. Because I don't see any likelihood that the alternative would be placing the PLO back into the Gaza Strip, you can't do this at the point of Israeli bayonets. I don't think Abu Mazen would collaborate, or I don't think any Arab country would collaborate on this. And so this is my way of saying we got ourselves into this mess by treating Hamas in the Gaza Strip this way, our war aims are not likely to include a way out; a viable alternative. Even if we do succeed in somehow dismantling Hamas in the Gaza Strip. I'm going to end my remarks here and be happy to hear your questions.


Ori Nir  19:26

Thank you. So you talked about war aims just now. And I wanted to ask you, what do you think are the objectives of Israel's counterattack? Is it too... we've heard conflicting things from Israeli officials, some have been talking about doing away with Hamas, destroying Hamas, eradicating Hamas, and so on. And some were a little more, you know, modest and said, eroding the military capabilities of Hamas. So, if you address those two ends of the spectrum or something like that. What do you think? How attainable are they? And what are the tactics that would be would have to be used for them? And maybe I'll add one more thing, which is a question that we got from one of our attendees. And that is, how does stopping the supply of food and electricity work into that? What's its role in an Israeli strategy?


Yossi Alpher  20:28

Well, let me start from the end. I mean, are we really going to starve? Two-point something million Gazans into submission? Is this accompanied by some sort of ultimatum such as "give us back the hostages, and we'll turn on the electricity and the water and the gas"? So far, it hasn't been. In other words, we've, we've closed down the utilities. But without defining an objective, other than just softening up the Gaza Strip, and leaving them literally in the dark and thirsty before we actually go in there. So this is part of the problem. We have always had, going back 56 years in defining "what do we want from the Gaza Strip? What do we want there?" I mean, and we've never defined it well, we're not defining it well right now. If you watch the endless panel discussions on Israeli news channels, you will see one retired general who says we have to destroy everything in Gaza kill every Hamasnic, and leave total scorched earth. And another comes in and says with a more what sounds like a more reasonable approach. "No, we have to get rid of the leadership. What you describe will backfire on us, will all have huge losses, and the entire world will blame us." And here by the way, I want to interject that there's a very clear sense among all strategic observers with a lot of experience not just in Gaza, but with Israel fighting wars against the Arabs, that time is against us. And that particularly, the moment a casualties in the Gaza Strip, begin to increase and go sky high, I mean, civilian casualties. And that's an inevitable result of any ground operation. The world will be up in arms against us and all the support we have right now from Biden to the French to the Germans to the British, even quiet support from some Arab neighbors will evaporate or begin to evaporate. So there's a sense of where we're fighting against time, yet we don't have our war aims clearly delineated. And we haven't really begun. All we've done is soften up Gaza from the air very successfully, kill a few Hamas leaders, and clear out 99% of the terrorists on Israeli soil, but not all of them. They keep showing up and popping out of the bushes here since Saturday. And you think about this, I mean, all they need is a car and they can drive anywhere they want to go in Israel. They are in the country and they're armed, and vicious, really vicious. So you know, where are we going to end up... I would just suggest that we're going to see we're going to see the war aims fluid in the coming days, probably redefined, and probably redefined as we go along. And as we see what's going on, and of course, one thing everybody's watching is if we start moving into Gaza, with divisions, with armor and infantry divisions and or perhaps from the air, perhaps on the sea, how will Hezbollah/Iran react to this? So far, they've just been sparring with us on the north in the north. But there is a there at least as a hypothesis, that they're planning to scale up in the north against Israel, if and as the dead bodies of Gazan Palestinians pile up in the Gaza Strip. And they feel they have a justification not only in their own countries but from the Arab streets as well. Thank you, Yossi. We have a lot of smart, important questions coming in. I'm gonna take a couple of them that are kind of gory because it's about the hostages. And I think my first baseline question and again, kind of taking a few of these together, is what you're hearing about the Israeli government's willingness to engage in recovering hostages... or not recovering... in any sort of hostage exchange. I have seen from, you know, legitimate news outlets, both reports that they... Hamas is refusing to talk to anybody about that, including the US government. And I've also seen reports that say the Israeli government is unwilling to talk to anybody about any kind of exchange, obviously, well, actually, they could all be right. I don't know. What do you know about the Israeli government's willingness to discuss the prisoner exchange and anything else you can share about the hostage situation? And I'll just add, that I just saw a moment ago, that folks may not be aware that Secretary Blinken is traveling to Israel today. And the US Deputy Special Envoy for hostage affairs is part of his team there. So that's obviously one of the issues the US government engages in. And we know that there are a number of American citizens among those hostages. I think 14 Americans, also British. I don't know from some dozen different countries, which from the Israeli-Palestinian standpoint is good, because it should increase the international pressure on Hamas, to the extent that Hamas is pressurable. By let's say, the British or or the Philippines. But I've heard all the rumors you've heard, Hadar. And, it's clear that there's... the Netanyahu government feels a lot of public pressure to get these hostages back. Having said that bear in mind, , that Netanyahu is known to be notoriously shy of making hard decisions. Look how long it took him to set up this very simple unity cabinet, which should have become fete accompli by Saturday night. And secondly, objectively speaking, he's got a real dilemma on his hands. Because the price that will have to be paid to free those hostages is presumably something like emptying Israel's jails of terrorists. And you've sent them back to either the West Bank or to the Gaza Strip, and many of them become terrorists again. And we've been through this before. And the minute one of them is involved in an act of terrorism, then the fingers pointed at Netanyahu, you let this guy free. There is a school... a kind of between-the-lines school of thought that you pick up in some comments that these hostages, I mean, I hate to say this, that these hostages are as good as dead, that we're not going to get them back. And if we if we attune all of our strategy in dealing with Hamas in Gaza, to the notion that we can somehow keep them alive and rescue them, then we may get nothing done. I'm saying... you won't find anybody who said this specifically. But there is this, this undercurrent that because they are split up in various different places. Because we are committed to getting rid of Hamas. Because Hamas will use them as human shields. Their fate is almost a foregone conclusion. I hate to say it because the alternative I would assume in the thinking of the decision-makers is we empty the jails and we get them back and we all go home and that's the end of the war. And Hamas declares victory. Hezbollah and Iran declared victory. And of course, Netanyahu is constantly thinking about his political fate. Constantly thinking about his political fate. Every decision he's making, it takes into account his political fate. So how this is gonna work out? I don't know. But I'm, frankly pessimistic about the idea that we can somehow get back all the hostages, and yet win a war against Hamas and Gaza. And here, let me just add one other point. I mean, one of the reasons Hamas attacked when it attacked is the perception among many circles in the Middle East that over the past nine months of Netanyahu's rule with his judicial, anti-democratic so-called judicial reform, and the anger it has aroused among the Israeli public, one of the consequences, which was warned about, even Yoav Gallant warned about it, is damage to Israel's deterrent image in the eyes of its enemies. The kidnapping of these hostages damages deterrence even more. Without a doubt. Every day that goes by deterrence is being damaged. This explains I think, a lot of what Biden had to say yesterday, his sense that he has to reinforce our deterrence. But the only way you can really reinforce it is by winning a war against these extremist Islamists. And that is, again... has to be constantly in the calculation certainly, of the military echelon, as it plans to go into the Gaza Strip.


Ori Nir  31:38

So we have you know, you touched upon Netanyahu and his calculations, we have many questions about that. Many of them ask if Netanyahu can be trusted to make reasonable decisions, given all these pressures, you know, his political future, his, you know, legal future, the issue of the hostages, and so on, can he be trusted? And I wanted to sharpen something that you said which I'm sure you know, to all of our participants sounds brutal. War is brutal. But this is incredibly brutal because we are talking about citizens, that's the issue of, you know, the hostages we're talking about. So far, just to be clear, there are 81, who have been officially acknowledged as being taken hostage by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Islamic Jihad say that they have around 130 and there's a belief that there's even more than that, would Israel really be considering sacrificing them for the sake of a successful military operation?


Yossi Alpher  32:49

Look, you know, I floated this balloon with fear and trembling. Will Netanyahu say this openly? Of course not. But I mean, if he's a real leader, which he is not, but if he were a real leader, he would have to be saying to himself, "If I'm going to go in and kill all the Hamas people and dismantle Hamas at a huge cost in human lives, it's to save Israeli lives in the long term. And if that means the casualty count will include 130 hostages, so be it. I'll do my best to find them and do my best to keep them alive. But I can't promise to do that." So I don't have a better answer. But there are really, really difficult dilemmas here. Now you asked, can you tell now be trusted? You know me, Ori, I don't think so. I don't think he can be trusted. I think Benny Gantz doesn't think he can be trusted. Benny Gantz will explain that's why he has joined this unity government in order to make sure that this decision-making is more sound Yair Lapid will say, you know, you're just gonna let Netanyahu run you politically in circles, which Netanyahu is very good at and which Benny Gantz is not good at. He's gonna run you in circles. He's gonna destroy you politically. And in the end, you're gonna run away from this government, and he'll make the decisions anyway because he's got a majority in it and he'll make terrible decisions. That's where we are. We are I mean, we already have people gathering every day at the entrance to the base in Tel Aviv, where there's the Prime Minister's office, the Tel Aviv Prime Minister's Office inside this base, calling on Netanyahu to resign. There is a precedent for this, Begin resigned well into the Lebanon War and was replaced with Shamir in the midst of the war, it has happened before. But you know, Begin said, "I can't do it anymore". Netanyahu will never say this. He's bent on political survival. I think his decision-making at the strategic level is impaired. I fear very much for his decision-making. I hope Gantz can do something about it, but I'm not at all sure. I don't think I don't think he can be trusted.


Hadar Susskind  35:38

Oh, boy. Yossi, I want to ask a slightly different question. And again, this has come up from a lot of our participants. You know, there were reports that I believe that Hamas even said that part of the motivation for this was the discussion about the Israel-US-Saudi deal and, sort of, you know, pouring cold water on that. Do you think that that that played a role in the timing of this? You know, what do you think was the impact of that in this decision? And what do you think about that, looking forward?


Yossi Alpher  36:14

Look, I think Hamas had four or five aims in this war. First and foremost is to free its prisoners. I think in terms of what Hamas people think, the first goal of this war is to take those hostages and use them to free their prisoners. I think the second goal was indeed, with Iranian backing to thwart the Israeli-Saudi-American normalization deal. They've certainly succeeded in delaying it until further notice, and the worse things get, the harder it will be for the Saudis to reconcile themselves anytime shortly. There are more goals, defending al-Aqsa. And here you have to take into account that the Netanyahu government, particularly Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and their followers have sent the message to the entire Muslim world, we Jews are going to establish a stronger and stronger presence on the Temple Mount, at your expense. At your expense. And this sounds an alarm throughout the Muslim world. And in this sense, Hamas is defending Muslim interests as fervent Muslims see them with regard to al-Aqsa, I think Hamas wants to boost its credentials, preparatory to taking over... trying to take over the West Bank. At some point when Abu Mazen keeps fading or disappears from the scene. Finally, I think one additional goal was just in terms of timing was to exploit divisiveness in Israel. And Israel's reduced deterrence. And if you watch the events, not only the first day Saturday, but the days that follow, you saw an Israel in disarray. In disarray, you saw an IDF which took a few days to get its act together. And this is appalling. But a lot of this a lot of this is a result of the divisiveness of the past nine months, I have some other aspects of it or just the result of overall rot. The way we saw preparatory to the 73 War when people couldn't find the keys to the tanks, that kind of thing.


Ori Nir  38:50

So you raise the 73 War. And we all know about the Commission Inquiry that was formed to probe what happened, I'm assuming that the same will happen here. Some of the questions we have here reflect an attempt to gauge what is the atmosphere within the Israeli public. And maybe I'll ask you that in that vein, what are the chances that a successful... you know a victory... as will be perceived by the Israeli public, that a victory would make up for the anger and disappointment of the initial catastrophic failure?


Yossi Alpher  39:33

I think Netanyahu is counting on that. And I think we can expect him when the smoke clears... we can expect him to do everything possible either to get out of forming a commission of inquiry or dilute its content. And here's an example from 73. The very distinguished panel of inquiry that was formed after 73 understood its mandate to be not to judge the political echelon. It didn't call on Golda to resign the public called Golda to resign and Dayan. And it focused on the military and particularly military intelligence, and said, "This guy has to go and this guy has to go." I think Netanyahu will do everything he can to make sure that this new Commission of Inquiry has a similar mandate: You're not judging Netanyahu, even though you've got piles of evidence of how he was warned, of how we decimated the entire system, you're just judging the heads of intelligence, there's plenty, plenty of blame, to go around there, particularly in IDF intelligence, and particularly the Shin Beit, which is in charge of, of intelligence, from Gaza and the West Bank. And so, you know I fully expect him... if he can parade, a genuine victory, take the credit, and do everything possible to make us forget what happened beforehand. But for this, he needs a genuine victory. And that's not a given because of the losses that are... I mean, we've got over what 1200 losses already, you know, suppose the number is in the thousands by the time this is over, he won't be able to get out of responsibility. But of course, else he'll point to Gantz and say he bears some of the responsibility as well. The only one who will politically benefit from this is Yair Lapid.


Ori Nir  41:55

So I wanted to follow up with a question that our friend Barbara Slaven sent to us where she asks if a ground offensive has the prospects to avoid huge casualties in Israeli lives, particularly military. What do you think? Is there a way to do it with, you know, a low number of Israeli soldiers killed?


Yossi Alpher  42:22

Well, Barbara, this is the $64,000 question without a doubt, as of right now. And we can hope that there'll be some inventive and ingenious, innovative ideas and approaches that will keep losses down. But judging from past experience, no. There will be heavy losses. You can't get Hamas out of the tunnels without incurring heavy losses, you can't find and kill the Hamas leadership, which has to happen if you're going to win this war, without incurring heavy losses. And, and so you know, of course, what are heavy losses? How do you weigh them against decapitating Hamas? I don't know. But I can only, you know, pray that we'll have a lot of innovation here and keep losses down. But this is what's on everybody's mind. Again, bear in mind, that this will influence not just the outcome of the war, it will influence Israeli politics. It could well influence an Iranian Hezbollah decision to intervene with far greater force and in effect, turn this into a two or three-front war, the two fronts being Gaza, Lebanon, the third front could be Syria, a fourth front could be missiles from Iran if this thing escalates, completely out of control. And, this would presumably drag in the United States as well. There are certainly parties in Tehran, in Beirut, in Gaza, who want to see it go this way. And in this sense, Hamas is not terribly concerned with a Palestinian civilian losses in Gaza, because it can benefit from them politically.


Hadar Susskind  44:32

I want to go back, Yossi, just want a follow-up on what you were talking about about the commission of inquiry. So we know you talked a little bit about what happened in 73 and what Netanyahu will want. Can you explain... I don't know the answer. I don't know if you do, how would... what's the mechanism for that? Like, how is that actually set up? And does Netanyahu have the power to define what the mandate is or how does that work?


Yossi Alpher  44:58

First of all, there are different... I'm not an expert on this constitutional issue. I preface my remarks with that. Ori, you may know more than I do, I don't know. There are different grades of Commission's of Inquiry, okay. We currently have running Commissions of Inquiry on what happened on Lag B’Omer almost two years ago on these submarine deals with Germany and with Egypt. You don't hear a lot about them. They're certainly forgotten about now. But these things can go on for years. These Commission's and these are lower level Commission's of inquiry. If you take the 73 war as a standard, then the High Court has a say in who's going to be on this commission. And the idea is to make sure the public sees this as a balanced apolitical professional Commission, which it was in 73. Nobody disputes that. And yet, they didn't point the finger at Golda, or they didn't point the finger at Dayan because this is what they did. This is how they interpreted their mandate. I have emphasized, that they interpreted their mandate. So there's room for the Commission also to say, you know, what's best for the country? Do we get involved in politics? Or do we leave this to the public to decide who's going to you're going to be ruling it out. But it seems to me fairly certain that when this is over, there will be a very high-level Commission of Inquiry. And the public will see it as being objective and balanced. Netanyahu will do his best to prevent it or to dilute it, depending on the outcome of the war, of course. And depending on his political trickery, which is extremely good at and Gantz is amateur at. We're still a long way from this. And of course, the Commission will hold its hearings, very methodically, very... getting down to all the basics... hearing everybody. I mean, I can testify, I wrote... and sent a test testimony to a Commission of Inquiry on I can't remember on what at this point, but anybody can have input to it, and it'll take a long time. And with the passage of time, who knows what's going to happen, given the very dynamic nature of our reality right now, the composition and content of a Commission of Inquiry is not a major subject of discussion in Israel today.


Ori Nir  48:02

We have about 70 questions, 70 questions from our attendees. One theme that I'm seeing in them, and I'll try to sort of put it all in one question that has to do, you know, you mentioned the day after. And this is a question that may be premature, probably premature, and maybe pollyannish. But is there a... do you see a viable scenario, in which the United States would use this crisis, calamitous crisis as a stepping stone toward some kind of a political process, as they've done before? And we've seen that some of you know 1973, the war led to, you know, belatedly to Israeli peace agreements with Egypt. Do you see such a scenario coming out of this?


Yossi Alpher  49:04

A look if... I'm just I'm weighing all of this... go back to 73. 72 if you like. Kissinger was involved in shepherding some sort of attempted peace process between Israel and Egypt prior to the war, okay. And there are those who say that ended up being a contribution to the war because it led to various misunderstandings. And so that wasn't serious and this will be debated endlessly. But by the time we got to a breakthrough the peace with Egypt, the US wasn't involved. The US wasn't involved. I mean, first Rabin, and then Begin and Dayan Were involved with Sadat's representatives meeting in Morocco, behind the backs of the United States. Jimmy Carter was hell-bent on an international solution, a multilateral conference in Geneva and sitting Israel down with all of its Arab enemies and with the Soviet Union and with the PLO, and that ended up actually pushing both Israel and Egypt into making a separate bilateral peace. Okay, these are some of the weird dynamics of peace in the Middle East. You needed leadership in Israel and in Egypt, that was really serious about peace. Okay? If we're talking about exploiting the outcome of this war, to leverage some kind of process between Israel and the Palestinians, I would say, you would need a different leadership in Israel. And, and a new leadership in Ramallah, replacing Abu Mazen, and then the conditions might be right for doing something. But this is predicated on the assumption that this war will bring about the downfall of Netanyahu. And let's not forget, that Netanyahu has a coalition of 64, which represents the will of the Israeli electorate, and it represents demographic trends in Israel. To what extent the outcome of the war can jumble all that together and radically change it, it may be able to, it may be able to depend on what the outcome is, depending how angry people are, over the funneling that brought about this war in the tragic losses. There are so many factors here, that it's difficult to predict, but the only thing I feel safe in saying is it can't be... I don't see Netanyahu with this coalition, engaging the way Begin and Dayan did in a peace process, secret or otherwise. And I don't see Abu Mazen capable of it just in terms of the overall fatigue that characterizes his regime. But again, a lot of this there can be a lot of, you know... one thing Bibi said that may be true, the Middle East is gonna change as a result of all of this. And he may be right. And that may mean changes in Jerusalem as well. And that could be for the good of the cause of peace.


Ori Nir  52:44

I was trying to get our Chair of the Board Jim Klutznick to join us. I'll keep trying, there's still kind of a technical glitch here. I wanted to ask you a little bit about... again, this is a theme that has been coming up in the questions we get from the attendees. And that has to do with the big failure here. How could such a thing happen? How could it happen that 20... there were 20 places in which the fence... the wall was breached. How could it have not been if not prevented or at least minimized?


Yossi Alpher  53:29

Look Ori I was interviewed yesterday or the day before by a Turkish journalist, who in all seriousness has suggested that this was all an Israeli plot. Okay, this is a conspiracy. What the end game of the conspiracy was supposed to be even he didn't know. But you know, people look at this. And they say, as you do this, this can't happen. That people that the Shin Bet can't be that sloppy, the IDF can't be that sloppy. It's just impossible. Hamas can't be that inventive. And it all happened. We talked I talked briefly about some of the reasons for some for the Israeli surprises, but that's it at the strategic level. Ori, you are asking already about the tactical level. And I mean, one explanation is that just as with the Bar Lev Line in 73, here again, we all in the establishment, believed in the that the fence was invincible. The fence above ground and below ground was invincible. That's number one. Number two, you have a government with it, which is concentrating on settling the West Bank, which moved units away from the Gaza periphery to settlers, and left the Gaza periphery with a skeleton, a deployment, IDF deployment. So this was number two. The fence wasn't being patrolled. Hamas was very clever. They went first of all to the base where all the communications for all around the fence with all the forces were coordinated, and they neutralized that base. So that nobody could, people couldn't talk to one another. I mean, there'll be an inquiry here, which will lay it all out and explain. But I mean, certain obvious conclusions are one, you can't trust, physical impediments. Two, you've got to have a lot of forces there. And three, you need intelligence, which clues you in not just to Hamas, to enemy capabilities, but to enemy intentions. And we may have had some inkling of the capabilities, although these capabilities they displayed on Saturday morning were surprising. But intentions, we didn't have a clue. And so, you know, how did it happen? How did it happen? Look, I'm an intelligence veteran. I know what it's like to be surprised. I've been there before. But nothing like this. Absolutely nothing like this. They are at the tactical level on our doorstep. It's appalling. Shin Bet veterans are appalled. I thought we had a good head of Shin Bet. I don't know anymore. But, you know, if all the stars came together for Hamas, to make this work, and to go about their grisly work, killing Israeli civilians, what can I say? And celebrating it and celebrating the killing of Israeli civilians. And if there's one thing, one outcome of this that I mean, it's not a silver lining, you can't find a silver lining. But one outcome of this is that gives you, some sense of relief. It's that it really has united us. And I mean, I hate to say we're united in hate for Islamists for Palestinian Islamists. And, you know, the public has seen what these guys perpetrated on Israeli civilians, and we're talking about civilian, Israeli peaceniks, these are the kibbutzim of the Gaza periphery. These are not Likudniks. And the outcome is united in, you know, genuine anger, which is not going to go away anytime soon. And angry conclusions about the possibilities of coexisting certainly with Palestinian Islamists, and I fear among some parties coexisting with Palestinians at all.


Ori Nir  58:27

Thank you, Yossi. We have with us the Chair of our Board, APNs board, Jim Klutznick, who is joining us from Chicago. Jim, the floor is yours.


Jim Klutznick  58:37

Thank you, I apologize for not taking your prompt Ori, I was making so many notes because we got so many answers or attempted answers by Yossi. Anyhow, we all know that Yossi gives us, every week gives us an analysis, an analysis based on hard questions and tough answers. So I'd like to sort of combine some things here, Yossi that you were giving us I want to try to look at what you were talking about initially, the fault of looking for an economic kind of peace settlement, and missing what was actually going on versus the actual... because we are American for Peace Now, our colleagues, our Shalom Achshav, Peace Now, I want to look beyond the current situation based on what might happen with these countervailing goals and objectives between... let's put it between Gantz and Netanyahu. Because Netanyahu as I understand you, is really looking for some kind of victory that will continue the idea of Israel... Israel's invincibility and... and to me, the Palestinians were never going to accept anything economic when they were talking about this Saudi-Israel-American deal they talked about prevails for the Palestinians. And I think that's the big mistake forever. And so and you pointed out rightfully, that if we can get to some way of, of getting back to peace, obviously Abu Mazen needs to retire. And you need to have a strong PA to be able to do this. So my question is, how do we get to a position here, when again with Gantz and Netanyahu probably competing throughout this whole process of trying to evaluate this thing what and what the goal is objectives at this point, going forward, militarily, and getting beyond militarily to getting back to what is going to solve this problem eventually, is a peace settlement. And the Palestinians are not going to take anything short of sovereignty. How do we get there, knowing that Abu Mazen does have to be placed? I'll put that factor in because you put that as a caveat. Let's assume that's going to be absolutely necessary for America to be able to tie Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States into a full peace arrangement.


Yossi Alpher  1:01:40

Well, I mean, it's the question, Jim, but let me try to answer it first by noting a couple of bitter truths, okay? Hamas or whatever remains, of Palestinian Islamism... political Islamism, in Gaza, and perhaps in the West Bank, as well, at the end of this. They are not a candidate for a peace process, okay, they firmly reject Israel's existence. It's right to exist, they've never been a candidate for a peace process, they won't be a candidate for a peace process, you weaken them, okay, then you do open up possibilities. That is the PLO, the PA, remember, the PLO is under Oslo, our partner, not the PA, not the Palestinian Authority, but the PLO could be a more prominent take center stage, at least in the West Bank. I don't see the PLO... PA ruling Gaza very readily, because anybody who introduces them, 'll be seen as quislings if, if indeed there is an Israeli victory. Secondly, the pattern of normalization thus far, with the Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and now Saudi Arabia, and at least until this war, entered the picture, that pattern has been has not particularly benefited the Palestinians. At that political-strategic level. You you're dealing with... these are not Israel's immediate neighbors, they're not Egyptians and the Jordanians who indeed remain dedicated to seeing some sort of Palestinian state emerge. But these are more distant neighbors who are basically fed up with the Palestinians. And we're prepared to make deals without them. And everything pointed to the Saudis doing the same, Mohammed bin Salman, doing the same. So one challenge,  of the dynamic you described, is to change this pattern of normalization when it comes to the Saudis who are without doubt the prime candidate, the prize of normalization, and to somehow create a situation for you again, you need a different government in Israel, you need a different government in Ramallah, you need and you need American pressure on the Saudis, which I'm sure Biden would be prepared to apply to make a tougher deal and exact from Israel, a genuine peace process, a genuine territorial peace process, but okay, this suppose presupposes putting a lot of blocks in place that doesn't exist today, that are contrary to the dynamic we've seen so far, certainly of normalization, contrary to what we've seen with the Palestinian leadership. I mean, this pre presupposes a lot of events happening. But your question assumes, I think, and it's a good assumption, it's a right direction, that we could come out of this with some positive new directions, in the Middle East... in broader Middle Eastern politics, including in Israel, a lot has to happen. We're just beginning to get into it. It's good to have a role like this, I assume Biden has Biden and Blinken have some sort of a goal like this. The first thing that only thing I can do about it right now is to recruit MBS, Mohammed bin Salman, to be prepared to take a tougher stand if and when the normalization process is renewed, after this war, which is a fair assumption that at some point, six months from now, a year from now, that will happen?


Jim Klutznick  1:06:25

You know, Yossi I give you an "A", through your answer to the hard question, if I can put it in your context because that's our job here in America, Americans for Peace Now, that's exactly what we do with our president, with our State Department. And I say to all our people listening in, let's press our government to make sure that Palestinians are not left out of this formula, and given trivial, and insist the deal is not made, except with a two-state solution, a sovereign state for the Palestinians. And if Gaza doesn't come along in the first step, maybe at another point they can join, but we've got Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, that could be a start with it. With the caveat eventually the guys that could be added at some point, a sovereign state. That's where we have to go here.


Yossi Alpher  1:07:17

Jim, and I'll just I would just add one postscript is what we are experiencing today, what happens when the Palestinians are given trivials.


Jim Klutznick  1:07:31

Right. Thank you.


Ori Nir  1:07:32

Good to see you very much. Thanks. Thank you both. I want to end with two quick comments. One is I've been asked over and over again by people if this is recorded. So yes, it is recorded. There's going to be a video recording tomorrow available on our YouTube channel. If you need help finding it, just write to me, And the audio will be posted sometime today on our podcast, PeaceCast. Secondly, we have 77 questions. Some of the good ones have not been have not we have not responded to. I'm going to pass them over to Yossi who I know will be writing about this in the coming weeks for sure. And maybe he can answer some of them in his future Q&A in his future analysis.


Yossi Alpher  1:08:27

I like to have outside input. I'm tired of making up questions myself. So thank you all very much.


Ori Nir  1:08:34

Thank you, Yossi again, and this brings our webinar to an end. Thanks. Thanks, everyone, for joining. Thank you. Bye.


Jim Klutznick  1:08:40

Bye bye. Thank you