Sarah: Given the events that have occurred over the last twelve years, the American Foreign Policy establishment has had some time to review some of the policies that have not worked in the Middle East. Such policies might work with Canada and Mexico, or in situations not dominated by fanatical religious ideologies. We have certainly learned recently that they do not work in the Middle East with Gaza and with Hamas, and possibly not with Hezbollah.
We are very privileged to have Brigadier General Amir Avivi with us today. General Amir Avivi is the founder and CEO of the Israeli’s Defense and Security Forum (IDSF). IDSF comprises over 17,000 senior reserve officers, commanders and operatives from all branches of the Israeli Security establishment. General Avivi retired from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) with more than 30 years of military counterterrorism and national security experience. He is a member of the IDF with outstanding insight and one who has been able to evaluate the impact of various systems that go into combat operations. General Amir, first and foremost, we would like to know what you and what the IDF can tell us about the Gaza hospital bombing?
Amir: Well, this situation resulted from is an attempted rocket shooting by Palestinian Islamic Jihad toward Israel. As of yesterday, 135 of their rockets malfunctioned and fell in Gaza. Sometimes these rockets cause casualties and sometimes not. In this case, they shot quite a big rocket toward Israel. It fell in the parking lot of the hospital, and caused injuries. I don’t think the number of injured is even close to what they reported but it does not matter. We have all the proof needed to show that this incident had nothing to do with Israel.
Sarah: That is correct. It looks to me that President of the United States, President Biden, is convinced that Israel had very credible evidence proving this was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad action and not an IDF one.
Amir: Yes, but there are around ten different sources of evidence proving 100% that Israel did not cause this event. This evidence did not influence the New York Times and other newspapers which blamed Israel immediately. They are lying outright, encouraging riots and endangering the people of Israel. I think it is something that we need to do something about.
Sarah: How do we get this message also out to the Muslim and Arab world? We know that this reporting has incited horrible riots in Oman, Cairo, and Ramallah.
Amir: I think what is happening now is different from anything we have seen previously. It is not the Guardians of the Walls operation and it is not an uprising inside Israel. It has been a very different scenario from the very beginning. We had 3000 Hamas operatives attack Israel followed a bit later by some shooting from Lebanon. Overall things are pretty much in control right now within Israeli-Arab society and in Judea and Samaria. This situation is subject to change. As of now, however, we at full capacity and we have mobilized our whole army, police force and border patrol.
In all cities and towns in Israel, Jewish citizens are weaponizing and preparing for any scenario. Behavior in times of war is different from that of normal times. As such, if anybody inside Israel tries to do something, the consequences will be dire. We’re not going to let them do anything. The situation within Israel, at least for now, is fairly quiet. It might change, there might be a terror attack here or there. We have apprehended many, many terrorists in Judea and Samaria and have raided Hamas leadership there as well.
I think that maybe the biggest question that might change everything is what will happen with Hezbollah on the northern border. If you ask me whether we will go to war with Hezbollah or not, my answer is that I do not know. I do not know because there are too many variables from the Iranian side, from our side and from the US side. I can say for sure that no matter happens in Lebanon, we want to focus now on Gaza and on destroying Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad completely.
People are noticing that nothing outside of Air Force attacks has happened for a few days and they are questioning whether we have changed our minds about a ground operation. That is definitely not the case. We have our own reasons as to why we have not launched the ground operation yet but it is imminent. We will conquer all of Gaza, and we will destroy Hamas and Palestinian Jihad completely. They will cease to exist in Gaza. Not in other places, but in Gaza. We are going to clean up the whole place and it will take months.
IDSF and the government are currently discussing the terms needed not to have terror re-emerge in Gaza after Hamas is destroyed. There are two things we need. (1) full control of the Egyptian border. We cannot have a connection between Gaza and Egypt. We cannot control the road only but need to control the whole area of Rafah (2) full freedom of operation for the IDF forever. This means we need to be able to go into Gaza, apprehend terrorists and go out again. We need to do this in a similar way we do it in Jenin, Nablus or anywhere else. We need to be able to enter and exit Gaza on a regular, everyday basis if needed. It really does not matter who will run the cities in Gaza from a civilian point of view. From a security point of view, however, we need freedom of operation.
Sarah: Will the openings only be maintained through Rafah? Is it too porous to keep the other openings of Gaza open to facilitate entry and exist into Israel?
Amir: Talking about the Palestinians going in and out?
Amir: The best scenario for us is for Egypt to open the Rafah crossing and to let Palestinians who want to leave, go out. There are hundreds of thousands of Gazans who want to leave, at least temporarily. The Egyptians are really against opening the Rafah crossing and I think that the world does not understand that this is inhuman. There is a war and citizens want to get out of the war zone but they are being blocked. Why are they blocking them? Why can they not go out? I am not talking about us pushing them out. I am talking about them being able to make their own decisions and leave if they want to.
Nobody pushed five million Ukrainians out of Ukraine. They left because they because they did not want to be in a war zone. Imagine Poland and the other countries saying, “No, stay in Ukraine and die, or be in danger.” I cannot comprehend the West. Why is there not an outcry? Why is the West not pressuring Egypt to open the border and let the people decide for themselves whether they want to leave or not?
Israel is currently instructing Palestinian citizens, especially those in the northern part of Gaza, to go south to the coastal area where Gush Katif was. This area is open and has not been rebuilt. It was probably still waiting for Gush Katif to come back but is an open area right now. There are more than 700,000 Palestinians in Gaza who have moved to the Gush Katif area. They will be safe there and will get supplies of water, food and anything else they need. This will really help us to minimize civilian casualties when our ground operation begins. For us, anybody who has not left the area will be suspected of being a terrorist. Hamas, however, is taking car keys and building roadblocks and doing other terrible things to prevent people from leaving. Hamas wants civilians to act as human shields and this is also something that the world needs to call out. People who really care about the Palestinians need to attack Hamas for trying to stop them from moving to safety and also motivate for the Egyptians to open the border.
Sarah: Right. On Friday, we saw pamphlets, in Arabic, all over northern Gaza telling the population where to go so they would be safe. Then we saw pamphlets, also in Arabic, encouraging them to stay and fight for the resistance. It is a horrible situation.
We know there is a huge network of underground tunnels where Hamas was hiding. Perhaps there are weapons in there and perhaps some of the hostages are in there. Can you tell us something about the city of tunnels under Gaza?
Amir: I am not going to go into our capabilities and how we plan to deal with these tunnels but I am going to tell what Hamas did. They understood long ago that Israel has two big advantages over them. One is our intelligence capabilities and the other is our Air Force. They devised a solution to try and overcome them both of these. They built an entire underground city. We cannot see or hear them in this city and they are safe from Air Force attacks there. This is why they continue to shoot rockets and maintain command and control even after so many Air Force attacks.
Everything is underground. The rockets are underground and the headquarters are underground. Storage, ammunitions and an ability to maneuver from one place to another are all available to them underground. This requires operational solutions. Israel has spent the last decade working to determine how we can overcome this. I will not go into details but we are going to deal with this.
Sarah: You have some knowledge of their enormous underground capabilities. Do you have some knowledge as to what they are hiding under there?
Amir: Yeah. They are hiding thousands of terrorists, rockets, supplies, headquarters and communications. They are also hiding our hostages. They did not invent this way of working. History is full of examples of massive underground bunkers. The Maginot Line in France is one such example. The Japanese also built underground fortresses in the Second World War and America had a lot of trouble with dealing with them. In Gaza, these underground tunnels are a difficult challenge but we know we can overcome it. When we move into Gaza, we are going to do so aggressively and strongly with a lot of Air Force assistance and artillery and using all our different capabilities. I think everybody will be extremely surprised at the power and strength of the IDF.
We were surprised by the Hamas attack. The terrorists were strong against babies and women and elderly people. However, we overcame them in every scenario where people on our side were able to fight. They are not heroes, they simply surprised us. They are well-equipped, but they are not intelligent or very well trained. Now that we have very clear goals, ground forces and serious preparedness, I think we have all that we need to achieve unconditional surrender. Our goal is similar to the goal of the Allies in the Second World War.
Sarah: So, you suspect that many of the hostages are in these underground tunnels?
Amir: There are more than 200 hostages and they include children and people of different nationalities. As such, this is a complex situation and I do not believe we have seen a similar one in modern history. There are also differences between the classic prisoner of war scenarios and this one. As an example, during the Yom Kippur or the Six-Day War, prisoners were taken to Cairo, away from the immediate threat of the fighting. Once the fighting ended, negotiations relating to prisoners of war began. The current scenario is different because we are going to conquer Gaza and we are going to arrive and liberate them.
The goal of conquering and destroying Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and is completely aligned with the goal of freeing our hostages. To free our hostages, we need to go into Gaza and destroy Hamas. There are not going to be any negotiations with Hamas leadership because they will all be dead. We may arrive at a place where terrorists are holding hostages and negotiate locally with them but it is not going to be anything similar to a hostage situation as we usually picture it to be.
Sarah: We have heard a lot of discussion here about the day after. American “armchair generals” are discussing ideas as to who govern Gaza when Hamas is defeated. Ideas for governing bodies include Fatah or an international community of friendly Sunni Arabs. I am almost positive it is too early to determine the appropriate solution but please tell us if you have any ideas of who should govern Gaza after this war ends?
Amir: In no scenario should allow the Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza. We are finding, as we speak, the families of all the murderers that butchered our people and they are their families. Abu Masa did not utter one word of condemnation of the slaughter, rape, burning of live people, hanging of little children and decapitation of babies.
The vast majority of people in Jordan support Hamas. You have to understand who we are dealing with. The difference between Hamas and the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria is not intention, it is capability. Given the capability they would do exactly the same as Hamas did in the south t cities like Tel Aviv, Ra’anana or Kfar Saba. We have to wake up and understand who we are dealing with. I think that the best we can do is when everything is over is to restore local city municipalities so they can run their own cities but they cannot take over anything central. I think that there is a large possibility that the Palestinian Authority will collapse in Judea and Samaria the day after Abbas dies. This is an important discussion we have been having between us and with the administration as well.
Sarah: We see a lot of skirmishes in the North. How anxious do you think Iranian-backed Hezbollah is to get into this fight right now?
Amir: Hezbollah is made up of Iranian militias. Iran needs Hezbollah intact so they will not be left without any defense and can remain safe. Without Hamas and Hezbollah, there is nothing standing between Israel, or the US, and Iran. They know that. If we fight and destroy both Hamas and Hezbollah, there would be no reason we would not take all our air force and destroy Iran. Also, Hezbollah had their chance to coordinate their attack with Hamas on Saturday morning. They did not do that and the element of surprise is not there anymore. We mobilized our whole army and the northern command is at full capacity and ready for war. The air force, intelligence and everything else is working like a war machine, ready to destroy Hezbollah. It is not exactly the best time for them to attack.
The state of Lebanon is another factor discouraging a Hezbollah attack on Israel at this time. Many actors are completely against involving Lebanon because they know we will destroy Lebanon. If, for example, Hezbollah shoots our electrical plants, we will destroy Lebanon’s electrical plants. We will take them back a hundred years, they know that and so they want to restrain Hezbollah.
The last reason that I do not believe Hezbollah will go to war with us is are the warships America has brought to the region indicating her willingness to fight. If they attack Israel, America will get involved, and this could lead to war with Iran. There are many reasons why Hezbollah should not wage war with Israel, but also reasons why they would.
Iran needs to ask themselves if they are willing to let us destroy Hamas without doing anything about it. Iran may determine that the Israelis will attack Hezbollah in a month or two after defeating Hamas anyway. If this is the case, they may decide to raid Israel now.
After discussing all the possibilities, the conclusion is, there is no conclusion with respect to what Hezbollah will do. We do not know. Perhaps a war with Hezbollah should be up to us and not up to Iran. Perhaps we should take advantage of the fact that US warships are here right now. Perhaps it is time to dismantle this whole Shia axis. We have many questions but the one thing we can learn from all this is it’s going to be a very, very long war and is like nothing we have experienced in the past.
Sarah: When you mention dismantling the Shia axis, you would need to consider China, Russia, and North Korea in addition to Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. This might lead to a wider conflict and there are formidable actors on the other side.
Sarah: There are many big decisions in front of you. Meanwhile, we are constantly bringing the message home to American congressmen, representatives and Senators, that you are protecting all of western civilization against radical jihadism.
Are there any questions in the audience? Hussein, do you see any? Joseph?
Joseph: Thank you again Amir for being on, we really appreciate your viewpoint. One of the questions we received has to do with Hezbollah. Lebanon has traditionally been a society split between different groups including Christians, Shiites, and Sunnis. How do you think these divisions would play out in the potential conflict with Hezbollah?
Amir: I think Hezbollah understands that if they go to war, we will be able to inflict huge damage on them. In that case, the other factions you mentioned might take advantage of the situation and try to fight them as well and they will not be safe in their own country. This is something they are taking into consideration.
Joseph: Thanks. With respect to the hostages, I am sure there are certain things you can say and others you cannot. That said, do you have a timeframe within which we will be able to get them out? Is there anything you can say about possible plans to get them released?
Amir: The rescue of the hostages is connected to the ground operation into Gaza. We are going to conquer Gaza with a ground invasion. Obviously, when we conquer Gaza, we will get to them. As such, the timeframe for freeing the hostages is completely aligned with the ground operation. Once we go in, we go in not just to destroy Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, we are going in to bring our people back.
Joseph: Thank you. We have seen the media narrative flip on Israel within a week. If, as you say, this war will be very drawn out, then media coverage probably will not get any better. Unfortunately, the media will likely turn against Israel completely. I am wondering what other potential problems you see in having a long, drawn-out operation, necessary as it may be.
Amir: I see manpower as a problem. We have drafted the whole army right now. That said, Israel has been closing more and more reserve units for a long time. We find ourselves in a situation where only around 1% of society is doing reserve duty, instead of 10% previously. Because the army has fewer units, many people 35 years old and up are not doing reserve duty anymore. In the past, the age limit for reserve duty was 45 or even 50. Now, there are maybe a hundred or two hundred thousand reservists. These guys are now going to war. In the last year and a half, they have already operated a lot in Judea and Samaria and now they have been sent to war for who knows how long. When the war finishes, we will have to operate on an ongoing basis in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and probably also in Lebanon, and we need people.
This is an opportunity in two senses: (1) the ground forces command can build strong new brigades and battalions to be able to replace people and send people home to work. We need to keep our economy functioning. (2) we can mobilize Charedi communities to join the army. We at IDSF have taken upon ourself, in coordination with the ground forces, to help in this regard. Many people are shocked by what happened. They understand this is a big war and we need to mobilize the ultra-Orthodox community. This is the moment the people of Israel need that community and we need them to join the army and assist Israel.
Joseph: Thank you. Just going back very briefly to the question of the narrative. In the past, we have seen operations in Gaza halted prematurely due to pressure from the international community. This is especially true once the media narrative changes. How do you see the media narrative playing into this conflict? Do you think there is any chance that it would stop Israel from taking the steps it needs to take?
Amir: I think we are in a war and not an operation and I think we have full support of the US and Europe. I think that we have to understand we are going to conquer Gaza and destroy Hamas nothing is going to stop us. The ground operation is very different from the current situation with air strikes against Hamas. Media-wise, a ground operation is different as well especially since we are also going to find our hostages and liberate them. Nobody can say to us we should not liberate our hostages from Hamas.
Sarah: It does appear we are going to have to deal with the North as well at some point. Given that you have had to use so many Iron Dome missiles to protect southern and central Israel from Hamas rockets, will there be enough for the 150,000 missiles that could come out of Lebanon and Syria? We understand they have precision-guided missiles?
Amir: Once we conquer Gaza, we will have destroyed everything that has to do with their terror infrastructure, including all their launching sites. There will be no threat from Gaza anymore and then we can concentrate our air defense on the North, in Lebanon. We know we cannot allow weeks and weeks of Hezbollah shooting at us. Once begun, the war in the North will require a very fast ground attack to destroy Hezbollah.
If they start the war before we have destroyed Hamas, we will have to maneuver and destroy all their forces and also rocket capabilities. Remember there is also massive American air defense working with Israel when you talk about Hezbollah. So, we have combination of Israeli-American capabilities that can deal with this threat of Hezbollah.
Sarah: Do you think there’s a possibility that you’ll have to fight on both fronts simultaneously?
Amir: This might happen but if it does it will probably be on Hezbollah’s initiative
Sarah: How stable do you think the Palestinian Arab population is in Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank? Might there be the possibility of three fronts?
Amir: No. The stronger we are and the more decisive the win, the more deterrence we will create inside Israel, including in Judea and Samaria. Also, if we win decisively, we increase the chances of peace agreements afterwards with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni world. People like strong countries. We have to show strength and win decisively, and this will bring prosperity and peace agreements and a lot of good things later on. But now, it is a war.
Sarah: Right. We wish you b’hatzlacha – victory and success. You have determination, resolve and moral clarity. Moral clarity is one of the things that we want help you get out. We will not let other people’s false stories and narratives cloud people’s perception of the war. It is very important. So, b’hatzlacha, Amir.
Amir: Thank you very much, Thank you guys.
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Iranian Influence Operations in the U.S. from the State Department to Congress Transcript
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