Sarah: Welcome to yet another topical and timely Endowment for Middle East Peace (EMET) webinar. This webinar is being brought to us through the very generous contribution of Donna Gary, in loving memory of her husband’s Stuart Hunter Gary, may his memory be for a blessing.
As we are speaking, the entire international community is waiting with hope and anxiety to see how the hostage release, negotiated by the United States, Qatar, and Egypt, will play out. In case anyone has missed this groundbreaking news, tomorrow Hamas is due to begin releasing fifty women and children in exchange for one hundred and fifty Palestinian terrorists, some humanitarian aid, and a period of calm.
Since Hamas launched its brutal attacks against Israel on October 7th, Hezbollah has continued to escalate its attacks on Israel’s Northern border communities. During this period, Hezbollah has launched dozens of rocket attacks, mortar shells, and anti-tank missiles over Israel’s Northern border. On October 20th, Israel had to evacuate more than sixty thousand residents from the Northern communities. Meanwhile, Iranian backed proxies have attacked American bases in Iraq and Syria over sixty times. On Mon
day night, several US servicemen were injured in an Iranian backed attack on the Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq and the US did respond. However, it appears that, despite all of the provocations of Hezbollah, the United States doesn’t want Israel to respond in kind. Axios reported that Senior Biden official, Amos Hochstein, arrived in Israel on Monday to persuade Israeli officials not to engage in a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. About two weeks ago, Sheikh Nasrallah delivered a very lengthy speech from Lebanon.
Is another front opening up in Southern Lebanon? Is a war with Hezbollah inevitable, and is Hezbollah going to honor the period of calm that was just negotiated with Hamas?
Here to answer these questions and more is our wonderful friend Sarit Zehavi. Lieutenant Zehavi is the founder and president of Alma, a nonprofit and independent research and education center specializing in Israel’s security challenges on its northern border. Sarit has briefed us many times and we are honored to have her as a dear and cherished friend. She has also briefed hundreds of groups and forums, including US senators, congressmen, senior journalists and visiting VIP groups. Sarit authors numerous position papers and updates focusing on Lebanon, Syria, and Israel’s national security challenges. She served for 15 years in the IDF, specializing in military intelligence. Sarit holds an MA in Middle Eastern studies from Ben-Gurion University, and her unique achievements led her to be selected by the Jerusalem Post as one of the top fifty most influential global Jewish personalities in 2021. Sarit, it is an honor and a privilege to talk to you.
The first question on everyone’s mind is how the hostage release impacted the global war between Iran and the West?
Sarit: Well, it is too soon to tell. I just want to make sure we all understand what the deal is, because it was just published. The government agreed to a deal where Hamas would release fifty Israelis over four days in, what we call, bits. In each bit, ten Israelis will be released. Israel, on the other hand, will release a total of one hundred and fifty Palestinian prisoners, who are actually terrorists. I saw the list. These are not terrorists who succeeded in carrying out terrorist attacks, but terrorists that tried to carry out terrorist attacks. These are terrorist who use stones as weapons but stones can kill. These are terrorist who were involved in terrorist activity, but not in direct attacks. So the list includes various kinds of terrorists but not murderers that actually succeeded in killing people. Sometimes you do not succeed in killing only because your weapon did not work. Those are the types of people I am talking about. To let these guys go, means they will be try to terrorize us again. It is not just about punishing them or about revenge. It is about the fact that once they are released, they will become our enemies again. Sinwar himself is one of the terrorists. Sinwar was released in the previous deal, made to get one soldier’s life for one thousand terrorists. The abducted Israelis who will be released are mainly women and children. We don’t know the names yet because they have not been published. There are some troubling questions around this deal. I can divide them to three topics.
The first topic is the lack of specificity about when the ceasefire will end. Although I said the ceasefire would last four days, the government resolution allows for it to continue for up to ten days. Ten days of ceasefire in the middle of a military campaign is a long time and provides Hamas time to regroup. The length of time afforded to Hamas in this regard, connects to the next troubling issue.
Israeli media is reporting we will enable fuel to enter Gaza without restriction. I didn’t read this in the deal, but if it is true, Hamas will have endless amounts of fuel to launch rockets toward Israel. This obviously impacts what will happen once the ceasefire ends.
The third issue is the question of intelligence gathering during the ceasefire. This issue is also not specified in the resolution but has been discussed in detail in the Israeli media. Does the ceasefire encompasses a cessation in attacks only? What about gathering intelligence? Can we fly? Can we send unmanned arial vehicles (UAVs) to gather intelligence? Can we send F-16s to gather intelligence? Can we see what Hamas is doing while we are ceasing our fire? These questions do not even address the question about whether Hamas will actually cease their fire. In the past, Hamas has broken ceasefire agreements a number of times.
These are the three troubling questions relating to the ceasefire. I am happy about the release of women and children. At the same time, I am worried about the campaign in which so many soldiers have already been killed. Sixty soldiers have been killed in the ground campaign in Gaza. All of us Israelis want this campaign to succeed because success means the elimination of Hamas. If we are stopped now, we will not meet this objective and, within few years, our people in the South will be at risk again. It will also be really difficult to build the communities that were destroyed without eradicating the Hamas threat.
Okay, so now having said that, I think we can move on to discussing the Northern arena.
Sarah: Yeah. So how do you think Sheikh Nasrallah is interpreting this situation? Do you think he is feeling empowered? And what does this do to the future of hostage taking?
Sarit: First, let’s start with the data, and then let’s try to visualize possible scenarios. There was an unofficial announcement from Hezbollah that they would be part of the ceasefire. This announcement appears to have been made voluntarily although we don’t know whether it was discussed in the negotiations or not. One thing I can say is there is no difference between happened on our northern border today, yesterday, or the day before that. In the past two weeks, we have had around ten attacks daily. Although we are seeing a small amount of activity from the Syrian border, the majority of attacks are coming from Hezbollah and other factions on the Israel Lebanese border. They are using rockets, missiles, anti-tanks, mortars, UAVs, and even some types of infiltration to attack Israel. Most of the Hezbollah assaults were carried out against IDF personnel on the border but some were carried out against civilians as well. Although most of these attacks were carried out by Hezbollah, some of them were carried out by Hamas. The IDF is retaliating by attacking Southern Lebanese towns next to the border. Yesterday, the IDF published a video of their attack on an anti-tank launcher which was sending missles toward Israel. This launcher was on the roof of a house.
As of now, Hezbollah has eighty casualties. Israel’s casualties, including civilians and soldiers, is much fewer than that. As such, Israel maintains the balance of power in this situation. On the other hand however, Hezbollah has succeeded in establishing a war of attrition. For over forty five days, we have not been able to live a normal life here. My children are not able to attend school on a regular basis. If they attend school, it is for a few hours every week but not every day. There is no routine and we spend a great deal of time in shelters. We hear the fighting and we hear the explosions. As I have said, there are attacks every day. Sixty thousand people have been evacuated and this explains why there are fewer casualties on the Israeli side. Nobody knows when these sixty thousand people will be able to get back to their homes.
On the Lebanese side, we see a voluntary evacuation of Lebanese people from their homes. We do not know the exact number, but it is probably a few tens of thousands. I am still validating whether these evacuations include the Shia towns of South Lebanon or if whether it is mainly Christians who are leaving. Unfortunately, even if I see changes in Lebanon, I do not see enough resistance to Hezbollah and I do not see it coming from the base. Maybe the people will resist Hezbollah in the near future, but for now I do not see it happening. I do believe there is frustration building among the military operatives of Hezbollah although I do not have definitive proof of this. This frustration is because Hezbollah built the narrative that they were about to attack Israel through an invasion. Their forces include very motivated, young guys who were eager to fight but the invasion has not come. There are attacks from Lebanon every day, but the invasion they were waiting for has not happened.
Sarah: Can you comment about UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the effectiveness of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and on the Lebanese armed forces. I know, EMET has spent a lot of time discussing how Hezbollah has overridden the Lebanese armed forces. Every year, however, we give millions of dollars to the Lebanese armed forces, under the illusion that they somehow contain Hezbollah. Can you discuss that a bit?
Sarit: Yes, of course. As of now, both of these players have zero effectiveness with regard to preventing the attacks of Hezbollah against the State of Israel. Many of the current attacks on Israel are happening from next to UNIFIL positions. UNIFIL soldiers have been wounded by mislaunched Hezbollah missiles or IDF retaliation and are currently at risk. In addition to Lebanese civilians, Hezbollah is using UNIFIL soldiers as human shields.
Yesterday the State of Israel appealed to the UN to implement Security Council Resolution 1701. We did not get the exact text, but it is a kind of a demand that this resolution must be implemented. What does that mean? How it’s going to be implemented if the UN reads the resolution differently from the State of Israel? The UN interpretation for the resolution is that it is the mission of the Lebanese army to enforce the resolution and ensure the twenty kilometer area from the Israel-Lebanon border to Litani River is empty of any military presence. Ten thousand UN soldiers failed to achieve that since this resolution ended the previous war 17 years ago, so why would they do it now?
Under what circumstances will Hezbollah agree to withdraw? The photos behind me show Hezbollah military operatives establishing military positions on the border next to UN positions. These photos were taken in the last year and a half. A Hezbollah withdrawal will not just happen, and I do not see it happening. I think this resolution is completely dead. If we want an international, diplomatic solution, we need a different mechanism. We cannot rely on the old resolution because we are going to be fooled again There is no willingness by the UN to engage in any violent conflict with Hezbollah, and to enforce the resolution means violent conflict with Hezbollah. Hezbollah is not going to volunteer to disarm in Southern Lebanon. Even if they promise to disarm, commit to it and sign on it, they will be lying and it will not happen. We cannot believe an organization that has prepared the hearts and minds of its fighters to invade to Israel and to kill Israelis. This is their state of mind now, and they are waiting and prepared to invade.
Sarah: What do you think UNIFIL thinks its mission is?
Sarit: UNIFIL is saying their mission is to act a peacekeeping force and not as a peace enforcement force. They are saying they are in Lebanon to assist the Lebanese army enforce the resolution but insist they cannot enter private property. This is in spite of the fact that, in many cases, rockets and munitions are housed in private properties. I am saying in many cases and not in all cases, because the border positions Hezbollah built in the past two years were not constructed on private property. In these cases, UNIFIL still did not access Hezbollah’s positions. They are still waiting for the Lebanese army to give them permission to enter even though the resolution does not require permission. It is the same with the shooting ranges that UNIFIL saw from their helicopter patrols. They waited, and did not receive, permission of the Lebanese army to enter. It is also the same with the openings of tunnels and border crossing tunnels they observed going into Israel. Again they did not receive permission from the Lebanese army to enter so they did not enter. In all these examples UNIFIL did not engage because they did not receive the permission they sought from the Lebanese army even though the resolution does not require this permission be granted.
The resolution was supposed to promise the independence of UNIFIL in South Lebanon. It is a matter of expectations. If you do not expect too much, you will have nothing to complain about. I do not expect anything anymore from the UN.
Sarah: Right. Well, we know that the government of Lebanon is dominated by Hezbollah. As such, the Lebanese armed forces are very likely dominated by Hezbollah. To what degree do you see the Lebanese armed forces having a relationship with Hezbollah?
Sarit: First, I will say that I saw this relationship in my own eyes. When I was at the border, I saw Hezbollah taking photos of me while Lebanese army forces stood next to them. I saw Hezbollah using the watch towers of the Lebanese army more than the Lebanese army. There is daily collaboration between the Lebanese army deployed in South Lebanon and Hezbollah.
Second, I would say that I do not understand why the West would provide the Lebanese army with anti-tank missiles under any circumstances. France provided the Lebanese army anti-tank missiles a few months ago and this is something I truly do not understand. Outside of Israeli tanks, whose tanks are threatened in Lebanon?
Third, I would say that I actually understand why it is important for United States, France, and others to provide, assistance to the Lebanese army. This is because the Lebanese army is the last site of consensus in Lebanon and the Lebanese truly believe in them. The army is last player in the Lebanese system that the Lebanese actually follow. Below the surface, however, we see growing presence of Shiites in the combat units of the Lebanese army. Of course the Shiites are becoming the biggest sect in Lebanon even if they are not the majority in the country. This dominance is reflected within the Lebanese army as well, especially because there is no more compulsory service in Lebanon.
Bottom line is that I understand why the United States needs to support the Lebanese army. If the United States does not support the Lebanese army, somebody else like Iran, Russia or China will. However, I do not understand why they are being provided anti-tank missiles.
I don’t understand why anybody expects the Lebanese army to become an alternative to Hezbollah. It is similar to the situation with UNIFIL. We should all lower our expectations, understand what we want to gain out of this collaboration and not hope for things that will not happen. We should anticipate what might happen in the scenario of high scale war versus the low scale war we have now. I believe the Lebanese army will participate against Israel because it has to prove that it is the defender of Lebanon, just like Hezbollah. The Lebanese army is deployed in South Lebanon so it’s difficult for me to imagine a scenario in which the Lebanese army will not become Israel’s enemy in an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah. I hope I am wrong and I’m very sorry to say that.
Sarah: Do you feel it’s inevitable that there will be an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah?
Sarit: Look, I had a discussion with a dear friend today and I told him that I am afraid that my professional assessment will be affected by my emotions because I am an Israeli and I live in the North. I live nine kilometers from the border and we are under threat. We are under attack and what Hamas did on October 7, is what was supposed to happen to us. We see what the plan was against us and how somebody planned to slaughter our children. This is extremely difficult from the psychological perspective.
My first instinct is to say, I want this threat to be eliminated. I am no longer willing to sleep with this monster named Hezbollah in the North, Hamas in the South and ISIS elsewhere. It does not matter what we call them, they are all cruel in the the same way.
On the other hand, I understand the cost of war. I understand that if Israel decides on a preemptive attack, thousands of rockets will be launched from Lebanon every day. Hezbollah’s array of missiles, drones and UAVs is ten times bigger than that of Hamas.It is not just the amount, but also the quality of missiles that is different between Hamas and Hezbollah. Added to this, we have to consider the chance of involvement from militias in Syria and Iraq and from the Houthis in Yemen. Today, we had alerts in Eilat and we intercepted a missile directed at Eilat. This type of involvement from external Iranian proxies will become greater if there is a full scale war in Lebanon. Moreover, if we attack Hezbollah missile sites in Beirut, for example,
I do not believe we will get much support much from the international community. It will not matter that missile launchers are hidden inside the homes of the Lebanese. Look what is happening in Gaza and how it is difficult to explain similar situations in the public sphere. I know that we do get support from governments but I also know the their difficulties with respect to public opinion. For all of these reasons, I do not know what to wish for and I do not have all the answers. I understand the pros and cons, but I think that to all Israelis here up North, it is clear that we are not going to continue to sleep with the monster, one way or another.
This issue will have to be solved. If the Israeli government chooses to negotiate a diplomatic solution, my assessment is that Hezbollah will do everything it can to take its time and continue waging its war of attrition. Hezbollah will take its time to negotiate while remaining armed and while sixty thousand Israelis are prevented from going back to their homes. We would need to be very strong in establishing a deadline in the event of negotiations.
Sarah: The United States has sent two US aircraft carriers into the region, and a naval nuclear submarine. How much of a deterrent do you think that poses to Khomeini, and to Sheikh Nasrallah and their calculations?
Sarit: You said that US forces were attacked sixty times.
Sarit: Since October 7th, I am not sure what deterrence means. I am not sure if World War III was the Iranian’s original plan or if their plan was to create a war of attrition using Hamas as the opening maneuver. They do not care about sacrificing the Gazans. Irrespective of what their original plan was, the bottom line is that the Iranian strategy is different than our strategy. The Iranian strategy is to exhaust us. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are drafted and the economy is dysfunctional. I already talked about the pressure from the international arena. People have no homes to go back to and we cannot sustain that for years. We are not willing to sustain that for years. Iran wants it to take years. What do you do in order for it to take years? You create a conversation of deterrence – Yeah, the Iranians are deterred – No, they are not deterred. They are patient and that is the difference. If they were deterred, you would have seen zero attacks against US forces. If they were deterred, we would have seen zero Hezbollah attacks on the Israel Lebanese border, and my daughter could go to school safely.
This is not the situation here now, so they are not deterred the way we want them to be and we are ignoring the fact that there is actually war up here in the North. That said, I prefer the situation as it is now as compared to how it would look without US carriers or submarines. I am grateful for the US decision to send all this assistance. I feel that it gives us a boost of encouragement, However, let us not be mistaken, the real implication of this assistance is that the US has the operational capability to get involved if needed and does not relate to deterrence. That’s the true meaning of this assistance, and that’s why it is so important.
Sarah: Excellent, and now it is my honor to turn the podium over to my wonderful colleague, Hussein Abubakar Mansou. Hussein who will read some of the questions that have come in and perhaps pose some of his own. Hussein.
Hussein: Thank you very much, Sarah, and thank you very much, Sarit for such a timely presentation. Thank you to our audience who tuned in to our webinar today. We received multiple questions. I’m going to re-frame them myself. I will also refer to an earlier webinar that we had here at EMET with Mike Doran from the Hudson Institute. Mike Doran said the US capabilities deployed to support Israel are more of a bear hug for Israel and less of a deterrence against Iran. That is, their aim is more to restrain Israeli action against Hezbollah and Iran than it is actually to try to deter these forces. What is your comment on this? And is it true that there huge pressure on Israel not to take further action against Hezbollah?
Sarit: I tend to agree. I understand that the US administration is trying to do everything it can to prevent further escalation, and I also understand that there is a difference between Israeli and US interests which is expected. Eventually, however, a decision will have to be made as to what to do with the Northern front. If anybody here listening to us from the current administration, I invite them to come here and to spend the night at my house, and to spend the day here. It is extremely dangerous to try and travel close to the Northern border and I do not know if the CIA would even approve a visit here. Many communities are based on the border. People are living at the border. Kindergartens and schools are at the border. The chicken coops, factories and other work places are at the border. You cannot live there anymore so what do you do? Israel is not that big and we cannot afford to empty all those places. The situations I am describing are zero to five kilometers from the border. I live nine kilometers from the border. Who is going to promise me that I can sleep at night when I hear drones? How can I be sure the drone is not a Hezbollah glider similar to those from the music festival in Gaza? I cannot tell the difference between the sounds but both Hamas and Hezbollah have the same offensive plan and capabilities. Somebody will have to make sure that I am safe. So while I can understand the US position, but I think that eventually we’ll have to move forward and to find a different way.
Hussein: Thank you. At the beginning of the war in Gaza, immediately after October 7th, there were analysts and voices from the Israeli governments who suggested Hezbollah should be taken out right away without waiting for them to take the initiative. Are these voices still there? Why were they not listened to? Is it American pressure or just the government or the military leadership decided to go with a different strategy?
Sarit: I think it’s a combination of both. I believe that the IDF prefers a situation of a one-front war rather than a two-front war. I think the Israeli policy is to prioritize Gaza and to make sure we eliminate Hamas in Gaza. After that, we find a way to work with the Americans, and the rest of the world, on solutions in the North.
I know there was a debate in the government around what you just asked. I don’t know whether this debate still exists. I think there is kind of a consensus among Israelis that we should finish in the Southern front first. At the same time, however, there are many voices here, especially from the communities in the North that are saying very clearly, we will not go back to our homes unless this monster is killed. I am among these voices by the way. I think that I will not accept the existence of Hezbollah on the other side of the border anymore.
What is actually happening here is that we kind of bought time. Israelis bought time with regard to building the campaign in the North even though we are dealing with a war of attrition and a lot challenges. As discussed, the IDF prefer it this way, and I totally understand. We have a little bit of time now to try and prepare and part of these preparations involve the international community. That is why I say we should work with the Americans and make sure that the American administration understands that this must be solved. We must understand the risks and the impact of public opinion. We must understand what we are facing and understand that it is the same monster as Hamas.
Sarah: Can I just interrupt there Sarit. Sheikh Nasrallah might not be reading our timetable, there might be an attack that’s so devastating that Israel feels that it’s inevitable that they have to respond now.
Sarit: It may happen. I am not inside the head of Nasrallah. I do not know whether he is going to be part of the ceasefire with Hamas or not. I believe if he does join the ceasefire, it will be to make more war preparations while Israel ceases fire. As I said, Hezbollah built the anticipation of an invasion among its own base and its own warriors. Therefore, it is going to be extremely difficult for Nasrallah to continue for 17 more years without an invasion.
Nasrallah made a lot of promises to his own warriors and he continues to do so. The Arabic propaganda machine, aimed first and foremost at his own people, continues to work. The incitement, the culture of death and the culture of hate continue to work. At the same time, the capabilities are there. They are still entrenched at the border even though they are being attacked by Israel as we speak. The Israeli attacks are not eliminating the threat. They are managing it.
Hussein: Since we mentioned Hassan Nasrallah, I will actually interject with a question of my own here. In his recent speech, Nasrallah seemed to be trying to manage the expectations of his audience, his warriors. He said that we support their resistance but we appreciate the independence of the Palestinian resistance. It seemed to me that he was managing expectations and that he did nott seem to be too eager to get into a full front war right now. Do you believe that’s true? And do you believe that this might change?
Sarit: What Nasrallah did was to try and disconnect himself, or his future campaign against Israel, from the Palestinians. If he carries out out a campaign against Israel, he needs justification for the Lebanese. That is why he has been trying to drag us into war since day one. That is why you see all these attacks on the Northern front. He knows that the situation on the Northern front is unacceptable for Israelis and either Israel will get tired of them and will attack or something, like the killing of civilians, will happen and one of the sides will escalate as a result. He is building legitimacy inside Lebanon. I think it is really difficult for him to build legitimacy among those who already resist Hezbollah but I do not see the fractures yet inside its own base. The biggest question here is whether there will be fractures inside the Shiite traditional base that supports Hezbollah. We do not see that happening yet. I pray for it but we do not see that happening yet.
I must tell you in his first speech, he detached himself from the Palestinian cause. In his second speech, he talked about the multi-front campaign that Israel is facing. He did not commit to a full scale war with Israel, but he did say he is going to escalate, and he promised to use UAVs and heavy missiles. He did that this week and destroyed an IDF base. This is an escalation, and this escalation has been gradual since day one. We started from two attacks per day on the border, and we are now averaging ten attacks per day. If Nasrallah is deterred, why is he escalating the situation here? I think the answer is because he really wants the situation to deteriorate into something different or he wants to establish a war of attrition. He does not, however, want to be identified as the one who dragged Lebanon into war for Hamas or for the Palestinians.
Hussein: Thank you. We want to ask about the eighty thousand pound elephant in the room. We spoke about Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and the strikes against Americans in Syria and Iraq. Basically what we’re describing here is an Iranian regional war. This is primarily a war between Israel, the United States and Iran, even if the United States refuses to recognize it. You mentioned the Iranian strategy of slowly suffocating Israel in these conflict. How is Israel going to respond given the fact that Iran still has its nuclear program? Is Israel planning on responding to Iran or on punishing Iran in any meaningful way for what’s happening right now?
Sarit: I do not know what Israel is planning. I cannot believe we plan to punish Iran, even though it may be a good idea. I believe we are making preparations, to cope with any nuclear threat coming from Iran.
I just wanted comment on the multifaceted campaign you mentioned. There were meetings today in Lebanon between Nasrallah and the heads of Hamas. There were meetings between Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Iranian foreign Affairs Minister is in Beirut now. I don’t know who is the meeting, but he is in Beirut now. Today is Lebanese independence day and he is making a very clear statement about who the boss is in Lebanon.
It’s very symbolic, and we saw a lot of coordination and meetings between Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Iran, in the month before this war, and in the weeks right after it started. It is clear they’re all part of the same axis of terror and that’s why this campaign is not between Israel and Hamas. This campaign is between the West and the terror players here, which are led by Iran.
Hussein: I’ll ask a very quick follow-up question. Is it possible to defeat Iran without actually hitting Iran?
Sarit: The follow-up question on that is whether the Iranian people can defeat the regime. That is the follow-up question to which I truly do not have the answer. I do know they have been trying for the past two decades, and they have failed. Iranians do not like the regime and the regime is still there. I think that if you truly want to understand this ideology and the monster we are talking about, you need to ask the Iranians and not the Israelis. They understand better than I do what we are dealing with here and they probably need a little bit of help.
Sarah: We have seen unbelievable turmoil in the streets of Iran within the past two years. We have seen incredibly courageous people literally taking their lives into their hands to resist this oppressive regime. Twenty thousand have been arrested, five hundred have been shot on the street and seven that we know of have been hung in the town square. Yet we have not seen real support from the United States even though we think the regime’s opponents are a majority within Iran. Resistance to the Iranian regime has occurred many times in the past few years and many courageous people have taken a stand against their leaders. As such, I think one way of defeating the real monster that is empowering every terrorist regime, and every destabilizing regime throughout the region in the world, is to back the proud demonstrators on the streets.
Sarit: Yeah, I totally agree Sarah, and I would go even further than that. What is the strategy of Iran? Last week everyone said Iran is not involved and Tehran wants to detach itself from what is happening in the Arab area. In the past decade however, Iran built militias everywhere in the Arab world. They did this deliberately in a way that enables them to maneuvere and attack Israel whenever they decide.
Look at the Yemenis as an example. I do not know whether Iran gave a specific order to the Houthis to attack Israel or to attack that exact ship in the Red Sea at that specific time. The Houthis have their own capabilities. The Iranian have built a kind of freelance enterprise that can do whatever they want against Israel or against the United States. It is a kind of octopus. It is not a chain of command in a way we expect it to be in the West, and that provides Tehran plausible deniability.
Yeah, Tehran is not involved, but actually Tehran is everywhere you look. I think that is the illusion that we are living when the Iranians are saying we are not going to get involved in the war. Yes, I am not sure that missiles will be launched from Tehran, but they will be launched from Iranian proxies everywhere in the Middle-East.
Hussein: Thank you. We have a question about the hostage deal. As a result of this temporary, ceasefire, will Israel lose the military initiative by allowing Hamas to reorganize itself. Will we be repeating the same cycles of appeasement?
Sarit: This is a very good question that worries us Israelis a lot. I am always asking how many soldiers will be killed, because of this deal. It is a big question. What I think what we can all learn from this deal, is how important is for us as the Jewish state to bring back the hostages. A noble value in our culture is to not leave anybody behind. Our soldiers have paid with their lives many, many times in the past to bring back hostages or the wounded. They have paid with their lives to rescue the wounded and even to bring back the bodies of the soldiers. It is part of who we are.
When we send our kids to the army, we know that if something happens to them, their brothers and sisters will come and rescue them. We know that, and this is something we need to preserve because it’s very important to us. I agree we are taking a huge risk with this deal, but at the same time, this noble principle of not leaving anyone behind is equal to the principle of defending the state of Israel itself and we cannot ignore it. That’s why the goals of the war were defined as 1: eliminate Hamas and bring security to the South part of Israel, and 2: bring back the hostages.
Hussein: Thank you. Someone is citing a report in the Jerusalem Post that said that the number of the Palestinians who are going to be released in exchange of the hostages, is actually closer to three hundred. They are inquiring which number is the true number.
Sarit: As far as I have read, the number is one hundred and fifty. I read the number just before I came in but maybe it has been updated. I saw the list. It didn’t look like three hundred but I will check again. Maybe there will ultimately be there three hundred prisoners released because the deal says that after the first phase of releasing one hundred and fifty terrorists by Israel, and fifty Israelis by Hamas, there is a potential to continue, and Israel may be willing to release more prisoners for more hostages.
Hussein: Thank you. We have a question which I am going to preface with the background of increasing, terrorism in Judean Samaria or the West Bank over the past few years. This increased level of terrorism is directly tied to the rise of Hamas activities and other Iran sponsored groups in the area of Jenin specifically. The question is whether Judea and Samaria is a another potential front for aggression against Israel.
Sarit: It is already another front. While we are talking, the IDF is very busy in West Bank. Since the war started, the IDF has arrested more than two thousand members of terrorist organizations who have been involved in terror in various ways. About two hundred Palestinians terrorists have been killed in the West Bank. I am not hiding these numbers. These are the numbers, and that is why there is already an active front. There is an effort in the West Bank to create terror against Israel and that is the reason elections have not been held there. It is not the Israelis but the Palestinian Authority that should have elections in West Bank. They have not held elections since 2007 because Mahmoud Abbas is afraid Hamas will win. There is support for Hamas in West Bank, not because of Israel, because the Palestinian authority is corrupt and Palestinians are looking for an alternative. When they look, Hamas is the only alternative they come up with.
I’m very sorry that this is the situation, but this is the situation. What Israel is doing now is trying to make sure that after we eliminate Hamas in Gaza, we are not going to end up with a stronger Hamas in West Bank. Hamas control in the West Bank is even more dangerous than in Gaza because there are the settlers there. That’s why it is so important to act at this front as well during the operation in Gaza.
Hussein: Thank you, Sarit. I’m going to ask you the last question Sarit, and then I’ll give it back to Sarah. What do you think US foreign policy, or US policy in the region should be right now to allow Israel to defeat not just Hamas and Hezbollah, but Iran? What do you believe the United States should be doing at the moment?
Sarit: The United States should be willing to use the power that was sent to the Middle East if needed. The United States should also enable us to finish the mission and eliminate Hamas. On the Northern front, the United States should help us get rid of the monster, making sure there is a deadline for that. If it is a diplomatic solution, they should make sure that we are safe here on the Northern front as well.
Sarah: Thank you. Sarit, I can’t thank you enough for your years of wisdom, expertise and valuable friendship. I would like everybody to please support the valuable work of the Alma Center at https://israel-alma.org. I also have to put in a plug for EMET. We are on Capitol Hill every single day advocating for peace through strength. We continually remind Congress that Israel is America’s Eastern outpost in the Middle East and is holding down the fort of Western Democratic values. We remind them we are together in this war against what we consider the new axis of evil comprising Iran, Russia, China, and Venezuela and North Korea.
One of the things we talk about on Capitol Hill every day is that Israel has to finish the war against Hamas without impediments.This is not a war that Israel has chosen to fight. This is an existential war and Israel is fighting on behalf of the United States of America and western democracies all over the globe. We have webinars every week with wonderful people like Sarit Zehavi and we write and publish every week, trying to get the word out to as many people as possible. We need your support to continue our work and also need everyone who can possibly make it to come to our dinner on December 5th. Please access our website https://emetonline.org/ for more information on supporting EMET.
We want to thank Sarit again for her wonderful work, and we will see all of you on Thursday of next week. Thank you so much.
Sarit: Sarah, thank you very much, and pray for the release of all hostages.
Israel at War! Transcript
An Analysis of U.S. Policy Before and After October 7th’s Hamas Massacre
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