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Lauri: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)’s weekly webinar. Today’s webinar features a member of the Knesset, Ohad Tal. I was fortunate to meet with MK Tal when I was in Israel in February. I knew immediately that I wanted him to speak to our EMET audience. He is brilliant and he speaks with passion and conviction. I am looking forward to hearing his insights this afternoon.

Thank you all for joining us today. As always, we appreciate your support for EMET and the work that we do. If you like what we are doing, please consider sponsoring an upcoming webinar. I apologize for holding this webinar over the Chag. We will try not to do it again in the future. That said, we recording this webinar and the recording will be available to those not able to watch it live today. I am very grateful for MK Tal’s time and we are mindful of his schedule. Since we have a lot to cover, I am not sure we will be able to take audience questions, but we will do the best we can with the time we have.

MK Ohad Tal is an Israeli politician who serves as a member of the Knesset for the Religious Zionist Party. He chairs the Knesset Committee for Public Enterprises and he is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense, Finance and Immigration Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Knesset committees. MK Tal was elected to the 25th Knesset in 2022. Before then, he served in high-level positions in the non-formal Jewish education and diaspora relations arenas. MK Tal is an active member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. From the beginning of Operation Iron Sword, he led several initiatives to secure Israel’s military and security position. He chairs the Knesset Caucus for US-Israel relations and is the Chair of the Parliamentary Friendship Caucus with Australia, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Welcome, Ohad. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. We appreciate your time.

Ohad Tal: Thank you so much for having me. I am so happy to be here. Thank you very much.

Lauri: We have a lot to discuss. I want to start with your view on where Israel stands in the war with Hamas. When I was in Israel, I met with you and other members of the Knesset. I left with the feeling that Israelis across the country were united and determined to defeat Hamas. However, there is a great deal of domestic pressure on the Israeli War Cabinet. Many Israelis want the government to do whatever it takes to bring the hostages home, even if that means leaving the remains of Hamas to fight another day. At the same time, there is a great deal of international pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire, provide humanitarian aid, and stop killing civilians. The international community ignores the fact that Israel risks the lives of its own soldiers to protect Palestinian civilians. They do not acknowledge that if Hamas were to release the hostages and surrender, the war would end immediately. Please share with us your perspective on what victory looks like and how you see Israel achieving it.

Ohad: Wow, that is a long and great question. I think we are in a critical period right now. Today, my party convened an emergency meeting to discuss major issues of concern. In the coming days, we will make a decision as to whether we are going to complete our mission of eradicating Hamas, a promise we made to the people of Israel. We cannot afford another round of war with Hamas. This time we must eradicate Hamas. We went to this war with three main goals: eradicate Hamas, bring back the hostages, and make sure Gaza will no longer be able to threaten Israel. Those were the goals.

I think average Israelis continue to support these goals. I met with many Israelis who advised me to keep fighting and they let me know that I do not have the right to give up. I agree with them. I think that the coming days will define whether or not we continue to pursue these goals. G-d forbid we surrender to international pressure. As you said, there is heavy pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu from the international community. They want him to enter into a ceasefire and they are promising all kinds of guarantees. Although it is not politically correct for me to say, we have seen the result of these guarantees before. In 2005, we ceded the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. At that time, the US gave us presidential guarantees that they would deal with any terror organization attempting to take over the Gaza Strip. We saw the results of that. After we left Gaza, Hamas took over and America did nothing. Worse than that, they are now trying to prevent us from taking care of Hamas after they butchered our people. Twelve hundred people were butchered by Hamas and two hundred and forty people were kidnapped into Gaza.

I think everybody in Israel understands we have to defend ourselves. We have to do whatever is needed to make sure we never suffer another massacre from Gaza again. There is a consensus about that in Israel. I think that left and right still agree that we do not have a choice. This is true even in the War Cabinet. We have to go into Rafah. We have to dismantle the remaining four battalions of Hamas. Most of the remaining hostages are probably in Rafah. Hamas is already under pressure because they understand the next step is for us to enter Rafah. They released a video of two of the hostages in the last couple of days and they are suddenly debating a hostage deal. Both of these actions imply they are under heavy pressure. The only way to actually achieve the goals of the war is to keep pressuring Hamas and not to retreat.

Lauri: You brought up a number of points I want to pursue further. You mentioned the remaining Hamas battalions. Seth Frantzman tweeted about the eighteen battalions Israel defeated and the four that remain in Rafah. He asserted that Hamas probably dispersed many of those battalions intentionally and the terrorists are just waiting to reconstitute themselves the second the Israelis leave. Putting aside domestic and international pressures, what does a military defeat of Hamas look like in Rafah?

Ohad: Rafah? President Biden said a couple of days ago that he insists Israel does not strike Haifa. We were not intending to strike Haifa. Seriously though, one of the things we learned from October 7th is to open our eyes to reality. I think Seth Frantzman is right, dismantling Hamas battalions is not enough. Why do I know that it’s not enough? Because 80% of Palestinians continue to support Hamas. This was confirmed by a poll conducted among Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, three or four weeks ago. The poll asked for their opinions about the war, about Hamas, and about the October 7 massacre. In addition to the 80% or more who support Hamas, over 70% justify the massacre of October 7th. Given these percentages, Seth Frantzman is 100% correct. It is not enough to dismantle the battalions as it is very hard to differentiate between where Hamas ends and where the civilian population begins. The only way I believe we can achieve victory in this war is by making them pay a price.

According to the way the Middle East works – especially, of course, in Gaza – Yahya Sinwar is already victorious. For them, Yahya Sinwar is Salah ad-Din. He did in one day what Arab armies have tried and failed to do for seventy-six years. The only price they understand is the price of land. They do not care how many people die in Gaza. They do not care how many buildings are destroyed in Gaza. The only thing they would consider a defeat would be a smaller Gaza the day after.

I believe that this is what we should do. At the very least, we should demilitarize the northern area of the Gaza Strip. This is the area from which they launched their attack on October 7th. Nobody should go into these areas for ten years at a minimum. This would give us time to dismantle all of the underground tunnels and infrastructure there. The northern border of the Gaza Strip should move ten kilometers south. This is what I think would be a minimum victory for Israel and a defeat for Hamas.

Lauri: I think that is a brilliant idea. Post 10/7, I felt there was unity between Israelis on the left, right and center. Everybody agreed Israel had to win. Prior to 10/7, protests over proposed judicial reforms seemed to be ripping the country apart. Shortly after I left Israel though, the divisiveness appeared to start creeping back in. Now, the focus at Hostages Square seems to be on early elections and getting Bibi out of office. What is going on domestically?

Ohad: You are asking a lot of great questions. Again, the answer depends on whether you speak to people on the ground, or you listen to the media. If you get your perspective from the media, you will believe there is a great deal of divisiveness among Israelis, similar to the situation prior to 10/7. We are seeing demonstrations again but I do not think they reflect the opinion of the vast majority of Israelis. Pre-10/7, the media created the perception that the majority of Israelis were against judicial reform and the country was falling apart. I think the media is now returning to the same pattern of reporting but I do not think it is true. Many of the hostages’ families are becoming brave enough to voice their true opinions. They are affirming that paying any price for the hostages does not make sense.

The deal we have on the table is a horrible deal. It sentences 75% of the hostages to death. Are we really willing to condemn 75% of the hostages to bring 20 back? Does that make any sense? Are we really willing to pay with the lives of three-quarters of the hostages while keeping Hamas alive and allowing them to be completely victorious? If we withdraw from the Gaza Strip, we are guaranteeing the reconstitution of Hamas and we are facilitating another massacre. We are basically ensuring we will have another October 7th in the future. The Israelis from the villages around Gaza will not be able to feel safe if we withdraw. Does that make any sense? Despite the massive pressure campaigns, I think many people in Israel still understand that surrendering to Hamas does not make sense.

Lauri: You mentioned the War Cabinet. In the context of our discussion, how strong do you think the War Cabinet is? Do you think it will hold? Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the political rivalries between Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, and Benny Gantz. Gallant and Gantz have bad blood between them as well. They all disagree on how to approach the war and they are vying for Bibi’s job. Gantz wants to bring the hostages home at any cost. Smotrich, on the other hand, is insisting on entering Rafah. Blinken is in town once again. He is pushing the horrible deal you discussed. How does this play out in the War Cabinet? Given all the divisiveness, can the current government survive?

Ohad: It is a good question. As I mentioned, our party held an emergency meeting to discuss what we will do if the government accepts this deal. Of course, we decided we would not be able to support the government should that happen, and we will have to resign. Basically, this will end the government. We will not be able to support a deal that waves a white flag and surrenders to Hamas. We will not give up all of Israel’s interests and accept a deal that poses an existential threat to Israel.

People have to understand that we are not like America. We do not live on a continent separated from our adversaries by oceans. We are surrounded by countries waiting for the right moment to strike us. They already believe Israel is weak. Two weeks ago, Iran attacked Israel directly. This is the first time in history Iran has attacked Israel directly and not via its proxies. We all know Iran is the biggest supporter of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and, of course, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Judea and Samaria. In this instance, however, they decided to attack Israel directly. The reason for that is they believe Israel has been weakened. When you are weak in the Middle East, everybody wants to grab a bite. This is an extremely serious threat to the very existence of the Jewish state, the democratic State of Israel. We will do everything to prevent the threat from materializing. We will not be part of a government that surrenders. Despite international pressure, we have to push back and insist that Israel take care of itself. We have to take care of our citizens. I hope everybody in the government comes to their senses and realizes the extent of the threats facing us.

Lauri: You raised a number of topics that I want to discuss in more detail. I want to drill down on the hostage situation and clarify the terms of the deal being proposed right now. It looks like if the ceasefire does occur, Israel will not go into Rafah. Doesn’t Israel have to enter Rafah at some point? If there is a deal, will the Rafah incursion be delayed, as opposed to canceled? Do you see a scenario in which Hamas releases all of the hostages, dead and alive? It seems to me the hostages are Hamas’ only leverage. Why would they give that up? They held Gilad Shalit for five years. They have been holding the bodies of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin for ten years, I believe. This is a horrible thing to ask, but do you think the hostages are going to make it out alive?

Ohad: We are in a very difficult position. Hamas is a brutal, murderous, Nazi organization. They are not a legitimate country. We cannot negotiate with them to arrive at a place of compromise and agreement. They are a brutal, murderous organization whose goal it is to destroy Israel. On October 7th, their objective was not to release their prisoners from Israeli jails, it was to release Jerusalem and wipe Israel from the face of the planet. The only way to actually deal with such a terror organization is to make them beg for a deal. Negotiating with them will not bring us any closer to changing our current reality. It will not bring us closer to bringing back all the hostages. We started negotiating this horrible deal with the premise that forty hostages would be released. Now they are willing to negotiate the return of twenty hostages with the vast majority remaining in their hands. If we enter into a ceasefire deal involving an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, we lose all leverage over Hamas. What incentive do they have to return the rest of the hostages? We would have no leverage over them because we would have given it all up.

Not only that, Secretary of State Blinken is asserting this hostage deal is the foundation for the establishment of a Palestinian state. They get it all. They butchered us on October 7th, they do not have to bring back the hostages, and their reward is a US-supported Palestinian state. What else do they need? We want to believe in fantasy but we have to wake up and face reality. The reality is that the only way to deal with them is by pressuring them militarily. That’s the only way.

Lauri: This administration was obsessed with creating a Palestinian state, even prior to 10/7. They injected the establishment of a Palestinian state as a requirement for normalization with the Saudis. The US introduced it as a requirement and not the Saudis. When I spoke to other members of the Knesset in Israel, they all agreed it was insane to reward Hamas, even with negotiations.

Ohad: I want to add to that. They are trying to create the impression that Netanyahu has a political choice with an obvious answer. He either chooses normalization with the Saudis and establishes a Palestinian state or he chooses to align with the extremists in his coalition and enters Rafah to hunt Hamas. Their portrayal of these two as the distinct available options is absurd. The Saudis and the Emiratis want us to eradicate Hamas at least as much as we do. Everybody talking to them knows that that is the truth. They hate Hamas and they hate the Muslim Brotherhood no less than we do. They are threatened by them just as much as we are. We saw proof of that two weeks ago when Iran attacked Israel. We saw which countries stood by our side. They are still with us even without this talk about a Palestinian state. This is because they believe Israel is the only power in the region that can align with them and protect them from Iran. If Israel becomes weaker, if we do not defeat Hamas, and if we allow them to have a Palestinian state and keep threatening us, the Saudis will not want to strengthen their alliance with Israel. As such, the choice, as the US is presenting it, is absurd.

Lauri: This morning, I read a report that the Saudis have agreed to normalize relations with Israel. It is just a matter of when they are going to announce it. They will probably base the announcement on the US political calendar and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming weeks.

Let’s talk about the US-Israel relationship. It is obviously important and I know it is something that you are very focused on. Unfortunately, the Biden administration appears to be acting in a bipolar manner with respect to Israel. Initially, they appeared to support Israel in her war against Hamas. Now the administration appears to be hindering Israel’s ability to fight to the finish. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have also called for early elections in Israel. Other Democrats are calling to cut off aid to Israel or, at least, to condition it on ridiculous requirements.

In the early days of the war, Secretary Blinken sat in the war room with the War Cabinet. He played a role in making decisions on what Israel should and should not do. This type of interference in Israeli affairs is unprecedented. Early on, the US prevented Israel from making a preemptive strike on Hezbollah. Now they are trying to prevent the IDF from entering Rafah. They condemned specific IDF units, sanctioned Israeli settlers, and failed to veto a UN resolution that called for a ceasefire. This resolution did not even address the hostages. The US has hardly been Israel’s best friend. It is all very distressing.

What are Israelis saying? Are you concerned with the way this administration is handling things? Are you worried about Democrats moving away from their support of Israel? What is your understanding of how the government is negotiating with the US? How successful are they in withstanding US pressure? I think it was you who noted that Bibi’s the only person who can handle the Biden administration and push back against that pressure. Your thoughts, please.

Ohad: You covered all the great examples proving the current administration does not support Israel. They are doing everything they can to prevent Israel from winning this war. Again, it is very simple. We are facing an existential threat. That is the reality. We are in a delicate situation. We are fighting for our existence. Iran attacked Israel with over three hundred ballistic missiles and drones in an unprecedented assault. After the attack, Biden’s first action was to call Prime Minister Netanyahu and tell him the US would not back Israel in retaliation against Iran. This does not constitute support for Israel.

We are seeing the crazy rise in antisemitism on college campuses across the USA. They are supporting Hamas, they are supporting jihadists who murder babies, behead little kids and rape women in front of their husbands and children. However, what we are seeing is not just antisemitism. They are also shouting death to America and they are burning American flags. This is craziness. What is the administration doing? Instead of fighting it, the administration is surrendering to it. They are ignoring it as if it does not exist yet they are sanctioning people living in Judea and Samaria. Why? Why on earth would you do such a thing to your closest ally, to the only democracy in the Middle East? At the end of the day, Israel is serving America’s interest in the region every single day. We are not just fighting our war against Hamas. We are fighting Western civilization’s war against radical, fundamental Islamists. They call us the Little Satan. They call America the Big Satan. That is the reality.

A couple of days ago, I spoke with a soldier who returned from Gaza. He came back with a Palestinian flag he found in Gaza. There were Arabic words inscribed on the flag saying, “On Saturday, we will slaughter the Jews. But on Sunday, we will slaughter the Christians.” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks once said that what starts with the Jews rarely ends with the Jews. That is the reality.

As mentioned, the administration declined to veto the scandalous decision of the US Security Council to impose a ceasefire on Israel without any demand for the return of the hostages. This was a message to Israel that it does not have the right to defend itself. This is what it means and it is as simple as that. We know the administration is encouraging the ICC to sanction Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gallant, and the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army. That is crazy. This is not the way you treat your ally. I believe this is an unprecedented situation for us. I think this administration is giving all its values, principles, and all of America’s interests to win the Muslim vote in Michigan in the elections. It is crazy. I hope the American people will realize what they are doing.

Lauri: There is one moral side to this situation and the administration is not on that side as regards the war in Israel and the events on our campuses. We really need another Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I am glad you mentioned that Israel is fighting to preserve Western civilization because I think that is a critically important point. When I spoke to you at the Knesset, you said the Israelis understand what they are fighting for. However, this administration does not seem to appreciate that Israel is fighting on behalf of the West. They also do not seem to appreciate the fact that our enemies take every opportunity to exploit any daylight they observe between the US and Israel. I do not believe 10/7 would have happened without daylight between the US and Israel. Similarly, I do not believe Iran would have attacked Israel had they not been aware of tensions in the diplomatic relations between Israel and the US.

Ohad: You are correct. I think the friction Iran observed between Israel and the US, was one of the biggest reasons for their direct attack on Israel. Israel’s perceived isolation spurred them to conduct a direct attack. America cares more than anything for security and stability. Does abandoning your closest ally in the Middle East bring more stability? It sends a horrible message to radical Islamists worldwide. I believe we will not be the only ones to pay the price for these grave mistakes. I think America will also pay the price for the administration’s feckless decisions. As discussed, we can already see the craziness playing out on college campuses in the US. I think the radical Islamists believe that the creation of chaos, across universities and elsewhere, sets the scene for using the biggest democracy in the world to attack this country.

Lauri: Unfortunately, Israel is dependent on the US. This allows the Biden administration to treat Israel horrifically to suit their political agenda. Is the Israeli government discussing how to reduce its dependence on the US to avoid having the US dictate how Israel defends itself?

Ohad: For many years Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted on maintaining good terms with Vladimir Putin. People criticized him for this because they did not understand why he was doing it. I believe part of the reason he maintained relations with Russia was to avoid being completely dependent on a single superpower. He wanted to be able to shift between Russia and the United States and not rely on the support of only one country. One of the things we have learned in recent months is that we should be more independent. I hope that we develop the capacity to be more independent. I think we need it for our existence. We can all see what is happening in the Democratic Party. If it continues along the same path, our current problems will be worse ten years from now. Yes, I believe that Israel should be much more independent.

Lauri: I want to turn to some of the additional threats to Israel’s security. Sixty thousand Israelis have been displaced from their homes in the north due to the conflict with Hezbollah. I was in the camp of those who hoped Israel would attack Hezbollah preemptively. As I mentioned, the Biden administration blocked the possibility of a preemptive attack on Hezbollah. Do you believe that war with Hezbollah is inevitable? Do Israelis support opening a second front in the North or do you believe diplomacy is going to lead to Hezbollah eventually moving its forces back to the Litani River? If Hezbollah did retreat to the Litani River, would that be sufficient to guarantee security for those in the North?

Ohad: We have seen the results of dealing with a terror organization. At the beginning of the war, many people asked how Israel was not aware of what Hamas was planning given that we have the best intelligence in the world. The problem was not that we did not have the intelligence. We had all the information. We had the booklets with instructions of how Hamas was planning to occupy Kibbutzim in the south. However, we wanted to believe that if we continued to help improve their economy and continued issuing work permits, they would have something to lose and would put aside their desire to kill us. This is a continuation of the thought process from 2005 when we withdrew from Gaza and gave them the land. Well, it did not work then and I did not work on October 7th.

The situation with Hezbollah is similar. Hezbollah is a terror organization whose entire purpose is to destroy Israel. How can we reach a diplomatic solution with such an organization? It does not make any sense. We do not want to fool ourselves again. At some point, we will have to launch a war with Hezbollah. We do not love the idea but we do not have a real choice on this matter.

Lauri: I am going to turn to the West Bank before I ask you more about Iran. The unrest there seems to have been building for quite some time, including pre-October 7th. We know that Iranian weapons are making their way through Syria and Jordan, into Judea and Samaria. How stable are things in the West Bank? Is there potential for the West Bank to become a third front?

Ohad: I think it is a front already. It can, of course, escalate more but we are already fighting on this front. We are currently fighting on seven fronts, including Judea and Samaria. By the way, we have to change the way we refer to these places. The West Bank is a term used to indicate that Jews have no right to be there. It is much easier to justify expelling the Jews from an area called the West Bank than it is to justify expelling us from places called Judea and Samaria. How can you expel the Jews from Judea? That is crazy.

Again, we have a serious problem in Judea and Samaria. The Army has already completed multiple operations in Judea and Samaria and they have seen the terror infrastructure there. The basic difference between Judea, Samaria and Gaza is that the IDF is much stronger and operates on the ground in Judea and Samaria. We could not do that in Gaza and we saw the results. Their desire to destroy us is the same, their ability to do so is different. We proved that on October 7th.

Lauri: I want to discuss Israel’s approach to Iran. I thought the retaliation to Iran’s strike was brilliant. It sent a clear message about the extent of Israel’s capabilities. We also learned a lot from Iran’s military failures. Their ballistic missiles either failed to launch or failed to reach their intended targets. Many people are asking when Israel will strike Iran. Can you share with us whether you think Israel will need to strike Iran at some point, with or without US assistance? Will Israel confront the head of the octopus directly? It does not appear this administration will support Israel in a strike against Iran at this point.

Ohad: Unfortunately, I am not able to share most of what I know on this subject. I can say that there will come a point where we will have no choice but to deal with the head of the octopus. We all know that hitting the octopus on its head is the right thing to do. It will save so many lives. The Iranian people are peaceful people. They want peace. The Ayatollahs are not just anti-West and anti-Israel, they are anti-their own people. Their people are suffering. Hitting the octopus on its head will be the best thing for Israel and for the world. We recently experienced a moment of truth. The Emiratis, Saudis, and Jordanians were given a choice between Israel or Iran, and they chose Israel. Everybody understands the threat Iran poses, not just to the Middle East but to the rest of the world as well. I think that one day we will have to deal with Iran and do what needs to be done even if without American support. I hope the day that we deal with Iran comes sooner rather than later.

Lauri: I am going to pose one final question and then I will let you return to your busy schedule. Do you see any possibility of change among the Palestinian population with respect to their hatred of Jews and their commitment to Israel’s demise? On October 7th, we watched Gazan men, women, and children crossing the border to assist Hamas in their attack on Israel. If we defund UNRWA, is there hope for a change in ideology amongst the Palestinian people? Blinken is endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian state. I do not understand how we can establish a Palestinian state when the Palestinians are not willing to live side-by-side with Israelis.

Ohad: You are correct. I think the only way to change the reality with the Palestinians is to punish terror and not reward it. We talk constantly about the two-state solution. The premise is that Palestinians and Israelis will live side by side in harmony, each in their own state. That is a false premise. Many soldiers returning from Gaza are saying that they are seeing maps depicting the complete erasure of Israel in nearly every home there. There is no green line on these maps. Israel is replaced by Palestine. People are shouting, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free”. What does this mean? It means that Palestine will be free of Jews. They do not want to have Jews at all in this region. They want to eradicate the state of Israel, they do not want to live side-by-side with Israel. That is the reality. As long as they are rewarded for terror, they will continue to use terror to achieve their objectives.

The only way to change the way they think is to show them that Israel is here to stay. It is here to stay and it is strong. It will do everything that needs to be done to deal with its enemies. Only when we do that, will we see more of what we have seen with Abraham Accords countries. Why do Saudis and Emiratis want to sign peace treaties with Israel? They do not care about the Palestinians. They want an alliance with a strong country that stands up to its enemies. That is what they want to see. When we can show that is what we are, I assure you that the Palestinians here in Israel will accept our existence.

Lauri: I want to say thank you. Do you have any closing messages you would like to share with our audience before we go?

Ohad: I am open to questions. If you want to have a couple of questions, it is fine with me. No problem. Go ahead if you want.

Lauri: Why don’t Sunni Arab states send their students to American campuses to counter the pro-Hamas narratives that we’re seeing on American campuses? Do you think this might happen in the future?

Ohad: At the end of the day, you have to understand that Muslims cannot openly discredit other Muslims. As you said earlier, one of the Saudi conditions for normalization with Israel is the establishment of a Palestinian state. They included this requirement because of pressure from America but they had to say it anyway. Similarly, moderate Sunni countries of the Middle East will not send students to college campuses in America to condemn Hamas. They will tell us in private that they want us to complete the job and eradicate Hamas, but they will not state this publicly.

Lauri: What do you see happening amongst the people on the street in the Abraham Accords nations? I know that the governments are supporting Israel but do their people also support Israel?

Ohad: We are in the process of building trust with the people. We made peace with the governments and now we need to build confidence and trust amongst the people. I think the only way for this process to continue and extend to people on the ground, is to ensure they view Israel as a strong ally. That is what pushed them to normalize with Israel in the first place. If they see Israel standing strong, they will continue to support us. I spoke to many people in the Emirates. They were not just leaders and businesspeople but regular people on the streets. They support Israel but it is still hard for them to go against their Muslim brothers. If they see Israel standing strong and protecting what is important to them, they will feel safe in backing Israel. I do not think they care about the Palestinians so much. They understand the Palestinians are causing their own suffering over and over again.

Lauri: Our audience is asking about future plans for governing Gaza. Will there be a full withdrawal of Israeli forces after the war? You started our conversation by referring to how current US policy would effectively facilitate a Hamas return to power. We know what happened with UNIFIL after the Lebanon war in the North. UNIFIL was a complete failure. You discussed taking away some of the land in Gaza and establishing a more secure buffer zone. Who is going to govern Gaza? Have the Israelis really formulated a plan for the day after the war?

Ohad: Many in the West would like to see a description of the exact solution for Gaza after the war. In the Middle East, things do not work that way. I believe we need to have a mess in Gaza for a couple of years. During this period, it will not be clear who is governing, but Israel will retain security control. Israel must retain security control over the Gaza Strip for many years, that is for sure. We have an entire generation who learned from birth to hate Jews. Palestinian Authority booklets, math textbooks, poetry, and other educational materials all teach Palestinians how to kill Jews. In math, Palestinian children learn that if you kill five Jews and then you kill three Jews, you kill eight Jews together. This is how they learn math. This is how they learn everything.

There is a famous video clip showing an interview with a Palestinian lady from Gaza. She brought her baby to a hospital in Israel because the baby had brain cancer. The doctors in Israel cured the baby. The Lauri asked her what she wanted her baby to be when she grew up. The mother answered that she wanted her baby to be a shaheed, a suicide bomber who kills Jews. The Lauri asked why she wanted her child to murder Jews given that she had just been saved by Jews. She answered that the role of Shaheed is the greatest thing we can do for Allah. Her response epitomizes the reality we are facing. Without changing the education and mindset of an entire generation, we will be unable to discuss beautiful words like peace and coexistence. In the interim, there will likely be some level of chaos in Gaza and it will not be clear who is in control over civic issues.

Lauri: The international community is really going after Israel. You mentioned the ICC is seeking to issue arrest warrants for Israeli officials, including its prime minister. The UN treats Israel despicably. I had lunch with Ambassador Gilad Erdan last week and he wants the UN to be defunded completely. Do you think that improved PR could make a difference? I think the treatment of Israel stems from antisemitism. The double standards are clear. That said, is there something Israel can do to reach American Jews or to reach the Arabs who understand Israel’s strong horse and want to support Israel? What can Israel do to improve its image internationally?

Ohad: I think we can always improve and do more with respect to our PR. I think we did better in this war than in previous campaigns. During this war, the government invested substantial funds in social media. This does not imply that the state itself creates all of the campaigns to tell Israel’s story. Rather, the government sponsors social media experts from around the world. They know how to deal with social media and they run their own shows. I think we have improved a lot during this war but we still have a long way to go. At the end of the day, however, we have to face the truth. The entire Jewish nation comprises fourteen million people. There are a billion Muslims. No matter how much money, effort and energy we invest, we will not be able to defeat the prevailing antisemitic narrative. Unfortunately, that is the truth. Anti-Semitism is rising and I do not expect to see a complete reversal in that regard.

Lauri: I think that the forty-seven-minute video needs to be released far and wide. I think students should be required to watch it in high school and freshman college classrooms. Perhaps that would reduce the level of hatred toward Israel we are currently seeing on college campuses.

Ohad: Maybe. Unfortunately, I do not think people care about the truth anymore. People deny the Holocaust even after viewing documented atrocities and even though they can visit Auschwitz in person. At the end of the day, the required viewing of the forty-seven-minute video will not prevent people from hating the Jews and wishing for a repeat of October 7th. You are right though, we can and should improve our PR. We should use every tool we have to tell our story. That said, I would temper my expectations because it will likely not change the reality we are facing with respect to PR.

Lauri: We here at the Endowment for Middle East Truth are working to try to do what we can for our Israeli family. I cannot thank you enough for being here, Ohad. It has been a pleasure. I knew when I met you in Israel that you were going to be a terrific guest. I know that you have a crazy, busy schedule. There is a lot going on in Israel. God bless. Thank you so much for being with us.

Ohad: Sure. I would just like to add something I heard from Ron Dermer, former Israeli Ambassador to Washington. He said that when he was ambassador to Washington, he met many ambassadors from all over the world. However, he never met the ambassador of the Persian Empire, he never met the ambassador of the Roman Empire and he never met the ambassador of any of the superpowers who tried to destroy us thousands of years ago. They are long gone, and we are still here. I am telling you that because at the end of the day, we will win. We are here to stay. Our current situation is hard and complicated but we are here to stay.

Lauri: Wow. I love ending on a positive note like that. Thank you. Those are good words to end with. Again, thank you. Be well. We are all fighting for you. Thank you. Ohad, for joining.

Ohad: Thank you so much. Enjoyed that. Thank you very much for the honor. Thank you very much for having me. Toda Raba.

Lauri: Toda Raba.




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Founded in 2005, The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) is a Washington, D.C. based think tank and policy center with an unabashedly pro-America and pro-Israel stance. EMET (which means truth in Hebrew) prides itself on challenging the falsehoods and misrepresentations that abound in U.S. Middle East policy.

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