Sarah: Welcome to another timely and informative webinar. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken recently returned from the Middle East where he traveled to Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, and Judea and Samaria or the West Bank. On Friday, his spokesperson, Matt Miller told Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC that the Arab nations are ready to discuss “A long-term and short-term solution to Gaza including the establishment of a Palestinian State”. However, recent polls coming out of Khalil Shiqaqi’s Palestinian Center for Survey and Research, indicate approximately 83% of Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria or the West Bank support Hamas, and the October 7th atrocities. We all know of the case that is being argued against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, an attorney representing South Africa, said Israel had “genocidal intent” in Gaza and that it must immediately cease and desist its military operations, leaving Hamas in control of Gaza. On November15th, EU High Representative, Josep Borrell issued a statement saying “No to the amputation of Gaza and no to the dissociation of Gaza from the overall Palestinian issue. Our objective must be the resolution to the Palestinian issue as a whole.”
So, there are many people far from the conflict weighing in, virtue signaling and offering their advice on potential resolutions for Gaza. These morally indignant and self-righteous people are all offering normative statements of what Gaza should be. However, they do not have to live side by side with a radicalized Palestinian population representing a mortal threat to their existence.
Only Richard Goldberg, Senior Advisor at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), has written about what should not be a solution. Richard Goldberg was a former advisor to Senator Mark Kirk and a former member of the National Security Council and US Naval Reserves. His brilliant analysis appeared in January’s Commentary Magazine. Richard wrote that if Washington and Jerusalem share the objective that Gaza can never again pose a terror threat to Israel, the question about the future needs to be reframed. Instead of asking what comes next, we should be asking what cannot come next. Richard wrote that question is the only way to establish the parameters for a viable path forward. We must preclude the known ingredients for policy failure. Richard, we are really delighted to have you back again. Can you please outline your five parameters for a more stable Israel and Middle East vis-à-vis Gaza?
Richard: Yeah, of course. Thank you, Sarah. Thanks for everything you guys do and thanks everybody for spending your lunch hour with us. I embarked on this essay while many people were putting task forces together to define what they thought needed to come next in Gaza. The administration placed their focus on having the Palestinian Authority (PA) take over Gaza. Different proposals came from the Egyptians, the Qataris, the UN and others. All of them were difficult to understand. I think about it like giving a child a blank piece of paper with a marker and asking them to draw something. The result is typically not what you expect. However, if you provide the child with parameters and borders and ask them to color by number using specific shapes, the result comes out pretty well. The situation in Gaza is similar in that dreaming up future state fantasies on a blank slate is also a recipe for disaster. Rather than having the conversation about what should come next, we should start with what we know should not come next.
Number One: There is no future scenario in Gaza which involves Hamas or other terrorist groups. Some of the proposals coming out today do not adhere to this premise. I thought it might be unnecessary to include this parameter because it appears obvious. However, I am glad I did because it seems like it may be obvious to us but not to the rest of the world.
The Egyptian proposal, as an example, stipulates there should be unification of Hamas and Fatah so that there can be one voice of the PA. Their proposal endorses a technocratic government in Gaza until there is an election at some future point in time. Hamas would be allowed to participate in the election. Under this proposal, we would simply be going back in time to 2006 after Israel had already left the Gaza Strip. At that time, we saw how Hamas took control over the PA. If we were to implement the Egyptian proposal, we will see Hamas taking control over Gaza once again.
The terror infrastructure in Gaza has not yet been dismantled. Israel still has western support for continuation of its efforts in Gaza although some are insisting on a ceasefire. A ceasefire would effectively allow Hamas to retain control there. A proper solution for “the day after” is essential. Unfortunately, there are many people out there who believe that Hamas should play a role. They do not state this explicitly but if you look at their plans, that is what they are proposing.
To reiterate, number one of the things we should not do is to allow Hamas or any other terrorist organizations to govern Gaza. This includes Islamic Jihad. We must not make the same mistakes we made back in 2006-2007 when the US pushed the Palestinians into the election and pushed the Israelis to accept the election. Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood organization, sponsored ideologically and financially by the Qataris and the Turks with additional support from Iran. It does not matter if Hamas changes their name, they are still a terror organization. As an example, they could start calling themselves the Party of God and use the name change to justify becoming part of the political process. We need to have some sort of litmus test to determine eligibility with respect to who can participate in governance. We need to review their charter and their modus operandi. They must be willing to state publicly they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. If they are not willing to recognize Israel and if they continue with their pledge to destroy Israel, they should not be part of the political process as they will likely use the process as means to retake control over Gaza.
I have already seen some of this coming. There are people talking about an election involving the PA. Before we go down that road again, we must talk about what, besides elections, makes a democracy. We learned in 2006 that elections alone are not sufficient to create a democracy. A democracy requires a rule of law, respect for individuals, human rights and other things we take for granted. Elections are simply one more path to power for those who do not believe in democracy and seek to create a theocracy.
Number two of the things we must not do, relates once again to the 2005 unilateral Israeli withdrawal and the disengagement plan. This withdrawal ultimately resulted in Israel handing Gaza over to Hamas. It is probably the single most pivotal decision with respect to Gaza and what is happening there today. Obviously, we do not want to revise history and sugarcoat what happened in Gaza prior to 2005. However, without disengagement, Hamas could not have gained operational control of the Gaza Strip and then used it as a launching pad for rockets and terror. You are seeing that the Israelis understand this. I do not know what the disconnect is in Washington, I am hearing the rhetoric that Israel has to withdraw and seeing plans like the one the Egyptians put forward. There are suggestions of a full Israeli military withdrawal as part of a hostage deal, and then a unity peace with the Palestinians. If the Israelis repeat the mistake of withdrawing all military forces, military capabilities and their security presence from key areas of the Gaza Strip, they will get a resurgence of terrorist control.
Because Israel cannot afford to repeat past mistakes, the IDF is already making moves to take control of the Egyptian border in the south. They call this area the Philadelphia route to the Philadelphia Corridor. You are going to see them maintain control of some of the key areas along their border. This is going to be essential to be able to respond quickly to terror cells that pop up. This approach is similar to how Israel maintains security control in the West Bank and in the Jordan Valley. The vision is for the IDF to maintain security control of Jordan Valley in the long term. This enables Israel to ensure there is nothing untoward coming in across the border. They have a sufficient security apparatus to respond to Hamas and other Iranian backed Jihad cells in that area, and you see them doing it on an ongoing basis.
That is not the same as civilian control and it is not the same as a full occupation. We are going to need to find a balance. We need to have sufficient security control to prevent terrorist takeovers, to allow for special operations and to respond rapidly to threats from terror cells as they emerge. On the other hand, we should not obstruct civilian governance and should allow economic and political ideas to develop. We should turn Gaza back to some technocratic Palestinian rule, but we should not leave Israel to worry about the resurgence of another terror platform in Gaza.
Number three. No country that ever sponsored or provided safe harbor to Hamas should be allowed any role in the future of Gaza. Again, this seems obvious but it is not. The Biden administration is talking more to Qatar than almost any other country. Qatar has been a sponsor and loyal ally of Hamas because they are ideologically aligned. Qatar is aligned with both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their ties did not start in 2012 when the Politburo of Hamas moved to Doha. It goes back decades. Qatar was supporting Hamas when they took over the Gaza Strip and when the US, Israel, and Europe tried to place an embargo on them. Qatar was at the leading edge of trying to break that embargo. They sent Hamas money and assisted them in maintaining control of Gaza in 2007, during the early part of their takeover. They are all in. They have been a major part of the problem in Gaza.
Obviously, we are not allowing the Iranians to be a part of the political process. One would expect that would be obvious but we would also not have expected the Qataris to be part of negotiations right now. There is talk about putting money into the day after fund. If you allow the Qataris and their Muslim brotherhood ideology to pump money into the political system, into the economy, and to other groups, you can be assured some replicas of Hamas will develop. Iran will back and support these groups and radicalization of the population will continue. This should not be allowed.
The Turks should not be allowed to be part of any negotiations or governance either. The Turks have been providing a massive amount of ideological and media support to the most radical elements of society there. They also send them money and goods. Turkey, Qatar and Iran are the countries that have been most involved in supporting Hamas. There are some North African countries and others who have had involvement there but it does not really seem that they are going to be major players in defining “the day after”. The Turks would likely be accorded a role but they should not be allowed to participate.
Qatar is the Big Kahuna and it is imperative to ensure they have no role in the future of Gaza. As a reminder, the Qataris also sponsor Al Jazeera which is part of the terror apparatus. The Saudis and the Emiratis are not friends of the Qataris and are antithetical to the ideology they disseminate to the Arab World. Therefore, assuming they want to step up, it may make sense for the Saudis to lead moderating efforts. A Saudi, Emirati lead reconstruction effort, backing a technocratic government, makes sense in the context of the ever-expanding Abraham Accords including a potential Saudi-Israeli normalization. Qatari involvement, on the other hand, does not make sense.
No political party or governing authority that pledges to destroy Israel, promotes terrorism against Israel, or pushes economic warfare against Israel, should be part of a post Hamas-Gaza.
Although there appears to be consensus on these three pre-conditions, we are being told the PA meets these basic requirements. It is nuts to believe the PA, in its current form, is qualified to run Gaza. The PA sponsors and maintains media, schools and textbooks teaching Jew hatred and calling for the death of Jews. They encourage terror via Pay for Slay programs. The leader of the PA has an actual PhD in Holocaust denial, which is a thing apparently. The Palestinian Security Services have done nothing to actually control and secure the West Bank. We see cells of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror organization cells growing and operating throughout the West Bank. It is hard to believe the PA would be the institution to which anyone would choose to hand control of Gaza.
As part of his analysis, Joe Truzman with FDD asked, “What are we talking about here? You are going to hand over the Gaza Strip? You are going to believe that Gaza will be deradicalized and secured by the PA? All they have done is leave the West Bank, the Judea and Samaria areas that they control, less secure and more radicalized. It is mind-boggling. If there are reforms the PA wants to commit itself to that can be verified, we can have a conversation. These reforms would be many.” A lot of people say the PA as it is today, is no better than Hamas. I think that is a stretch but it is certainly not good.
The last parameter relating to things we should not accept if we are to strive for a stable Israel, is the one that I think is toughest in the policy-making circles. It is the one where you run into a lot of challenges. I worry that this one is not even on the table in Israel. This parameter relates to international organizations promoting antisemitism or incitement against Israel. Those organizations are complicit in Hamas’s war crimes we see unfolding every day. Organizations that fail to submit their staff or contractors for basic US counterterrorism vetting, cannot be trusted to help build a better future for Gaza. UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, is the poster child for an international organization that meets all of these criteria. UNRWA is the so-called Palestinian refugee agency.
We have learned UNRWA is trying to make the entire 2.1 million population of Gaza believe ideologically that they are refugees waiting to return to the land of Israel. Their toxic textbooks teach the Palestinians are refugees who should prepare to kick all the Jews into the sea. Their media teaches Jew hatred and prepares them to kill Jews. All of that created the environment we see today, but it is not just that. Unlike any other UN agency, UNRWA is staffed exclusively by locals. UNRWA staff includes thirty thousand people living in the West Bank or in Gaza. Gaza has an enormous number of UNRWA staff and they use 37% of its budget. In some cases, they are Hamas or Hamas allies or Islamic Jihad, and their allies. UNRWA employees have reportedly held hostages in their homes. We have seen that a number of other UNRWA workers partnering directly with Hamas.
Hamas was allowed to build tunnels under schools, hospitals and many other sites. They also stage rocket attacks from these areas. The people know what Hamas is doing and they turn a blind eye. Fundamentally, we have a big problem because the UN does not recognize Hamas or Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. They recognize Islamic Jihad but not Hamas or Hezbollah. They are not UN listed terror organizations.
That means that UNRWA, the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Red Cross and others, view Hamas and Hezbollah as political organizations. Since they have a policy of non-discrimination, they will tell you they ensure there is no political discrimination. This means, if you are Hamas, you still get money and aid and you can still be employed by the UN. The US does not do anything about it. We hand over fists of cash. The US has given a billion dollars to UNRWA since President Biden restored their funding in 2021.
One billion dollars was the number we provided UNRWA as of last year and we have sent more since the war started. So, think about 37% of those dollars getting funneled into Gaza. That is insane. We are truly subsidizing Hamas. There has been discussion about transferring UNRWA’s mission to the other UN refugee organization that actually is responsible for all refugees in the world. That agency is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. They are staffed with international people. Their staff is smaller than that of UNRWA and their mission is to get people out of refugee status as quickly as possible. They are also responsible for giving aid to internally displaced people who are not refugees.
There is no argument that a million Gazans have moved south. They are displaced and have to keep moving around Gaza during this conflict. These are internally displaced people under international law. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is well positioned to provide aid and to help those people to get back on their feet when they move back to their homes. This would be an ideal time for us to actually test the idea of getting rid of UNRWA. If we get rid of UNRWA in the West Bank, we will do the world a favor. If we could transition from UNRWA to the High Commissioner, at least in Gaza, they could work to end permanent refugee status for the Gazan people and to re-settle them in their homes.
Unfortunately, UNRWA is the easy answer, not just for the US but for the Israelis as well. UNRWA has the infrastructure already established to get trucks into Gaza and to distribute aid. Working to transition from UNRWA, would ruffle feathers and create additional arguments and challenges. The Israelis know UNRWA does a great deal of harm, but they recognize it provides a mechanism for quick delivery and they know the international community and the US will never agree to getting rid of it. For those reasons, they continue to support it.
Given that attitude toward UNRWA, I think we are going to be back where we started. I think UNRWA will be used as a vehicle to subsidize all the extremist terror groups that will try and take control of Gaza in the future. If we do not address this challenge now, I think it will be a big hurdle for us in the future. If we cannot address UNRWA now, after what we have witnessed in Gaza, we will never address it.
Sarah: Thank you. The House passed Brad Sherman’s Peace and Tolerance Act. This Act basically states we must study the content of UNRWA textbooks. This is a feel-good, but meaningless piece of legislation. There is another piece of legislation that was introduced in the Senate with minority chair James Risch as a sponsor. The UNRWA Transparency and Accountability Act deals with withholding of US contributions to UNRWA unless they meet specific conditions on an ongoing basis. Support for this bill is coming from Republicans but not Democrats. How do we break this deadlock? We’ve been talking about UNRWA for many years but we continue to funnel money to the UN and UNRWA in what seems like a knee-jerk action. How do we break this cycle?
Richard: We have to remember that UNRWA operates under a UN General Assembly mandate. We would need a general assembly resolution to actually get rid of UNRWA or to truly change its mandate in terms of what it does, how it is structured and how long it can exist. At the very least, we would need to believe more than a third of General Assembly members would vote to block renewal of UNRWA’s budget. To force reform would take a lot of work at the General Assembly and there is currently no one who wants to flex their muscles to achieve that kind of change. After the Trump Administration defunded UNRWA, I believed the next step was to lay down the gauntlet and insist on major changes before restoring funding. The Trump Administration removed a large chunk of their budget.
As discussed, the first step is to stop the funding to UNRWA. Congress included proposed reform to UNRWA as part of the House Republican Appropriations Bill. I do not believe it will make it through the reconciliation with the Senate but either way, everything has moved because of the continuing resolution. That said, the House actually put some very strict conditions on funding to UNRWA to try and drive reform. The other alternative is simply to delete the funding and not allow it.
Senate Democrats do not support this and neither does the Biden administration. If there is a new president next year, we expect the US will return to defunding UNRWA. Going back to the 2018 decision to defund UNRWA will be unpopular in diplomatic circles. However, it is one major way for the US to use its leverage to drive some kind of reform. Surprisingly, UNRWA did not collapse after the US withdrew funding. They complain continually that the sky is falling and they are running out of money. They also issue emergency appeals for funds every couple of months. Shockingly, however, after the US removed a quarter of their budget, their doors were kept open and everything kept rolling. This makes you wonder where all of their money goes.
We have also seen a lot of donor fatigue from the Arab world the Europeans, who are also growing concerned about what UNRWA represents. Every year, the UNRWA serviced population grows in size. This is because they operate under a never-ending concept of refugeehood for the population they serve. As people have children and the population grows, they go back to the UN and to the United States and request additional funding. This is fiscally unsustainable. It is like a Medicare program provided by the international community for Gaza and the West Bank. For donors, that is not acceptable.
We have to consider the actual terror they propagate as well. Encouraging incitement via textbooks is one of many examples. In the past, we have seen concerns about this from Canada, Australia and some European governments. There is a concern about what UNRWA does and does not do.
So yes, I agree with you, many of the pieces of legislation introduced every year do nothing. When members of congress send an angry letter to the Secretary General about UNRWA, they know it is completely meaningless. It gets press and I guess that is the intent. However, if you have been watching the actions of the UN secretary-general since October 7th, you will know that the letter gets put in a circular filing cabinet very quickly.
We have our money, and we have our ability to influence other countries with that money to get votes at the UN. A: We need to leverage our funding and cut off UNRWA. B: We need to push as hard as possible on our partners in the international community to try to block UNRWA’s funding renewal at the UN. Then we need to force reforms or transition to the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, or some other arrangement.
Sarah: Okay, let’s get back to the duplicity of Doha. As you know, there are two objectives of the war. The first is to rid Gaza of Hamas and the second is to rescue the hostages. It seems Qatar is the only country that can help negotiate a hostage release with Hamas. How do we square this round peg?
Richard: I have written a lot on this. I am saddened by how easily the Israelis and many in the American Jewish Community, have fallen prey to Doha’s complete scam. You cannot be the arsonist and then come to the rescue and claim to be the firefighter. I liken Qatar’s role to that of the character who shows up at the scene in crime dramas and offers to help the cops solve the case because they have seen something. It turns that person was actually the one committing the crimes and has knowledge of the crimes because they are the perpetrator.
Qatar is a friend, ally and actual sponsor of Hamas and therefore may not play the role of neutral arbiter in hostage negotiations. They have a conflict of interest. Their primary interest is the survival of Hamas. Their secondary interest is their image in the West. We have observed they try to balance those two objectives whenever they negotiate. I do not mean to ignore the raw emotion in Israel and the pleas of the hostage families. I recognize that sometimes we must do irrational things when our enemies are not rational.
We must understand however, the Qataris get zero credit for anything. In fact, the missing ingredient to forcing more concessions and getting the hostages out quicker, is the absence of maximum pressure on Doha. I will give you an example. There was a ceasefire brokered, right? There was a week-long ceasefire and some hostages were released. Qatar is the country getting showered with praise by the President, the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor in Davos Switzerland. Qatar is a “non-NATO” ally and a premiere country in the Middle East with a major US air base. It is hard to believe that country could somehow not get every American citizen out during that ceasefire. Could it not somehow put pressure on Hamas to get Americans released? It is more likely they did not want to. Qatar knew American citizens were pricey and could provide insurance. They wanted to make sure there was American skin in the game and desperation in the future.
The idea that we have not threatened sanctions on the Qataris while they still host all Hamas leaders, is preposterous. They are still living well in Doha. They appear on television, do Al Jazeera interviews and spread incitement. The Qataris allow the Iranians to come and meet with Hamas leaders there. They are literally plotting out the next moves for this axis of terror and we are fine with it. We do not talk about moving our base. We have, reportedly, given them a 10-year extension with no strings attached. However, we have other options for the US airbase, including Saudi Arabia.
We do not discuss amending the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. We did this in the past for Iran and for Saudi Arabia after 9/11. This amendment would allow the victims of 10/7 to sue Qatar and it should be on the table. The US should use these tools to crack down on the double game the Qataris are playing. They need to be forced to choose to be either a western ally or a terror ally.
The Qataris cannot be the Swiss Bankers to the Nazis of the 21st century. It does not work that way. By the way, this applies to the Taliban and to other radical groups as well. This is just the latest example that has bitten us in the rear. I do not know what it is going to take to wake people here up. Reports indicate some House members are starting to get tough and are starting to tell the Qataris they are not doing enough. When this is over, there is going to be a reckoning. The Qataris have to close all the Hamas offices and turn over the Hamas leaders for extradition. They need to shut down Al Jazeera. Why is it allowed? How do we not have sanctions on this entity? Even though Al Jazeera it sponsored by Qatar, it is not even required to be registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That is crazy. We see proof of material support from Al Jazeera to Hamas throughout the war. Al Jazeera should be prosecuted for this and I do not know why we have not moved on it. That should be a day one move by a future administration. Clearly, the current administration is very focused on partnering with the Qataris.
The Jewish community in the United States has been suckered by the Qataris. The Qataris are funding foundations that are advising Jewish organizations and hostage families on how to proceed with public rhetoric, lobbying, and activism. They are advising them on how to speak about Qatar. The Richardson Center, and other foundations funded by Qatar, met with hostage families and with major Jewish organizations. They told them they have good relations with Doha and know how to get hostages out. They offered to run quarterback for their whole hostage release strategy. They never disclosed they were funded by the Qataris.
Leadership in American Jewish organizations might ask, well, what else are we supposed to do? You know what they can do? They can say, “Get out of my office, get out of here. I am not listening to you anymore. We are putting maximum pressure on Qatar. We are going to start holding rallies outside the Qatari Embassy and we are going to press Congress to sanction Qatar.” All of the things that could be done, are not being done. If you are involved in a Jewish organization, ask the leadership if they are involved with the Richardson Center and if they are allowing the Richardson Center to call the shots. If their opposition to Qatar is muted because they have been advised by Qatari funded assets, find out. It is happening and it will be a real black spot in history when the history of the hostage crisis is written.
Sarah: We all know Qatar is the largest foreign donor to our nation’s universities. This is part of the problem we have in the nation’s universities right now.
As you know, in addition to freeing the hostages, Israel’s objective in this war is to free Gaza of Hamas. However, due largely to American and international pressure, Israel has just entered a new phase of the war. The current phase is much more targeted and puts IDF soldiers more at risk. I know when you wrote your article, you were very optimistic about the outcome of the war. Do you still believe that Israel will be able to retain its goals of having Gaza free of Hamas?
Richard: Yes, I wrote that Israel would be able to remove Hamas’s operational control over Gaza with the caveat that the IDF must be allowed to do what it needs to do. There are some concerns right now that this haste to transition to low intensity operations in Northern Gaza was premature. We may see the IDF having to turn back to higher intensity operations. They may have transitioned to low intensity operations to pacify Washington but this level of operation may not be enough to clear Northern Gaza. That is obviously going to be a lesson learned from Southern Gaza as well. It is too soon to know but I am watching Northern Gaza as much as I am watching Southern Gaza, because I do not think we should assume that Northern Gaza is Hamas free. It is not. Israel may have significantly degraded command-and-control in Northern Gaza. However, if we start seeing ambushes and other activity in Northern Gaza, we may see an increased activity level from the IDF to the extent they can resume higher intensity operations with less external pressure.
I think this is going to be controversial in Israel. It is probably already being debated inside the security cabinet. The IDF should not be making operational decisions based on pressure from Washington. Their objective is a Hamas free Gaza and they should not be pressured to wrap up operations in a way that will lead to increased IDF losses.
Sarah: It’s very difficult for Israel when they are so dependent on Washington for armaments. Now I am going to turn the podium over to my wonderful executive assistant, Karen Benjamin, who will read some of the questions that have come in from our audience.
Karen Benjamin: Hi. There have been a lot of questions about the US role in this conflict. Why does the current Administration protect Iran and Qatar? What can the American-Jewish community do? I’m going to throw in a question of my own here, how does the upcoming US election impact the conflict?
Richard: I will take the last one first. I think it is clear that the majority of Americans still support Israel. However, we want to ensure that the US does not cut off support or anything like that. The Afghanistan withdrawal disaster, the war between Russia and Ukraine and the type of things the Houthis are doing in the Red Sea, all give the American electorate a feeling of angst. I suspect the administration is working to deliver the message that they are in control and can contain the chaos. A few weeks ago, Tony Blinken went on a containment tour to the Middle East. The entire message of the administration is containment.
Preventing escalation means moving Gaza to low intensity operations and tamping down on conflict so it does not spread. I think the administration wants to divert voters’ attention from worldwide chaos and conflict as the US moves into election season. They want it to appear that Biden did right by the Israelis and he did right by the Palestinians in calling for humanitarian aid. This would enable the administration to redirect voters’ focus to the economy and other preferred areas.
As such, I think Israel wrapping up operations prematurely has a great deal to do with pressure from Washington. It also has major implications on Israeli decision making with respect to Lebanon and Hezbollah. The expectation was that the IDF would pursue much more significant action in Southern Lebanon once they felt more comfortable with the situation in Northern Gaza. The United States is pushing for de-escalation in Gaza at this point even after the events of 10/7. Given that, I do not see them supporting a major escalation in Southern Lebanon. This is going to be the largest point of disconnect between Washington and Jerusalem and it is already contentious.
Since October 7th, it has been very clear the President has been focused on maintaining October 6th policies and strategy as much as possible while trying to focus narrowly on the question of what should change. The only change the President supported was Israel’s attack on Hamas. The President has an overarching strategy regarding Iran and nothing else matters but their nuclear program. In their view, the only way to stop the nuclear program is to appease Iran. As such, the US will do whatever it can to maintain diplomatic engagement with Iran and to try to keep them under the 90% weapons-grade uranium threshold. They have made various sources of cash available to Iran including ten million dollars out of Iraq and six billion out of South Korea. The administration did have to refreeze those funds but who knows if it is just the policy that is still frozen or if the funds are too. The administration is also appeasing Iran by allowing all the oil shipments from Iran to China.
There has been plenty of reporting about a nuclear deal cut over the summer. The president did not inform Congress about this deal and that was not legal. The issue at hand though is that nothing has actually changed on that Iran policy since October 7th. From the beginning, the administration worked to distance Iran from the Hamas massacre. They tried to convince us that Iran did not know about the attack, that Iran was not behind it, that we have no evidence of Iranian involvement and we do not have a smoking gun. They noted that although Iran is Hamas’s sponsor, they did not believe Iran knew what was going to happen and that is why the US did not need to change its policy on Iran. Around ten days after October 7th, the UN missile embargo expired. The administration let it happen because it was part of the deal with the Iranians. What would it take to trigger a snapback from the United Nations and a restoration of all the sanctions on Iran? They are firing on our troops in Iraq and Syria every single day. The Houthis are causing havoc in the Red Sea. None of those events are causing the US to change their policy toward Iran whatsoever. In fact, they are doing everything possible not to change their Houthi policy while the Houthis are attacking commercial vessels in the Red Sea. This is amazing.
We have conducted limited airstrikes and missile strikes against the Houthis. We have been conducting missile defense combat in the Red Sea for a couple of months already. Yet we refuse to put the Houthis back on the foreign terrorist organization list. We refuse to target command-and-control, senior leadership or any of the Iranian assets that are helping the Houthis guide their targeting on the ground in Yemen. In the last 24 hours, they made a big hullabaloo about making the decision to relist the Houthis as a terror group. They did not relist the Houthis as a foreign terror organization. They got a big press release out of it but we learned that they only put them back on a sanctions list. This morning, predictably, they put out a press release letting everybody know that they granted a historic number of carve outs and exceptions to the sanctions.
The National Security advisor issued a statement just before we got on this webinar and said that the administration is proud to let you know they have issued a historic number of carve outs to the sanctions. Can you imagine saying you are proud about that with a straight face. So, they have done nothing. Why? Because the Houthis are supposed to be legitimized political actors in a peace process that they endorsed. The Houthis have taken control over a lot of territory in Yemen. They get a lot of money and the Iranians and nothing has changed.
The Qataris and Doha have an enormous amount of influence in Washington. It is bipartisan. It is a major problem. There are so many people on the Qatari payroll. These are likely people that you respect, people and who you see on television. I will not name names but they have a conflict of interest. The Qataris are shoveling their money into universities, into nonprofits and into other organizations you are not aware of. Did anybody know the Richardson Center that advises on hostages, was funded by the Qataris? I did not know this either until the Jewish Insider had a big expose on it. Their lobbyists and their PR firms coordinate all of this influence and it creates this echo chamber that protects them. They built it and spent a great deal of money on creating their brand. It is very difficult to penetrate.
Many in Washington believe that we really need the Qataris and they are a strong and very important ally. None of these people have an answer as to why they are still hosting and sponsoring Hamas and why we are allowing this to happen. How do we allow and turn a blind eye to Al Jazeera? To expose and change the situation, we need people of courage who are willing to take the arrows because terrorists play dirty with their detractors and enemies. I have changed all my passwords and tried and insulate myself because I am sure the Qataris will come after me. It is a problem in Washington.
Karen: Our next set of questions has to do with the sentiment of the Palestinians. Generally, if we were to somehow get some Palestinian representative to agree to conditions for peace, a miracle in and of itself, what would the enforcement body look like? How would you denazify the population, not just textbooks but street names and an entire culture shift.
Richard: That is a very good question. Within the parameters that you would establish, one condition would be that they support the incoming technocratic government. I think we should not think in terms of De-Ba’athification as was conducted in Iraq. The connotation and the actual practice and policy turned out to be a mistake. You are going to need police, civil servants, people who keep the lights on, and do simple things. You will need all the people who actually make a government run. Some of these people may have affiliated with Hamas at some point to survive or because they believe their ideology. Hamas is a major force there and we are not going to make believe that these people like Israel and Jews all of a sudden. You can be antisemitic and hate Israel, but not support terrorism and just want to try to get on with your life, which is probably most of Palestinians.
The question then is what are the list of things you would need to enforce by policy and pre-condition that aid the gradual move toward a culture shift. I do not think many people have spent a lot of time thinking about the details. I have not until this question. It’s a really good question. This is something I and others, should write about. The street signs, the glorification of martyrs, the propaganda from the media and the incitement from textbooks all need to be considered.
Karen: You mentioned that a new party with a similar ideology to Hamas may evolve under a new name. How do we keep Iranian influence out of the region? Iran thrives on instability and any new teetering government or society on its first steps is an easy target for Iranian influence.
Richard: We need to try and obtain a clear picture of all the financial institutions and banks being used and fence them. They should be threatened with sanctions and other penalties if they support terrorism. We should set up parameters under which the government should operate. We should also establish security control along the Mediterranean, and the Egyptian border to prevent the kind of smuggling by the Iranians we have seen over many years and which the Egyptians have allowed to happen.
We will be able to control the flow of funds to some extent if the Hawala system or other types of money transfers systems are used. We are going to have to do whatever we can and I am sure the Israelis will do what they can as well. Crypto has also emerged as a major concern. We have seen a lot of Hamas operated crypto wallets seized by the Israelis. We are going to have to think about crypto regulation and how to prevent crypto from funding terror.
I do not think we have a magic wand here and I do not think we are going to be able to stop it all. This is why the Israelis need a security presence to respond to threats that are ultimately and inevitably going to emerge. We see that in the West Bank, right? We see that in Judea and Samaria. The Israelis have security control and yet, there are massive numbers of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Iranian terror cells. They have control of the border with Jordan and yet, there is a massive amount of smuggling coming across.
There is no foolproof answer here, but at least we have a chance to start over with these parameters. We have a chance for some sort of a government that promotes a civil society different from what existed previously and from the PA as well. We can move in that direction and set up as many guardrails as possible on all fronts. This includes illicit finance, smuggling, influence operations and media influence, including Al Jazeera. All of these will get you part of the way but not all the way.
Karen: I think this will be our last question and it takes us back to culture, not Palestinian culture this time, but Western culture. Post October 7th, we have observed an outpouring of anti-Israel, antisemitic sentiment in the media, Hollywood and on college campuses. Even if we are able to successfully implement the policies you discussed, how do we prevent more western pressure from those who believe the policies are occupation or oppression of the native peoples?
Richard: Yes. They are going to say that. As Americans, I think that we need to be very firm in stating clear objectives and principles. What is paramount is Israel’s security. Respect for human dignity and for life is antithetical to Hamas rule. It is antithetical to an environment where terrorist organizations are organized, breed and radicalize. To ensure both Israeli security and improvement of life for the people in Gaza, there needs to be some element of Israeli security control with democratic Palestinian civilian control.
Detractors will call that occupation. They will say horrible things and use it to propel the BDS movement. We have already seen ESG firms like Morning Start try to give companies in Israel “controversy ratings”. Morning Star finally cleaned up their act, but it appears there might be other actors out there. I think that if we have learned anything over the last three plus months, it is that we are never going to get these detractors on our side. They will always say the most horrific things, even in the wake of the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, even in light of the videos that they have been shown. The UN women could not even condemn sex crimes against women because they were Jews. I do not have a lot of hope that they will not demonize anything Israel does in Gaza.
We need to make sure these detractors do not influence our elected officials. We need to expose who they are, what they stand for and to put them on defense. We need to go on offense against them in the UN. One of my biggest complaints against the Biden administration throughout this process is their inconsistency with respect to their voting record relating to Israel at the UN. At times they vetoed resolutions and at times they have allowed anti-Israel resolutions to pass. In certain agencies, like the WHO, they actually supported an anti-Israel resolution but they vetoed the exact same resolution in the Security Council.
When did you ever see the US put forward a resolution of our own forcing a veto from the Chinese and the Russians? What happened to our offense at these organizations? Why are we playing defense? Why are we being pushed into a corner by detractors and visceral antisemites? Why do we agree to a slightly modified version of their original, horrendous text? We should be playing offense. That is what we’re going to need to do differently over the months and years ahead. Playing defense is a losing game.
Sarah: Thank you, Richard. You are a voice of moral clarity. We should not be cowering in a corner since our case is the moral one. It is as though the victim has become the perpetrator. Certainly, we were not responsible for October 7th. We are forced to fight this war to avoid it happening again and again. So, thank you so much. We thank you and we thank FDD. I want to apologize to our viewers because we did not have a chance to answer many of their excellent questions. I would love for you all to tune in next week, same time on Wednesday at 12 noon and 7PM Israel time. We are going to interview Amichai Cohen. Amichai is a brilliant legal scholar who will address Israel’s referral to the ICJ.
Please go https://www.fdd.org/ to support the work of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). Please also support us at EMET at https://emetonline.org/. We are on Capitol Hill every day and it seems like we led a million meetings there this week. We also write and we publish.
Richard, thank you once again for your wisdom, your knowledge and your brilliance.
Richard: Thanks for having me.
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