Sarah: Good afternoon, and welcome to yet another topical and timely webinar. This webinar was generously sponsored by an anonymous donor in loving memory of Pola Ann and David Cooperman, may their memories be as a blessing.
As we are speaking today, Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas political leader, is in Cairo meeting with Egyptian and Qatari officials and discussing another ceasefire. We are all praying for the safe and speedy return of the remaining 129 hostages still being held in captivity. While many in the international community view the Hamas war on Israel as just another Israeli Palestinian war, this war is very different. This war is about the Iranian axis of terror and their threat to the free world. Iranian influence is involved wherever there is instability in the region, or in the world for that matter.
Iranian backed Houthi rebels are attacking shipping lanes in the Red Sea. Around 12% of global trade passes through the Red Sea and the US has now formed a new coalition to protect these shipping lanes. We are wondering if this coalition will respond to Houthi fire and whether this conflict in the Red Sea is going to widen into a bigger war. Iranian backed Hezbollah has stepped up the attacks on towns along Israel’s northern border, firing missiles, rockets and drones. There have also been ongoing attacks on US soldiers by Iranian backed militias in Iraq and Syria.
This is an existential war for Israel. However, given Iranian involvement, this conflict is not only about Israel, but about the free world as we know it. While the world has been focusing on Gaza, Iranian centrifuges have not stopped spinning. According to the November 15th IAEA report, Iran has enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs. Cameras in Iranian enrichment facilities which were switched off earlier in the year, have still not been turned back on. The United Nations met yesterday, and the US, France, Great Britain and Germany noted Iran has twenty times the amount of highly enriched uranium allowable under the JCPOA.
It is clear to some of us that if the Israelis do not win this war in Gaza, there will be more and more October 7ths. It is also clear to some of us that this type of attack might be coming soon to a theater near us. However, calls for the international community for an immediate ceasefire are intensifying.
Here to discuss this is the renowned scholar, Dr. David Wurmser. David is a dear friend of EMET. He is the Director of the Middle East Studies Program and a senior scholar at the Center for Security Policy. He is a Fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy. David has served as Middle East advisor to former Vice President Dick Cheney and as special assistant to former U.S. National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton. David served in the US Navy reserves as an intelligence officer at the rank of lieutenant commander. David is also the founder of the Delphi Global Analysis Group. Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, David consulted with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in the US Department of Defense. There he worked on a classified project who strove to understand the nature and strategic significance of terrorist groups and their interactions with states. He continued his work there until January 2002 when he joined the government. In 1996, Dr. Wurmser founded the Middle East Studies program at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). While at AEI, David published the book Tyranny’s Ally: America’s failure to defeat Saddam Hussein. David received his bachelor’s degree, his master’s degree, as well as his PhD from the Johns Hopkins University. In addition to Tyranny’s Ally, David has been published frequently in the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and in Commentary magazine. It is always an honor and a privilege to have you, David, on our show.
First of all, do you feel there is a possibility that the current Gaza conflict can widen into a major war at this point?
David Wurmser: I think it is already a major war which has already widened. It is simply the level of intensity of the war that is in question. As far as I can tell, the war that started on October 7th was a major strategic event. There are scholars who know some of the details about Hamas’ decision to go to war far better than I do. They make a fairly convincing case that Sinwar attacked a little prematurely and the Iranians are pretty angry about that. That assessment should not obscure the fact that Iran wanted such an attack and made Hamas into what it is for that specific purpose. The timing not being exactly what they wanted is irrelevant at this point. We have to understand this war strategically in terms of what Iran was planning to achieve via Hamas. I think they had three pretty serious goals.
The first was to derail the Israeli rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and the UAE countries in the Gulf. This rapprochement was a terrifying threat for Tehran. They felt encircled. Their aggressive, expansionist, imperialist strategies were running up against a containment wall which would impact their survival and which they had to derail.
The second goal, related to the first, was the need to make Israel look like a limping donkey and not a strong horse. The peace process between Israel and Saudi Arabia was fundamentally anchored to the idea of Israeli strength. This was a real peace process and not a failed Palestinian one that we have through so many times. Israel was emerging as a strong force in a region from which America was withdrawing. Under the Obama administration and Biden administrations, America has not been considered a reliable ally. This is not only because the US has been withdrawing from the region, but also because it has, at times, acted in a hostile manner towards its friends. There was a quest in the region, for some sort of a survival structure for some of the countries threatened by Iran. Israel was emerging as a strong horse and was acting independently of the United States to some extent. Iran needed to show Saudi Arabia and UAE that Israel is weak and their whole peace framework with Israel was built on an illusion. As such, in addition to Hamas, they had Hezbollah plan attacks with the Radwan force and similar attacks were being prepared in the West bank or Judea and Samaria. This was the way Iran planned for this to end their encirclement.
With respect to the third goal, I think whenever Iran escalates, one has to look to its nuclear program. In the early 2000s, I was working in government for John Bolton and then Vice President Cheney. Whenever there was a threat to Iran’s nuclear program from international diplomacy or potential American actions, Iran destabilized the situation and launched a diversionary war via Hezbollah or its proxies. As such, whenever there is some sort of an escalation, I look to Iran’s nuclear program to see what’s going on there. I think, Iran wanted to divert attention from its nuclear program in this case as well.
I think those are the three basic strategic purposes of the war and this war is a major strategic event. This is a major war between Israel and Iran, being fought through Hamas in Gaza.
I think by now it has become clear that the real purpose of the war for the United States is not to strategically take Iran down a notch or to address the larger problem of Israel’s security. For the United States, this war unlocks a tremendous conundrum. It desired a Palestinian state run by the PLO. However, the PLO was so corrupt, weak and illegitimate it had almost no currency among Palestinians and there was no hope of having it rule over a Palestinian state. Look what is happening in Judea and Samaria. The PLO cannot even completely control Ramallah, their main city. So, they were a non-factor in a strategy that relied on them being the great factor. In some ways the big nemesis for the United States was Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. So, for the United States, this is a war to make Palestine safe for Abu Mazan. This is a very narrow and very focused concept and regarded as almost a grand police action by Israel against a very specific terrorist group.
That puts Israel and the United States on an intersecting line and not on two parallel strategic paths. This means that on the narrow issue of Hamas, the United States and Israel converged and everybody convinced themselves that America and Israel were moving in lockstep with converging interests. The Israelis and a lot of their friends proceeded, as if they and the US were on two parallel lines which would always stay close. However, they are on two intersecting lines which diverge after a point of intersection. That is what is happening here. In my view, the United States and Israel are beginning to diverge and the very fundamental strategic differences are becoming apparent.
I do not believe there has been any shift on the two key paradigms that define Washington’s policy with respect to the Palestinians. The first is Oslo. They think this war is a great opportunity to deepen the Oslo paradigm because Israel is destroying Abu Mazan’s nemesis. The second is the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal paradigm. This paradigm asserts that the US can deal with the moderates in Iran because they are reasonable and rational, even if they are not to our liking. The problem is that whenever there is progress with Iran, hardliners seek to sabotage it. When we respond harshly, it validates the hardliners and undermines the moderates. As a result, we have to stomach whatever terrible escalations the hardliners throw at us. We then continue trying to move forward and validate the moderates by being understanding and strategically patient. The assumption by the US is that the moderates will have a vested interest working with the United States to stabilize the nuclear question. Moreover, I think the United States actually sees its paradigm deepening given current regional problems with Iran’s proxies. I think the United States, like with Oslo, actually sees its paradigm deepening in that we now need to make not only a nuclear deal with Iran, but to come to a larger regional understanding with them. We need to enlist the moderates in Iran to help moderate their proxies and to help secure regional stability.
That is how the United States views this war. Israel sees it differently from a strategic perspective. Israel understands Iran’s tentacles have been unleashed for the strategic purposes I outlined at the beginning. They believe they have only two possible paths. They can take out the tentacles and then focus on the head. Alternatively, they can go straight for the head and deal with all the tentacles at the same time. The Israelis know they have the choice between those two options and they have no illusions. They are aware this is the strategic war with Iran, fought through its proxies. Moreover, the Israelis see the situation as a function of American weakness. America’s post-Soviet collapse moment is over. America has cashed in on that again and again. As we see in Ukraine, we no longer have the bank of credit that we thought we had. Added to that, people like the Saudis feel we are fickle and hostile to friends at times. Overall, the Israelis are waking up to the fact that there is a global destabilization happening by a sort of conglomeration of allied countries. These countries include North Korea, Venezuela, Russia, China and others. We have to understand that Iran is a very important member of this group, and is rising from a mid-level, to a very senior, member. To borrow a phrase from Tolkien, “Something Stirs in the East, a sleepless malice.”
Strategically, this is not even just an Israeli-Iran war, it is part of the West’s war to defend western civilization. The Israelis just happen to find themselves on the front lines like they did in 73, 67 and 82. Because they are on the front lines and they are the front outpost, they are hit first. The West’s slumber and complacence resulted in the attacks on Israel and now Israel is fighting the West’s overall war. I think you cannot paint a more dramatic diversion of strategic vision than what governs Washington and Israel.
We also need to consider the psychological impact of what Israel went through on October 7th. I was in Tel Aviv on that day. Tel Aviv was obviously one of the safer places in Israel at that time. Even so, I can tell you that everybody who was in Israel at that time went through severe trauma. Now the entire Jewish community is feeling things we have not since World War II. The security we thought was absolute is not there. This is a very serious question for American Jews right now. For 350 years, the American Jewish experience has been deeply intertwined with the American experience and the American idea. I mentioned the global assault on the idea of the west. Added to that is the domestic assault in America on the very idea of America. You are seeing the Jews finding themselves on the frontlines of this domestic assault because they have been tied to the idea of America since the founding of this country. All of the sudden, the security Jews felt in the strength and solidity of American culture, ideas and civilization, is crumbling.
I am painting a fundamental, strategic, ideational and social fissure between Israel and Washington. Israel is where Washington should be. However, we have not woken up to the threat that we are facing to our ideas, civilization and strategic position. It will come, but Israel is first to pay the price for it and they get it. Unfortunately, strategic divergence emerges from who feels what first and not what one’s fundamental strategic interests actually are. Israel’s interests and those of America are pretty convergent. We just do not get it yet.
In conclusion, I will address some of the specifics of what is going on right now. The Israelis are dealing with Hamas, I think they will go all the way and I think they will reoccupy Gaza. Beyond all the strategic questions I mentioned, I think we also have to ask some very hard conceptual questions. In 1973, Israel’s concept of reality was incorrect, we have all heard that a million times. In 2023, a parade of concepts failed in Israel. The one I think is very important to discuss is the concept of Palestinianism, the ideology of Palestinian nationalism created by the KGB in 1964. In this regard, the problem is not Hamas or even the Palestinian Authority.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the entire radical progressive camp was really in very deep trouble. They were orphaned and crumbling. Israel sort of threw them a lifeline with the Palestinian issue and this gave them an opportunity to regroup. This problem is becoming the flagship cause for progressives in the world and I believe the Israelis were handmaidens to its revival under the Oslo framework.
The PLO represents the question of the legitimacy of Israel’s creation in 1948 and the discussion around the destruction of Israel. This is what the KGB wanted it to represent. Many Westerners think the question under discussion is how to manage Palestinians who live in Israel or under Israeli control but that is not the case. I do not want to go too far on that issue. However, I am trying to say Israel has to deal not only with strategic questions, but fundamental ideas on what to do with the Palestinians. They have to recognize the fundamental threat they face. Even with the destruction of Hamas, there is a residual problem and unfortunately there will be continued cycles regarding the Palestinian issue. This will not go away even if Israel utterly destroys Hamas and re-occupies Gaza. This will not go away even if the PLO falls apart and Israel has to reoccupy Judea and Samaria. I think we are in a very long struggle with a much larger set of questions that govern Palestinianism. I think this issue will keep coming back and will be used by any strategic enemy of the west that arises today and in the future. I will leave that and we can go to questions.
Sarah: You hit upon so many interesting but disturbing issues. First of all, there is this insistence on conventional thinking in our foreign policy establishment and in academia. They continue to insist on inserting the PA after Israel defeats Hamas. As you know, Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, was in Jerusalem meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Minister Galant, on Monday. At the end of the meeting, he said we are going to have two states living side by side. Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris had a phone call with President Mohammed Abbas. In that call she said she expected the Palestinian Authority, or the PLO, to take over Gaza, when Hamas is defeated. Recent Khalil Shikaki polls indicated that around 75% of people in Judea and Samaria, or West Bank, and Gaza do not believe in the PA. How long do you think a PA or the PLO government would last if inserted to govern Gaza after the war?
David: I would measure the length of time this government would last in milliseconds or maybe even nanoseconds. It is dead-on arrival because I think the very concept of the PLO, the foundation of the Palestinian Authority, is the replacement of Israel. As constructed, the PLO is a validation of the idea that Israel is a colonial, illegitimate State which supplanted indigenous peoples. Therefore, there is really only one solution and it is to allow the indigenous people to rule over their homes. The colonial interlopers will either learn to live under their control, go away or perhaps face extermination.
On October 7th, we saw what living under Hamas means. A future under their control is one of rape and death. This is not unique to Israelis. Others in the region, not part of this ideology of supremacism, have paid a huge price. The Yazidis are one such example. This illustrates the creation of the State of Israel is not responsible for this ideology. You can read reports of the massacre of the Jewish community in Tzfat in northern Israel almost 200 years ago, before Theodore Herzl was even born. What happened in that massacre, reads almost precisely the same as what happened on October 7th. Every type of atrocity you saw in 1832, was repeated on October 7th. Every couple of decades or years, we see repeats of these attacks at various levels of intensity. The attacks recur whether they murder 20, 200 people or 2000 people. We have a real problem here which goes beyond the attacks. The bottom line is, when Israel recognized the PLO, it recognized its own illegitimacy.
I think the only way to achieve a long-term resolution is to work out an arrangement for self-governance with the Arab population of Judea and Samaria. This may be achieved through a different structure than any one considered previously and may involve Jordan and Egypt. Whether self-governance is established as an autonomous entity under Israel or not, it has to be a practical solution anchored to the inhabitants and old traditional structures. It will not be a state, because a state will legitimize Palestinian Nationalism which will then transform into a negation of Jewish nationalism. Maybe there will be some revision of this proposed solution in one or more generations but we are not there yet. Currently, we see no evidence among Palestinian Arabs and their allies that a Palestinian state would be a workable solution. I think the threat it represents was demonstrated on October 7th.
Imagine for a moment there had been an independent Palestinian state run by Hamas on October 7th. In addition to the 3000 or 4000 Hamas terrorists crossing the border in southern Israel, we would have been dealing with double that number coming from the West bank. They would have invaded Netanya, Tel Aviv and Modin and attacked the airport and surrounding areas. Jerusalem would then have been overwhelmed from the south and the north. Around 80% of Israel’s population would have been under Hamas control, at least for a couple of hours. Even assuming Israel could have recovered from such attacks, the potential impact of Hezbollah has not yet been factored into that situation. It is unlikely Hezbollah would have sat on their hands in this scenario. I think what we saw on October 7th teaches us that a Palestinian state is not only unrealistic right now but is a fatal concept for Israel. I think that is an absolute for the Israelis. There cannot be a Palestinian state right now. If that leads to a major break with the Biden administration, then that is the way it has to be.
Sarah: After October 7th, I think there is little will amongst Israelis to create a Palestinian state. In terms of (1) the creation of the Palestinian state and (2) the constraints the Biden administration is putting on the Israelis not to widen the war. Do you think the Israelis will stand up to the Biden administration if they feel it is necessary to go to war against Hezbollah, the Houthis or even against Iran itself?
David: I think Israel will get there because it often does the right thing despite its best efforts not to. It will do what it needs to do in the north and even against Iran. I think the Israeli people get it. 100% get it. I was in Israel until about two or three weeks ago and I was struck by the soldiers I encountered there. They have determination and the clarity of thought and they understand there is no end to this war without decisive action in the north. They know there is no way to deal with the north without taking on Hezbollah and there is really no way of taking on Hezbollah without risking a war with Iran itself. There are a lot of sirens on the Golan Heights right now and they will need to deal with the Iraqi militias taking up positions there as well. I think the Israelis are very clear headed about this, they understand the price they are going to have to pay, and they want to get it done because they know it is going to get worse. Israel will no longer allow threats to build, under the illusion they will care of them down the road. This is another failed concept. The Israeli people are at the point where they now know they need to deal with threats early and they can no longer postpone the inevitable.
Elites in government, especially in democracies, always take a lot longer to come around and there are two reasons for that. The first is that people in government are really caught up in answering the mail. I have been in government and it is like drinking from a fire hose. You seldom have time to stop and think and so you sort of carry the paradigms that you had coming in. Although you do listen to people on the outside, you do not have much time to properly evaluate information and you tend to carry your initial paradigms with you. As such, changes are much slower in government. With all the exposure to information today, the people react very quickly and then the government comes around much more slowly. In a democracy, however, the position of the people does ultimately burn through to the elites.
I think it will burn through to Israel’s elites that they cannot end this war without fully addressing the problem in the north. I hear talk about a five-kilometer or a ten-kilometer buffer in the north but I do not think anybody thinks Israel can avoid a major war with Hezbollah and I think Israel’s elites will realize this.
A very close friend of Sarah’s and mine, Harold Road, called me on Shabbat morning on October 7th. He asked me, “Dave, where’s this going to go”. I remember telling him that it was starting like 73, but would go like 48 and would end like 67. 73 was the surprise attack when Israel was shocked and on the defensive. 48 was when there was a lot of fighting everywhere and when many Israeli lives were claimed. I expected a lot of violence in Israel, even among Israeli Arabs. I happily have been proven wrong on that, or at least so far. I think this is partly because the Israeli Arabs were aware of how angry the Jews were after October 7th.
I think the Bedouins are very upset and now have a blood feud with the Palestinians. I think there are a lot of Arabs in the West bank who would have done something, but they saw how angry the Israelis became after October 7th and they are terrified. By the way, it is very important for westerners to understand that an antiseptic concept of war is impossible and dangerous and can lead to a much greater moral collapse than what would actually occur if we recognize the cost of all-out war. I hate to say it, but what we did in Japan and Germany in World War II has already guaranteed us four generations of peace and will perhaps guarantee many generations more. Nobody in their right mind in Japan or Germany would contemplate revamping old ideas and restarting a war with the west. There is a utility and a long-term morality in that. I think the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria got that message on October 7th and 8th very rapidly, and they never joined in attacking Israel.
The reference to 67 is that, when the war started, Israel did not intend to invade the Golan Heights nor did they even intend to take Jerusalem. In the end, however, these gains wound up being a tremendous strategic victory for Israel that also became, not just an Arab nationalist defeat, but a Soviet defeat. Again, I think the current war started like 73, is proceeding somewhat like 48, although less than I thought, but will end like 67.
Sarah: David, you and I and a handful of our friends were very unpopular in 1993 during the Oslo Accords. At that time, everybody was just thinking, Peace Now, an ultimate projection of our western values onto the PLO. We were similarly very unpopular in 2005 during the Gaza disengagement. Can you talk about the lessons of the failure of Oslo and of the Gaza disengagement? We were really persona non grata in those days, but we both had this horrific feeling that no good thing was going to come out of those initiatives.
David: There’s an Israeli line I have heard over and over since October 7th. In English it translates to, “we need to talk Arabic, not westernism”. The point is that Israel thought the PLO would accept becoming the agent of Israel’s security after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the PLO was weak and desperate to survive. Israel thought the PLO would trade survival for compliance and would agree to rule a population embedded in Israel. Israel thought it had so much power that the PLO would never challenge it. By the way, this approach is similar to the attitude the United States had after the end of the Cold War.
The entire world knows we are powerful and we won the Cold War. It would be self-destructive for anyone to challenge us. Israel proceeded with the same mentality, not recognizing that it was its undoing. We could have a whole seminar on this.
I am not only unpopular because of what you and I said about Oslo and the disengagement from Gaza. I also argued that the 82 war was one of Israel’s greatest successes. I said it was actually one of the greatest victories in the Cold War and marked the end of the Soviet Union. Up until 82, the Soviet Union was seen as ascendant because its air defense systems were able to neutralize western air forces. Articles written by experts from 73 to 82, maintained the United States was losing the Cold War. They asserted that the Soviet’s conventional superiority and the ability to neutralize our air force was creating the inevitability of Soviet domination. That led to people trying to harness the power of pessimism and come up with rules for an inevitable future with a powerful Soviet Union. Israel suffered under that too.
In 82, Israel invaded Lebanon in response to terrorism. The first thing it did was to neutralize the most sophisticated and concentrated Soviet air defense structure in the Pica valley in Lebanon. In this way, Israel reestablished western air superiority and western ascendancy. I think that created a sense of shock and retreat in the Soviet Union and it really fueled American confidence during the Reagan era. It facilitated the reassertion of American power.
Israel’s success in this regard, spurred the Americans in the areas of strategic and missile defense etc. and they were able to defeat the Soviet Union as an idea. The 82 war was critical to this achievement. In 1993, Oslo reversed that Soviet defeat and validated Soviet strategy. It validated the core Cadillac issue of Soviet third world policy. It validated the Soviet’s only remaining strategic global asset, other than their nuclear weapons. Oslo validated Palestinian nationalism, making it a signal issue once again and revitalized the old Soviet radical progressive alliance. I do not think that all problems began with Oslo, but Oslo was a major defeat and will continue to be until it is revisited and reversed.
With respect to the disengagement from Gaza, Israel determined that it made sense to “call their bluff” and withdraw completely from Gaza. Israel believed they had the power to easily deter the Palestinians if they fired even a single missile toward Israel. By the way, similar statements regarding Israel’s ability to contain Palestinian aggression were made with respect to Oslo as well.
I found disengagement particularly painful because a lot of our closest allies did not stand with us and this was a big disappointment. Some of the people who actually understood the issues around Oslo, did not feel the same way about disengagement. I remember sitting in the vice president’s office and talking with Dagan, who was head of the Mossad at that time. My immediate boss and I looked at him and thought, everything that has gone wrong with Oslo will go wrong ten times worse with this disengagement. It did.
Sarah: So many of my friends said to me at the time, the world will remember how far Israel is willing to go for peace. The world will always remember.
David: Well, that is another big thing which I hate and which might be the topic of another seminar. What Oslo represented, according to many arguments, was the conquering of the Zionist spirit and replacement with the diaspora or galut mentality. The galut mentality means Jews act against their own interests and double down on proving their reasonableness. With this mentality, you try to make peace with your haters even when you cannot. The lesson of the 2000-year diaspora is you cannot make peace with the hatred of your haters. You can win their respect and gain following and cooperation based on that, but you will never make peace with your haters.
Americans have a very simple view of the world. Americans believe if you have deep convictions, then you are powerful. Even if you are alone, you will win if you stand for your convictions and you fight for them. America was, quote, “great before it was powerful”. When Israel started compromising on its convictions, the American thought those convictions did not mean very much to them. As such, they did not see why they should assist in fighting for convictions Israel was not prepared to defend. I think when we tried to make peace with the hatred of our haters, we sold out the respect and following we had from our friends. Oslo, on every single level, was a catastrophic defeat for Israel.
Sarah: We are going to turn to my wonderful colleague Joseph Epstein, who will read some of the questions that came in. You did just remind me of when Menachem Begin said to Senator Joseph Biden,” I am not a Jew on trembling knees.” Okay, Joseph, go ahead.
Joseph: Thank you, Sarah. You have spoken a lot about the infeasibility of the PA governing Gaza, in addition to Judea and Samaria, or the West bank. Why does the Israeli government allow the PA to govern in the heart of the country but not in Gaza? I know members of the security establishment in Israel have traditionally said the PA may be very bad, but it’s better than the alternative. Do you think that after October 7th the Israeli security establishment has taken the lesson that it is not good to be satisfied with a bad status quo?
David: Yes, I think they learned not to wait until a threat becomes a reality. This is a really a strategic concept that emerged from the war of attrition. After 67, the Arabs said no to negotiation with Israel, no to peace with Israel and no to recognition of Israel. Then the war of attrition began. It involved constant warfare on the Golan Heights and in the Suez Canal. It was fairly violent but never reached the threshold of a full war. About 1000 Israelis and many more Syrians and Egyptians were killed in that war. It ended in August 1970, when the Israelis launched a series of painful air raids, artillery strikes, commando raids, and even shot down around two to three dozen Soviet piloted aircrafts. They also killed the commander of the Soviet forces in Egypt and did tremendous damage to the Egyptian military. Obviously, the Egyptians sued for a ceasefire.
The war of attrition was important strategically for Israel. Even though Israel did not start the war, it successfully pushed the Egyptian army 40 km back. They created what was essentially a buffer zone where Israel could observe the movement of the Egyptian army. As long as that buffer zone existed, Israel knew it could mobilize its reserves in the time it would take for the bulk of the Egyptian army to move those 40 km forward. Israel watched Egyptian forces moving to the canal. The 40-kilometer buffer zone started vaporizing and Israel was ready to restart the war of attrition. Israel highlighted to the United States that allowing Egypt to deploy up to the canal was strategically very deadly. This was because it robbed Israel of the time needed to mobilize reserves.
The United States did not want the conflict to escalate and offered to provide Israel with qualitatively better weaponry. That is where the idea of the qualitative military edge began. Although it was only called by that name four or five years later, the idea was born in August to September 1970. The reason the United States did not want the conflict to escalate at that time was because it had a peace plan called the Rogers plan. The United States wanted to give the peace process a chance to de-escalate the situation. The Israelis accepted the US offer and in so doing, accepted the concept of allowing a threat to build because you are powerful enough to absorb a first strike and can then launch a successful second strike. That concept failed in 73 and was never reviewed. Instead, Israel deepened its reliance on the qualitative military edge including the Americanization of Israel’s military and dependence on American weaponry and American aid to pay for that weaponry.
On October 6th, 1973, Israel deepened what had been proven to be a flawed concept, with the outbreak of the 73 war. I think that concept has governed Israel’s military doctrine to this day. It is a failed concept. It failed on October 7th and I think the Israelis now get it again. I think elites will take a longer time to get it and I think the Israeli military will be the last in the room to get it. That said, many of the elites in the Israeli military will probably not be around in a year. I think a huge house-cleaning is in order, but a chance in strategic vision has to come with it.
Joseph: Thank you. Now to turn to questions from our audience. We have quite a few questions asking about who is responsible for current US policy towards Israel and why does the US want to promote the PA so much, despite all of its issues?
David: I think it is placing hope over realism to believe that President Biden really is in charge. I do not think Biden has a particular animus toward Israel, but I think one has to consider his administration and the staffers who are really in charge. I think Samantha Powers, Susan Rice, Blinken and Burns are the real movers and shakers. They are supported by a second tier of staffers who are the core of the progressive camp nurtured by President Obama. He brought them into government, cultivated and validated them and raised them to the higher levels. With respect to Iran, Robert Malley and his network were the key influencers. Even though Robert Malley is now out, he set up an entire network of people like himself. I think they really cut their teeth in the Obama administration and their worldview is the worldview of the Obama administration.
They owe allegiance to the progressive camp and they have an animus toward Israel. They see Israel as a colonial state and they buy the PLO narrative. They are the crowd that was allowed to continue and survive by Israel’s validating the PLO in the Oslo process. They are the young people to whom the Israelis themselves provided a life vest. I believe the social justice Democrats and progressives are the real motivating force behind policy in this administration.
However, the Democratic Party also still has the old liberal camp, which is more pro-Israel. There are a lot of politically savvy operatives who understand the political cost of turning against Israel. Israel is still pretty popular in America. It is still pretty popular in a broader sense. The youth are a headache and their views are terrible. When you consider everybody in America, however, Israel is still very popular, and the Democrats have a very serious problem.
The progressives hate Israel and there is nothing that we can do to diminish their hatred. They see Israel as illegitimate and believe it should be dismantled and given to the PLO or Hamas or whoever. However, most Americans still side with Israel. Overall, Israel is seen as a measure of American strength. The more centrist part of the democratic party is afraid of being, quote, “Cartered.” This refers to what Carter faced in the 1980 election against Reagan. Carter faced more than dissatisfaction around the Iran fiasco, the overall economic decline and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. There was an overall feeling amongst Americans at that time that America was on the wrong path. The perception was that America was showing weakness and was being dragged through the mud by the rest of the world. Democratic centrists fear that today and those fears could have an impact.
I see politics driving the current administration. The party is being torn between the progressives and more traditional Democrats. The progressives really have the balance of power while the older, more traditional Democrats realize they will not win the Senate if they go against Israel and may actually end up losing the House and the presidency as well. For that reason, the United States wants Israel to wrap up the war with Hamas as fast as possible and they do not want it to escalate. In addition to all these strategic impacts we talked about, Israel is a no-win situation politically for this administration and for the Democrats. If push comes to shove, however, I think the balance of political interests of this administration are not to have a public break with Israel. I think Israel has far more leverage to stand up for itself than it believes it has.
Joseph: Thank you. Another question that we got is about the “dehamasification” of Gaza after Hamas’s destruction, do you think this is possible?
David: Yeah. It is possible, but not on a stopwatch. It is going to take generations. You have people who know nothing other than the hatred that has been inculcated in them. That hatred has been taught in the PLO’s radical school systems. However, I think the hatred is also even more deeply rooted than what is taught in schools and I think it is the same hatred as that of Hajj Amin al-Husseini in the 20s and 30s. One has to remember that there was a radical attempt to transform Arab society launched by the Ottomans with the Tanzimat, 150 years ago. The Kaiser in World War I, the Nazis and the Soviets also attempted to revolutionize traditional Arab society. Their method of doing that was to radicalize Arabs against the outsider. I think we are dealing now with 150 years of radicalization and destruction of traditional society. That will take generations to fix and will require hands-on fixing. It is not something that you can just wait out or which can be fixed by an organization such as the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA).
By the way, UNRWA works for Hamas. Also, Maher Bitar is the Senior Director for Intelligence Programs on the White House’s National Security Council and he is the guy who coordinates all the intelligence for the White House. Maher Bitar used to be a staffer at UNRWA at a time when it was very clear the Palestinians were building schools with missiles and stockpiles of weapons beneath them. Either he was oblivious, which is not a good recommendation for an intelligence official, or he willfully neglected it, which is also not a good thing for an American official. Anyway, that is a whole different story.
The bottom line is we have 150 years of total distortion of Palestinian Arab society. I do not see that being fixed without a hands-on western Israeli presence and reeducation over generations. I think what you have to create near term is a workable structure where Israel deals with very localized authorities or small entities operating independently of each other. Israel would deal directly with these localized authorities and also would help to rebuild traditional Palestinian and Arab society and begin to reverse 150 years of distortion and radicalization. This would be in addition to reforming the education structure.
Joseph: Thank you so much. It appears we are out of time. I would really like to thank our guest, David Wurmser, as well as the audience for tuning in. If you enjoyed our webinar, please consider sponsoring your own or donating to EMET at https://emetonline.org/ . Thank you so much.
Sarah: Also, I would like people to donate to the Center for Security Policy at https://centerforsecuritypolicy.org/. David Wurmser is a wonderful intellect and scholar, and we have had a very long, close relationship with the Center for Security Policy. EMET depends on your donations to keep going, so if you would like to donate to EMET it would also be greatly appreciated. Thank you and have a happy 2024.
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