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Sarah Stern: We are back today with Brigadier General Amir Avivi. General Avivi is the founder and chair of Habithonistim, the Israel Defense and Security Forum (IDSF). The ISDF is a group of 22,000 reserve officers and operatives from all branches of the Israeli Security Forces. They are dedicated to guiding the narrative on Israel’s national security needs to ensure the protection of the Jewish homeland is never taken for granted. The IDSF is a strong Zionist movement. The IDSF focuses on Israel’s security as the primary means of ensuring Jewish sovereignty and survival in the state of Israel. Please go to  and contribute to their wonderful work.

During his many years of service, General Avivi held a series of senior roles in the IDF, including Deputy Comptroller of the Security Forces, director of the Office of the Chief Staff, Deputy Commander of the Gaza Division, Commander of the Sagi Division, Commander of the Battalion 605, and Commander of the School of Combat Engineering.

I want to remind our audience that EMET does more than host these wonderful weekly webinars. We are on Capitol Hill practically every single day educating our members of Congress. Our policymakers have come to rely on us at EMET to keep them educated about current issues involving the Middle East.

I am going to begin with the subject that is on all of our minds. On Saturday night, most of the IDF left Gaza. Only the Nahal Brigade remained along the Netzarim border. This brigade is protecting communities such as Kibbutz Be’eri. Amir, why is the IDF doing this, and is this the right thing to do right now?

General Amir Avivi: The IDF is now preparing for the operation in Rafah and the central camps and for the decisive moment when we are going to destroy Hamas. Everybody in Israel is talking about the fact that we pulled Division 98 from Khan Younis. Division 98 destroyed the Khan Younis Brigade of Hamas completely and was left with no enemy or targets to deal with. Keeping the soldiers inside Gaza was endangering them and we needed to change the mode of operation. We moved from an attack operation to a raid operation and we will now wait and see if and where the terrorists re-group.

We followed a similar protocol in the northern part of Gaza. We destroyed the Gaza brigades and battalions there and then pulled most of our forces out of Gaza. The terrorists re-grouped in Shifa. We waited until they were all inside and then raided Shifa. We killed 200 terrorists and arrested 500. We are going to follow a similar approach to this in Khan Younis and in the south of Gaza. Pulling Division 98 out of Gaza also allows us to prepare the division to attack Rafah. I want people to know that the units already received their orders for Rafah. They have a timetable. The IDF is preparing to go into Rafah and to take over Rafah. This will be the decisive battle that will destroy Hamas as a governmental and military entity.

The timetable is set. Having said that, we need to understand that there might be a hostage deal. A hostage deal might delay the operation, and we do not know if and when a deal will happen. If there is a hostage deal, we are talking about a completely different situation and I do not know the details of what such a deal may entail. I do not know how long a ceasefire will be negotiated and what price we will have to pay. However, in the absence of a hostage deal, the army already has a timetable. The units have their missions and they are preparing for battle. We are going to move the Palestinian citizens in Rafah to Khan Younis and the coastal area. This is another reason we are pulling out our forces. We need to evacuate the area so the citizens can go into Khan Younis. After that, we are going into Rafah.

Sarah: Is there a sense of victory among Hamas leaders when they see so many IDF units pulling out of Gaza?

General Amir: I hope so. I hope they feel victorious and let down their guards and do stupid things. This will allow us to defeat them. If Hamas thinks that this is victory, let them believe it until we go into Rafah and destroy them.

Sarah: President Biden said an IDF incursion into Rafah is crossing a red line. Kamala Harris said there might be consequences if the IDF enters Rafah. These consequences may include withholding critical munitions from Israel. In a recent article for Ynet, you wrote that Rafah is key to winning the war in Gaza. Can you please describe why Rafah is so important and why it might be inevitable that the IDF will defy the wishes of President Biden and Kamala Harris?

General Amir: I heard the vice president’s statement but I still think the administration understands we need to go into Rafah. They are concerned about the humanitarian issue. They want to see a plan describing how the people are going to be moved. The current administration has aspirations for a two-state solution even though this vision is not supported by Israel. The administration understands there is no two-state solution without destroying Hamas. The administration understands that if Hamas continues to control Gaza, their vision is completely irrelevant. They want to destroy Hamas for their reasons, even if these are not the same as ours.

Why is Rafah so crucial? Each time we conquered another area in Gaza, Hamas retreated to the next place. We took over the north and they retreated to the center and south. We advanced into the center, and they retreated to the coastal area. We went into Khan Younis, and they retreated to Rafah. Rafah is the last place in Gaza they can hide. After we take Rafah, there is nowhere for them to go. They will literally have their backs to the wall because the Egyptians built a wall between Egypt and Gaza. This is the decisive battle. The leadership of Hamas and almost all the hostages are in Rafah. They moved their remaining capabilities to Rafah. Many people are questioning why Rafah will be different from what we have seen until now and why we believe we will find the hostages and Hamas leadership in Rafah. They note that we found neither after we took both north and then Khan Younis. The answer is very simple. Up until now, Hamas retreated from place to place and there are no more places in Gaza for them to retreat after Rafah. Rafah is where they are going to be destroyed.

Sarah: Speaking of humanitarian corridors, Israel is not the only nation that borders Gaza. Egypt does as well. Why isn’t Egypt allowing Palestinians from Gaza to enter Egypt even though they show such sympathy for them?

General Amir: I think we should focus on the hypocrisy of the Western world and Arab society. They talk a great deal about humanitarian issues and yet they lock the Palestinians in a war zone and refuse to let them leave. I am not talking about forcing anybody to leave. Hundreds of thousands of women and children want to get out of Gaza. They do not want to be in a war zone but the Egyptians are locking them in and nobody cares. I have not heard the administration complaining about this outrageous situation once. Imagine that 40 million people have been locked in Ukraine without the opportunity to leave if they wanted to. Imagine if the countries surrounding Ukraine refused to allow the Ukrainians to leave Ukraine. Can anybody imagine something like that?

The whole world would have worked to resolve a situation like that but the Palestinians are treated differently from others. The world thinks on behalf of the Palestinians. I am not aware of anyone who has asked a Palestinian what they want. They believe they should decide for the Palestinians and they assume they want to stay in Gaza. Long before the war, we know that 60% to 70% of the Gazans wanted to emigrate and now I assume almost all of them want to leave. However, the Egyptians refuse to open the border. This is devastating for the Palestinians who are being moved from place to place. Israel cannot resolve this issue because we need to win the war and destroy Hamas. I know most Palestinians in Gaza support Hamas and so I do not feel sorry for them. However, I do think there is a lot of hypocrisy on display from both the Western and Arab worlds.

Sarah: The Biden administration has been rushing to draw plans for a Palestinian State in Gaza and Judea and Samaria with a “revitalized Palestinian Authority”. However, recent polls indicate both Israelis and Palestinians reject this notion overwhelmingly. According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, only about 5% of Palestinians support the Palestinian Authority (PA), yet the Biden administration is intent on working with them. Can the United States and other nations unilaterally impose such a state if the major parties to the dispute are unwilling?

General Amir: No. Nobody can impose a Palestinian state on Israel. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not going to be solved by other nations. It is an Israeli-Palestinian issue that needs to be negotiated and resolved bilaterally. There is no real chance that a Palestinian state will be established in the foreseeable future. Israel is not going to withdraw from Judea and Samaria and Gaza will take decades to rebuild. As such, I think the discussion about the Palestinian State is completely disconnected from reality. Also, people are behaving as if the war is over when it has barely started. We need to deal with both Lebanon and Iran. If we need to conduct a full-scale war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, it is very possible that the hardest part of the war has not even begun. This is going to be a very long war.

Even after we bring down Hamas, it will take years to clean Gaza Street and dismantle their entire infrastructure. The requirement to de-radicalize the society is over and above this. As you mentioned Sarah, the Palestinians detest the PA and they want them gone. This terrible, corrupt terrorist organization cannot be revitalized. They are all vested in the destruction of the State of Israel and that is their main goal. Also, I think the day after Abbas, the whole organization will dissolve into chaos. We have to build solutions from scratch. These solutions may be based on local clans, as now is planned in Gaza. We need new ideas and the PA is not going to be the solution.

Sarah: Do you know anything about the newly appointed Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa?

General Amir: No, but one person does not change an entire organization. The PA has been attempting to bypass the Taylor Force Act for years. They are absorbing thousands of terrorists into their ecosystem. The PA has conducted many terror attacks in the last few months because they are absorbing more and more terrorists. A single bureaucratic position cannot change the reality of the essence of the Palestinian Authority.

Sarah: Last week, as you know, there was a tragedy when the IDF mistakenly hit a World Central Kitchen convoy. Seven aid workers were killed. These workers came from six countries, including the United States and Canada. Of course, this amplified the international outcry against Israel. On Friday, 35 Democratic Members of Congress sent a strongly worded letter to President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Former speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was one of the letter’s signatories. As you know, the letter urged the president and the secretary of state to reconsider their recent decision authorizing the transfer of new arms to Israel. The letter urged them to withhold the transfer until completion of a full investigation into the airstrike. What steps has the government of Israel taken in light of this very unfortunate tragedy? Do you think these steps are going to be sufficient to alleviate the concerns of these members of Congress and of the international community?

General Amir: I think what they are doing to Israel is terrible. I have been fighting for six months and I know, from personal experience, that Israel upholds international law more than any other country. Mistakes are made during a war. The US has made huge mistakes during its wars and operations. Why are they holding us to a different standard than the one they follow? Anybody with a modicum of common sense understands that things happen during a war. We did not do it on purpose and the IDF investigated the incident very quickly. Of course, the attack was unintentional. I can say that the officer commanding the war room did not receive information that pickups from this humanitarian organization would meet the trucks. He did not know that.

He saw armed people approaching the pickups and thought they were terrorists. He waited until all the trucks arrived at their destination with humanitarian aid. When he saw the pickups leaving, he attacked them thinking there were terrorists inside. He was punished because the attack occurred in an area requiring specific consent from the command, and he failed to obtain the necessary permission. However, he attacked people he thought were terrorists and his intention was not to attack aid workers. Because of the devastating results of this attack, the officer was punished and removed from his position. Israel presented the results of the investigation to all the ambassadors of the different countries. As far as we are concerned, this is over and we are continuing to do what we need to do to win the war.

Sarah: Following up on this, we know that Israel is fighting an existential war. We are being threatened on all sides. Hamas is in the South; Hezbollah is in the North and the Houthis are attacking Eilat from the Red Sea. There has also been an uptick of terrorist attacks from Judea and Samaria. As we discussed, there is a possibility that the United States will withhold arms transfers from Israel. Could this inhibit Israel’s ability to win these wars and keep Israelis safe and secure?

General Amir: Yes, we have many fronts, but overall, we have been able to deal with them very well so far. The big issue is Hezbollah. Hezbollah is the real challenge. We need to win decisively against Hamas, and then deal with Hezbollah. At the moment, many Israeli Forces are training for a war in Lebanon. We hope that maybe there will be a diplomatic solution. However, for a real diplomatic solution, we need to threaten Iran militarily and we need American leadership. We do not see this happening with the current administration and there is a good chance we will have to go to war with Hezbollah. Both the army and Israeli society are ready for such a scenario.

At the moment, Israel is on a very high alert on all fronts with all our air defenses mobilized. We allegedly eliminated an Iranian General in Syria. He was coordinating Hezbollah attacks on Syrian land. The Iranians got very upset that he was assassinated. They were very worried they had been penetrated and said they were going to attack Israel.

Sarah: I am in Israel right now, and I have to tell you, the Israeli resolve is still strong. The average person on the street seems to know that there is no choice but to execute this war. They know they have to fight and to succeed. It appears the current administration would never go to war against Iran. It also appears they are trying to satisfy their anti-Israel electorate in Michigan. Do you believe that Israel can deal with Iran alone? Is there a possibility the United States might eventually realize that defeating Iran serves its national security interests, and attack Iran?

General Amir: I think we have a Chinese-Russian-Iranian front in the Middle East. Iran is moving fast towards nuclear capabilities that will be devastating globally. A nuclear Iran will endanger every American, every European, and every citizen in the world. The US always said they would not let Iran become a nuclear power. Iran is moving fast toward nuclear capabilities, so I would expect the US to stand strongly against them. However, this is not happening. It is not happening even in a reality where Iran is utilizing all its militias and shooting missiles at its biggest ally. I think that the whole world is looking at the way the administration is treating Israel and questioning how they can continue to trust the US. This might be devastating for US international relations and for how much other countries will trust the US. Therefore, I think that it is imperative for the US to stand strongly with Israel and to ensure that Israel wins this war decisively. It will provide a message to the whole globe that the US will back its allies and will act to stabilize the globe and the region.

Sarah: Can you address the tens of thousands of Israeli residents of the north who have been displaced from their homes? Why is it necessary for them to feel safe and secure to go back home?

General Amir: The citizens of the north witnessed the devastating attack on the 7th of October. This brought home to them the extent of the danger they were facing. They are not willing to be raped, decapitated, and taken hostage and, as such, are not willing to have Hezbollah remain on their border. They understand the danger. They understand that if Hezbollah attacks, they will not be safe. So, they are not returning to their homes until we destroy Hezbollah in South Lebanon or Hezbollah withdraws from South Lebanon. Both the government and the army understand this as well. We understand that if Hezbollah does not withdraw, we are going to war. That’s it.

Sarah: Right. It is my pleasure to hand the podium over to Sarah Grace, who will read some of the questions from our audience.

Sarah Grace: Thanks for being here with us and for the expertise and knowledge you shared with us. One of the questions I have is about the multi-front aspect of the war. Why are Iran and its proxies holding back when it comes to assaulting Israel? What do you see as the strategic impetus behind this?

General Amir: Iran wants to keep its proxies as intact as possible to be able to defend itself. Iran without Hezbollah and Hamas, will be completely exposed to an Israeli or American attack. They launched Hamas to disrupt the buildup of an American-Israeli-Sunni coalition, but they wanted to keep Hezbollah intact to limit their exposure to an attack. They are very careful in the way they are using Hezbollah. However, if they feel war is imminent, and it is going to happen anyway, they might instruct Hezbollah to launch an attack on Israel. It is not an easy decision for Iran or Hezbollah. Hezbollah is being pressured from inside Lebanon not to go to war because the situation in Lebanon is devastating. A war for the Lebanese at this time would be disastrous and they are blaming Hezbollah for getting Lebanon into trouble and war.

Sarah Grace: That makes sense. Do you think Israel might preempt a war with Hezbollah?

General Amir: If a war is inevitable, it is better to strike and diminish Hezbollah’s capabilities preemptively. It is very important to be proactive and preempt an attack.

Sarah Grace: You mentioned the US perspective on this. You said the US showing strength influences the way the world perceives us. What do you think is the impact of domestic politics on the response of the Biden administration to recent events in the Middle East? It appears the administration cannot be counted on as regards its stance toward Iran, Hezbollah and even Hamas. What do you think this means for long-term US national security interests?

General Amir: I think that the US is stuck in the past. The main enemies of the US in the Middle East were ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda even attacked the US-on-US soil. Both the US and Iran fought ISIS and Al-Qaeda. So, in a way, Iran supported American interests. We said all along that Iran is a much bigger enemy than ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Although the Iranians served American interests at a point in time, it is clear they are now endangering America and the globe.

For some reason, the Iranian threat is something the US does not comprehend. They do not seem to understand that Iran is an enemy. Iran is weaponizing Russia. Iran is weaponizing many militias. They are terrorizing the whole Middle East and countries in the north of Africa. They wanted control of the strains of Hormuz, Bab Al-Mandab, and even Gibraltar. It is a challenge for us to get the administration to understand how big the threat from Iran is and to make them understand Iran is an enemy. I think that the US is much more focused on China, on the Pacific, and on the Russian-Ukrainian war and it does not want to open another front. However, I do not think they have a choice. I think they will have to deal with this. There is no circumventing the Iranian threat.

Sarah Grace: Yeah, the US itself has been attacked. In one case, we lost some service members in Jordan. Do you think we will reach a tipping point? If so, what will it be? When it comes to Ukraine and China, for example, the rhetoric from the administration is much stronger. What do you think will change the US position in the long term?

General Amir: A change of administration maybe, I do not know. At the moment, I think the US is focused on elections. Everything the administration is saying is driven by the elections. Their interest is in obtaining quiet as fast as possible. They do not want noise. The Middle East is bothering them. They would like to go to sleep and wake up with no Middle East, but the Middle East is not going anywhere. We cannot control what is going on. People cannot tell Israel to hurry up and finish the war. No, it is not going to be finished because we have to defend our people. We have to bring back all the displaced citizens in the north, and this will take a long time. It is going to be a long war. If America wants to stabilize the Middle East, they need to get proactive and strong and threaten to attack Iran. The day Iran is threatened, everything will change. This is not happening at the moment.

Sarah Grace: The administration is walking a tightrope right now. In this regard, do you think the administration will eventually make good on its efforts to cut aid or collaboration with Israel? At what point do you think the US will take a firmer stance in influencing Israeli policy, especially during this election year?

General Amir: It is hard to say. I do not really know the answer because there are many factors contributing to this. I think that the US is playing both sides. On one hand, they understand they must assist Israel. They know they need to stand with us and they are continuing to send us munitions and weapons and everything we need. On the other hand, the rhetoric is really bad and almost sounds like they are supporting Hamas. I think they are doing this to appease their progressive and Muslim voters. So, they are doing both at the same time, supporting Israel and attacking Israel, and I do not see it changing until after the elections.

Sarah: Can you address how both Egypt and Jordan break international law? How is Jordanian rhetoric stirring up its population? Are there weapons from Syria going through Jordan to Judea and Samaria?

General Amir: Since Obama, the Egyptians have lost faith in the US and they are moving closer and closer to China and Russia. This is very dangerous because the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel is based on the premise that we are both on the same side. The Egyptians are starting to move east. In the long term, this might be a big problem, and it requires the US to be a much stronger ally to Egypt. At the moment, the Egyptians continue to receive assistance from the US, but they do not believe this relationship is strong enough. You can see this in their rhetoric. Jordan has renewed relations with Iran. Many Iranian weapons are being smuggled through Jordan. We have captured quite a few in Judea and Samaria. The Jordanian rhetoric is also terrible. That said, at a certain point, the Jordanians felt they were losing control of their society. After the riots against the war, they reduced their rhetoric significantly in an attempt to avoid losing control of their society. So, we have not heard much from Jordan over the past two weeks.

Sarah: Interesting. One of our viewers asked what Israel will do with five million Palestinians. What kind of state will Israel be if we continue dominating the Palestinians? Will we still be a Jewish state? How will we take care of all of these Palestinians?”

General Amir: Israel will be a Jewish State. Israel needs full security control over all of the land of Israel. We need to secure the border, including the border with Egypt. We have many different solutions to make sure that the Palestinians rule themselves. This does not mean they need full sovereignty. There are many, many states and territories and autonomies that manage themselves and do not have an army or an airspace or are surrounded by another entity. I would be happy to have an entire discussion about solutions. My book, which will be released in English in a few months, describes exactly the steps Israel needs to follow. It is not an either/or situation. The whole notion that we must either withdraw to indefensible borders or annex five million Palestinians is not true. There are many solutions, and we will find a solution that addresses our national security needs.

Sarah: Thank you so much for your time. I know you are a very valuable spokesperson for the State of Israel right now. I have watched you speak on many Israeli and American television shows. Thank you so much, and I look forward to reading your book and having you on to discuss some viable solutions. Thank you very, very much.

General Amir: Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Sarah: Okay. Be well. Okay. Goodbye. Thank you so much to everybody who has tuned in. Please know that we work very, very hard, not only on our weekly webinars but on educating members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. We write and we publish and so I ask everybody to please support us at . Thank you very, very much. We will see you next week with another wonderful guest. Bye-bye.



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