Biden cajoles Netanyahu with tough talk, humanitarian concerns but Israeli PM remains dug in

U.S. President Joe Biden has stepped up public pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, warning he’s “hurting Israel” and speaking candidly about “come to Jesus” conversations with the leader over the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Despite Mr. Biden’s increased displays of frustration, Israeli officials and Middle East analysts say no signs are emerging that Mr. Biden can push Israel, at least in the short term, to fundamentally alter how it’s prosecuting the conflict that is entering a new dangerous phase.

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“He has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Netanyahu in an MSNBC interview. “But he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken. He’s hurting…in my view, he’s hurting Israel more than helping Israel.”

The U.S. President had hoped to have an extended cease-fire in place by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is set to begin Monday. Biden administration officials see a deal on a temporary truce in exchange for dozens of hostages as a crucial step toward finding an eventual permanent end to the conflict.

But with no deal emerging, Mr. Biden acknowledged last week that he has become more concerned about the prospect of violence in east Jerusalem. Clashes have erupted during Ramadan in recent years between Palestinians and Israeli security forces around Jerusalem’s Old City, home to major religious sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims and the emotional epicenter of the Middle East conflict.

Mr. Biden this weekend warned Mr. Netanyahu that an attack on Rafah—where hundreds of thousands of displaced Gazans have congregated—would be a “red line” and that Israel “cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead.” At the same time, he said that his commitment to Israel’s defense is sacrosanct.

State of Union address

The President’s blunt comments came after he was caught on a hot mic following his State of Union address on Thursday telling a Democratic ally that he’s told Mr. Netanyahu they will have a “come to Jesus” talk about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The U.S. this month began airdrops and announced it will establish a temporary pier to get badly needed aid into Gaza via sea. U.N. officials have warned at least one quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are one step away from famine. The extraordinary measures to get aid into Gaza have come as Israel has resisted U.S. calls to allow more in via land routes.

And in a move that irritated Mr. Netanyahu, Vice President Kamala Harris last week hosted a member of Israel’s wartime Cabinet, Benny Gantz, who came to Washington in defiance of the prime minister. U.S. officials said that Harris, and other senior advisers to Mr. Biden, were blunt with Gantz about their concerns about an expected Rafah operation.

Mr. Netanyahu on Sunday pushed back againstMr. Biden’s latest comments.

“Well, I don’t know exactly what the president meant, but if he meant…that I’m pursuing private policies against the majority, the wish of the majority of Israelis, and that this is hurting the interests of Israel, then he’s wrong on both counts,” Netanyahu said in a clip of an interview with Politico, released by the prime minister’s office on Sunday.

Mr. Biden’s stepped up criticism of the prime minister’s handling of the war has been an intentional effort to signal to Mr. Netanyahu that the U.S. president is running out of patience with the mounting death toll and lack of aid flow into Gaza, according to a U.S. official familiar with the president’s thinking. The official was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.

Elsewhere in Israel, the reaction to Mr. Biden’s public venting of frustration was mixed.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said he wasn’t surprised by Mr. Biden’s remarks. Lapid on Sunday accused Mr. Netanyahu of pandering to his base and said the prime minister had narrow political interests in mind, like placating the far-right members of his Cabinet.

The U.S. “lost faith in Mr. Netanyahu and it’s not surprising. Half of his Cabinet has lost faith in him as has the majority of Israel’s citizens,” Lapid, who briefly served as prime minister in 2022, told Israeli Army Radio. “Netanyahu must go.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz downplayed Mr. Biden’s comments, saying the U.S. backed Israel’s war aims and that was what mattered. “We must distinguish rhetoric from the essence,” he told Israeli Army Radio.

Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israel relations and professor at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said Mr. Biden’s decision to scale up aid to Gaza and warn Israel about an incursion into Rafah undermined support for Israel’s aims of dismantling Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and freeing the hostages. He said it relieved Hamas of pressure to agree to a temporary cease-fire deal.

He said Mr. Biden’s harsher comments of late came out of a frustration with Mr. Netanyahu over his reluctance to accept the U.S. vision for a postwar Gaza. Mr. Biden has called for Middle East stakeholders to reinvigorate efforts to find a two-state solution, one in which Israel would co-exist with an independent Palestinian state, once the current war ends.

Mr. Netanyahu, however, has consistently opposed establishing a Palestinian state throughout his political career.

Gilboa said Mr. Biden’s remarks were made with an eye on his reelection and were aimed at appeasing progressive Democrats. The president is facing growing pressure from the left-wing of his party to use the United States’ considerable leverage as Israel’s chief patron to force Mr. Netanyahu toward a permanent cease-fire.

More than 100,00 Michigan Democrats cast “uncommitted” ballots in the state’s primary last month, part of a coordinated effort in the battleground state intended to show Mr. Biden that he could lose much-needed support over frustration with his administration’s approach to the Israel-Hamas war.

“Netanyahu earned that criticism, but on the other hand when (Biden) criticizes Mr. Netanyahu personally, he thinks he improves his standing among progressives,” Gilboa said.

But Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that pointed criticism of the Netanyahu government has limited value for Mr. Biden politically.

“Words without deeds are not going to bring those voters back,” Miller said. “The hemorrhaging is going to continue as long as the pictures in Gaza don’t change.”

Gilboa said that even if a different government were running Israel, such as a more moderate figure like Gantz, Mr. Biden would still find a leadership intent on entering Rafah and defeating Hamas.

“They wouldn’t do things significantly different,” he said. “Is there anyone of sound mind here who is willing to leave Hamas in Gaza? That won’t happen.”

Biden administration officials pushed back against the idea that the president has become more outspoken in his criticism of Mr. Netanyahu with an eye on his 2024 prospects.

It’s not lost on Mr. Biden that Israelis across the political spectrum remain as hawkish as Mr. Netanyahu about eliminating Hamas. Still, Mr. Biden believes that by speaking out more forcefully he can sway the Israelis to do more to reduce the death toll and alleviate suffering of innocent Palestinians as Israel carries out its operations, according to the U.S. official.

Mr. Biden, who last traveled to Israel soon after Hamas’ launched its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, said in the MSNBC interview that he was open to travelling to Israel again to speak directly to the Knesset.

Privately, M. Biden has expressed a desire to aides to make another trip to Israel to try to circumvent Mr. Netanyahu and take his message directly to the people. One possibility discussed internally for a presidential trip is if a temporary cease-fire agreement is reached. Mr. Biden could use the moment to press the case directly to Israelis for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and begin outlining a path toward a permanent end to the fighting, officials said.

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United Nations warns Gaza blockade could force it to sharply cut relief operations as bombings rise

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees warned on October 25 that without immediate deliveries of fuel it will soon have to sharply cut back relief operations across the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded and hit by devastating Israeli airstrikes since Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel more than two weeks ago.

The warning came as hospitals in Gaza struggled to treat masses of wounded with dwindling resources, and health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory said the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets continued striking the territory overnight into Wednesday.

The Israeli military said its strikes had killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centres, weapons storehouses and other military targets, which it has accused Hamas of hiding among Gaza’s civilian population. Gaza-based militants have been launching unrelenting rocket barrages into Israel since the conflict started.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said the airstrikes killed at least 704 people between Monday and Tuesday, mostly women and children. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death tolls cited by Hamas, which says it tallies figures from hospital directors.

The death toll was unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even greater loss of life could come when Israel launches an expected ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas militants.

In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the U.S. could not verify the one-day death toll. “The Ministry of Health is run by Hamas, and I think that all needs to be factored into anything that they put out publicly.”

Israel said on Tuesday it had launched 400 airstrikes over the past day, an increase from the 320 strikes the day before. The U.N. says about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now internally displaced, with almost 6,00,000 crowded into U.N. shelters.

Gaza’s residents have been running out of food, water and medicine since Israel sealed off the territory following the attack on southern Israel by Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

In recent days, Israel allowed a small number of trucks filled with aid to come over the border with Egypt but barred deliveries of fuel — needed to power hospital generators — to keep it out of Hamas’ hands.

The U.N. said it had managed to deliver some of the aid in recent days to hospitals treating the wounded. But the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the largest provider of humanitarian services in Gaza, said it was running out of fuel.

Officials said they were forced to reduce their operations as they rationed what little fuel they had.

“Without fuel our trucks cannot go around to further places in the strip for distribution,” said Lily Esposito, a spokesperson for the agency. “We will have to make decisions on what activities we keep or not with little fuel.”

Meanwhile, more than half of Gaza’s primary healthcare facilities, and roughly a third of its hospitals, have stopped functioning, the World Health Organization said.

Overwhelmed hospital staff struggled to triage cases as constant waves of wounded were brought in. The Health Ministry said many wounded are laid on the ground without even simple medical aid and others wait for days for surgeries because there are so many critical cases.

The Health Ministry says more than 5,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war, including some 2,300 minors. The figure includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week.

The fighting has killed more than 1,400 people in Israel — mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack, according to the Israeli government. Hamas is also holding some 222 people that it captured and brought back to Gaza.

The conflict threatened to spread across the region, as Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian military sites in the south on Wednesday, killing eight soldiers and wounding seven, according to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency.

The Israeli military said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, its jets had struck Syrian military infrastructure and mortar systems in response to rocket launches from Syria.

Israel has launched several strikes on Syria in recent days, including strikes that put the Damascus and Aleppo airports out of service, in an apparent attempt to prevent arms shipments from Iran to militant groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Israel has been fighting the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah across the Lebanese border in recent weeks.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah met on Wednesday with top Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in their first reported meeting since the war started. Such a meeting could signal coordination between the groups, as Hezbollah officials warned Israel against launching a ground offensive in Gaza.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran was helping Hamas, with intelligence and by “whipping up incitement against Israel across the world.” He said Iranian proxies were also operating against Israel from Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. Fighting also erupted in the West Bank, which has seen a major spike in violence.

Islamic Jihad militants said they fought with Israeli forces in Jenin overnight. The Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank said Israel killed four Palestinians in Jenin, including a 15-year-old, and two others in other towns. That brought the total number of those killed in the occupied West Bank since October 7 to 102.

Across central and south Gaza, where Israel told civilians to take shelter, there were multiple scenes of rescuers pulling the dead and wounded out of large piles of rubble from collapsed buildings. Graphic photos and video shot by the AP showed rescuers unearthing bodies of children from multiple ruins.

A father knelt on the floor of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah next to the bodies of three lifeless children cocooned in bloodied sheets. Later, at the nearby morgue, workers prayed over 24 dead wrapped in body bags, several of them the size of small children.

“Buildings that collapsed on residents killed dozens at a time in several cases, witnesses said. Two families lost 47 members in a levelled home in Rafah,” the Health Ministry said.

In Gaza City, at least 19 people were killed when an airstrike hit the house of the Bahloul family, according to survivors, who said dozens more remained buried. The legs of a dead woman and another person, both still half buried, dangled out of the wreckage where workers dug through the dirt, concrete and rebar.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the proportionate response to the October 7 attack is “a total destruction” of the militants. “It is not only Israel’s right to destroy Hamas. It’s our duty,” he said.

On Wednesday, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, said his country will stop issuing visas to U.N. personnel after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Hamas’ attack “did not happen in a vacuum.” It was unclear what the action, if followed through with, would mean for U.N. aid personnel working in Gaza and the West Bank.

“It’s time to teach them a lesson,” Erdan told Army Radio, accusing the U.N. chief of justifying a slaughter.

The U.N. chief told the Security Council on Tuesday that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” Mr. Guterres also said “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

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Thousands protest across Middle East over Israeli airstrikes on Gaza

Tens of thousands of Muslims demonstrated on October 13 across the Middle East in support of the Palestinians and against the intensifying Israeli bombardment of Gaza, underscoring the risk of a wider regional conflict as Israel prepares for a possible ground invasion.

Follow Israel-Hamas war, day 7 LIVE updates here

From the typically sedate streets of downtown Amman in Jordan, to Yemen’s war-scarred capital of Sanaa, crowds of Muslim worshippers poured into the streets after weekly Friday prayers, angered by devastating Israeli airstrikes on Gaza that began after the militant group Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise attack on Israel last Saturday.

At the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, Israeli police were permitting only certain older men, women and children to enter the sprawling hilltop compound for prayers, trying to limit the potential for violence. Only 5,000 worshippers made it into the site, the Islamic endowment that manages the mosque said. On a typical Friday, some 50,000 perform the prayers.

An Associated Press reporter watched police allow just a Palestinian teenage girl and her mother into the compound out of 20 worshippers who tried to get in, some of them even over the age of 50. Young Palestinian men who were refused entry gathered at the steps near Lion’s Gate, eyes downcast, until police shouted at them and shepherded them outside the Old City ramparts altogether.

“We can’t live, we can’t breathe, they are killing everything that is good within us,” said Ahmad Barbour, a 57 year-old cleaner, red-faced and seething after police blocked him from entering for prayers.

“Everything that is forbidden to us is allowed to them,” he added, referring to the Israelis.

The mosque sits in a hilltop compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims, and conflicting claims over it have spilled into violence before. Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam and stands in a spot known to Jews as the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in Judaism.

Also read | Palestinians rush to buy food, struggle under strikes as Israel readies possible ground operation

Hundreds of young Palestinian worshippers who had been turned away from the Old City threw down small prayer rugs on the street in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz and prayed in the open. When some of the men started shouting, Israeli police charged into the crowd with batons and fired rounds of tear gas at the worshippers, wounding at least six people, said the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Thousands demonstrated in Amman in neighboring Jordan, some crying out: “We are going to Jerusalem as millions of martyrs!”

“What do they want from Palestine? Do they expect them to leave?” asked protester Omar Abu-Sundos. “For what remains of Palestine to leave? They won’t leave.”

In Beirut, thousands of supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group waved Lebanese, Palestinian and Hezbollah flags, chanting slogans in support of Gaza and calling for “death to Israel.” The Iranian-backed militant group in neighboring Lebanon has launched sporadic attacks since the Hamas assault, but largely stayed on the sidelines of the war.

However, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general warned that it would be “on the lookout” for the United States and British naval vessels heading to the Mediterranean Sea. U.S. officials, including President Joe Biden, have repeatedly warned Iran and the regional militias Tehran backs to stay out of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“Your battleships do not interest us, nor do your statements frighten us,” Naim Kassim said at a rally in a southern suburb of Beirut. “When the time is right to take action, we will do so.”

In Baghdad, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square — the protest hub of Iraq’s capital — for rallies called by the influential Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

“We, as Iraqis, know the pain of having an occupier on our land,” said protester Alaa al-Arabyia, referring to the U.S. occupation of Iraq following its 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein. “Palestinian women have husbands, loved ones and sons fighting the occupation. We stand with them in their struggle.”

Across Iran, a supporter of Hamas and Israel’s regional archenemy, demonstrators also streamed into the streets after prayers. In Tehran, they burned Israeli and American flags, chanting: “Death to Israel,” “Death to America,” “Israel will be doomed,” and “Palestine will be the conqueror.”

“The Palestinian people are fed up, now your idea is to destroy Gaza, the houses of the people,” Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi said in a speech in the country’s southern Fars province. “The people of the world and Palestine will cause trouble for you.”

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, protesters — including Palestinians from the Yarmouk refugee camp formed after the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation — also rallied.

“I tell the people not to leave their homes otherwise they will be like our grandparents who left Palestine and came to Syria but never returned,” Ahmad Saeed, a 23-year-old Palestinian living in Syria, said, referring to the 1948 war.

In Yemen’s Sanaa, held by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels still at war with a Saudi-led coalition, demonstrators crowded the streets waving Yemeni and Palestinian flags. The rebels’ slogan long has been: “God is the greatest; death to America; death to Israel; curse of the Jews; victory to Islam.”

“We are ready to participate actively and send hundreds of thousands of mujahedeen … .to defend Palestine, the Palestinian people and the holy sites,” the Houthi government said in a statement Friday.

After Friday prayers, Egyptian demonstrators ringed the historic Al-Azhar Mosque in downtown Cairo, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, chanting that Israel remained their enemy “generation after generation.” They repeated the traditionally nationalistic slogan, “We give our souls and blood to Al-Aqsa.”

In Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, some worshippers trampled on American and Israeli flags.

“International media and international courts turn a blind eye to the injustices with the Palestinians. But they only notice the actions that the Palestinians take to defend themselves,” said Faheem Ahmed, a worshipper in Karachi. “They call it terrorism.”

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Former Israeli security chief Ami Ayalon: ‘The military can defend us; it cannot secure us’

Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on Saturday has triggered outright war between Israel and Palestine, with levels of violence not seen in decades. FRANCE 24 spoke to Ami Ayalon, the former director of Israel’s national security service Shin Bet, to discuss what is happening on the ground and how the conflict may evolve.

A new episode of heightened violence began in Israel and Palestine this week with an attack by Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in Israel and Israeli retaliation in Gaza that has seen a combined death toll climb into the thousands. 

In Israel and around the world, many were shocked by both the extreme brutality of Hamas’s attack and the fact that national intelligence and security services did not foresee the intervention, which saw hundreds of fighters enter Israel by land, sea and air. 

The violence has been compounded by Israel’s response in Gaza; the Palestinian enclave has so far been hit with 6,000 bombs, the Israeli army said on Thursday, and supplies of electricity, gas and water have been cut off. 

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to destroy Hamas, and it is widely expected the Israeli military will soon begin a ground offensive in the Palestinian territory. There are also fears that rising tensions could spread into the wider region.

FRANCE 24 spoke to the former director of Israeli national security service Shin Bet, Ami Ayalon, to discuss Israel’s response to the attack, military action in Gaza and prospects for a regional conflict. 

Israel has pledged to destroy Hamas in the wake of Saturday’s attack. Do you think that’s a good security strategy? And is it possible? 

Keeping Hamas on the other side of the border is not acceptable. We have to destroy the military capability of Hamas. Today, I see that this is the only way.  

But when we say that our war is against Hamas, we should add it is not against the Palestinian people, and Israel is not saying that. Our government does not recognise the Palestinians as a people.  

As long as there is conflict, we will not come to an agreement, and we will not see stability.

We should be ready to speak to any Palestinian leader who accepts Israel’s existence as a state and to start to negotiate on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.  

We have to get rid of the political and military power of Hamas, and it will be very, very violent. But what next? Next, Israel should say it doesn’t want to control Palestinians anymore. We have to start to revive the concept of two states, side-by-side. 

This is my dream, but I understand that the present government and probably the future government will not accept it. I’m 78 years old now. Probably it will not happen in my lifetime, but we have to start. What we see around us is a horror but, in every conflict, there is an opportunity.  

How risky is the ground offensive that Israel seems to be preparing for in Gaza? 

Very risky. Many people will die. Many Israeli soldiers and many more Palestinians, but we do not have another option. The other option – that Hamas goes on living on the other side of the border – is unacceptable.  

Most of the directors of Shin Bet are responsible for advising the government on terror and, for years, we said Israel cannot speak to Hamas. It is a fundamental radical organisation that does not approve Israel’s existence as a state, and it will do everything in order to destroy us.  

[The Hamas attack] was a wake-up call that was so painful, I don’t have the words in English or Hebrew to describe the feelings in Israel now. 

Israel could have done something [different] earlier. We could have tried to empower the Palestinian Authority and to decrease the power of Hamas, but we did the opposite.  

Read moreGaza braces for ground offensive, but can Israel achieve its objectives?

Speaking about the feeling in Israel now, it has been reported that there were Israeli intelligence and security failures that allowed the Hamas attack to happen. How confident can Israelis feel that the same kind of attack isn’t going to happen again?  

There is a difference between defence and security.  

Defence is something that you can measure. Israel wanted to achieve more defence against attacking missiles, so we built the Iron Dome. We put in money, had great minds to develop this technology and we can measure the input and output. It gives us a level of defence of about 95 to 97 percent against attacking missiles. 

When it comes to security, it’s totally different because security is what you feel. The answer to security comes from culture. It’s the leaders’ role to create confidence and to give a sense of security to the people.  

Israel is defended more than any other state as a whole, but the Jewish people do not feel secure. If you ask why, some people start to speak about 2,000 years ago when the Second Jewish Temple was destroyed [by the Romans], some talk about the Spanish Inquisition or the Holocaust or history with the Arabs…  

What we do not understand is that … the military will never give us security. The military can defend us; it cannot secure us. And in our public debate, we do not understand the difference.  

What do you make of the reports that Israel ignored advanced security warnings from Egypt and early reports on the ground that this large-scale attack was about to happen? 

It is clear that our political policy [towards Palestine] was totally wrong and that there were intelligence and operational failures. 

It’s identical to what happened before the Yom Kippur War. It was clear that we were going to war, we had a peace offer on the table, and we were not ready to discuss it. (Editor’s note: In the lead-up to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israeli intelligence dismissed the movement of Egyptian and Syrian troops near the border prior to a surprise attack coordinated by the two states. The war was part of an ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict during which Israel initially rejected an Egyptian peace deal – the first publicly offered to Israel by an Arab government)

Read moreFrom 1947 to 2023: Retracing the complex, tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict

But, if somebody tells you tomorrow you will be attacked by Hamas but all your intelligence officers are telling you that there are no signs, you will listen to all the experts around you. You want so much to see it as true.  

In these [security] meetings, people tend not to ask questions. It’s against the culture of the organisation.  

There is this myth that Israel is invincible due to the strength of its intelligence and security services. Is that idea now dead? 

It’s damaged, for sure. It can be fixed, but it will take a lot of time. 

Deterrence is the major factor in Israel’s defence, and we are losing our deterrence. Until now everybody was afraid of Israel, and this was a great asset. When we lose our deterrence, it presents a major, major threat because we live in a very dangerous region which does not forgive weakness. 

Israel is also not doing enough in the region. We speak to all our neighbours in the language of the military and they see us as a military power, but we need to speak two languages; military and diplomacy.  

We have to fight the military wing of Hamas. And we have to speak with anybody who accepts us, immediately. And we are only doing the first part. 

We have to communicate to our neighbours that we are a military and diplomatic state, and it’s up to them to choose which language they prefer.  

Israel now says it’s at war. Is it inevitable that this war is going to include neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Iran? Is Israel ready for a regional conflict? 

I have no idea. I think that it depends on whether Israel makes clear to our neighbours and to the international community that we do not have any intention to conquer Gaza, to occupy Gaza, or to build settlements in Gaza, [as per] the Arab Peace Initiative. 

What you see today is a military operation with a very specific goal to destroy Hamas’s military wing, and nobody knows where it will lead. It will cause many casualties on both sides, and the other risk is that it will spread to Hezbollah. We have to assume that we will see more violence in the West Bank.  

At this moment, we need to tell the Saudis and all our neighbours that we accept, after 21 years, the idea of the Arab Peace Initiative and will negotiate on a future two-state solution. That would create an immediate impact on the spread of violence. 

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