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Attention French President Sarkozy!

Dr. Dan Schueftan: "President Sarkozy's cease-fire proposal was a major mistake that would have legitimized Hamas and undermined Israel's message of making Arab radicals pay for consequences of their deeds"

"Israel is in fact fighting for survival of moderate Arab states which are also threatened by radical Islam"

"Current Israeli campaign is restoring Israel's deterrence to far greater threats from Iran, Syria and even Lebanon"

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

What is the state of affairs, one week after Israel launched its aerial counter strike to suppress the Hamas rocketing of Israeli villages and towns over the border? Hamas is continuing its rocketing escalation now targeting the city of Beer Sheva, some 40 KM away. Israeli aircraft have been bombing day and night scores of Hamas targets in Gaza, focusing on the rocket teams and their arsenals. Israel has also began targeting Hamas leaders including one who called  for more suicide bombing attacks against Israel a day earlier. Dr. Dan Schueftan, director of director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa analyzed various aspects of the current campaign in an in-depth interview with IsraCast.

"So far so good", that's how Dr. Dan Schueftan assesses Israel's campaign to eliminate the Hamas rocketing of Israeli towns and villages from the Gaza Strip. Dr. Schueftan told IsraCast that Israel is proving that it has a strategic answer to the rocket attacks in making Hamas pay a price it can not afford to do so for long time. In his view, it was in deed necessary for Israel's response to be 'out of proportion', otherwise continual Arab attacks on a much smaller state of Israel would lead eventually to Israel's defeat. The only reason that Hezbollah in Lebanon has not attacked Israel now is due to Israel's massive retaliation two and a half years ago in the Second Lebanese War. In the regional arena, Arab leaders realized that Israel was also fighting for them against radical Islam that also threatened their existence. In light of this, Dr. Schueftan criticized French president Nicolas Sarkozy's cease-fire proposal, calling it a 'major mistake' that would legitimize Hamas and undermine Israel's message. Schueftan hoped that the French leader would not repeat his proposal when he visits Israel shortly.

At home, some one million Israeli civilians now under Hamas rocket fire have made clear to their government they are willing to take much more in order to teach them terrorists in Gaza a lesson. This message is also getting across to Palestinians in the West Bank as well as to Syria who will realize that Israel is not only capable but also willing to use its massive power if provoked. When asked if he supported a major ground operation into Gaza, Dr. Schueftan replied "such a decision should be left to the people with operative responsibility".

Transcript of the interview

Dr. Dan Schueftan

Dr. Dan Schueftan is a senior Israeli academic and deputy director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, where he also serves as a senior lecturer in the School of Political Sciences. Schueftan has served as an advisor to Israel's National Security Council, and to former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon.

We are speaking now with Dr. Dan Schueftan. He is a well known Israeli expert on the Middle East. He is director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa. First of all, Dr. Dan Schueftan, how would you assess the current stand-off between Israel and Hamas, in the Gaza strip today, one week after Israel launched its major operation, to try and suppress the rocketing on Israeli's lines and cities, along the Gaza border?

So far, so good. Basically if you want to understand what’s happening in Gaza strip, you must understand the Israeli objective, not in public affairs terms, but in strategic terms. The Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and to some extent even the Syrians, believe that they finally found the ultimate weapon, because Israel does not have an answer to rockets fired from areas that are not controlled by a state that can be responsible for what these people are doing. Some of them have actually executed it, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza strip. Some Palestinian in the west Bank hope that in the long range, East will give the opportunity to prepare and launch these rockets, then again Israel will have no answer for it. And, it is true that at the moment, operatively, there is no answer. In other words: No matter how hard Israel hits, they can also continue to launch them, unless Israel controls on the ground, every piece of ground, as we do now in the West Bank, but we don't have it in the Gaza strip or in Lebanon. What this operation is demonstrating to the Arabs is that we may not have an operative answer to it, but we have a strategic answer for it. In other words, regardless if we can stop every rocket we can levy such an exorbitant price from people who are shelling Israeli cities and making life in Israel impossible, that they cannot afford to do it for a long period of time.

This out of proportion that the Europeans dislike so much is vital for the existence of Israel, because if God forbid we will listen to the European and answer with the same proportion, the Arabs will be delighted and war will be permanent in the Middle East

In Lebanon, with all the failures of the Lebanon war, and with all the problems we have had there, and the mishandling of the war, we have achieved it. Hezbollah realized that despite of the fact that he has 40,000 rockets that can reach every place in Israel, they cannot afford, at least for the moment, to shell Israel, because the Israeli response will be out of proportion. By the way, this out of proportion that the Europeans dislike so much is vital for the existence of Israel, because if God forbid we will listen to the European and answer with the same proportion, the Arabs will be delighted and war will be permanent in the Middle East, because they can suffer much more losses and ruin than Israel can. So, they want a proportionate response - proportionate response means Israeli defeat. European that are saying, response proportionately, are saying please commit political and strategic suicide and in the long run also personal suicide, because this is what the Arabs want. So, by speaking about a strategic answer to these rockets, I'm speaking about disproportionate response. Disproportionate on a very major scale, so that you simply send a message to the kinds of Hezbollah and Hamas: You may hurt us, but we will response in such a major way that you cannot afford it. The only reason that Lebanon is quiet today and nothing is launched against Israel, and we have had it for two and a half years, the only reason is that Israel responded disproportionately in Lebanon. And this fits into a broader picture, where the only way to deal with terrorism is massive disproportionate response. And for those who say that military might is not the answer - they are right, but also political attempts are not the answer. You need to have something that is less than an ultimate answer once and for all, namely suppressing terrorism.

At the moment, we have suppressed Hezbollah terrorism in Lebanon, we have suppressed suicide bombing of the Palestinians in the West Bank, and we are trying to suppress the kind of terrorism that Hezbollah sends from the Gaza Strip, and what is being tested now, is not just the question what will happened to this or that person in Hezbollah, or what will happened in the Gaza Strip. What is being tested is, can a civilized country confront uncivilized barbarians, like the people in the Gaza Strip who run the Gaza Strip, I mean the Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip, by saying to them you may inflict harm on us, but we can make your life impossible, so that you will have to refrain from it, at least for at while. So this is the essence of what is happening now. And by these standards, by this yardstick, I think we are doing quite well, and if we keep it for a while, and if we demonstrate that we are willing to take even stronger measures, and if we manage to kill their leadership I think that we may have the kind of partial success that these kinds of wars can provide and deliver.

Well, if these implications as you point it out, go far farther then just a war between Israel and Hamas, could it also reflect on those Arab regimes, the moderate Sunni regimes in the Middle East such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and so forth, who are also under the surface having to confront the threat of radical Islam supported by Iran?

If we will mishandle this war, the way we mishandled in Lebanon war, Israel will survive, because Israel is strong and it will win the next test, but the Arab regimes are fragile and any loss against the radicals may cost them the very existence

Not only can it reflect but it is reflecting already, because when you listen carefully of what is happening in the Arab world, the responsible regimes in the Arab world, and I mean not only Egypt and Jordan but even Saudi Arabia, understand that the war that we are waging today in the Gaza Strip is crucial for them, And if God forbid we fail, they are in peril. Because if we will mishandle this war, the way we mishandled in Lebanon war, Israel will survive, because Israel is strong and it will win the next test, but the Arab regimes are fragile and any loss against the radicals may cost them the very existence, and you may have instead of responsible regimes irresponsible radical regimes. They understand that we are really fighting a battle for us, but also it has benefits for them. It has enormously important byproducts for them, because if they want to defend their responsible policy vis-a-vis their own radicals, they need to tell them: look, we would have wanted to hit Israel too, only unfortunately we can't afford it, look what the consequences are when you hit Israel. Because the problem that these regimes have is that if you want to behave responsibly, you are in a defensive position vis-a-vis your own elites.

The problem is that the elites in the Arab world are very, very radical. And when regimes don't make war against Israel, and don't confront the United States, they are being criticized by their own elites, and their own elites tell them “you are traitors because you don’t fight Israel; you are traitors because you do not confront the United States”, and the only answer they have to their elites, is ‘we would have done so, and it is justified, only we can’t do it because the consequences will be unbearable’. If we will demonstrate in the Gaza strip that the consequences are indeed unbearable, we make it much easier for these regimes to defend their responsible behavior. Unfortunately in the atmosphere that exists in the Arab world, they cannot say ‘let us live along side Israel and let the Jews live along side us, and we will live and let live in this region’, this is something that they cannot defend. They are in a defensive against their own radical elites, so we must help them, and this is an important byproduct of the Israeli policy in the Gaza strip today, we must have them demonstrate the terrible consequences of the barbaric behavior of the Gaza regime, of the Hamas regime in Gaza.

Well, even Egypt’s President Mubarak has said publicly that Hamas bears part of the responsibility by launching the rockets at Israel and not continuing the ceasefire, however, the Europeans seem to be getting more and more involved; we got the French President Nicolas Sarkozy coming to the Middle East next week, to try and work out some kind of a ceasefire, is this message not getting through to the Europeans and what’s at stake here?    

In Europe we have something quite similar to what is happening in the Arab world; and this is responsible governments and radical elites, particularly the dumbest part of the European elite namely the academic part

Well first of all, in Europe we have something quite similar to what is happening in the Arab world; and this is responsible governments and radical elites, particularly the dumbest part of the European elite namely the academic part. If you take Britain for instance you will have a very extreme case of radicals who are concentrated in Academia and in the Media, particularly if you look at the BBC that is today a terrorist-supporting organization, and the problem is that the Europeans need to be seen to do something.

Now you also have on the part of Sarkozy, I must admit that this is the first time that I’m disappointed with him, the attempt to do something, to demonstrate that France can do something that the United States cannot do. And what Sarkozy wants is that while the Americans are paralyzed, because they are in this interregnum between the outgoing Bush administration and the not yet incoming Obama administration, is that France will play a role. But it was a major mistake to suggest a ceasefire that will legitimize Hamas and undermine the Israeli message. I hope that when he comes to Israel, his basic friendly attitude to Israel and a better understanding of what is happening there will not bring him to a point where he would try to impose on Israel anything. Remember he just finished representing Europe and many Europeans believe that he is not yet accustomed to the fact that he is not having the presidency of the European Union.

Civilians injured by Grad missile attack in Ashkelon evacuated by Search and Rescue Unit

So I hope it will not come to that and the Europeans will not again save the radicals in the Arab world from the consequences of their own deeds. The problem that Israel has with public opinion in Europe is very deep; first because attitudes in Europe are very unfriendly to Israel, and I’m not speaking about the governments, the governments are essentially friendly or fair-minded but I mean in public opinion, and the major problem is that the media in Europe are portraying a distorted picture. It’s not that they don’t understand - it’s that they don’t want to understand and they have their own agenda, so it’s very difficult to convince European public opinion, when people who’ve taken over the media have a world-view that confronts with the basic needs of Israel to live in security.       

But on the other hand, does Israel have a limited time frame? I am looking at the fact that President Barak Obama is going to be entering the White House on January 20th, and after that might we also see an appeal from President Barak Obama for a ceasefire, an immediate ceasefire?

I don’t think that Obama will want to start his presidency by putting pressure on Israel, and by January 20th I think it will be quite clear where we’re going. And I think that by that period we will accept a kind of ceasefire, because the damage that we can inflict on the Palestinians will be so considerable that from an Israeli point of view, a ceasefire would be more acceptable. I think that if you look at the basic attitudes of Obama that are not unfriendly to Israel, and the fact that by the time he comes into the Oval office, a lot of it will be already behind us, I don’t see a serious danger there.   

Well the main topic today in Israel is should the IDF launch a ground operation to wipe out the rocketing capability in the Gaza strip of Hamas.  What’s your take on this, Sir?

Well you’ll be surprised to know that I don’t have an opinion on the subject, because I think it should be decided on an operative rather than strategic level. In other words, I don’t see anything particularly important in a ground operation, unless in terms of cost effectiveness you can prove that it’s very clearly a good idea or a bad idea, and this really depends on the way things are going in the Gaza strip. As long as we can get a lot of damage and a lot of hardship to Hamas, again I am speaking not about the civilian population but to Hamas, if we can kill their leadership from the air as we started doing yesterday and if we have success doing it from the air on a very major scale, then perhaps a ground operation is not necessary.

A ground operation is not something that you must do or you must not do, the only question is: is it helpful at a given moment

A ground operation is not something that you must do or you must not do, the only question is: is it helpful at a given moment, and this is an operative question best left to the people who have the operative responsibility, I don’t think you should introduce an ideology or a strategy into the instruments. The question is what is the effectiveness of the other instruments that are being used, because the great advantage of a ground operation is that it will bring a confrontation with armed people of Hamas and will make it possible for us to kill a large number of combatants, of terrorists who are organized in a semi-military and military formats, and kill as many of them as possible, I think that’s a good idea. But remember, on the other hand it also produces casualties on the Israeli side, on a much smaller scale, but it also produces casualties on the Israeli side, and there is always this danger that something will go wrong in a way that will have an impact on public opinion. So you have to consider it in terms of the effectiveness it will have and at the moment it’s an open question.              

And finally Dr Schueftan, is Israel restoring now, this very day as we speak its deterrent capability here in the Middle East after that unsuccessful second Lebanese war against Hezbollah?

Definitely yes, but let me make a short comment about the Second Lebanon War. In spite of the mishandling of the war and the many mistakes that we’ve done there, even the second Lebanon war enhanced Israel’s deterrence, because we demonstrated what the consequences can be of attacking Israel and if we have two and a half years of tranquility in Lebanon, it is exclusively because of deterrence, Particularly what we did in Dahiya, in Beirut, and the understanding in Lebanon that next time there is a confrontation, we no longer have Hezbollah on the one hand, and Lebanese government on the other hand.

It demonstrates an enormous national resilience of the Israeli people, where almost a million Israelis who were under bombardment are saying we are willing to take much more, but teach them a lesson

What we have today is a Lebanese government that is to a large extent an extension of Hezbollah, we have a President in Lebanon who’s subservient to the Syrians of Hezbollah, we have a government in Lebanon that cannot afford but glorify a repulsive terrorists like Samir Kuntar and say that Hezbollah is the defense of Lebanon. This is what the Lebanese government and the Lebanese President are saying today about Hezbollah so if they try again in Lebanon, the damage that Lebanon will suffer will be very, very considerably higher than the damage that they have suffered in the second Lebanon war. And definitely what is happening in the Gaza strip today is enhancing Israeli deterrence not only because Israel is capable of doing what it is doing today, but primarily because it is willing to do it. That there is enormous support in Israeli public opinion, that even people in buildings and in cities that are being shelled are saying very clearly ‘we don’t mind suffering somewhat more if you inflict enormous suffering on the people who’s done it’. In other words, if you demonstrate that the perpetrators of these actions on the Hamas side will be killed and everything that is dear to them is destroyed and so on, we are willing to take much more than that. It demonstrates not only military capabilities, it demonstrates also an enormous national resilience of the Israeli people, where almost a million Israelis who were under bombardment are saying we are willing to take much more, but teach them a lesson; make it clear to them they cannot bombard us with impunity. So it definitely strengthens in a very major way, and if you look at everything that happened since the Lebanon war, including the fact that allegedly Israel destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor, I think the Israeli deterrence is on the way up, throughout everything that Israel is doing, across the board, and the Arab world is today much more aware of what Israel is able and willing to do, if it is provoked the way we’ve been provoked with the shelling of Israeli cities.

Dr Schueftan, after hearing your answer to that question, I feel obligated to ask you another and that is about the impact, any impact that you can see at present on the major item on Israel’s national security agenda and that is the Iranian nuclear threat. Do you see any implications for that Sir?

I do and I think that first of all it demonstrates to the Iranians and particularly for the Syrians. You must look at it in terms of the broader impact on the axis of radical forces in this region. It demonstrates to the Syrians, if this is what we are willing to do in Gaza, imagine what we are willing to do in Syria and when it comes to Iran itself, we have some very serious problems because the Obama administration believes in dialogue and it may take a while before the Americans realize that you can’t have a dialogue with the likes of Haminai and Ahmadinejad but if Israel itself is so determined to take very strong measures when the danger is relatively low, imagine what the Israelis are willing to do when the danger is existential. So I think this strengthens our deterrence there but when it comes to Iran you need to deter them not from taking actions against Israel but from preparing the means that could destroy Israel, and this is much more complicated. And recently our situation has not improved because time is on the Iranian side when it comes to quietly building their atomic weapons, so that this will not determine.

I think what we’re doing now helps determine what is happening between us and the Arab states or at least helps to determine what will not happen or may not happen immediately between Israel and the Arab world because Israel is deterring the radical elements in the Arab world. When it comes to Iran we are not deterring the preparation of nuclear weapons, we are definitely helping to deter from the use of atomic weapons but the immediate danger to Israel is not the use of atomic weapons but the very possessions of them by the Iranians which will have a very negative impact on the whole Middle East and indeed throughout the world.  So the more focused answer is yes, but the broader answer to the number one challenge of Israel at the moment of the Iranians having nuclear weapons, this does not deter Iran from continuing its quest for nuclear weapons, and unfortunately at the moment we are not winning on this front.

David Essing

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