AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
In the wake of Hamas’s brutal assault on Israel, I spoke with two prominent Israeli leaders about the consequences of this latest conflict and what Western observers should know about the hostilities.
The first was Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli Ambassador to the United States under the conservative governments of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and later Benjamin Netanyahu. Shoval has long been a force in Israeli politics, first entering public life under Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who helped found the Likud Party.
The second was Dr. Ephraim Sneh, the son of one of Israel’s founding fathers and a retired brigadier general who led a medical unit during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Dr. Sneh also played a crucial role in shaping modern Israel as the right-hand man of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. Dr. Sneh has dealt with Palestinian leadership throughout his career and at one time served as Israel’s deputy defense minister.
Both men expressed to me their deep shock and anger at Hamas’s brutal assault on innocent Israeli civilians. The Israeli death toll has now surpassed 1,000, including at least 260 young people who were slaughtered at a music festival in the opening hours of the conflict.
The Israeli health ministry has said thousands more have been injured and many people remain unaccounted for. The death toll in Hamas-controlled territory is also tragically beginning to rise, with the terrorists continuing their despicable tactic of surrounding themselves with civilians to try to turn public opinion against Israel.
Exchanges of fire are continuing inside Israel, with Amos Gilad, the former head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, telling local Israeli news stations that terrorists may be infiltrating the country through “a still-to-be-identified terror tunnel or tunnels from the Gaza Strip.”
As has already become abundantly clear, Hamas’s latest attack is about sending a message to the West as much as it is inflicting pain and suffering on Israel. Both Ambassador Shoval and Dr. Sneh told me that Hamas’s goal was to test the West’s resolve and fracture support for Israel.
As for Israel’s response, Shoval said that Netanyahu’s government has to decide “sooner rather than later” whether it wants to completely destroy Hamas once and for all. “This would cost many lives and require the West’s solidarity,” he explains.
Rather than Israel’s usual precision strikes on Hamas targets, Shoval said, the complete elimination of Hamas as a threat would require a longer and likely more costly campaign that includes the international isolation of the Gaza Strip. Hamas is betting that the West doesn’t have the stomach to support such an effort.
But Dr. Sneh believes that such a campaign is the best chance for lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “Hamas is a well-equipped criminal organization which needs to be completely destroyed because they subscribe to the ideology that Israel should not exist,” he told me. “There is no other way.”
Confirming both men’s assertions, hours after the attack, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared that “all of Israel” belongs to Hamas. “Get out of our Jerusalem and our Al-Aqsa Mosque. We do not want to see you on this land. This land is ours, Jerusalem is ours, everything is ours,” he said.
Dr. Sneh also emphasized that Hamas is a proxy of Iran and would never carry out such an attack without the approval of the Iranian regime. To stop Hamas, “We must fight Iran wherever it is possible,” with political and economic sanctions, Dr. Sneh said.
Ambassador Shoval added that the West has in the past often failed to do enough to thwart Iran’s terrorism network that exists throughout the Middle East, in particular during the Obama-Biden administration.
“Obama erroneously believed that a balance of power in the Middle East could be created by appointing Iran as a leader of one part of the Muslim world and Saudi Arabia of the other part,” Shoval said. “It was unrealistic because Iran’s ambitions go beyond being the heart of such an arrangement.”
Now, as the Biden administration works to revive the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, Shoval warns that “the future is uncertain because if the U.S. concludes another nuclear agreement with Iran, it will have more financial capabilities to continue its effort to develop a nuclear bomb and threaten not only Israel but also our neighbors in the Middle East.”
Dr. Sneh agrees and says that instead of talking to Iran, the West should fight it wherever possible. “In the end, I am afraid this war was unavoidable,” he says, explaining that most hopes for a transformation in the Palestinian-Israeli relationship have failed, in significant part because of Iran’s meddling. The invasion was one more piece of evidence that Tehran is actively working to undermine the West’s security and prosperity and threaten its fundamental freedoms.
Both Shoval and Sneh also emphasized that it is not true that the lack of a “two-state solution” or other forms of a negotiated peace agreement contributed to this latest escalation of hostilities. “Hamas abhors Palestinians reaching out to Israel,” Dr. Sneh said, explaining that Hamas and their Iranian backers have a vested ideological interest in stoking tensions rather than working toward lasting peace.
The threat now is that the failure of the West, and particularly of the United States, to deter Iran and its terrorist proxies will encourage more moderate Islamic states to cast their lot with Tehran. Dr. Sneh also expressed his fears that Iran could be seeking closer ties with Russia.
“This battle with the enemy of freedom that was limited to the region has now expanded,” he says. The West may have little time to act before it is too late.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.