Former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold on the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, and the future of Israel.
HH: Pleased to welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show Ambassador Dore Gold, long time ambassador to the United Nations from Israel, author most recently of The Fight For Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City. Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to the program.
DG: Good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Last time we talked, we were just talking about your book and theoretical problems and challenges to Jerusalem over the next ten years. Well, Hamas has now taken over Gaza. What’s the significance to the fight for Jerusalem of that?
DG: Well, you know, there was a report today that’s gotten out over the wires that Hamas attacked a Latin Church in the Gaza Strip, a monastery was torched as well, crosses broken, the whole place was robbed. If Hamas is doing this to the miniscule Christian community in the Gaza Strip, imagine if we foolishly agree to the Saudi peace plan, divided Jerusalem, gave them the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Imagine what would happen to the holy sites of the greatest faiths. Only a free and democratic Israel will protect Jerusalem for all faiths, not Hamastan.
HH: Oh, that is a very, that’s a very telling point. I hadn’t thought about that. They are putting on display how they would govern, if in fact they governed the entire two-state side allocated to the Palestinians. Dore Gold, what’s the mood in Israel where we’re talking to you this evening? Is it alarm? Or is it simple resolve?
DG: Well, I think Israelis are concerned about trends. I mean, nobody’s going to be affected tomorrow by what has happened. But the day after tomorrow, some very tough things could occur. For example, over the last two years, we’ve seen a tremendous build up in Gaza from two sources. One, al Qaeda has come across what’s called the Philadelphia Corridor, from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, and has built up a presence. They’ve kidnapped notable American journalists, British journalists. They have been harassing the entire population there, and basically making the place far more extreme, much more Taliban like. But from a military standpoint, the Iranians have also penetrated Gaza through the Philadelphia Corridor. They take Palestinians out, train them near Tehran, and send them back to increase the number of operatives. And they’re pushing a lot of weaponry. Should we see longer range rockets, like the kind we saw in Lebanon, based in the Gaza Strip, aimed at one of Israel’s main ports, Ashdod, hitting most of the Southern Negev, Israel’s going to have to take action. We cannot allow a kind of new Cuban Missile Crisis to emerge in the Gaza Strip.
HH: Now there are wire reports as well that Ehud Barak has already ordered up the plans necessary to reoccupy Gaza. Are those…are you putting credit into those?
DG: Well, you know, I think that’s a little premature, and I know the source in the Times of London. It wasn’t particularly reliable. But I’m pointing out a real problem that we’re facing. The Egyptians, for a variety of reasons, have failed to stop the smuggling of massive amounts of weaponry from the whole Middle East into the Gaza Strip. As that military presence builds, and if it includes rockets and missiles that can hit Israeli cities, Israel cannot sit quiet and allow this build up to keep moving forward.
HH: Ambassador Dore Gold is my guest. We’re talking about the takeover of Hamas in Gaza, and we’re also talking about his book, The Fight For Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City. Given the overall nature of the Palestinian people, what does Hamas represent? Are they a tiny margin that’s powerful? Are they just Gaza? What do they represent for the future of the Palestinians?
DG: Well, first of all, they not only won the elections in January, 2006, in Gaza, they also won in the West Bank. People forget that. They are extremely popular, they’ve been working over the years with Saudi oil money and Iranian support as well to spread their ideas among the Palestinians. You know, Fatah doesn’t even have clerics of its own. So when they had to put some guy in charge of the office of religious endowments in Nablus, or in Jenin, under their rule, they’d put Hamas people. So Hamas has been around for a long time, and Hamas is connected to larger movements. I point this out in The Fight For Jerusalem. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood, which is based in Egypt, but has branches in Jordan and Syria. Everybody feels empowered by this Hamas takeover, and that creates a much more dangerous situation across the Middle East.
HH: Is that why Egypt has been unable to control the Philadelphia Corridor that you’ve referred to?
DG: Well, you know, I’ve sat with senior Israeli diplomats. When they try and explain to me and to others what they’re hearing from the Egyptians privately, the Egyptians are apparently saying look, our biggest opposition to President Mubarak is the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. If we start fighting Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is going to threaten the stability of Mubarak’s regime. Therefore, guys, we really can’t help you with this. That explains a great deal why the Egyptians have not prevented the smuggling of Iranian weapons and al Qaeda operatives into Hamastan, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
HH: Now what do the Saudis think about what they’ve ended up bankrolling, Dore Gold? Are they happy with this result?
DG: Well, the Saudis have been bankrolling Hamas for years. I mean, the Hamas leadership feels comfortable, attends events that are sponsored by the Saudi leadership for these large Wahabi charities like the Muslim World League, or the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. So I think they’re a little bit torn, however. On the one hand, they’re very happy to see that the people who basically feed off of the Wahabi ideology in Saudi Arabia have taken power. But at the same time, they don’t want to see the Middle East be destabilized. And that leads to sort of contrary trends. I would not rely on the Saudis to solve this crisis.
HH: Well, where, what do you see as the end game here? If Hamas is getting stronger, and you point out they represent the Palestinian people with votes freely cast, or relatively freely cast, and they’re becoming more violent as we’ve seen in the specifics of the takeover last week in Gaza, where do you see this going?
DG: Well, I’m going to make a distinction I made in that book, The Fight For Jerusalem. Many people in the West are mistaken. They think okay, we have a problem with radical Islam, Hamas, al Qaeda, whatever. The way to lower the flames of radical Islam, lower the rage of radical Islam, is let’s push forward and get Israel to make more territorial withdrawals, and somehow impose a solution to the Arab-Israel conflict, as though that was the source of al Qaeda and Islamic rage. I think what we’ve learned with the Gaza pull-out, and then the Hamas takeover, is that the spread of radical Islam comes from a growing sense of victory. That’s what led to the Hamas winning the elections in January, 2006, when Israel left the Gaza Strip, and the Hamas could argue their rockets forced us out. They want to recruit new members to al Qaeda or other radical organizations in the Middle East, their films show the beheading of Russian soldiers in Chechnya, or blowing up an American Humvee in Iraq. It’s the victory that strengthens them. Therefore, we have to deny them their victory. We have to defeat this regime in Hamastan by isolating it. We have to come down like a ton of bricks on Egypt, and have them close off the Philadelphia Corridor. And on the Jordanian side, they’re showing a lot of willingness to become more involved in West Bank security. We should promote that, and work with the Arab states to help solve this problem, and not try and resurrect old plans from the 1990’s with the Palestinians that failed.
HH: And what about to the north in Southern Lebanon? Does that also mean a reengagement of the hostilities with Hezbollah from last summer? Because they came away feeling empowered by a victory, didn’t they, Dore Gold?
DG: Absolutely. Look, Israel had two unilateral withdrawals in the last ten years, the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, which led to Hezbollah getting stronger, and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which made Hamas get stronger. Now in Lebanon, they walked away with the sense, even though they got a good licking from Israel, that they somehow won that war. And they may reengage militarily in the future. The key to much of this instability today is really twofold. It is primarily Iran that is active in Iraq, it’s active in Lebanon, and it’s supporting Hamas, and it’s also Saudi Arabia’s support for radical organizations around the Middle East. If we can do something about this Iranian regional problem, through effective action first and foremost by the international community, by divestment from companies that are doing business in Iran, putting sanctions on Iran, weakening that regime, we can get some of this threat to be pulled back. But if we just sit back and think well, it doesn’t effect any of us, I think we’re making a big mistake.
HH: I’m talking with Dore Gold, former ambassador of Israel to the United Nations, author of a new book that is a comprehensive history of the City of Jersualem, The Fight For Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City. We’re talking about events underway in the Middle East that began last week with the fall of Gaza to the Hamas. Mr. Ambassador, today, Ehud Olmert is meeting with President Bush at the White House, the continuation of a very strong and special relationship, but he’s the weakest Israeli prime minister since I’ve been aware of Israel, so you know, 1963 or ’64. How long can he stay in office? And doest that not leave Israel exposed, given the paralysis of its domestic politics to sudden crisis?
DG: Well, right now, after the second Lebanon war, Israel went through a period of introspection. The first thing that Israel did is it got a lot of sense, put in a new chief of staff of the Israeli Army, who is putting the army through very heavy maneuvers and exercises. The Israeli Army has recovered from that war, and if anybody tries to attack Israel, or put Israel to the test, they’re going to have to face the full wrath of a very self-confident army. Now in the meantime, we do have a new defense minister, Ehud Barak, the man who was prime minister, was chief of staff, was the head of one of our strongest commando units here at Matkal. If he focuses on military issues, he can make a great contribution in helping the rebuilding of the army which has begun. As far as Ehud Olmert goes, he’s waiting for the second round of something called the Winograd Commission, which should come out in August or September. It’s expected to criticize him harshly. And when that commission comes out in August, September, it’s likely to start a process that should lead to new elections in Israel in 2008.
HH: And does the paralysis until then leave Israel uncertain about how to respond to any provocation from Hamas in Gaza, or from Hezbollah in Lebanon?
DG: I think when it comes to Israel security and the effectiveness of the Israeli Army under Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, I think Israel will respond, and it will protect itself, and you will not see the kind of mistakes that you saw in the second Lebanon War. Israel no longer believes that you win a war against a guerrilla terrorist army from the air with air power. You’ve got to move your ground forces in and vanquish them on the ground. That’s where wars are decided.
HH: A couple of last questions, what’s the morale among the infantrymen of the Israeli Defense Force?
DG: Well, I think that people are showing up in record numbers to the reserve positions. Young kids, 18 year olds, still want to go into their elite units. In America, you want to go to Yale Law School, or Harvard Law School, or Stanford. In Israel, you want to serve in Sayeret Matkal, you know, or any of the other elite units that operate behind enemy lines. So we have a highly motivated young generation that was disappointed by the leadership that the government offered during the Lebanon War, but nonetheless is committed to the cause of the state of Israel.
HH: Is there a new political leadership of the ages 30-40 that’s beginning to show up with a very different vision for Israel’s future?
DG: Well, I don’t think you’re going to, I don’t see right now on the horizon new political leaders as such. One of the politicians whose made a great comeback is former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who I think is visiting the United States these coming days. He was defeated back in the elections in 1999. He, today, is the most popular Israeli politician for prime minister, and he’s coming with a vision of privatization of the economy, strengthening Israel, and building the country up to confront the regional dangers, particularly Iran.
HH: How old are you, Ambassador Gold?
DG: How old am I? I’m 53.
HH: And so in your thirty years, we just celebrated the 30th anniversary, or remembered the 30th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, of the 1967 war.
DG: 40th anniversary.
HH: 40. I know, I’m not counting. It’s early for me, too. Late for you, and early for me today. 40 years ago, Israel was on the brink, and then again in ’73, it was on the brink. What’s it feel like to you right now? Is this as perilous a time as Israel has been in, in your memory?
DG: Well, we have had a problem with political leadership. Everybody in the last twenty years, I wouldn’t say this about Mr. Netanyahu, certainly, but others, have felt that how does Israel win the peace in the Middle East? It has to make new concessions. So during the Oslo years, those were those accords signed between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, people believed we would make these territorial concessions to the PLO, that would lead to the end of the Arab-Israel conflict. The whole idea blew up in the year 2000, at the famous summit meeting under President Clinton’s auspices of Camp David. Then the country was convinced that okay, we don’t have a Palestinian negotiating partner, let’s unilaterally pull out of territories, and get behind a fence, and that will, we can get to our business of having a normal Western European society. That didn’t work, either. That blew up in our faces. When we pulled out of Gaza, Hamas won the elections, al Qaeda went into a new sanctuary in the Gaza Strip. So I think there’s a loss as to what direction to go in. I think what’s clear is that we have to stay strong, and eventually peace comes through strength. We have to also, perhaps, change our orientation, move from cutting deals with the Palestinians directly, bring in the Arab states, who are the only ones who could perhaps deliver some stability in this situation.
HH: Ambassador Dore Gold, I appreciate the time today, you’re staying up late in Israel. The Fight For Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City is your new book, and I look forward to talking to you again in the near term. Mr. Ambassador, thanks again.
DG: My pleasure, Hugh.
End of interview.