NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 20th of November, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up on The World and Everything in It: More tension in the Middle East.
On November 11th, Palestinians discovered a covert operation of Israeli special forces in Gaza. The ensuing clash left seven Palestinian militants and one Israeli soldier dead.
That sparked the fiercest fighting since the 50-day war in 2014. Last Tuesday, the two sides accepted a peace agreement brokered by Egypt.
EICHER: But not everyone welcomed that agreement.
Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned in protest the next day. He said it was a serious mistake to enter into a peace agreement with Hamas and other groups like it. The United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom have all designated Hamas and the others terrorist organizations.
With Lieberman out, on Friday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would fill the defense minister role himself.
Elliott Abrams previously served as deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush, where he supervised U.S. policy in the Middle East. He’s now senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. He joins me now via telephone from his office.
Mr. Abrams, good morning.
ELLIOTT ABRAMS, GUEST: Good morning. Good to be with you.
EICHER: Well, there’s literally millennia of history we could discuss relative to Middle East tensions, but I’d like to start with the most recent history. What factors led to this latest flare-up in Gaza with Hamas?
ABRAMS: I think we can start in 2005 when Prime Minister Sharon of Israel removed all of the Israeli settlers and all the military installations from Gaza. The idea was that Palestinian Authority would take over and things would go well and they’d develop the place. But in 2007, Hamas took over. They kicked out the PA—a military coup, really—and they have ruled the place now for 11 years. And it is really an independent terrorist state and periodically they attack Israel. And most recently, Hamas actually sent 450 rockets into Israel in one day, and that’s after a number of incidents at the border where on Fridays—the Muslim sabbath—they send 8, 10, 15,000 people to the border where, of course, the Israelis need to send soldiers to keep them from going into Israel and committing acts of terrorism, kidnappings, attacks on the towns that are near that border. And that’s what’s led to the current crisis.
EICHER: And then the current crisis was pulled back a bit by a peace deal. Can you talk about your confidence in this peace deal and its ability to hold in place?
ABRAMS: It’s very difficult. Periodically there are efforts made by particularly Egypt and Qatar to negotiate a kind of ceasefire and they want a lasting ceasefire, a one-year, two-year, three-year ceasefire. But you’re relying that on the commitment and the word of Hamas, a terrorist group. So it’s very hard to believe it will last, but both sides, that is, Israel and Hamas, seem to want to avoid another round of all-out war. I think the reason for that is people would die on both sides, and when it was over you would not really have accomplished all that much. Israel could conquer Gaza and throw out the Hamas rule, but they don’t really want to govern a couple million Palestinians in Gaza and face the terrorism day to day trying to run the place. So they would rather do a peace deal. It’s just that these deals, while they may last for a few months, seem to collapse into more rounds of Hamas rockets and missiles and incidents at the border.
EICHER: As you know, the defense minister didn’t just have misgivings about this. He resigned over this and pulled his party out of ruling coalition with the Prime Minister, which I guess would leave the Netanyahu party with a majority of just one seat in the parliament.
ABRAMS: That’s right.
EICHER: That sounds like he’s on really politically shaky ground here?
ABRAMS: You know, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been really known as Mr. Security. That’s been his strongest appeal to Israeli citizens and voters. And now there are people—and the former defense minister, Mr. Lieberman, is one of them—who have been saying we have not been tough enough. We have not restored Israeli deterrents. We’ve been too quick to try to make a truce deal. And we should be hitting them much harder. He’s not proposing sending the whole Israeli army in to conquer Gaza. He’s saying when they do these kinds of things, they need to pay a much heavier price. A lot of Israelis agree with that. So, as you said, without his votes in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, the Knesset, Netanyahu who now has a majority of 61. If he loses, obviously, two more he’s down to a minority government and that could happen any day now. In fact, most Israelis I speak to say there are going to be elections in February. When you call elections there, you call them for 90 days away. Now, polls do suggest Netanyahu would win again, but 90 days is a really long time.
EICHER: I mentioned at the beginning one of the former jobs that you had was as deputy national security adviser. I have taken note of the fact that that particular job has opened up last week. Is there any chance you’re in the running?
ABRAMS: Well, you have to ask, I guess, John Bolton about that. But for my point of view, I think I say been there, done that. These are killer jobs. The hours are long, the vacations are none, and I did have the honor of working at the NSC for eight years under George W. Bush, but I think once in a lifetime is probably enough.
EICHER: Who do you like for the position?
ABRAMS: I don’t have a candidate. I have a lot of confidence in John Bolton, the national security adviser, who is an old friend. But he travels a lot. Somebody’s got to be there all the time. So I think he should be looking for someone with previous government experience, probably from the Bush administration. This has been a problem because the president has not wanted people who opposed him during the 2016 campaign, but many Republicans did. So I hope it’s possible to get somebody who served in the Defense Department or the State Department or the White House and doesn’t come to this cold, but rather with an experience level that’s pretty high as to how the government works.
EICHER: Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Mr. Abrams, thank you so much for your time.
ABRAMS: You’re very welcome.