In the first days of the war, we published an interview with Yigal Carmon, President of the Middle East Media Research Institute (memri), an intelligence expert and former security advisor to both Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir. At that time, Yigal Carmon’s words were picked up by television and newspapers around the world, as he is the only (and overlooked) analyst to have predicted the ruthless attack by Hamas and the outbreak of war in Gaza. A month after the start of the war, we went to visit him again in his studio in Jerusalem.
Carmon, having predicted the outbreak of war, we have returned for a visit with you to ask what outcomes you foresee based on your information.
I do not wish to sound absolute or simplistic, but I would venture to guess that, sooner or later, the war will end, and basically everything will go back to the way it was. And that confirms to me the futility of this war.
You have important past experience that would not put into any doubt your spirit of unity with Israel’s political and military institutions. So why did you speak out against the war?
As I have told you, because it is pointless. It is very difficult and risky to imagine a war to be fought in the hundreds of kilometres of tunnels under Gaza. To conclude what? To eradicate Hamas from Gaza? The actual leaders are already safe, in Qatar or elsewhere. Hamas has 40,000 troops in Gaza, plus another 10,000 Islamic Jihad soldiers. People who do not give up, people whose goal is martyrdom. Does eradicating Hamas then mean being able to kill all 50,000 of them? More generally, from a political point of view, we must not underestimate that Hamas is, yes, a terrorist group, but it is not just a terrorist group. It is an ideology, it is a widespread state of mind, it is a religious belief. All things against which weapons are not enough. No concession to the terrorists of course, but it breaks my heart to think how many young Israeli soldiers will be sacrificed on the altar of this war.
Why do you say that everything will go back to the way it was?
You see, when you decide to start a war, you must also have one or more plans for its conclusion and exiting from the conflict. Israel has none. There is no exit strategy, other than the (unrealistic as I said before) total destruction of the enemy. How do they plan to get out of there? Do they think they will go back to before 2005 and administer Gaza? Madness. Do they think they will liberate Gaza and return it to the Palestinian National Authority? That is, do they seriously think that Mahmud Abbas can return to Gaza in an Israeli tank? A possible solution would be to have an interposition force of Arab countries that could also take on the responsibility of running the Strip. But it seems to me that the two main players, Jordan and Egypt, have no intention of getting involved. So what then? Then everything will remain as before. With a more concentrated Hamas in the south of the Strip, and in the north with Israeli soldiers guarding a pile of rubble.
And the issue of the hostages?
Here too I am sorry to say: I see a basic inconsistency in the Netanyahu administration. They trust the mediation of Qatar as if it were a third party.
I think there has been, even by Western media, an underestimation of Qatar’s role in this situation that began well before 7 October. Qatar’s activism in many conflict zones in the Middle East and Central Asia is there for all to see. For all those who, of course, are willing to see. Then some do not want to see. In Israel, in America, even in Europe, and also in Brussels, no? Regarding the role of Qatar in this whole affair, its relations with the Palestinians and with Israel, there would be very much to say. I will tell you another time. You see, I firmly believe that Israel can win this war not (only) by armed force, but by the power of truth.
And the northern front? Hezbollah? Iran?
The very long and tedious speech of Nasrallah on Friday said only one clear thing: “7 October is an initiative of Hamas alone. We had nothing to do with it and we didn’t even know about it.” Then, he added, if our Palestinian brothers ask us for help, we will be there... etc. But this is all fluff. The important message is: we were not there on 7 October. On the other hand, how convenient would it be for Hezbollah to join this conflict? They are at the height of their presence, they rule a large part of Lebanon, why should they jeopardise this position of theirs? I believe that the Iranians too have — beyond the ritual phrases and the supply of a few weapons — very different priorities, both internal and external.
You are describing a worrying situation here.
I, however, continue to believe in people of goodwill who can be found on any side. For example, besides Pope Francis, you have a man of value here in Jerusalem. If you happen to see Patriarch Pizzaballa tell him that I, an Israeli and a Jew, would have liked to see one of our rabbis offer himself as a substitute for the hostages. Bravo to him.