AIJAC hosts Dr Jonathan Schanzer talking on this year’s Gaza conflict

November 28, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s (AIJAC’s) most recent webinar featured Dr Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President for Research at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, author of – Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of War.

Dr Jonathan Schanzer

Dr Schanzer explained that he watched the war on television in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and it was almost as if the Western media was covering a whole different conflict. The coverage was more vitriolic against Israel in Western media than even Arabic channels such as Al-Arabiya.

He noted that on May 10, the war’s first day, Western media were saying what is actually a real estate dispute in Sheikh Jarrah was the cause of the war, but it was, in fact, the Hamas/Fatah conflict and, specifically, Fatah cancelling Palestinian elections. Hamas decided that to win Palestinian hearts and minds, “they needed to begin to fire rockets and purport to defend Jerusalem, to defend the Al Aqsa Mosque, to defend the Palestinian people against what was seen as Israeli usurpation. So the Sheikh Jarrah thing was a ruse at the end of the day” just as Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount was blamed for the Second Intifada.

The lesson, he said, is that “rarely, if ever, is there a single thing that prompts these conflicts apart from organised Palestinian aggression…But we often find that Israel is blamed for doing one thing, whatever that one thing is, and I think the media fell for that once again.” The media ignores the internal Palestinian dynamics that often contribute to wars with Israel, he added.

May 11, he said, saw giant fireballs reaching into the sky in Ashkelon, near Gaza, after a lucky Hamas mortar strike on a gas storage facility. This shows Hamas can still cause great destruction to Israel, despite the media focus on using the disparity in casualties to depict Israel as the aggressor.

He added, “Hamas aspires to mass casualty attacks, they aspire to war crimes. Israel prevents them repeatedly. During the most recent war, we had more than 4000 projectiles that were…fired into Israeli territory. Israel stopped most of them but they weren’t able to stop this one…and you could see the price that was paid.”

He noted that, on May 13, the IDF posted on social media that Israeli assets were entering Gaza. This was a ruse, to encourage Hamas fighters to flood their elaborate “metro” underground tunnel system, built by diverting hundreds of millions of dollars and assets meant for civilian construction, to enable Hamas to kill and kidnap Israeli soldiers. Israel then bombed the tunnels, killing dozens of Iran-trained Hamas commandos.

Israeli journalists had, he said, been reporting they could see no sign of Israeli troops entering Gaza, but Western journalists were furious they had been misled, even though Hamas was Israel’s intended audience.

The lesson Dr Schanzer draws from this is that international journalists should watch the Israeli press. Instead, they ignore it because international journalists have their own agendas. Working with the Israeli press would help them avoid mistakes.

He explained that US President Joe Biden had Israel’s back when it mattered during the war, but felt the need to pander rhetorically to the Democratic Party’s hard-left “Hamas caucus”, as he called it.

The challenge, for Israel’s advocates, he said, is to maintain and advance the relationship with the US, and the main threat to that is Iran, with the US Administration pursuing a return to the Iran nuclear deal.

He added, “Don’t believe for a second that Iran will curb its nuclear ambitions. It’s made it very clear over the years that it has not. But also don’t forget that the international community is looking to remove its sanctions on Iran in exchange for a return to this flawed nuclear deal. That means the cash will flow to the regime. And that cash will be used to buy more weapons for Hamas because that is what happens when Iran has more money. It funds its proxies…And so that means more aerial drones, more underwater drones, more tunnels, more missiles, more rockets, more guns, more commandos.”

He continued that all of Hamas’ attacks on and wars against Israel, going back to the late 1980s, “trackback to the training and arming and funding of Hamas by the Islamic Republic.”

He said Iran is also “an avowed enemy of the US-led world order…that the entire world has been built on for the last 76 years, that has contributed to incredible advances in technology and prosperity, and democracy, and so preventing Iran from going nuclear and getting a financial windfall through questionable, questionable diplomacy is certainly a core American interest. I believe it’s an Australian one, I believe it’s a global interest as well.”

Hamas, he said, emerged stronger politically from the war through its image of defending its people and Islam, despite taking a beating militarily, so now the US is making real efforts to strengthen the Palestinian Authority. The 4,000 rockets Hamas fired in May was only around a quarter of its arsenal, so it is ready for another conflict. It has a significant network of operatives in the West Bank, with its ultimate goal being to overthrow the PA there, and a lot of that, he said, is driven not by Iran, but by Turkey, so Israel has no permanent victories, just permanent battles.

To prevent Hamas from causing another war, he said, the first thing to do is to not re-enter the Iran nuclear deal, thereby giving money to Hamas. Also, other Hamas patrons should be held to account – Turkey, Qatar, and Malaysia, which, he said, has become a “really significant jurisdiction for Hamas activity. Over the last several years, there’ve actually been a number of really interesting news reports coming out of there where Hamas operatives have been assassinated on the streets, purportedly by the Mossad. They’re working on drone warfare. They’re working on stabilising rockets. They’re doing military-related research with the full knowledge of the Malaysian government.”

He said journalists need to understand Israel pursues military targets rather than acting out of anger and minimises civilian casualties as much as possible. Iron Dome allowed Israel to act strategically and surgically despite being targeted with 4,000 rockets, and the fact that there were only 211 casualties in Gaza, while tragic, shows “astounding precision” and intelligence, including the use of artificial intelligence.

Israel’s “war between wars” against Iran to hamper it gaining nuclear weapons and providing Hezbollah with precision-guided missiles (PGMs), by destroying Iranian transports and facilities, cyber-attacks on Iranian facilities and assassinating key Iranian figures are, he said, greatly frustrating Iran. He’s not sure Iran ordered Hamas to start the May conflict, but it did encourage Hamas.

Despite Israel hitting thousands of targets since 2014 to hamper Iran supplying Hezbollah with PGMs, he said, Hezbollah is estimated to have hundreds. They can be guided to hit very specific targets and to evade Iron Dome.

On the Iran nuclear deal, he said there is talk of a more modest “less for less” deal, but it would be wrong not to engage with all of Iran’s malign activities and to allow it to push further towards the normalisation of its nuclear program. That’s what was wrong with the original deal. He added, “So Plan B should be a[n]…effort that tackles all of Iran’s malign behaviour, not just the nukes, but the terrorism, the destabilisation of the rest of the region.” Failing that, you get to, Plan C, “and that’s the plan you don’t want, which is the military operations.”

That would involve Israel ratcheting up cyber-activity, kinetic activity and secret operations. The question is whether the US and the rest of the world would stand by Israel if Iran is on the precipice and Israel makes the just decision to target Iran’s nuclear weapons. He hopes they would. He concluded, “I think there is no doubt that Iran would intend to use its nuclear weapons against Israel, either directly or as an umbrella for all the other malign activity that we’ve discussed today. And that’s something we cannot allow.”


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