U.S. foreign relations expert talks to AIJAC

October 26, 2023 by J-Wire News Service
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“The events of October 7, in a way, changed everything.” This was how Elliot Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former point man for Iran and Venezuela during the Trump administration, opened his address to an Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) function.

Walt Secord, Joel Burnie, Paul Rubenstein, Elliot Abrams, Dr Coloin Rubenstein

While the massacre and mass kidnapping will change US and Israeli policy towards Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran as well as Israeli domestic politics, it will also reverberate throughout the Jewish community in the US, Abrams believes, making them more committed to Israel.

Part of the reason Hamas was able to conduct this attack was the belief, shared across the political and security spectrum inside Israel and abroad – and by Abrams himself – that a modus vivendi was possible with the group because it cared about governing Gaza. “That is why Israel thought that an attack like this was inconceivable,” Abrams said.

While Israel’s previous policy was managing the conflict and trying to buy calm in Gaza, this will now change.  “What of course was found out on October 7 was that you can’t live with Hamas – you die with Hamas. And therefore it has to be crushed.” This new Israeli consensus on Hamas will also impact how Israel deals with Hezbollah, Abrams argued, which was previously assumed, like Hamas, to care about governing Lebanon and thus to be a manageable problem.

While there are arguments in both directions about whether Hezbollah will choose to enter this war on Iran’s behalf, the US has moved significant assets to the region to deter such a decision, including thousands of marines and two carrier groups, and President Biden has openly warned Iran and its proxies not to intervene. “It is possible, I think, if Hezbollah starts a war, to envision the United States helping, not on the ground, but in the air, defend Israel in that circumstance,” Abrams said.

The Israelis “have no choice but to win,” Abrams emphasised because Hamas genuinely believes that Jews in Israel are just foreign colonists, like the French in Algeria, and that with enough terrorism they can be forced out. “Obviously, the Israelis have no place else to go.”

With the exception of Qatar, which hosts Hamas, Arab governments in the region are “rooting very strongly for an Israeli victory”, though only behind closed doors, Abrams explained.

“Hamas views the population as nothing more than cannon fodder and human shields,” Abrams said, which makes it very difficult to help civilian refugees inside Gaza. Furthermore, Egypt is refusing to allow any Gazans to flee to Sinai, something Abrams believes donors should pressure them to do. Arab states also continue to use the Palestinian cause as a political cudgel against Israel while sacrificing actual Palestinians, Abrams argued.

Who will govern Gaza after Hamas is destroyed? “It’s a very very difficult question,” Abrams explained. It’s unclear whether the Palestinian Authority could even be reinstalled in Gaza. “I don’t think anyone has a clear plan.” PA President Mahmoud Abbas also remains deeply unpopular among Palestinians, Abrams said, further complicating the issue.

As for the two-state solution, Abrams said, “Who is going to keep law and order and fight terrorism in that Palestinian state? If you cannot answer the question, then stop talking about a two-state solution now.” Such an outcome is unthinkable and dangerous for the time being not just for Israel, but Jordan, as well, Abrams said.

“There is no Hezbollah and there is no Hamas without Iran,” Abrams explained, making the regime, which funds, arms and trains these groups, complicit in the October 7 attack. For there to be any prospect of peace in the Middle East, that regime must be defeated.

“There cannot be peace in the Middle East while there is one of the largest and most powerful countries in the Middle East, Iran, desperately attempting to avoid peace in the Middle East and backing every single terrorist group,” Abrams stated. “The main enemy of peace in the Middle East is the regime in Iran, and if we ignore that fact, then we’re not thinking seriously about how to move forward in the years ahead.”


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