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Richard Kemp: Israel’s Existential Campaign to Destroy Hamas

Israel Defense Forces in Gaza on November 8th (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

“Hamas wants to maximize the death of its civilian population. The purpose is to get the international community, the United Nations, the United States, other governments around the world, to condemn Israel, to vilify Israel, to delegitimize Israel, and undermine the Jewish state in that way.”

On December 8th, Colonel Richard Kemp, a highly decorated veteran of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns throughout the world, joined Merion West contributing editor Jonathan Church for an in-depth discussion about the war in Gaza. Colonel Kemp is a retired officer in the British Army and a trustee of the UK Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers. He has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans, and Northern Ireland. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth II appointed him a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his work in cultivating intelligence in Northern Ireland. He is the author of Attack State Red, a 2009 book about his experience as a soldier in Afghanistan and described as an “unputdownable account of a British battle group on the offensive.” He currently spends his time as a writer, commentator, consultant, and speaker on topics such as leadership, security, counterterrorism, defense, and intelligence. In their discussion, Colonel Kemp and Mr. Church discuss the November 24th to November 30th Israel-Hamas ceasefire, the hostage deal and its aftermath, the Jericho Wall document, strategic and tactical aspects of the ongoing war, and the humanitarian crisis.

A video version of this conversation can be found at the bottom of this page. The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Since Israel has resumed its [military] operations [on December 1st], does Israel confront a strengthened or refreshed Hamas? How much damage has Hamas sustained in the war so far, in terms of infrastructure, weapons, planning ability, manpower, and all of that?

I think Hamas has not gained a great deal from the truce that occurred for a short period of time. Obviously, it wouldn’t have hurt them. They were very enthusiastic to have this ceasefire, to give themselves time. I think their expectation, their hope, was that sufficient pressure internationally would be applied against Israel so that the fighting would not resume. I think that was their plan. That obviously hasn’t worked.

The IDF is now back in action and doing severe damage to Hamas. I think we’re beginning now to see the signs of the collapse of Hamas. Yesterday [on December 7th], there were a large number of prisoners captured. People surrendered to the IDF. At least a battalion-sized group of Hamas terrorists surrendered to the IDF. We’re hearing reports also of ordinary citizens in Gaza turning on Hamas.

Now, that doesn’t ordinarily happen. I don’t know how accurate the reports are. But, if it’s true, then it does indicate that Hamas has been severely weakened to the extent that citizens can be emboldened to attack a group that has basically oppressed and intimidated them for many, many years. So, I think a lot of damage has been done.

I would suggest 7,000 or so Hamas terrorists have probably been killed, but the figures have not been released yet. But it’s going to be something of that order—I would think—during the conflict, possibly more, possibly a few less, but clearly a great deal of damage.

I’d like to discuss the measures which Israel, or the measures that the IDF, takes to minimize civilian casualties, one of which is to, at least as I understand it, designate safe areas for them to go to. And then, distributing text messages, e-mails, leaflets, and so on, and trying to steer them into places that are not going to be presumably attacked. Obviously, that’s very difficult because of the human shield issue. Hamas also likes to prevent or block road passages. I think I’ve even read reports of [Hamas] shooting at people who want to try to flee from the northern region in Gaza.

So, the idea that this might be leading to the Palestinian people dropping their support for Hamas is interesting. There is the issue that they’ve been indoctrinated to support Hamas, and there’s a lot of Jew hatred. In Palestinian institutions, schools, and the Dawa, citizens are essentially indoctrinated with this idea that it’s all the Jews, the fault of the Israeli state, Jewish people, and so on. But I hadn’t heard reports of increasing lack of support for Hamas among Palestinian citizens.

To pick up a few of the points you mentioned, it’s important to understand what this conflict is all about. I think the attack on the 7th of October, which was the latest in a series of attacks by Hamas against Israel, was different; this was much more successful. I don’t think [Hamas] expected the level of success [it] achieved. But, nevertheless, they did. The first major attack was 2008, and there’s been several since then. What they’re about is not trying to destroy Israel because they know they don’t have the military capability to do that. Their charge requires them to annihilate Israel, to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth. And then, beyond that, to attack Jews everywhere.

That’s what they’re about. But knowing they can’t defeat the IDF, they came up with a very good strategy, which has worked repeatedly, which is to attack Israel in such a way that the IDF had no choice other than to counterattack and to retaliate to defend its population. Hamas fights behind the human shields, as you mentioned. Their intention is not even so much to save their own fighters, but it is to—in a way—force Israel to act in a way that innocent civilians are going to die. Hamas wants to maximize the death of its civilian population. The purpose is to get the international community, the United Nations, the United States, other governments around the world, to condemn Israel, to vilify Israel, to delegitimize Israel, and undermine the Jewish state in that way.

That’s exactly what happens every time. You see repeated UN Human Rights Council resolutions accusing Israel of war crimes, falsely. And not just the UN, but also human rights group governments in some countries, the EU. What that does is perpetuate the cycle of violence. It encourages Hamas to do the attack again. If you look at it in those terms, you can understand the problem the IDF has. They want to prevent this threat. They want to eliminate the threat. They don’t want to kill innocent civilians. But in order to eliminate the threat, there is no choice. They have to. The IDF operates under the laws of war in a way that includes warning civilians to leave, as you suggested.

They not only warn them to leave a building or an area they’re going to attack, but they also supply maps showing them where they should go to be safer, the route they should take, which will be safer, and other measures, which very few armies have ever done in history because they simply aren’t able to do so. Then you have Hamas, which historically in numerous conflicts has done everything [it] can to prevent civilians leaving because they want them there. They want them to be killed. They hold them at gunpoint. They sometimes shoot them to stop them going. In the case of this conflict, they have prevented in some cases, refugees from fleeing the north, which is going to be attacked when Israel is warned. This is a huge problem, which I think the IDF has overcome. 

Okay, we’ve had a lot of civilian casualties, tragically, but the IDF has minimized the number of civilian casualties. If you look at other ratios from other conflicts, the UN figures say that in all conflicts since the Second World War, the civilian to military death ratio in all conflicts is nine to one, nine civilians for every combatant death. That includes countries that don’t care about civilian casualties. That’s why it’s so high. But in Afghanistan, for example, the U.S. death ratio, combat ratio was three civilians to every combatant killed. They took great care to try and keep that number down. In Afghanistan, it was between three and five to one. The IDF historically has achieved 0.6 to 2 ratio of civilian casualties to combat casualties. That is in an environment where they’re being forced to attack areas where there are civilians. I think those figures show how cautious and how careful the IDF is. No ratio is good, but it’s a better ratio than most other armies, including the U.S. and the British Army. 

On the final point you raised about resistance to Hamas, the population of Gaza overwhelmingly supports Hamas. They do. It’s a fact. Opinion polls, numerous opinion polls have shown that. The same applies in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank, where Hamas is very popular as well, even more popular since the 7th of October attacks. And people in both areas in Gaza, Judea and Samaria are indoctrinated from birth to hate the Jews, to hate the Israelis and to support Hamas. That’s what happens. So, if we’re now getting to the stage where many of them are turning on Hamas, if these reports are true, which I suspect they are, then that doesn’t show a kind of disenchantment with Hamas’s agenda. But it does show that the people recognize that the nightmare they’re facing today has been brought on them by Hamas.

So, obviously Israel, the IDF, encounters a great deal of, I guess you might say, catch-22 difficulties with the attempt to avoid civilian casualties. There’s also the idea that you’re not, at least as I understand it, facing a kind of conventional nation-to-nation war. It’s more of a guerrilla fight.

Some years ago, I became very interested in the war on terror and particularly the whole controversy around Guantanamo. As part of some research I was involved in, I reviewed a whole bunch of declassified documents that had transcripts of detainees from the combatant status tribunal report hearings, administrative review board hearings, and so on.

These documents help you gain a strategic understanding of the enemy in terms of the network by which they operate—facilitators and guest houses and state sponsorship and training camps and so on. It strikes me that there’s something similar going on here. This is essentially what the IDF has to deal with as well. Obviously, there are specific circumstances in Gaza, the tunnel networks and the human shields and all that. But could you elaborate a little bit on the infrastructural nature of the enemy in terms of what it is like fighting a guerrilla army? What makes it hard to fight Hamas?

I’ve spent a large part of my life in the British Army, often fighting alongside the U.S. Army, fighting terrorism from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan, Iraq and other places. It’s always problematic. It’s always a huge problem. The tactics that are used by the Taliban, Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, other jihadist groups, and Hamas are pretty much the same. They’re virtually the same. They fight among the civilian population. They use human shields. They use mosques, hospitals, schools, other protected buildings as weapons stores, as places to attack and fight from. It’s very hard to distinguish them from the civilian population. At one moment, some guy in Afghanistan might be plowing a field and might wave to you as you go by, might talk to the soldiers, be friendly. At the next minute, he’s detonating an improvised explosive device against the troops. And how do you know? It’s very hard to know.

The only time you can really be sure if someone is a terrorist is if they’re firing a rifle at you or they’ve got a rifle in their hand. And, even then, it’s not always the case because rifles are pretty common in some of these countries. But, in Gaza, it’s as tough as that and probably tougher because Hamas has had a huge amount of time to prepare a relatively small area of territory for defense. And not only for defense, but for offensive work. Of course, we all know that rockets are fired out of Gaza frequently at Israeli civilians. Only this afternoon [of December 8th], there was a barrage of rockets fired into Tel Aviv, where I am now, which was the first in a few days. But it’s not uncommon. Cities all across Israel, and certainly mainly in the south and the central part of Israel, are attacked by these rockets. That’s a common technique that Hamas uses, [as well as] other terrorist groups in Gaza, like the Islamic State.

As to the infrastructure, underneath Gaza, there is a network of tunnels, which has been built over many, many years. The comparison has been made with the London Underground network [or] maybe the New York [City] subway. It’s apparently as extensive as that. It’s enormous. I’ve been into some of these tunnels underneath Gaza. They are extremely well constructed. The concrete walls, concrete floors, concrete roofs and electric wiring, air conditioning, all of this lighting…extremely well constructed. You can walk down them. You don’t have to crouch down. These are big tunnels.

That’s all been done with vast, vast amounts of labor and vast amounts of money. Most of that money, or a great deal of that money, comes from international aid donations to Gaza, which instead of being used for building civilian infrastructure, [are] used to construct military infrastructure. Those tunnels add to the difficulties the IDF faces because these tunnels are not for shelter for civilians. The tunnels are only to be used by Hamas terrorists. They’re used for storing weapons, storing ammunition, for moving terrorists from place to place, giving terrorist protection from the air—and for ambushing.

So, there’s an incredible network in which the entrances and the exits are underneath either hospitals or schools or other civilian buildings from which Hamas can emerge or enter. Let’s say a military group passes by. They can come out and attack them from the rear. It makes it very complex.

To destroy them, the IDF has options. They’ve destroyed some from the air. They have destroyed some on the ground using engineers with explosives. They’ve got a thing called a sponge bomb that they can use, a chemical which has a chemical reaction which blocks the entrance and exits to tunnels. And they can flood the tunnels. But, of course, the complication arises when you know that there are a lot of terrorists down there in this tunnel network as we speak.

But there are probably also many hostages that were captured from Gaza on the 7th of October and are being held at gunpoint by Hamas. That one factor alone makes this challenging and this form of warfare incredibly tough for the IDF. They cannot operate in the way that most armies can operate in normal circumstances. The factors normally are you want to destroy as much of the enemy as possible. You want to minimize the death of innocent civilians. You want to minimize the death of your own troops, of course, and an IDF soldier’s life is worth no less than a Palestinian civilian in Gaza.

But you don’t also have this factor of trying to avoid killing the hostages that Hamas are holding.

Obviously, civilian casualties are horrific. You see pictures of women and children being injured and it strikes at the heart and everybody can understand that. So, you have worldwide protests calling for a ceasefire. And, at a certain human level, you can understand the frustration.

But what frustrates me is we have this horrific October 7th attack, and you don’t see protests asking for Hamas to cease fire. But also frustrating is the question of what Israel is supposed to do. So, okay, we have a ceasefire. But then what? I think a lot of reasonable people say, “Yes, we need to eradicate Hamas.” But how do you do that? How do you do that with a ceasefire, which presumably means no bombings and no infiltration of Gaza, and letting aid flow freely into Gaza? 

Obviously, Hamas gets a lot of aid from states like Iran but also diverts aid from humanitarian agencies into the construction of tunnels, etc. And, as we’ve been discussing, Israel is in the extremely difficult situation of operating in an environment where there’s a lot of anti-Semitic sentiment. You’re dealing with a guerrilla army. You’re trying to minimize civilian casualties. But, then, if you have a ceasefire, how is it that you would try to defeat Hamas? Is the answer that you can’t?

You hit on an extremely important point at the beginning of those words. And that was, “Who is calling on Hamas to lay down its weapons and surrender and hand back the hostages?” I haven’t heard anyone outside of Israel doing that. That should be everybody’s number one priority. Not pressuring Israel to stop, but pressuring Hamas to stop. Now, I’m not saying that it would succeed, but I think that that would be something that most people should do.

And also people are saying Israel must establish safe areas for civilians to go to. They must protect civilians. Absolutely right. They must. But who is saying Egypt must open the borders? Egypt has a border with Gaza. Egypt must open that border and allow refugees who are under threat from this war to go and take refuge inside Egypt. No one is saying that. Very few anywhere are saying that. In fact, Egypt is a member of the African Union. As a member of the African Union, it has a legal obligation in these circumstances under an African Union refugee treaty to open its borders for these people. The law requires it of them. And yet no one knows that. No one is suggesting that.

In a way, I can understand Egypt’s position because the threat from Hamas to Israel is also a threat to Egypt. And the ideology of Hamas is not just a threat to Egypt. It’s a threat to the entire Arab world, which is why countries like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE want Israel to annihilate Hamas. That’s what they want. Behind the scenes, they’re encouraging Israel to do that. Publicly, of course, they’re saying something quite different, but that is the reality. So, in a way, you can’t blame Egypt because with the refugees will come a lot of Hamas terrorists who will threaten Egypt. So, it’s understandable. But the whole narrative is accusing Israel of acting as committing war crimes, etc. Well, it’s not correct. There should be an emphasis on what Egypt is doing as well. 

As to the options you have, Israel has two options. It’s a very binary situation. It’s straightforward, and it’s absolutely clear. You can say there are Hamas terrorists in Gaza and they threaten Israel, as we’ve seen graphically on the 7th of October and many times before that and after that. We have to destroy this threat, but we will kill innocent civilians. Therefore, we will not destroy the threat. We cannot kill any innocent civilians. So, we will leave the threat intact. We will leave Hamas there to [repeat] the 7th of October. 

Or the other option, you say we can’t accept this threat to our people, and no country would tolerate this. We can’t accept it. We know that innocent civilians will die. As long as we do everything we can to minimize that, we’re going to go and destroy Hamas. Frankly, that is the only valid and realistic option.

I’ve heard many experts, academic experts and even some military experts saying, Israel should not be acting in this way. Israel should be dealing with this problem in a different way. But I haven’t heard one single person giving any credible solution to it. What is the alternative? No one has any ideas.

Yahya Sinwar. He was released as part of that 2011 prisoner exchange. And part of this recent truce involved the exchange of prisoners. Should we be concerned? Presumably the answer is, “Yes.” Should we be concerned about the release of prisoners who become future Hamas terrorists?

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. We should be concerned. Actually, the case you mentioned of Yahya Sinwar, who was released—he was a convicted prisoner of Israel for a long time. He was released in a hostage deal in exchange for a kidnapped IDF soldier called Gilad Shalit. That hostage deal involved the exchange of Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Hamas prisoners. The fact that Hamas on this occasion was willing to exchange one hostage for three prisoners shows the weakness of their position. It shows that they were desperate because it’s not the normal ratio they would push for.

But you’re absolutely right that after Yahya Sinwar was released, he then took over as the leader of Hamas in Gaza. This plan was his plan—the 7th of October. It was his plan. He’s a very dangerous man. There are other very dangerous people who have been released by Israel as well. They weren’t, as with previous prisoner releases, released in Israel and sent into Gaza to live there. Most of these, if not all of these prisoners have been released. So, they’re all terrorists. They’re all people who have been held in Israeli jails for terrorist offenses.

But all of them have been released into the West Bank, Judea, and Samaria. And there they present a threat. There’s Hamas infrastructure there already. They will add to it. They will present significant dangers to civilians and the military in Israel.

The argument is that Hamas has been significantly weakened in a military sense. There’s also the sense of public opinion. We have worldwide protests. We have [what’s taking place at the U.N.], and several Arab nations, despite what they say behind closed doors, [showing support for the Palestinian cause]. And there’s anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses. There does seem to be this sense that Hamas is to some extent, “winning a war of public opinion,” hearts and minds, so to speak. I don’t know that I have a strong opinion on that either way. Do you? And the importance of that question is how it affects the war effort and the ability to eradicate Hamas.

I think you’re absolutely right that world opinion has been very, very heavily influenced in many, many cases in favor of Hamas. I think any decent person would be absolutely horrified by what happened on 7th of October, if nothing else. There are people who rejoiced at it and celebrated, including people in the Arab world, obviously in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria. But most people wouldn’t. However, I’ve heard many people saying, and I think it’s quite a common narrative that, “Okay, it was terrible, but Israel had it coming. Israel asked for it. Israel is illegitimate; it stole Palestinian land. It has illegal settlers; it has an illegal occupation; it’s an apartheid state,” none of which is true.

But that is what many people believe. Therefore, this is legitimate resistance against that illegitimate state. Now, that is the result of a very, very long propaganda campaign, probably the greatest slur campaign in the history of the world and the most successful slur campaign to delegitimize Israel. 

It started in the 1960s. I won’t go into too much detail because we’re short [on] time. But it started in the Soviet Union. It was a plan concocted by the KGB in Moscow with the cooperation of Egypt to create a war of national liberation to undermine the state of Israel. The reason was not necessarily to get rid of Israel but to use Israel as a weapon in effect against the United States and the U.K., who were the two most influential powers in the Middle East at the time. That narrative has been maintained. It’s been fueled. It’s been built to this extent today, where whatever Israel does, almost whatever Israel does, it’s in the wrong, however it operates. And the poor Hamas terrorists and the other terrorists are purely freedom fighters.

It’s incredibly hard to break that narrative, if not impossible to break that narrative. But those people who are chanting “from the river to the sea,” they’re just repeating the Soviet Union’s narrative of the war of national liberation. And when it comes to the effect on Israel, I think the effect of this—the direct effect on Israel’s capability of fighting and defending itself—is pretty small.

The only real influence, external influence on Israel is the United States of America, the government of the U.S. And, of course, the government of the U.S. is affected by the anti-Israel propaganda campaign because many voters in the U.S. have become victims of that campaign themselves. The U.S. government has to take note of their views, and, of course, it does.

This campaign has contributed to U.S. government pressure on Israel to ease up, shall we say, on its combat work. The biggest concern I have for this campaign and for this narrative against Israel is not really Israel. It’s Jews in the diaspora, Jews who are living outside Israel in the U.S. and Europe, in the U.K., who have suffered immensely over many years, particularly university students where the anti-Israel campaign is most rife. But since this war began, [there have been] massive, very large scale, very aggressive protests in London and other cities in Europe and in the U.S., which intimidate Jews.

They’re designed to intimidate Jews. That’s their purpose. They want to cow the Jewish community in our countries to abrogate any support for Israel because a lot of political support in different countries around the world is influenced by the Jewish diaspora in those countries, and understandably so. The more Jews that turn on Israel…that see their misfortunes and the victimization and the violence against them and the abuse against them, which take many different forms.

One answer to that is to turn on Israel and many, many Jews around the world, I know a lot of them, a lot of Jews around the world have turned on Israel, particularly younger people, students, etc.

What is ultimately the end game of critics of so-called apartheid and genocide and so on? If you want to be as charitable as possible, you might say they just want Israel to stop bombing civilians, to put it graphically. They want Israel to treat the Palestinians like human beings, and so on and so forth. That presumably is the way they would describe it. But it does feel like there’s a little bit more to it than that. It’s always going to depend on who you talk to, but with river to the sea rhetoric is the idea that we are seeing not only a call for the end of Israel, maybe that’s putting it extremely, but at least a rising current of anti-Semitism throughout the world. What is the end game? 

I associate anti-Semitism directly with anti-Zionism, because Zionism—people don’t really understand, in many cases, what it means—it just means the existence and the development of the Jewish state. That’s what it means. You can oppose different policies of the Israeli government as you can any government. But if you oppose the idea of a Jewish state, then that makes you anti-Semitic in my book. I don’t know of anybody that opposes the existence of Islamic states, for example, around the world, all those Christian states that exist, not very many of them now. But, you know, that to me is pure anti-Semitism.

There is a narrative that says something very different to what I’m about to say. It’s a deliberately constructed narrative. That is the narrative of the two-state solution. The objective of Hamas is not to have its own state. It’s not to live in a separate state alongside a Jewish state. It’s to get rid of the Jewish state. That is also the objective of the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria, though they don’t say it publicly in English; certainly, that’s their objective. They’ve been offered their own state numerous times going right back to 1936. They’ve been given the offer of a separate state for Arabs in this area.

They’ve rejected them every time, even when those offers have given them virtually everything they could ever possibly hope for if they wanted to live in peace alongside a Jewish state. And, actually, a recent opinion poll in the West Bank showed the majority of respondents to that poll do not support the idea of a two-state solution. In fact, in my view, nobody cares what state exists. They just want to rid themselves of Israel.

If you think back when Judea and Samaria, the West Bank and Gaza, were, respectively, under Jordanian and Egyptian illegal occupation, after the War of Independence in 1948, there was no call then to establish them as independent separate states. It’s not what the requirement is. The requirement is the destruction of Israel. And, therefore, in my book, it is entirely anti-Semitic. We’re not talking about this as a difference.

It’s a religious war. It’s always been a religious war. The Russians—the Soviet Union, rather—as I mentioned before, tried to change that from being a religious war into being a war of national liberation.

It is not that at all. It’s a religious war.

There is a report that came out of The New York Times [on December 2nd] about the so-called Jericho Wall document. Israeli authorities had possession of the plan. It’s a 40-page document outlining all the things that Hamas wanted to do on October 7th. Then, we saw it happen on October 7. It reminds you of the 9/11 report talking about there being blinking red lights all over—a failure of imagination and so on. Obviously, Israel is trying to prevent the next plot from becoming the next attack. But it is very difficult to do that. There were discussions about what to do about this. They thought that Hamas ultimately was not capable of carrying it out. Is that a failure of imagination, a failure fully and successfully [to] evaluate the capability of the enemy? Why didn’t they follow through?

It’s a very good question. I think we can only speculate now about the reasons behind that. We will see [for sure] when this conflict is over. Let’s not forget this conflict is not necessarily going to be over when Gaza is dealt with. We have a huge problem in the north as well on the Lebanese border with another Iranian proxy, Hezbollah. But, at some stage, there’s going to be a reckoning of this situation. There’ll be very in-depth investigations into what happened. Why? Because it was very clearly a failing. It was a failure of intelligence. It was a failure of defense. And it was a failure of reaction on the part of the IDF, which I think surprised everybody.

The IDF and Israeli intelligence have very, very good reputations as effective military and intelligence forces. So, what happened? I’m sorry to be slightly pedantic here, but I don’t think it was actually a failure of intelligence collection. Because, as you mentioned, the Jericho war document and various other intelligence reports strongly suggested something else was going to happen. So, it wasn’t so much the intelligence itself that failed; it was the assessment of that intelligence—and the way that the senior people in Israeli security, the IDF government overall, viewed the information that was at their disposal, and they had a lot of information from different sources, which could have stopped this attack.

I believe what we saw was probably over a period of maybe up to two years, possibly more, we saw a very, very sophisticated deception plan by Hamas, to make Israel believe that Hamas was no longer a threat to Israel. I’m sure this was deliberately done. I can’t give you evidence to back that up. But I’ve been [to Israel] many times; I’ve discussed the threat with Israeli intelligence and military officials numerous times over the years. They were convinced that Hamas had no offensive designs on Israel at the moment and for the foreseeable future, [as well as] that Hamas was focused on the economic development of the Gaza Strip. That’s what they believed.

I’ll give you a couple of brief illustrations of how that deception, I believe, was conducted. It shows you the sophistication of it. The first example is the last two rounds of rocket attacks out of Gaza, came from Islamic Jihad, the smaller of the two major terrorist groups in Gaza. Hamas did not join in. Normally, when there are rocket attacks against Israel, it’s both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This time, these last two times, it was just Islamic Jihad. Consequently, because Israel believed that Hamas had no aggressive intention, they responded only against Islamic Jihad. They did not respond against Hamas. I believe that that was a deliberate plan concocted between Islamic Jihad and Hamas, with Iranian input, with Hezbollah input, to show the Israelis that though there was aggressive intent in Gaza, it wasn’t from Hamas. It wasn’t from the people who were governing Gaza. [It was] incredibly sophisticated and well organized, and it worked.

The second factor in all this was the uprise of violence in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. Over the last 18 months, two years, we’ve seen an intensive uprising, violence there against Israelis and against the military. Again, I believe that that was intended to do two things: to distract Israel’s attention away from Gaza, onto the West Bank, and to distract Israeli military assets, to have Israeli military assets moved from the Gaza border to this area.

So, there are numerous other components of the plan, of course, but that was what happened. I worked in intelligence for several years in Britain. I’ve seen examples of intelligence assessors, or intelligence agencies, becoming so convinced of their own arguments and their own perspective that even if they see something contradicting it, it’s quite hard to dislodge their preconceptions from their mind and to discount these inconvenient truths that seem to be coming out.

That’s what happened. The Jericho document is one example of that. The other reports of training going on inside Gaza, including with hang gliders, with mocked up villagers with bulldozers to knock down the wall. All this was just not believable, that Hamas had no intention of doing this. It was seen, I think, by Israeli intelligence as being bravado by Hamas; it’s showing their own people that they’re still strong fighters. It’s not real. They don’t intend to do this. And, of course, as you alluded to as well, an underestimation of the capabilities of Hamas, as well as its intent.

You mentioned earlier that the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other regimes, presumably, are secretly wanting Israel to crush Hamas, which points to a broader question about the geopolitics in the region. You have Iran as a central player here, Houthis, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so on. There’s the speculation about the extent of Iran’s involvement, which presumably will come out over time. But there’s speculation that it was essentially an attempt to undermine the attempt to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel together. Does that continue to happen after the war? How does this affect the geopolitical relations in the region?

I think you’re right that there’s a lot of speculation. I’m sure it’s true. From my knowledge of relationships, Iran is—without question—behind this attack. There are different views on the extent of that involvement. But, very clearly, Iran funds, supplies, [and] arms Hamas, Islamic Jihad, [and] Hezbollah. They’re proxies of Iran.

Whether Iran actually said, “Attack,” whether they didn’t, we don’t know. But we do know that this was enabled by Iran, almost certainly planned by Iran in detail. I watched a 45-minute video that was released by the IDF, which was shown to certain journalists, politicians, and diplomats. Very, very nasty material taken from 7th of October terrorist headcams, handheld camera footage, mobile phone footage, etc. It was horrific viewing. But one of the things that struck me very much was,  “These people were very well trained.” These are not ragtag terrorists dragged out of Gaza. These are very well-trained people that had all the hallmarks of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps all over it, from their actions, in my opinion.

I don’t think there’s any doubt about Iran’s involvement in one way or another. The fact that the normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia was going ahead…it was on track to be [completed] maybe by now. If [October 7th] hadn’t happened, we might have seen normalization between, or diplomatic relations between, these two countries. This was being strongly pushed [for] by the United States, and Iran couldn’t stomach it.

Iran and Saudi Arabia, even though they’ve reestablished their own diplomatic relations recently under Chinese auspices, they’re still deadly enemies. Iran couldn’t stand the idea of Saudi Arabia normalizing [ties] with Israel, which it is sworn to destroy. This certainly disrupted that process without a shadow of a doubt. As to whether it will re-emerge after this conflict depends, I think, to quite a large extent on how the conflict works out in the end. I think there’s a very good chance it will be brought back to life and perhaps in quite short order.

But what’s behind that? It’s not a love of Israel by Saudis any more than the Abraham Accords were a love of Israel by the UAE. It’s all about mutual interests. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries have a really strong interest in a strong Israel because a strong Israel is a bulwark against their enemy, Iran.

Of all the countries in the world, they know the one country that will undoubtedly stand up to Iran is Israel. Therefore, they need a strong Israel. They need Israel to defeat Hamas. They need Israel also in the north to defeat Hezbollah, or at least to push Hezbollah back. That’s one reason why it’s so important that Israel wins this fight.

It’s very much in the interests of regional stability, which affects all of us around the world. It’s why the U.S. should not join in the fight. I mean, we have two U.S. carrier strike groups, one in the eastern Mediterranean, one in the Gulf, and they’re serving a good deterrent purpose. It’s very important they don’t join in unless it’s absolutely vital. [This is] because Israel must be seen to be a strong country standing up and defending itself [and] not with Big Brother across the Atlantic, coming in and helping. I think that is such an important message for the rest of the region, not only [for] the enemies, but also [for] the allies of Israel.

It’s also important for the U.S. because the U.S. does not have an interest in having very strong military forces in this region because the U.S. has other problems. One of those other problems is, of course, in Europe, the Ukraine war, and the other one is with China over Taiwan and other potential flashpoints there. So, in the U.S. interest, Israel needs to win this war. It needs to win it on its own and then stand strong, which will probably reduce the requirement for the U.S. to have major forces in this region to reassure allies like Saudi Arabia.


Jonathan Church is a contributing editor at Merion West. He is a government economist with a background in energy economics and inflation measurement. In addition to authoring several essays, he has published two books: Reinventing Racism: Why “White Fragility” Is the Wrong Way to Think about Racial Inequality and Virtue in an Age of Identity Politics: A Stoic Approach to Social Justice. He holds an undergraduate degree in economics and philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in economics from Cornell University. Contact Jonathan at

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