May 10, 2024 | Foreign Podicy

Saving Private Sinwar

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A war is being waged against Israel by Iran’s rulers and their proxies, and they don’t hide their goal — they boast of it: annihilation. Extermination. Genocide.

Now seven months into Israel’s defensive war in Gaza following the heinous terrorist attacks of October 7, Hamas is down but not out. And they are literally down: its leaders, including Yahya Sinwar, are believed to be ensconced in an elaborate labyrinth of tunnels underneath Rafah in Gaza, wherein the last remaining Hamas battalions remain.

Meanwhile, Israel also faces rocket fire from Hezbollah in Lebanon and, recently, from Iran itself.

President Biden’s response to all of this? Halting the delivery of weapons and ammunition to Israel.

To discuss what President Biden wants to accomplish, what America’s enemies and allies are gleaning from this episode, what options are open to Congressional supporters of Israel, and what Israel’s options are now, host Cliff May is joined by his FDD colleagues RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery, Bradley Bowman, and Richard Goldberg.

Transcript

MAY: A war is being waged against Israel by Iran’s rulers and by their many proxies, clients, foreign legions, and allies. Their goal is not subjugation, it’s annihilation, extermination, genocide. There can’t be any doubt about that. They don’t hide it, they boast about it. Hamas terrorists invaded Israel from Gaza last October and carried out multiple atrocities, heinous atrocities. Today, Hamas may be down, but it’s not out. And when I say down, I’m using the term literally. Its leaders including Yahya Sinwar are believed to be ensconced in an elaborate labyrinth of tunnels under Rafah, a Gazan city near the Egyptian border. Meanwhile, from Lebanon, Hezbollah rockets have turned northern Israeli cities into ghost towns. And Iran’s rulers just a few weeks ago, for the first time, from Iranian soil for launched hundreds of drones, ballistic and cruise missiles at Israel.

Arrow defenses prevented those missiles from reaching their intended victims. But Iran’s rulers, no doubt disappointed that they failed to kill thousands of Israelis, have suffered no punishment. We may presume they’re still dining on Caspian Sea caviar and drinking pomegranate mocktails. President Biden has responded to all this by halting the delivery of weapons and ammunition to Israel. His deputies say his commitment to Israel remains ironclad, but that he wants to prevent a wider Israeli attack on the Hamas stronghold in Rafah. The Wall Street Journal called what Biden is doing an arms embargo against America’s closet ally in the Middle East. The New York Post‘s headline on Biden’s policy, “Betrayed.” Is that fair? Is saving Private Sinwar what President Biden wants to accomplish? What are our America’s enemies and America’s allies learning from this episode? What options are open to congressional supporters of Israel who just last month voted to approve military aid to Israel, a bill pushed by President Biden? And what are Israel’s options now?

To discuss such questions, I’m joined by FDD’s Bradley Bowman, US army officer and former defense advisor in the Senate. Now, senior director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power. Also, Mark Montgomery, a retired Navy admiral, now senior director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation. Also, Rich Goldberg, a former director on the National Security Council. Now, a senior advisor at FDD.

I’m Cliff May, and I’m pleased you’ve decided to sit around this virtual table, also with us here on Foreign Podicy.

Monty and Rich and Brad, good to see you guys. Monty, I’m going to start with you because I remember having discussions with you sometime ago when Biden was first, how to say, talking smack about Israel. I mean really saying very bad things about Israel. Sorry for the technical jargon. And you said something like, “You know, Cliff. Talk is cheap, but the weapons are still flowing. Politicians will do what politicians do. Don’t worry about it too much.” But now, Biden’s actions are matching his words, what he told Erin Burnett on CNN, we’re not going to supply the weapons in the artillery shells that I assume Israel would need if it does want to take out the last four battalions in Rafah and go after the most important leaders who were, I’m sad to say, are still alive, most important Hamas leaders are still alive seven months or more into this war. What do you think about that, Monty?

MONTGOMERY: Thanks, first. No, you’re right. Things have changed. Probably most disconcertingly is President Biden’s statement that, “I support Israel’s right to defend itself, but I don’t support their right to wage war.” I mean, this is a fairly amateur understanding of deterrence. I mean, it’s nonsensical because, particularly in the case of Israel, one of the few countries that really does have threats on all sides. I mean, if you go to an Israeli Defense Force brief, you’re required to first spend the first 30 minutes hearing about all five fronts, and that’s fantastic. They’re legitimate. They exist. The one they least feared struck them. So, Israel has to be able to impose cost. That is how deterrence works. So, what he’s doing is hurting them here.

My personal opinion is that I think the IDF probably has the weaponry they need to execute the battle right in front of them. The real risk here is it is hollowing out, it’s getting them below the floor, the floor being the minimum number of weapons you need for the other threats they face. And that places them at existential risk from attacks from Hezbollah, attacks from Iranian proxies in the Golan, and attacks from Iran itself. So, deterrence does not work if Israel is not properly armed. Israel can’t be properly armed unless the United States transfers munitions. So, Joe Biden is cutting at the core of deterrence.

MAY: Rich, I listened to Senator Tom Cotton the other day and he said, and this is a quote from him, “Biden objectively favors a Hamas victory over Israel.” And I read some things that you’ve written recently, too. You suspect that that may be the case. Is that what you think? And if so, why?

GOLDBERG: I think it’s a stretch to say he favors a Hamas victory over Israel. I think that that is political rhetoric, but I think the effect of his policy might be that. And that he is strong-arming Israel into a unilateral position of surrender to an enemy that’s on its back heels and could be destroyed, could at least be dismantled from an operational perspective, of control of Gaza, command and control. And at this sort of eleventh hour of Hamas’s control of Gaza, is pulling Israel back from completing its objectives. Therefore, it is fair to say that the policy that he is pursuing right now as President, of holding Israel back, is one that leaves Hamas in power, leaves Hamas in control of wide swaths of Gaza, potentially because of their ability to continue to move around in areas where the IDF has withdrawn its forces while maintaining command and control potentially from Rafah in the tunnels between Rafah and Khan Yunis.

Now, that means that if you were to end the war today, as Hamas demands, and as one might say that Biden’s policies are trying to pressure Israel to concede, then Hamas reconstitutes. Hamas rebuilds. And several years from now, Hamas regains its ability to launch the kind of terrorist attacks that we saw over more than a decade, and, potentially, October 7th. So, you eventually get there to what Senator Cotton is saying within the political rhetoric, if you start looking at what is the policy and where does that lead. So, yes, it’s very concerning to me, and that’s why, by the way, this has become some sort of a partisan issue in the United States. It’s not a partisan issue in Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, yes, wants to go and to have an expanded operation to dismantle Hamas in Rafah and get into those tunnels. But so does the former centrist diverse Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who says he should have gone in months ago and still should. And by the way, so does the anti-Netanyahu war cabinet member Benny Gantz, who favors going in with an expanded operation. So, this is really sort of a unified position in Israel because they understand what it means to leave Hamas intact, to end the war prematurely. Not to mention not getting your hostages back. It’s only here in the United States because of, whatever, the domestic political pressures, the protest movements, fear of the DNC backlash to Chicago, whatever it is that’s driving the president’s U-turn here, as Monty talked about, that is making it a partisan issue here. It’s not a partisan issue in Israel.

MAY: When Hamas demands a ceasefire or when Hamas supporters and others here demand a ceasefire, it’s pretty clear they’re demanding that the Israelis cease firing. What people seem to forget is that Hamas hasn’t ceased firing to the extent it still has weapons, and it does its cease firing. So, for example, there’s the Kerem Shalom Crossing, which is between Gaza and Israel, and the Israelis were opening that up to bring aid in, additional source of aid. And Hamas rocketed it. Hamas killed four Israeli soldiers in that rocket attack. I heard very few people say, “Oh my God, what a terrible thing. What a tragedy.” What I heard was mostly, “Well, they should clean up those dead soldiers quickly and get that aid moving through that crossing again.” No one seemed to say, “Oh my God, Hamas so doesn’t care about its Gazan people, that it is even rocketing the place through which the aid comes in.” Aid which often is stolen by Hamas, used for itself or sold to raise money for Hamas.

It seems to me the Israelis would’ve been perfectly justified to say, “If Hamas is going to hit border crossings where we’re bringing an aid, we’ll have to stop for a while. Shouldn’t Hamas care a little bit about its own people?” Now, I want you to talk about this for a second, Brad, but I want to add one other angle to that, and that is there are Israeli troops in Rafah and around Rafah now, and the most recent thing that they have accomplished is they are on the border with Egypt, along the Philadelphi Corridor, that’s the long border, and they are at the crossing with Egypt.

It seems to me, but I’m not sure Brad, that that’s important. By being there, they can, at least for now, stop additional weapons coming in from Egypt to Hamas in those tunnels. But we also suspect that there are tunnels underground under that Philadelphi Corridor that won’t be quite so easy for the… They can do it, but it’ll be harder for the Israelis to knock those tunnels out, so more goods, more weapons, can’t be smuggled from Egypt. Can you talk a little bit about the situation I’ve just described?

BOWMAN: Sure. Thanks, Cliff. Great to be on with my friends, Mark and Rich. I think you said it well. I think one of the minimum things that Israel has to do militarily is it has to gain control of that Philadelphi Corridor, and it has to gain control in some way of the Rafah Crossing, primarily for the purpose of ensuring that the flow of weapons and munitions into Gaza ends. That is a minimum. So, we can debate Rafah this, how do you do it? When do you do it? All that. But at a minimum from an Israeli, and I would say American national security perspective, you have to have control of that Philadelphi Corridor. That means a robust barrier above ground with not just technology, right? We learned that lesson not properly guarded by human beings with combat forces ready to reinforce quickly, above ground and below ground. And you got to be able to stop the flow, be confident that we don’t have Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others replenishing themselves. So, to me, that’s fairly clearcut.

MAY: Could you just describe for me how do you do that below ground? Does that require explosives? Is it technological? How do you do that?

BOWMAN: Yeah. No, this is actually something during my time on the Hill that I was very involved with in helping my boss draft authorization to approve and ultimately provide funding for US-Israel cooperation on terror tunnel detection. So, Israel has been a real leader at this for years out of necessity. And as you and I have talked about before, the initial focus was on detecting and then destroying tunnels coming in under the international border, so terrorists could come up in the middle of the night and kill Israeli men, women, and children in their beds. Now, with the incursion in Gaza following October 7th, they’ve built on those technologies, made them a little bit expeditionary if you would’ve moved them into combat areas. And so, Israel, as we speak, is I think one of the most capable militaries in the world into detecting and destroying tunnels. I’m confident they’re going to bring all those capabilities and know-how that they’ve developed over many years to working the issues with the border between Gaza and Egypt, for sure.

Real quick, if I may Cliff, on the other thing, is that your point about the ceasefire and the mortar attacks and all that, I mean, just reminding the listeners of something they know: Hamas has said they want to do October 7th again. They’ve continued to hold the hostages obviously, and they continue to attack Israelis. And we had the IDF soldiers killed. And by the way, as you said, they not only attacked the crossing where Israelis and others were trying to bring in food and water to hungry people, but we also saw that mortar attack on the area associated with the pier, another place where we’re trying to bring in food and water. So, if anyone needed a reminder that Hamas doesn’t give a darn about Palestinian civilians, there’s a few anecdotes.

And then lastly I’ll say, just building on Rich’s great response to your question, which I really appreciate the nuanced way that Rich said that. Let me just highlight from an Associated Press story yesterday, one of the things that President Biden said, I think this was in the CNN interview. This is a direct quote from the President of the United States: “We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas. We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas.” What are those areas? Rafah. Who’s in those areas? Yeah, several battalions of Hamas. Many of those individuals who are believed to have actually participated in October 7th.

So, the President of the United States just said he’s walking away from Israel’s ability go after the people who did October 7th. I don’t think we can miss that, go over that too lightly. Holy cow, what a big deal. And just last point, if you look at the comments that Biden said and the comments of what Secretary Austin said, there was a little nuance, and I don’t know if there’s this daylight, the left hand not talking to the right hand, whether Austin didn’t get the memo or what’s going on. Austin essentially said, if you look at his testimony, he said, “Hey, don’t go into Rafah unless you take concerns related to civilians. Move civilians, protect civilians.” Biden, if you read it, just a plain reading of it says, “Don’t go into Rafah.” And those are two very different things.

I’m all for it. Let’s move as many civilians as possible. It’s the right thing to do, the law of war thing, sustain support for Israel, sustain the flow of American weapons. I’ve been saying that forever. But saying that, “Let’s move the civilians out,” knowing that Hamas is going to try to prevent that, of course, versus, “Don’t go in there at all.” I’m not prone to bombast, but that is an egregious position from the President of the United States if you’re saying you can’t ever go into Rafah where you have several battalions, including some individuals who were engaged in the atrocities of October 7th.

MAY: Go ahead, Mark.

MONTGOMERY: Yeah, Cliff, if I can circle back just coming back on deterrence and then sticking with the theory of hypocrisy. For the last three months, yourself, myself, Brad, others from FDD have been on the Hill in public talking about the need to fund Ukraine because at its core, it’s a deterrence issue. And John Kirby couldn’t have lectured the Republicans less frequency than once a day that they weren’t properly backing up the American deterrent approach to the world unless they voted for this Ukraine assistance. They hammered and hammered and hammered. It was all about deterrence. Then they turn around and we have an Iranian-backed proxy attacking and attacking and attacking Israel. And our option is we’re going to stand back from this? You can’t have it both ways. At the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, we believe even defending all of them. And we believe that they’re facing a lot of… These authoritarian regimes are all linked together to some degree, to a degree we’ve never seen before. The idea that we’re selective in who we deter, and then the rank hypocrisy of lecturing on deterrence when the House Republicans were slow to pass Ukrainian assistance and then walking away from Israel at the time they most need our support in deterrence. It’s completely illogical unless you put this through a domestic political November 2024 frame, which is absolutely… politics is supposed to stop at the water’s edge. This president has never believed that, and he’s never acted like that, and he’s certainly not acting like that now. And it really is a disgraceful thing to watch.

MAY: Two things. One is, it gets to a point that Brad has made many times: there’s a difference between deterrence by denial and deterrence by punishment. So, deterrence by denial says, “Okay, you tried to kill us. You failed. Ha ha ha. But feel free to try again, and maybe you’ll succeed at some point.” Deterrence by punishment means, “You did something bad to us, or you attempted to. You are going to hurt badly as a result of this, which should give you pause about whether you want to try to do this again.” We have the same thing, for example, with the Houthis. “Okay, you’re shooting missiles at ships. Ha ha, ha, we’re going to shoot down those missiles. But if Iran supplies you with more missiles and you want to try again, you go ahead because we’re not going to do too much to you to punish you for doing that. We’re not going to wipe you out.” It’s all defensive, and being purely defensive just buys a little time.

Rich, I want you to address that. But there’s one other thing, and I’ll forget if I don’t mention it. It seems to me what Monty is talking about, this change of tone, I think that early on President Biden was saying, “Okay, you can’t go into Rafah until and unless you have a good plan to get the civilians out.” But I think he’s changed his tune. He’s now essentially said, “And I haven’t seen a plan good enough. I don’t think you can come up with one. Therefore, you can’t do it.” By the way, this also reinforces Hamas’s strategy of using civilians voluntarily or at the point of a gun as human shields. That is illegal under international law. It’s illegal under American law.

But essentially President Biden is saying, “You know what? We have to respect if they use human shields. Well, what can we do about it? If that works, it works. And if it works in this instance against Israelis, maybe it works in other instance against others fighting terrorism.” And so you are encouraging and in a sense legitimizing the use of women and children for human shields so long as you say that “anytime civilians, including women and children are killed, we will not blame those who are using the civilians as human shields, we will blame the Israelis.”

Now, maybe that’s only because it’s Israelis, and in any other circumstance that wouldn’t happen, or maybe not. But they are essentially negating the laws that are on the books, and meanwhile they’re looking at Israeli adherence to international laws. You hear nothing about Hamas’s egregious violations. You hear from Sheryl Sandberg who has made a movie about the rapes, but you’re certainly not hearing it from the UN or from Amnesty International properly, or from any of the other organizations, or from most of the media. That’s a long question, Rich, but take off from it where you will.

GOLDBERG: Well, there’s a lot to cover there, but let’s step back a little bit. Before we get into some of what you just mentioned, I do think you’re right. The president or his political team or his re-election team, whatever it is, has decided that Rafah has become such a symbol for his base. It has just become this mythical genocide that will happen if you allow the Israelis to clear out four battalions in this city, no matter what they do to mitigate civilian harm, no matter what evacuation they do, the whole concept of Israel being allowed to go into Rafah is just the bridge too far now. And because the Israelis have been in a holding pattern for several months here trying to work with the administration, figure out, “Okay, how do we work together? Let’s keep our disagreements behind closed doors. We want your help. We got a lot of other fronts that we’re fighting. We got Hezbollah in the north, we got Iran, we got the UN. How do we work this up?”

There was Ramadan. Everybody was fearing, “Oh, we can’t escalate during Ramadan.” There’s Intel that the Iranians are going to use this as a pretext to go to Al-Aqsa Mosque and burn down the Middle East. So there’s no invasion of Rafah for another month there. And then suddenly all this time goes by, and these protests start getting more intensified. The campuses start erupting in unprecedented ways. The president’s own team is getting convulsed by, for lack of a better word, the pro-Hamas encampment inside the administration similar to a university campus. And he’s now latched onto this. In his mind, he just can’t go there. He just can’t go there. And I think he also has this sort of columnist brain going on where he’s reading a Washington Post or a New York Times columnist who’s saying, “You need to get tough with Bibi, Mr. President. You need to show them who’s boss. You’re getting pushed around by the Israelis here, and you look weak because of it.” And I think he believes that.

And so, he’s now internalized that he’s going to have to show the Israelis who is boss, and this is a red line for his base, and therefore he will do anything possible to keep the Israelis from having a major operation in Rafah, which of course is where you lead back to our original conversation about Senator Cotton’s tweet of de facto allowing Hamas victory by not losing. So, that’s sort of what’s going on here politically. I do want to make a couple of points here on the defensive-offensive distinction, because I think it’s really important for everybody to latch onto. Monty made this really, really pointed statement early on when he talked about if you have no offense, if you have no ability to wage warfare. If you have no defense, you have no deterrence.

The president is using language now, trying to separate the concept of offensive military weapons and defensive military weapons. As if you can have a defense, as if you can be the size of New Jersey with 200,000 missiles and rockets on your northern border and 50,000 Hezbollah forces, thousands of special forces right on your border. You can have Hamas in Gaza, you can have terror cells throughout the West Bank, you can have the Houthis in Yemen firing ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones, militias in Iraq and Syria firing all the same, Iran now firing that directly at your territory with hundreds of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones, and more, potentially, in the future. And you can have a solid defense just with the Iron Dome and Arrow missile system, and we can just cut you off of JDAMs and other munitions, and you don’t need tank shells and artillery shells for a ground war in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

I mean, this idea that you would make this distinction and say, “Those are offensive military systems.” No, they’re not. They’re core to the defense of the state of Israel. They’re the core to the defense of any democracy to be able to wage war, to be able to push back, to fight back. So the doctrine that he’s trying to lay out here is, where he is heading, if the president continues down this path of saying, “I will only support defensive capabilities for Israel,” is a democracy supposed to become a turtle and just get inside its shell and hope to God all the bad people with missiles and rockets don’t have enough to penetrate the shell one day? That is not sustainable. The United States would never live like that. One point.

Second point is this. There is a symmetry between his posture on Ukraine and his posture now on Israel and the language he uses about, “I’m for the defense of these countries.” He’s not for the victory of these countries, ever. When he stood with Zelensky and said, “We will defend Ukraine for as long as it takes.” He never said we were going to bring victory as soon as it can be achieved. And now it’s, “We’ll defend Israel. I’m always going to committed to the defense of Israel, but I’m not ever going to be committed to the victory of Israel.” That is majorly problematic for allies.

MONTGOMERY: Can I jump in, Cliff?

MAY: Yeah, sure.

MONTGOMERY: Remember the first thing we offered Zelensky was a flight out. We’d offer Netanyahu a flight out too. But listen, on this thing, it’s very important. Brad and I have written about this, that in the Ukraine example, just like Rich said, every weapon system that could be offensive or defensive, ATACMS, which is a long-range artillery around 150 kilometers to 300 kilometers, the guided missile launcher rocket system, which is about 90 kilometers, the M1A1 tanks, people know what that is. The F-16 fighters, people know about those. Every one of those, the Biden administration went through an angst-ridden, months- to even year-long decision-making tree on whether to provide it or not for fear of provoking Russia. It’s a complete misunderstanding of deterrence that applies in the Ukraine case. We now have enough data points to say this is pathological. They do not understand how you deal with authoritarians. In a weird way, we mock President Trump for like, “I’ll negotiate our way out of this.” He talks smack like that. Biden practices it.

I mean, he self-negotiates with dictators and with authoritarians all the time. Right now, he’s self-negotiating with Iran. If you see Iran as the kind of architect of what’s going on and the threats to Israel, he’s negotiating with them. Now, the word ‘Iran’ is never said, but that’s what’s going on here. And Iran will not be deterred by the sale of Tamir missiles or Iron Dome and weapons for David Sling. That will not deter Iran. What will deter Iran is defeating their proxies on the battlefield, and that’s where we need to be. What will deter Russia is defeating their forces on the battlefield. And so from my perspective, this is a continuous chain of not smart thinking. I’m sorry, Brad.

BOWMAN: Oh no. If I may, I totally agree. And Cliff, I just want to add on Rich’s great comments as well on the offense-defense distinction. I cannot believe we’re to this point in the context of the U.S.-Israel relationship. I can’t believe we hear people talking about “leverage” on Israel. Oh my goodness, after October 7th, we’re talking about exercising American leverage on Israel? How about some leverage on Hamas? So, start with that, and start with this: every defense sooner or later fails, no matter how awesome. Right? Military history is replete with examples of people that focus solely or primarily on defense losing or things not going well.

So, deterrence, you got to have offensive defense, this is related to deterrence by denial, deterrence by punishment. Deterrence by denial is essentially a defensive concept. Punishment is essentially an offensive concept. You need both to have strong deterrence, but anyone who’s been an infantryman in the army in a squad all the way up to an admiral who’s commanded a carrier strike group like Mark Montgomery understands that almost any weapon you want to talk about in one moment can be defensive and the next moment is going to be offensive.

Is a M16 an offensive, defensive weapon? Well, if you’re on a guard post at night defending a base, I call that defensive. If you’re assaulting through an enemy trench, I would call that offensive. An M1 tank’s parked on the DMZ in South Korea, I’d call that defensive. A precision-guided munition launched at a Hezbollah rocket or missile that’s about to hit a skyscraper in Tel Aviv, I’d call that a defensive strike using a weapon that Biden would call offensive. So any infantryman who served in the army all the way up to an admiral understands that this distinction, and of course Rich has served with a great honor and continues to serve as well, is ridiculous. And by the way, I’ve seen this applied to some other countries in the Middle East, and it was silly then. It’s silly and egregious when you start talking about it with respect to our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.

GOLDBERG: And Brad, by the way, what a great comment. I ask everybody to go to the Central Command’s Twitter page, their Twitter handle, or “X” as we must call it now. Go to CENTCOM on X, and just start scrolling all of their posts whenever they’ve carried out a strike against Houthi targets that are about to launch at the U.S. Navy. They call them ‘defensive strikes’. They are certainly not using missiles that President Biden considers defensive.

BOWMAN: You’re exactly right, Rich, and just tying that great point and the other point you made, when you have strategic depth, you can take a little risk on, quote-unquote, “offensive.” With a country roughly the size of New Jersey that is, what, 10 to 15 miles at its narrowest point wide, strategic depth is not a luxury you have. So offensive capability becomes all the more fundamental to the defense of the nation.

MAY: I’ll just raise this, and it’s probably another discussion, but it’s something in the back of my mind, but I’d love you to think about over time, which is that we in the U.S. but we in the West in general no longer really want to win wars. We only want exit strategies. So, the most obvious example is Afghanistan. We were, I would say, suppressing Al-Qaeda. We were keeping the Taliban in the countryside, out of the major cities. We were in places like Kabul, women could work, could go to school, could be pretty much free in the streets. There were terrorism, but a lot was achieved, and we hadn’t had another strike from Al-Qaeda since 9/11. And President Biden says, “No, no, no, my great achievement is going to be to withdraw from Afghanistan completely.” And he ends up turning the country over to the Taliban again and to its ally, Al-Qaeda.

And he leaves behind billions of dollars’ worth of weapons that, by the way, the Israelis would sure like to have right now, would be my guess. But I mean, this goes back a long way, maybe as far as the Korean War, we decided, whatever reasons may be good, we can’t win the Korean War. We’ll just freeze it in place with an armistice, and I’m sure things will work out better. And the result of that, of course, is that that dynasty, Kim Jong Un, now has nuclear weapons. He has missiles to deliver them. They’re getting more sophisticated all the time. Not winning wars, only having exit strategies, only freezing things in place, and maybe that’s what President Biden sees is, “let’s freeze this conflict with Hamas in place.” That’s not, seems to me, a really good solution. Go ahead, Brad.

BOWMAN: I completely agree, and I refer to it too often, but our December 2020 Defending Forward monograph had a foreword in it by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. And one of the key points he made in that, a point that I don’t think we can repeat enough, and the good folks over at the Quincy Institute need to hear it, is that every military intervention requires scrutiny and so does every military withdrawal. Some military interventions are stupid and so are some military withdrawals. It’s not an incoherent position to say that, “Hey, the 2003 Iraq invasion may be good, may be not good, but the withdrawal in 2011 against the advice of commanders and ignoring conditions on the ground was dumb.” That’s not incoherent to say “the intervention was dumb and the withdrawal was dumb.” Those are completely coherent positions that a sane person, AKA me, might feel.

BOWMAN: So, there’s this kind of reflexive, I’ve said it before, ideology in some quarters that there’s no problem in the world, there’s no angst among an adversary that can’t be addressed by simply withdrawing American forces. Because after all, American forces are the problem. We’re the bad guys. We’re not the good guys, so just withdraw us and then everyone will love us. Of course, that’s ridiculous. Students of history understand. Ridiculous. And of course, our adversaries like Vladimir Putin have an agenda. They’re going to push forward with their bayonet as far as they can go until they hit something hard. They’re going to do that. They’re going to pursue that. Terrorists are going to want to kill us. That’s what they believe. They believe it deeply and sincerely. They’re sincerely wrong and sincerely evil. The only question for us is, “How do we respond?” And as H.R. McMaster said, there’s this real ‘strategic narcissism’ here that everything is a reaction to us.

No, other people have agency, to use a term loved in academia. Agency. They’ve got agency. They’ve got agendas, and they’re going to pursue those agendas. The question is, “How do we respond?” And we have partners like Ukraine, like Israel, that are willing to fight our common adversaries. They’re asking for the means to do it. So don’t talk to me, Quincy Institute, about ending endless wars. There are no American service members fighting in Ukraine. Israel’s not asking for Americans to come fight in Gaza. Are we smart enough? Have we learned history enough to give our partners the weapons they need to defend themselves, defend our common interest, and take the fight to our common adversaries? It’s a no-brainer, wise investment.

MAY: And if you don’t want endless wars, maybe the answer is to actually win a war, as opposed to freeze it in place or agree to an uncomfortable armistice for awhile. Go ahead, Mark.

MONTGOMERY: Yeah, Cliff. What I’d say is I also think we haven’t come to grips with the fact that as a superpower, we do need to maintain forces overseas. In other words, we, at the end… Not immediately at the end of World War II, but as we began to see what the Soviet threat would be, we had an initial drawdown of US forces back. By 1954, ’55, we’d begun to increase our forces back in Europe to the point where we maintained nearly 500,000 forces for 35 years in Europe. And then suddenly maintaining 3,500 forces in Bagram, two administrations in a row have felt that this is a burden the United States public cannot bear. And I’ll tell you, if you go to the military… I’ve not run into military people who go, “That overseas deployment is what broke my service.” Now, not properly rotating people, not having the right numbers of people and things, that can be it. I would just say at the end game of Afghanistan, 3,500 troops was not breaking any service. That was just bad political thought process.

MAY: We have about 28,000 in South Korea, I should point out.

MONTGOMERY: 28,500, yeah. And then a few rotational, and we have–

MAY: Since I was in diapers.

MONTGOMERY: Yeah. We have 50,000 in Japan. We still have almost 100,000 right now in Europe. A number, by the way, that grew under the Trump administration. So, sometimes when President Trump says, “I want to withdraw things from Europe,” things don’t always happen. We’re right around 90 to 100,000 right now.

MAY: Fewer troops in Africa, but as the Russians and Chinese move in and take over and exploit resources there.

BOWMAN: Cliff, I just did a conversation with Lieutenant General Basham and Ambassador Burns. General Basham is the deputy commander of US-European Command. And we talked about this, and Mark knows it well based on his senior leadership position he held over at EUCOM a few years back, just the value of American foreign posture. And it goes back to signaling military capability and political will. When you put Americans there, you’re saying, “Hey, we have the military capability and the political will to deter aggression,” which makes the aggression less likely, and you’re building partner capacity by having American forces forward, thereby over the medium to long-term reducing the security burden on ourselves, and you’re helping our forces operate more effectively with partner forces.

And our ability, because of contested logistics to get forces from the continent of the United States forward over thousands of miles is more difficult now. Sports fans, this is not the 1991 anymore, right? One of the things that they brought up in our conversation was contested logistics. Mark Montgomery knows this well. You can’t assume we’re going to be able to get forces from CONUS quickly and unimpeded in a future conflict, thereby increasing the importance of having forces forward before the shooting starts.

MAY: I wonder, is there a loophole in what President Biden is saying, and here’s what it might possibly be. You guys tell me. He has been saying, “I don’t want major operations in Rafah. I don’t want a full-scale offensive in Rafah. I don’t want an all-out invasion of Rafah.” Well, we’ve mentioned that we have seen the Israelis take over the Gaza side of the Philadelphi Corridor. They’re doing that with tanks. That’s not a major operation. It’s not a full-scale offensive. It’s not an all-out invasion.

Is it possible that the Israelis can say or signal, “We’re not doing what President Biden has asked us not to do. We’re doing our best to get the civilians out of any conflict zones, but we have some targets and we’re going to attack those targets over time, and we don’t think this should be any good reason to stop weapons coming to us. And by the way,” and this is an important point, “if the US continues to help us by giving us precision weapons, well, that means we can be more precise and we have a better chance of sparing civilians except for those who are absolutely being used, again, voluntarily or at gunpoint, as human shields because we can’t say, ‘Oh, that particular cell of Hamas we can’t hit, because they’re putting people outside it.’ We can’t abide by Hamas rules.”

Any thoughts on whether this is possible? And that allows Biden to sound like he’s really getting tough. After all, he said, “Don’t, don’t, don’t,” to Iran, and Iran said, “Yeah, sure, you don’t tell us what to do.” So, at least, he can say, “Don’t,” to the Israelis, maybe they’ll take his orders. What do you guys think? Nobody?

GOLDBERG: I’ll jump first.

MAY: Go ahead, Rich.

GOLDBERG: I think this has been a theory for awhile now, and I think a lot of people who, even if they’re critical of the president, were still trying to believe that that’s sort of what he was working towards, that he’s got his domestic politics, it’s rough, he’s trying to throw a bone to these far-left protestors, he’s trying to get through November, and if he can figure out behind closed doors, “Hey, is there a different strategy? Is there a different ground operation? Can you move this way and that way? And can this take six months instead of three weeks, if you do it a different way that goes incrementally?” You know, that still could play out like that. What have the Israelis done so far? They secured the border with Egypt. That was important. No matter how you stage an operation, you would need to go there first.

I’m a little concerned that they have no real seal on evacuations from western Rafah to the north, and certainly, with the tunnel infrastructure intact, the ability to keep moving between Rafah and Khan Younis seems pretty easy for Hamas. But again, I’m not privy to the detail of their ISR and what they’re watching and what they believe Hamas is doing and how they’re moving and their ability to interdict some sort of evacuation from Rafah while they’re moving into a certain neighborhood. But let’s assume the Israelis have accounted for that in some way, I hope. Then yes, you could take it neighborhood by neighborhood, which was sort of the plan. You have a million and a half people in Rafah, you can’t just evacuate them overnight, and the Israelis cannot be responsible for that sort of casualty level.

If you just start mass bombing Rafah with a million and a half people there, they won’t do it and they shouldn’t do it. So, they start with an eastern neighborhood. They have an evacuation order for 100,000. Can they clear the neighborhood in a week, a week and a half, two weeks? Do you move on to the next neighborhood as long as you hold it? Are you going to go through a clear-and-hold strategy where you just move yourself through Rafah and into the tunnels at some point? How long would that take? Would it still look limited as you’re going? Would people sort of be confused and say, “Oh, I guess it’s limited because we’re not seeing the kind of mass, heavy bombardment we saw in northern and central Gaza earlier in the war?”

These are possible scenarios, but go back to what Brad said, that sounds more like Austin’s comments. “We want to see a plan of how you’re going to reduce civilian casualties and go slowly and smartly through Rafah to make sure we don’t look bad.” Not a red line of, “Hey, the base says there’s just no Rafah, period. You just can’t go there. So you’re already violating my red line by expanding beyond one neighborhood I authorized you for symbolic reasons so you could tell your domestic audience in Israel, ‘Hey, I went into Rafah,’ but you didn’t really go into Rafah.” That’s where I’m confused of where we’re actually at. And there’s probably five people on earth who know the truth.

MAY: We should also mention here, and we kind of have, that Gaza is only one front that Israel faces. The other very important one is in the north, the border with Lebanon, and where Hezbollah functions in an area south of the Litani River that after the last Hezbollah-Israel war, the UN resolution 1701 says, “No Hezbollah fighters should be in that area.” As usual, UN resolutions, they’re not enforced unless the US enforces them, nobody else does. And when they’re not, it’s kind of embarrassing. So Secretary General of the UN, Guterres, doesn’t mention that, he just rails against Israel. David Daoud, who’s a Levantine specialist at FDD, he recently wrote that Hezbollah has been demonstrating a heightened brazenness over the past week, killing three Israeli soldiers in almost as many days. While the group is still overall pulling its punches, its willingness to draw blood from Israel may be tied to both the onset of Israeli operations in Rafah and American displeasure as a restraining factor on Israeli freedom of action.

Again, I mentioned you have ghost towns in the north. At some point, I think, over the summer before September, the Israelis are going to want people to go back to their towns, kids go back to schools. Israel can’t simply say, “Yeah, this was a bad war for us.” Israel now is smaller than it used to be. Now, Hezbollah has a no man’s land in northern Israel. At some point, and again, Israel needs to have the armaments to do this, they’re going to have to do something pretty dramatic in order to retake their own territory from Hezbollah. So, what does Biden say? “Oh, no, no, you cannot be bombing people in Lebanon. I don’t want those civilians who are sitting in front of the Hezbollah offices. I know that Hezbollah missiles are in homes and schools and mosques and hospitals. You cannot bomb those. I guess you’ll just have to move people from Northern Israel to the Negev Desert, won’t you?”

He won’t say it that way, but that’s the implication. What happens? What do you see for the North? And a lot of it’s a consequence of what happens in Rafah because I’m sure the Israelis would like to, I would think, get finished in Rafah within a month or two, if that’s possible. A lot of people would say, “Do it as quickly as you can, and then turn to the north and try to reestablish control” over its own territories vis-a-vis Hezbollah.

BOWMAN: Cliff, I would just say that what President Biden is doing is so negative in so many ways, and some of those ways are relevant to Hezbollah. And the great question you’re asking, depriving or delaying Israel of the means of self-defense after October 7th, that, of course, undermines US interest and empowers Hamas, extends the conflict in Gaza and prolongs the nightmare for the hostages, but it’s also going to send a horrible message to Hezbollah, right? Hezbollah already is quite good at human shields. I think it’s an obvious insight to say, and I don’t say this happily, but unfortunately, our adversaries have already realized that human shields work. They’ve worked. We’ve had two stopwatches. The stopwatch of how long it takes the IDF to accomplish their objectives in Gaza. That’s not done yet. See battalions in Rafah. And you have the stopwatch in Washington.

And the clear lesson has been learned and reiterated that human shields affect the speed of that stopwatch in Washington. Hezbollah is taking note. And I think we have to assume, and again, I’m so sad to say this, we have to assume in a future major war with Hezbollah that’s going to come sooner or later in some form, that we’re going to see the same crud on our campuses. We have to assume that. And we’re going to see the same dynamic with human shields, probably on steroids, that’s going to make that stopwatch in Washington in terms of political support and the flow of weapons go quicker. So that’s got to be an IDF planning assumption, I would say, those two elements. And that’s another reason why what the President is doing on these weapons, these munitions, is so bad. The primary reason I want Israel to have these munitions that are currently being delayed is not for Gaza.

It’s hard to know exact inventories. It’s hard to know rates of expenditure. You have a lot of people talking about how big or small this is. You can’t answer that unless you know Israel’s inventories and the rate of expenditure. My assessment just from afar, best guess, is that this is not going to really affect Israel’s ability to do what they need to do in Rafah. But I’m deeply concerned about the fact that it hasn’t and stockpiling into something that Mark has emphasized, in getting ready to deter and win a major war with Hezbollah because they’re going to need these munitions times exponential. So those are some of my thoughts.

MONTGOMERY: Cliff, I’ll jump in there. And I think that’s one of the big lessons learned from all this is that the US, and by the way, the US has learned the same lesson very embarrassingly, that in the military, you say you have a floor for munitions. You say, “I need 1,200 long-range anti-ship cruise missiles to take care of the problem with China. I need this, I need that.” And what happens is your joint staff, your general staff tends to pull things together and say, “Well, you need 700, you need 900, you need 300.” You would think they add them all up. They don’t. I think they take the highest one, add 10% for cover, and then they say, “That’s my floor.” Certainly, that’s what happens in the US. I did not believe Israel was doing that.

But I think, and Brad and I, and others, have had long discussions for four or five years with Jacob Nagel and some of our other true experts on this and others. And the truth is that even though Israel spends a gigantic 5.5 To 6% of their GDP on defense more than almost any other democracy that was not in an active war at that moment, it turned out that was not enough. And I think the biggest lesson Israel’s learning, and they’re learning it really painfully this week, is that their floor is, you have five threats, you add up all five threats, and that’s how many JDAMs, which is an airdrop weapon, how many small diameter bombs you have, how many 2,000 pound bombs you have, how many 155 rounds you have, that’s artillery, how many tank 120 millimeter rounds you have. And you have to add that up.

Now, look, I kind of always thought Israel did that. I now know, I’m fairly certain they don’t. And by the way, it’s the number of Tamir missiles you need. That’s the Iron Dome weapon and the David Sling weapon. So what Israel’s going to have to do when this is over is very quietly stockpile the living crap out of things so that when they brief, “We have five threats, we have to be ready for five threats.” They actually have the munitions for five threats. Because what they have right now are the systems for five threats. The tanks, the planes, the ships, the submarines, for all their different threats. Their missile defense launchers. They do not have the munitions they need to have a sustained combat in Gaza for five months, six, seven months, followed by a fight with Hezbollah, followed by a fight with IRGC proxies coming from Golan, followed by whatever the Iranians are doing or the Yemenis are doing, or worst case, sequentially, all at once. So big lesson learned here.

And by the way, just stockpiling that stuff is probably the equivalent of one year’s defense budget for Israel, when they normally spend maybe 10 or 12% on munition. That’d be high, eight or 10% on munitions. Literally, they’d have to spend 100% in one year. So they’re going to need help from… When this is over, this little cacophony we’re having, they’ve got to sit back and address this. And if they’re going to fix things in two or three years, or four years, they’re going to have to, with US assistance, really stockpile a lot of things. And that floor really needs to be the additive ability to deal with each of these threats. They’re the only country in the world that has to think like this. But they’re going to have to continue to think like this.

MAY: A few more subjects I want to get in before we close. One is: you mentioned the lessons that the Israelis learned. What lessons, Rich, do you think the Saudis are taking away from this?

GOLDBERG: Well, the United States has once again proven to be an unreliable ally, even to one of its closest allies. And so, if you think about domestically, if I were the Saudis looking at this, I would say, “Wow.” I mean, the pro-Israel community in America is robust. The millions of evangelical Christians who support Israel, the historical nature of the bipartisan relationship, senior leaders in both parties who go to Israel all the time, the closeness of the relationship. If that relationship can become this dicey, if the domestic politics of one political party can halt a previously funded, procured, and approved arm shipment that was already promised, that was supposed to be on an airplane, in the middle of a war of survival, to that kind of ally, I mean, yeah, what do you think we would do to Saudi Arabia? So that’s got to be their thinking. So their hedge that they’ve started over the last couple of years due to our Iran policy over the last three years of trying to play more footsie with the Chinese, not viewing us as having any staying power anymore, being unreliable. That’s just going to continue.

That’s going to continue, unfortunately. Will that change if there was a change in Iran policy, and a change in our commitments to allies if we ever actually saw a normalization deal that I think is getting harder right now, to materialize? Maybe. Maybe it’s possible. It needs to. I don’t like the idea of a Saudi Arabia that’s getting closer and closer to China. That sounds very bad for us. I don’t like the idea of China being a power broker in the Middle East and empowering Iran to do all that it does. That sounds very bad for us. So that’s their observation. I would say, the more troubling observation is likely by even greater adversaries. Not partners and allies, but adversaries. And so what does Xi Jinping take away from all of this? What is Putin taking away from all of this in the middle of the Ukraine conflict? What is the Ayatollah more locally taking away from all of this?

And then to get even more local? What does the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, take away from all of this? To get back to your last question. And you have to believe that escalation works. Escalation works against the United States, it triggers a domestic response. For some countries, escalation means it’s triggering the Democratic base, for other countries, it means it’s triggering the Republican base. And ultimately, we will not have a staying power to stand by our allies, we will fall back in the world, they will fill the vacuums, and we will diminish as a great power. That’s what they see going on in multiple theaters right now. I think that’s undeniable. And the answer can’t be, well, we need to just focus on the Indo-Pacific. We do. The answer has to be, we can’t allow all of these adversaries who are working together against us to fill the vacuums that we leave in various areas.

We can’t allow them to get away with murder quite literally against the United States and our allies. And I’ll close with this. I don’t believe that wrapping up Rafah in Gaza, or having a ceasefire in Gaza, leads Israel to be less distracted and be able to focus on pushing Hezbollah back from its border. That’s not the administration’s plan. The roadmap here is the roadmap to quiet. The roadmap to a ceasefire with Hezbollah, to Israel’s disadvantage, goes through a ceasefire with Hamas. It allows Hezbollah to declare victory, their raining missiles down from southern Lebanon was part of the Palestinian victory over Israel, Israel has conceded, they’ve surrendered. Now they can look at the White House’s ceasefire proposal they’ve been working on for months through Amos Hochstein, to have Israel negotiate over giving up land on the border of Lebanon in exchange for symbolic actions by Hezbollah that don’t remove the threat at all, but maybe give some political cover for communities to move back.

And then they hope that somehow the Saudis are still hanging around and they’re far enough from the election to still pull a rabbit out of the hat with a normalization deal, because now there’s a ceasefire in Gaza, there’s a ceasefire in Lebanon and Israel on the northern border, and now they’ll guarantee the Palestinians estate through this package. So there’s a whole bunch of steps that the administration sees playing out that have been held up in their mind by the Israelis refusing to surrender and not proceed with their military operations.

And I think that has frustrated the President, as well. Because, ‘man, can’t Israelis just stop? Can’t they just let Hamas survive? Can’t they just wind down operations for six months and get me through re-election and cut a bad deal with Hezbollah? And then we’ll figure it all out next year?’ Oh, by the way, while Iran continues to race forward to the nuclear threshold. We haven’t brought that up at all in this context, but Mark Dubowitz, our colleague, calls all of this “the weapon of mass distraction by Iran,” while they’re working on their weapon of mass destruction. That’s the last internalization of all of this, if I’m the Ayatollah. ‘Already launched 120 ballistic missiles at Israel. President has no stomach for four battalions in Rafah, let alone a war with 200,000 missiles and rockets, 50,000 people in southern Lebanon. He’s not going to do anything to stop me from getting a nuclear weapon.’

MAY: Two things that you’ve pointed out. He’s allowed cash to flow and enrich them so they can afford to send weapons. While we’re not sending weapons to Israel, the regime in Tehran is sending weapons to the Houthis, and it has the money to do so, because the sanctions have been waived or lifted or not enforced. And most of the progress, and this has been pointed out by FDD, towards nuclear weapons that has been made in Iran, has been made during the Biden administration. It’s been over the last few years. That’s real clear. So Biden’s not been tough on Iran. Biden is being tough on Israel. Why hasn’t Biden been tougher, for example, on Egypt and Qatar? Why hasn’t Biden said to Egypt, “Look, this is a humanitarian crisis. What we need is for you to let refugees into the vast area of the Sinai? And it’ll be temporary, and we’ll see to it that others pay.”

“We give you a lot of money, we give you a lot of arms, we’ll give you more, but you got to help. Because that’s where they need to be, out of harm’s way. You don’t like Hamas, we don’t like Hamas. Israel doesn’t. I know some will say you’re helping the Israelis destroy Hamas. Actually, you have to do so, because the Israelis had depended on you not to allow these tunnels to get the weapons into Gaza over all this time. And you did.” They could have been tough on that. We have not seen that.

As for Qatar, early in this administration, Biden made Qatar a major non-NATO ally, for having done what? Now, the Qataris say, “Hey, you wanted us to host Hamas leaders, because you wanted us to be a mediator, you wanted to have a connection to them, you wanted to have a pipeline.

But it seems to me the US could have said, “Yeah, we expected you to keep a leash on these guys. We didn’t expect October 7th. The guys that you are hosting right now are accomplices to war crimes. You should freeze their assets, they have billions of dollars. Most of it came from the donor community and skimming. We know that. And not only should you freeze their assets, but you should tell them, they should publicly say, ‘Hostages, not at least American hostages, must be released.’ That’s what we’re telling Sinwar. We are his boss. Otherwise, we have a split within Hamas. And by the way, we want a ceasefire, so we’re telling Hamas to cease firing and release hostages, and then we’ll get them the best deal. If you can’t do that, again, we seize your assets, and maybe your accomplices, we prosecute you. Or we send you to Algeria or South Africa, or somebody else sympathetic.” None of that has happened. Anybody want to talk about that?

BOWMAN: I agree, Cliff, that we cannot be putting enough pressure on Cairo. We have the CIA director there, I respect him. I would assume that he’s pushing for some of these things. But the primary reason I think Egypt is reluctant to do some of this is because they understand some of the young men that reside in Gaza. And they don’t want those young men coming to Egypt, because they have their own experience with the Muslim Brotherhood, and it ain’t great. And so they’re not fans of having people come into Egypt that are going to fuel and catalyze. So it might be that simple for them. So it’s interesting how few regimes are willing to kind of step up and maybe help some Palestinians who might want to leave Gaza, and go to, I don’t know, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, Iran. Since they’re such fans of Hamas, maybe they could take a few Gazans who might actually want to volunteer.

MONTGOMERY: Cliff, this does remind me that under the most foolish money we spent over the last 25 years, the more than $1 billion a year we give Egypt to make sure stuff doesn’t get funneled through Gaza tunnels, was money poorly spent. I think the Israelis were with us on this. In fact, if anything, they pushed us to keep this going, despite some opposition to Egyptian human rights concerns. I mean, Egypt over the last three or four years, I can say, was a sieve of weapons into Gaza. We know that now. We now know from classified documents that were leaked online, not because the administration came clean about this, but… offered weapons to Russia in the fight against Ukraine. I mean, with a friend like Egypt, you don’t need five other enemies. You know?

BOWMAN: And Cliff, a clarification. When I said, fans of Hamas, obviously I was referring to Turkey, Qatar, and Iran. Just to be clear.

MONTGOMERY: But still, I mean, in hindsight now, we need to understand, as does Israel, just exactly what the Egyptians are.

MAY: All right. My exit question for today. You’re advising the Israeli war cabinet. What do you tell them they should do at this point?

MONTGOMERY: First thing I would say is, you need to continue what you’re going to do. There’s a lot of reasons President Biden is mad at Benjamin Netanyahu. The conditions of Rafah is just one more of them. At this point, you need to execute the war, culminate against the last few Hamas battalions, try to kill the senior leadership, and free your hostages. And then figure out how to get this turned over to a multinational group led by, hopefully, the Saudis, UAE, a few others. That’s one. Number two, tell your cabinet to shut up. These comments by, I forget his name now, I think Ben-Gvir.

MAY: Ben-Gvir.

MONTGOMERY: Ben-Gvir.

MAY: Right. With the far-right wingers.

MONTGOMERY: …that “Hamas loves Biden.” What are you trying to achieve there? A slightly longer delay in us helping you replenish your weapon systems? Again, I’ve said this to you. I don’t say it out loud a lot. I think some Israeli politicians kind of forget where Israel sits in the scheme of countries in the world. And when you have a GDP that is four or 5% of ours, your defense spending is one-thirtieth of ours, and you are dependent on us. We’re not dependent on you. So, knock that crap off. Execute the war, take a big can of shut up, and then get ready for Hezbollah. And to me, that’s the key here. And by the way, long-term, stockpile the hell out of things, so you don’t find yourself in this jam again.

MAY: Brad, a few comments, then I’ll go to Rich.

BOWMAN: Yeah, no. Great comments by Mark, as always. I would say, continue to make, and wherever possible increase, any efforts to minimize spilling casualties. For the purpose of giving yourself time to destroy Hamas, see those things as correlated, because they are, whether you like them or not. Both in reality and perception, do everything you can to reduce, minimize spilling casualties. Easier said than done in urban warfare, denser, I get it.

MAY: And you won’t get a lot of credit for it, even if it’s true.

BOWMAN: Yeah, I know. I know. Some people are cynical and gone, but to the degree that there’s people still willing to be empirical, do everything you can, and convey that to the Biden administration. Do everything you can to try to continue to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance and be seen to be doing that. Encourage, as Mark said, some of these whack-a-doodles on the far right to be quiet. They are hurting Israel. They’re absolutely hurting Israel. Be quiet. And stockpile weapons for Hezbollah. Completely agree. Adopt the recommendations in the March memo that Rich Goldberg and I wrote. And in a smart way, in a way that creates the least tension possible with the Biden administration, go in and get those Hamas battalions in Rafah.

MAY: Rich, final words.

GOLDBERG: Do not forget to rank order your threat, and remember the top threat, the top existential threat. And if you are now becoming the zoning commissioner of eastern Rafah instead of devising the way to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program, you have let down the state of Israel. Make sure you do what you need to do on the Iran front, first and foremost, and then take care of business around your borders.

MAY: The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. That’s too often been forgotten. Rich, Brad, Mark, thank you very much for this good, difficult discussion. We’ll be talking in the office and here also in the days ahead. And when I say here, I mean here with all of you. Thanks for being with us on Foreign Podicy.

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Issues:

Arab Politics Egypt Hezbollah International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Missiles Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Lebanon Military and Political Power Palestinian Politics