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Israel’s geopolitical missteps in Gaza

Israel’s geopolitical missteps in Gaza
Israel’s geopolitical missteps in Gaza | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Back to the Middle East. We are now over a month of war between Israel and Hamas following the October 7th terror attacks. And frankly, it is not going all that well. What I mean by that is, it's an awful lot of carnage. It's an awful lot of political division around the world. And Israel, with the exception of a strong relationship with the United States, feels increasingly isolated. That's certainly in the message I was hearing from the Europeans over the last week, getting more and more uncomfortable as this war goes on. The Americans privately saying that to the Israelis, though publicly, certainly standing very, very strongly with them. And members of the Israeli cabinet increasingly believing that the pressure on them is going to grow significantly over the next few weeks as the war continues.

So is there anything else they could have done, right? Because I mean, if you're saying, well, this is really challenging, the fight and it's leading to enormous backlash and, you know, from the region and from the Global South and even from countries that are quite friendly and well-disposed to Israel, then what might you have suggested they do instead?

And here my view is, when you have enormous support from the West in particular, but also sympathies more broadly, following these horrible terrorist attacks on October 7th. And let's remember, I mean, this was civilians that were targeted, that were brutally murdered. This was not Israeli settlers who were fighting on the right. It certainly wasn't the military, was actually progressives on the left. It was the people that were most oriented to peace, were the ones that were gunned down and tortured and taken hostage by Hamas in Gaza. So if there was ever a time that the Israelis were going to have sympathy, it would be right after this. And my view is use that in the same way the United States did after 9/11. And they built a coalition of the willing with dozens of countries that were prepared to support them to go into Afghanistan, and specifically to take out Al-Qaeda. You build that coalition. There were countries, of course, NATO's allies, no surprise, the UK and France and Canada. But I mean, countries like Georgia were involved in sending people to UAE.

And this, I think, is an opportunity that the Israelis really did have. When French President Macron traveled to Israel, he said that they were prepared to join the fight against Hamas, join the fight on terror with the Israelis. The Americans, of course, immediately sending, you know, sort of troops to the region, as well as troops on the ground to act as advisors, a lot of intelligence support. I think you would have gotten significant support from the Germans in this environment, from the UK, in this environment. And the point here is that in the immediate weeks after the attacks, instead of massive bombing attacks and then a ground war instead, work first and foremost on a coalition, build multilateral support, heck, work with the Saudis. The Gulf states are strongly interested in working with Israel. They hate Hamas. They want the end of Hamas. They find, you know, this would be a dangerous movement that's much more aligned with their enemies. The Iranians. So Israel had a very strong geopolitical position and the ability to use it if their initial response was, “we're going to be stronger, we're going to build on all of this sympathy to have not just us fighting against Hamas, but everybody.”

Now, would that have constrained what Israel would have done? Would it have meant that they would have been more pinpoint in their bombing? It would have taken longer, that there wouldn't have been a ground war? Maybe so. But having said all of that, Israel is massively more capable militarily than Hamas is, and they have vastly better border security and they have incredible missile defense and they would have gotten more technological and military support from allies and friends all over the world following these attacks. I don't believe that there is an existential risk to Israel from Hamas. I don't believe there's an existential risk from anybody in the region in terms of military capabilities.

I remember when I was with Netanyahu once at a conference in Herzliya in Israel, and he came and spoke to some of us, a small group, I think it was 30 or 40 folks. And there were some investors in the room and he was talking. The first half of the meeting was all about how Israel was the best possible place to invest. And of course, had, you know, very high ratings in terms of credit and transparency and rule of law. And as a democracy in the region, all of these things. And, you know, everyone's nodding along. And then the second half of the meeting is how the Iranians need to be contained and how they represent an existential threat to Israel. And I mean, both of these things cannot be true at the same time, right? I mean, if you're saying that it's a fantastic place to invest, then it probably isn't really a place that other people can take out.

Israel, of course, has, though, unstated, a serious nuclear force, and they have massive military capabilities and incredibly well-trained Israeli Defense Force. Now, the point here is that, you know, Netanyahu took his eye off the ball, stopped paying attention to border security, undermined the Israeli defense Force's capacities as they were focused on the West Bank, took his eye off the ball on intelligence. But after October 7th, that was never going to happen again. The entire people, the entire country, with a massive additional number of troops being sent precisely to defend Israel. So I don't think it's credible to say that, if the Israelis didn't strike back massively within days and then engage in a massive ground war, that they were suddenly facing an existential further risk from Hamas. No, the risk came because the Israelis, who have every right to defend their borders, weren't doing so before October 7th and needed to do so after October 7th. There's no question that no one should expect Israel to be living next to a territory that is governed by Hamas. And they were going to need to take that leadership at a very least out and have vastly better security capabilities.

But that could be done at a time of Israel's choosing when they had built up much more multilateral support and when they were engaging not by themselves, but with others. And that was absolutely possible, certainly more possible than what we have today. The fact that the French government is saying that they're calling for a ceasefire, they certainly weren't doing that even a week ago. The Americans are privately, increasingly telling the Israelis that you're going to need to stop this relatively soon or the US will limit the military support that's being provided to Israel, three plus billion dollars a year. The fact that, you know, the Gulf states are having summits in the region, Israel's not a part of it. They're not being invited. They're working together. They're not condemning Hamas directly. This is a problem. And I think that, you know, at the end of the day, as much as everyone out there should have sympathy for the brutality that Israel was experiencing on October 7th and the 200 plus hostages that Hamas is still holding today. I mean, any human being has to have sympathy for Israel and for the Jewish people on the back of that.

It is a horrible, horrible thing. But the steps that they have taken geopolitically, the military steps they've taken on the ground, frankly, in my view, is weak in their position. The only thing that is going to ultimately cause an existential risk to Israel and to the Jewish people in Israel, is if they continue to fall into the trap that Hamas has played for them, has placed for them. And so far that appears to be, unfortunately, where they're going. So anyway, that's my view on all of this. I'm sure that nobody agrees with it 100%. But, you know, I promise to always give you my best sense and tell you what I think can be authentic with everybody. And I certainly hope that this doesn't continue to explode and that at the very least, we can keep the fighting itself contained to Gaza and that the humanitarian damage and devastation that we're seeing on the ground gets more limited going forward as opposed to continuing to expand.

I'm not hopeful. I don't expect it. I expect more violence from the settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. And I even think that the northern front with Lebanon and Hezbollah appears to be opening up a little bit more. But that is certainly what none of us want. And we will see where we go from there.

That's it for me. I'll talk to you all real soon.


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