CFR Update on the Israel-Gaza War

CFR Update on the Israel-Gaza War October 12, 2023

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan think tank specializing in U.S. foreign policy and international relations based in New York City with an office in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1921. Its current president is Michael Froman. Their premier publication is Foreign Affairs. CFA often has public forums. I am a CFR member who receives announcements about these forums.

Today, CFR held a public forum entitled, “Update on the Israel-Gaza War,” which I watched with Zoom on the Internet. Three panelists answered questions directed by President Froman (Mike). All three panelists are CFR senior fellows. They were Stephen A. Cook whose expertise is on the Middle East, Farah Pandith whose expertise is on international conflict resolution, and Ray Takeyh whose expertise is also on the Middle East.

Stephen Cook spoke first. He mentioned that Israel has quickly amassed about 350,000 troops near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip and that Israel recently announced that its goal is to destroy Hamas so that it cannot govern the Gaza Strip anymore. So, it appears that Israel will conduct a ground war in Gaza against Hamas. Mr. Cook then ventured an opinion that Hamas may have purposely goaded Israel to do this to create a humanitarian outrage in world opinion that will result in changing the status quo.

Farah Pandith spoke next. She mentioned that about a hundred nations have made public statements regarding this new war between Israel and Hamas, and she said only 44 of those nations condemned Hamas for what it has done. Because Israel’s Netanyahu administration has said its goal is now to “eliminate Hamas,” President Froman asked Farah what that means. I didn’t think she answered that question, and it is a difficult question to answer. Israel would have to answer it.

Ray Takeyh spoke last. He spoke of the larger picture, including Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. U.S. intelligence says that so far Iran was not involved in planning this Hamas operation even though Iran is affiliated with both Hamas and Hezbollah in their opposition to Israel. Takeyh said Iran is trying to create an “axis of resistance” against Israel which includes Hezbollah and Hamas. He called it a “proxy war strategy.” Since both Hezbollah and Hamas are Islamic terrorist organizations, Takeyh said they do not value human life like most people do since they believe that their members die in fighting their opposition as “martyrs for the cause of God,” which is stated in the Qur’an. Takeyh also said Iran is taking advantage of the more than a decade-old civil war in Syria. He also said if Hezbollah attacks Israel in the north, that will force Israel’s IDF to draw troops to that region, weakening Israel’s assault in Gaza.

Mr. Cook then mentioned that the U.S. has moved an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea closer to this conflict. He said this purpose is to discourage any widening of the this Israel-Gaza War. Cook also said that the agreement that was near signing about normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia will now be on hold. Indeed, it appears that is one reason Hamas decided to attack now. Yet the timing of this attack seems to also be symbolic since the Yom Kippur War of 1973 occurred one day later than exactly fifty years ago. Cook also mentioned that Russia, which involved in it war in Ukraine, has close relations with Iran.

Ms. Pandith then cautioned against negatively stereotyping Palestinians, which is common in the U.S. It seems appropriate that an authority on conflict resolution would say this. And indeed, polling in the West Bank alone proves what she said. She explained, “Hamas does not speak for all Palestinians. They,” referring to Hamas, “are brutal terrorists.”

Mr. Cook added that “the Palestinian Authority,” which governs Palestinians living in the West Bank, “is corrupt and weak.” He said that helps Hamas in its mission. He added, “the Palestinian Authority thus compromises with Israel” and that Israel “refuses to give an inch.” Indeed, the non-existence of the peace process since 2014 is partly due to Israel’s resistance against it.

Now began a Questions and Answers period from the listening audience something like 2,000 or 3,000 people. Farah was asked if Gaza could be evacuated. This question aroused discussion about Egypt, which is the only other country that borders on the Gaza Strip. Cook said Egypt has announced it will not create a humanitarian corridor through its border with southern Gaza. Egypt said it does not have the wherewithal to accommodate fleeing Gaza citizens and that such an escape route would likely be demanded as permanent. Egypt itself is in the throws of difficult problems, including a devastated economy and a war.

A questioner asked about the future prospect of restarting the peace process. Cook responded by saying of it “the chance is near zero now.” He added that Israel rejects the peace process anyway. Takeyh said eventually “there will be multi-lateral diplomacy.” He then asked, “who will rule Gaza?” after Israel’s decimates it. He said no one has wanted to rule Gaza anyway. Indeed, that’s why Israel unilaterally vacated it in 2005.

Ms. Pandith mentioned that a serious problem is that the U.S. “lacks diplomats in the Middle East.” I think that by design by the Trump administration. She said “violence in the name of a political or religious objective is unacceptable.”

Mr. Cook said it appears Hamas’s goal is to draw Israel’s military into Gaza and create a humanitarian catastrophe that will produce an international outcry leading to a change in the status quo. I think that seems quite plausible.

One question was about what role does Egypt will play. Cook explained that Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Both are Islamic organizations.The Egyptian government hates the Muslim Brotherhood and does not care for Hamas.

Another questioner asked if Israel’s imminent devastation of Gaza will be considered a genocide. Cook said that is “a loaded question” due to Jews being involved, the Holocaust, antisemitism, etc.

Another questioner asked what individual Americans could do to help the situation. Ms. Pandith said we should contact our members of Congress and demand that ambassadorship positions be immediately filled throughout the Middle East.

The last questioner asked if Israel’s impending destruction of Gaza could result in a backlash of increasing antisemtism. President Froman replied by saying the U.S. should continue to support Ukraine and Israel in these wars.

President Froman then brought the forum to a close.

[I blog about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it relates to Bible prophecy which I write about. See my book on this subject entitled Palestine Is Coming: The Revival of Ancient Israel (1990). C]lick here to read half of this book for free, the half which pertains to my projection about the future of this conflict based on Bible prophecy.

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