Palestinian American Journalist Rami Khouri on Israel’s Gaza Bombardment & Risk of a Regional War

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Authorities in Gaza say Israel’s massive bombardment has killed another 700 Palestinians over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll over the past 18 days to about 5,800 Palestinians. More than half of Gaza’s population has been displaced.

Israel is continuing to reject growing international calls for a ceasefire or a humanitarian pause. The World Health Organization is pleading for more aid to be allowed into Gaza, where 12 hospitals and 32 health centers have been forced to close. Earlier today, the Ministry of Health in Gaza issued a statement announcing, “We declare the complete collapse of the health system and hospitals in the Gaza Strip.” The announcement came hours after the Indonesian Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip went dark overnight as it ran out of fuel, but power has since been restored.

On Monday, Hamas released two Israeli women who had been held hostage. Seventy-nine-year-old Nurit Yitzhak Cooper and 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz were seized on October 7th in the Hamas attack that left about 1,400 people dead inside Israel. As the two women were being released, Yocheved Lifshitz shook hands with one of her captors and could be heard saying “Shalom,” which means “Peace” in Hebrew. Israel believes about 220 other hostages remain in Gaza, including the husbands of both women.

As Israel continues to threaten to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, tension is escalating on the Israel-Lebanon border, where Israeli troops and Hezbollah are exchanging fire on a daily basis. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to devastate Lebanon if a new front in the fighting emerges.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] I can’t tell you now if Hezbollah decides to fully enter the war. If Hezbollah decides to enter the war, it will long for the Second Lebanon War. They will be making the biggest mistake of their lives, and we will hit them with an unimaginable force. It will mean devastation for them and the state of Lebanon.

AMY GOODMAN: In Washington, D.C., State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller warned Hezbollah against escalating its attacks on Israel.

MATTHEW MILLER: And so, we continue to make very clear our messages to anyone in the region who is hostile to Israel, that if they are considering attacks, they should reconsider them. And that’s why the president ordered the deployment of two carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Rami Khouri, a Palestinian American journalist, columnist with 50 years’ experience in the Middle East. He’s a senior public policy fellow at American University of Beirut, former executive editor of The Daily Star in Lebanon. He is joining us from Boston.

Rami, thanks so much for being with us. If you can start off by talking about what is happening on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon as tension and violence escalate?

RAMI KHOURI: What’s happening is something that’s happened many times before in the last 30 years or so, but it’s slightly different this time. Hezbollah has become a very powerful force with huge capabilities in technology, missiles, intelligence, secrecy, etc. — every aspect of warfare. They’re also a much bigger force now than they were in the 2006 war because of the mobilization of troops who fought in Syria to defend the Syrian regime. They have a lot of experience, a lot of technology, and, more importantly, they’re linked to a regional, what they call an axis of resistance, which is Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Ansar Allah, which is the Houthis in Yemen, and smaller groups in Syria and Iraq. There’s a constellation of forces of various degrees of capability, and they call themselves the axis of resistance. And the northern front of Israel and Lebanon now is far more dangerous to Israel if a war breaks out than it was before, because of this regional capability.

And Hezbollah’s strategy has also evolved. It’s not going to fight Israel by itself, if it comes to that. I would stress that I believe firmly that neither Israel nor Hezbollah want to initiate a war. They’ve done it before. They’ve both suffered huge disruption and destruction. And they know that a full war now would be way more destructive, and civilians, mostly, and national infrastructure would suffer. And Hezbollah has planned for this in its strategy to hit key strategic, industrial, transport, energy nodes, which it can reach with its rockets. They have precision rockets. They are very good at moving into Israel surreptitiously. They’ve done it. They sent a drone over the nuclear facility at Dimona, I think, a few years ago. So, the tension at the northern border with Israel, southern border of Lebanon, is designed to send messages back and forth between Israel and Hezbollah that they’re prepared to fight if they need to, but they’d rather not, so they do tit-for-tat maneuvers.

Also, there’s an element here of testing. The Hezbollah is very good at this. They’re very serious strategic people, whatever you may think of them. So, they don’t just, you know, buy new weapons and try to use them. They test out things. They see how Israel reacts. They do a little attack here, a little attack there. They send a few troops over the border. They send a drone. They do some missiles. And they see how Israel reacts. Israel has evacuated villages from five kilometers along its northern border, so that’s a huge disruption already. And this is part of Hezbollah’s strategy. They want to keep testing Israel, probing it, challenging it, taunting it. And they want to disrupt Israel’s basic social and economic functioning.

And the key aim of this in the long run is to knock down Israel’s exaggerated sense of power and dominance. And, you know, Netanyahu is the prime example of this. And Netanyahu is kind of like a Saturday morning cartoon character in the United States. He’s a tough guy, and he’s strong, and if he’s challenged, he’ll beat the hell out of anybody. And he just said yesterday that if there’s war in Lebanon, they’re going to destroy Lebanon, and they’re already destroying Gaza. And the Hezbollah strategy is to use the regional connections it has, along with its own capabilities, along with strategic ambiguity to not allow Israel or the U.S. or anybody to know what really it’s going to do, to kind of destabilize the confidence of Israel, but also to hit society’s sense of security. What happened in Gaza when Hamas attacked on October 7, it was an incredible blow to the confidence of the Israeli people in the performance of its armed forces, who were overrun quickly, and some of them dropped their arms and ran away.

So there’s all kinds of different dimensions to the northern border. The simplistic, cartoon-like diplomacy and analysis that comes out of most of the mainstream American media and the American government says that, you know, there’s a danger of a war between Hezbollah and Israel on the northern border. It’s far more complex and nuanced than that. But there is a serious threat that Israel faces, which it might have to fight five different people at the same time, if it came down to a regional war, which I still think it’s not likely, but it could happen. And this is one of the key new factors, and it explains a little bit why Hamas has achieved what it’s achieved, is that it’s coordination among these different groups of resistance fighters across the Arab world and Iran. They coordinate very closely on training and equipment and strategy and communications and all kinds of things. So, it’s a whole new situation in the north. And the United States and Israel, I think, are making the mistake of analyzing the situation based on what happened in 2006.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Rami Khouri, I wanted to ask you: In terms of Israel’s strategy, if Israel does want to prevent a regional war, why, for instance — what’s your assessment of its repeated now bombings of airports in Syria and what the impact that could be on spreading the war?

RAMI KHOURI: Israel has been doing that for many years, bombing Iraq and Syria and Lebanon. And they are probably mostly bombing units that are close to Iran or linked to the transport of equipment or people from Iran to these different outposts where it has allies across the Arab world. That’s the assumption that most people have. And these attacks are designed to disrupt this linkage between Iran and allies in Syria and other Arab countries.

It doesn’t work very well, though. You know, the Israelis are quite sophisticated, but they’re also quite simplistic and stupid when it comes to not learning the lessons of their own repeated strategy that doesn’t work. You know, they say now they want to wipe out Hamas and take away the threat, and they say if Hezbollah gets involved, they’re going to wipe out Lebanon. They said that four or five times. They occupied Gaza. They occupied south Lebanon. I was in Lebanon. I lived there for 20 years, and I was there in the 2006 war. So, they’ve done these things. They’ve caused great misery to Lebanon and Gaza. And where are the two strongest forces now that challenge Israel in a way it’s never been challenged before? They’re in Lebanon and Gaza. Why? Because Israel, in its tough guy, Joe Palooka cartoon approach to diplomacy and warfare and relations across the region, relies simply on its ability to beat the hell out of anybody and destroy countries. And you’re seeing it in Gaza today. It’s unbelievable what they’re doing in physically destroying a society’s basic infrastructure and human needs. But it doesn’t work. They don’t realize all this does is generate greater resistance a year or two down the road, with greater secrecy, higher technology levels, more coordination and a stronger sense of defiance.

And I should add here that, you know, Hezbollah and Hamas — Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, which means the Islamic resistance movement. “Resistance” is the key operative phrase in Hamas. Hezbollah calls itself, you know, informally, the resistance, the Muqawama. And resistance is a key — maybe the key — driver of what these groups and others in the region are doing. And the Israelis don’t seem to understand this, because they’re the ones being resisted. And with the resistance, there’s also defiance. So, when the U.S. sent the forward naval task force a couple weeks ago and it warned Iran and its allies not to do anything, the next day there were three or four small little attacks against American targets or American-allied targets in Iraq and in Yemen and in other places. So, defiance and resistance are two dynamics that are so significant in the mind of people who are standing up to both Israel and the United States and others. And this has to be appreciated much more seriously for anybody who’s trying to analyze the region, and certainly for anybody who’s trying to act politically or militarily or diplomatically, including the Israelis and the Americans and the Europeans and others.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And all the attention in recent days has been on what the Biden administration and the U.S. is doing to support Israel, but there appears to be an increasing division in Europe on what is happening. We’re seeing the European Union and difference states within Europe calling for a humanitarian pause, in essence, a brief ceasefire — very different from what the United States is saying. I’m wondering your assessment of that.

RAMI KHOURI: Well, I think the Europeans are waking up to the fact that they’re human beings, and they have to react like human beings, not like killing machines, which they’ve done recently, following the U.S. and Israeli lead. The suffering that’s been caused in Gaza is unbelievable. And the deliberate, cruel tightening of the — it’s not just the pressures, it’s the total squeezing of Gaza to try to starve it to death or make it die of thirst or let the hospitals stop running because they don’t have electricity. This is a level of barbarism and cruelty that probably hasn’t been seen since medieval days. And the Europeans went along with the Americans in the beginning and said, “Oh, Israel can defend itself.” And this is one of the factors that really social psychiatrists need to analyze and political psychiatrists have to analyze, was: Why did Europe and U.S. and Canada and others so vehemently and totally support this draconian measure by Israel to kill on an industrial scale that has never been seen before in this region? They killed 400 people two days ago, and they killed 700 people yesterday. And the world is just sitting there, analyzing what’s going to happen, and this, there, here or there. So there’s a kind of lack of humanity. There’s a lack of people using their minds and their hearts to analyze what’s going on.

And I’ll tell you what the reason is. It’s very simple, in my analysis. I’ve been now 55 years reporting in the Middle East and doing analysis and traveling around, and I come and go to the U.S. all the time. I’m there now. I think it’s become very clear, since May 2021, two years ago, when we had the uprising in Jerusalem and you had the fighting in Gaza and protests all over Palestine against Israel. It’s become clear that this now is seen by Arabs and almost all of the people across the Global South as the last anticolonial struggle. Israel is the last remnant of 19th century European white settler racist colonialism. They came, they pushed out the Palestinians, who had 93% of the population in Palestine, and they created an Israeli state. They succeeded. But they only succeeded because they had tremendous support from the white racist colonial British, and now they have it from the Americans. So, the colonial nature of this process — and it’s still going on. They’re still in the West Bank. Gangs of settlers are going around burning Palestinian villages. They’ve expelled 500 people from their villages in the last month or two. And they’re still doing settler colonial expansion and driving out Indigenous people. This is now the driving force for the resistance against Israel and against the United States and Europeans who join them. This is the last anticolonial struggle in the world. And that’s why you see huge demonstrations all over the world when things like this happen.

You know, there’s basically four global forces now that attract significant human political support across the entire world, and they’re climate change; #MeToo, gender equality; Black Lives Matter, which is antiracism; and Palestine. And Palestine is a global issue, and the Americans and the Israelis and most of the Europeans and now the Canadians, to a large extent, are too blinded to see this reality. So, they feel that we can send in more military force, be tough on TV, and it’ll work. But it doesn’t work. And so, there’s really time for a reassessment. And the Americans, of course, learned this in Vietnam. They learned it in Afghanistan. They learned it in Iraq. But they haven’t learned it. And the Israelis haven’t learned from their experiences, either.

So, resistance and defiance keep driving people in the Arab countries and elsewhere to push back against what the Israelis are doing. And we’re not saying get rid of all the Israelis or kill them. We’re saying let’s have a negotiated peace where there’s an Israeli state that’s predominantly Jewish, like it is now, with a Palestinian state, where the refugeehood and exile of the Palestinians has been resolved according to international law, and we have our sovereign state, and we live in peace. We have made this offer. The Arabs have made this offer repeatedly to Israel, but it’s not interested in that, because Zionism is a strategy, is an ideology, that wants to create a Jewish state in a land that was 93% Arab. And it succeeded. And it doesn’t want peace with the Palestinians. It wants all the Palestinian land, and they want it exclusively for the Jewish people.

You know, the world supported the creation of an Israeli state, and after the Holocaust, that was understandable. And not just the Holocaust, it was a century or more of white European, North American racism and antisemitism against Jews. The Jews were terribly mistreated by white racists in Europe and North America. And they came to the Middle East because they knew that they had always lived there. They were accepted in society as an integrated part of society. And the early settlers who came in the late 19th century and early 20th century up until around 1920, the Jews who came were very accepted in the region. There was no problem — they had always lived there — until it became clear, around 1930, that they wanted to create a state. They wanted to take over and drive out Palestinian Arabs and have a Jewish state. And this coincided with the rise of the Nazis in Europe, which significantly increased the migration of Jews out of Europe. And, of course, the United States and Britain refused to take them, refused to let the Jews come in.

So you have multiple dimensions of historical responsibility. But the final point is that we’re at a stage now where the world — we, and the world, increasingly, clearly see this as an anticolonial struggle aiming for a just peace, equal rights for an Israeli state and a Palestinian state and the other Arab countries whose lands have been ravaged or annexed or occupied by Israel. The Israelis are not interested in that. The Americans totally are uninterested in that. And so this is a real dilemma. What the world needs to study, more than, you know, what are Hezbollah’s motives, is what is the nature of North American and European white racist colonialism, because it’s still going on.

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