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Media Call on Gaza

Speakers: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, and Robert Danin, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies
Presider: Christopher M. Tuttle, Managing Director, Washington and Independent Task Force Programs
July 18, 2014


TUTTLE: Good morning, everyone. This is Chris Tuttle. I'm the director of the Washington program in the Independent Task Force Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Welcome to this conference call on the situation in Gaza. We are joined today by Elliott Abrams, our senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies and former deputy national security adviser at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Robert Danin, our Eni Enrico Matteir senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and former head of the Jerusalem Mission of the (inaudible)

I'm gonna start out this morning with sort of a descriptive question. This is still breaking news -- and turn to Elliott for sort of his take on what exact -- what exactly we know at this point, what's happening, and maybe some of the things that you're hearing from your sources in the region.


ABRAMS: OK, thanks, Chris. Let me start by saying I think what's striking here is that the Israelis have stated quite limited goals for this war and appear to be going systematically after them.

What they've talked about publicly is just stopping the rocketing. That is a significant difference from what they've said in past years.

If you think of Prime Minister Olmert in 2006, the war with Hezbollah, he started out with very extensive war aims, you know. Destroy Hezbollah. Decimate Hezbollah. And he couldn't meet those goals. And it had a very negative impact on his political future.

ABRAMS: This time, the Israelis are just talking about getting at the tunnels, which might permit Hamas to get into Israel and conduct acts of terrorism, pushing perhaps -- pushing the parameter back so that there's a kind of buffer zone alone the Israel/Gaza border and going after the -- the warehouses or arsenals of rockets and rocket launchers.

The goal is to stop the rockets. Now, that did happen last time with Pillar of Defense in 2012, at the end of 2012.

In 2012, there were 2,557 rockets from Gaza into Israel. In 2013, there were 74. So something like a 95 percent decrease. So I think that's what the Israelis are -- are doing. And they're talking about it in a -- in a, let's say, a matter of fact manner, rather than any kind of bombastic manner.

TUTTLE: And, Robert, what's your take?

DANIN: Well, I agree entirely with what Elliot just said. I think what is striking, so far, is the -- is the limited nature of the Israeli objectives so far. And also the relative restraint that Israel has exercised in this operation to date.

Even with the decision yesterday to move to ground operations, it's clear that these operations are limited in their scope. This is not the all-in option that many are either talking about or fearing.

This is a limited incursion to go after rockets, as Elliot mentioned, and the goal, you know, in addition to going after rockets and trying to re-institute calm is to still leave some steps on the escalatory ladder to be able to affect Hamas to bring about a cease-fire or a cease of rocket firing, but at the same time, at the minimum cost to Israel.

I'm skeptical that this thing is about to end, but, you know, I think we have to look at -- if I may just -- what we have are two parallel tracks going on. We have what's happening on the ground, rocket fire into Israel, heavy bombardment of Gaza by Israel. And then you also have a diplomatic track, which is efforts to bring about an end to this, that are mainly being brokered so far by Egypt.

But you have also other players, such as Turkey and Qatar, that are involved, and then, over the horizon, the United States.

And, right now, what is so striking about that effort is how at odds the various parties are. Turkey and Qatar on the one side, Egypt on the other, very much at variance with one another. They don't talk to one another. And they are siding with different parties to this conflict so far.

Egypt is siding with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Turkey and Qatar are siding with Hamas. And there has not be a -- this has not come together yet in any meaningful way.

And so, in a sense, what's -- you know, I think, if you want to see where this is heading, the question is which track is gonna gain more traction. Is the military track, that is, Israel's efforts to bring about a cessation of violence out of Gaza, rockets out of Gaza going to achieve results first, or will the diplomatic effort, which is, to date, ineffective, but has at least put forward an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that has been rejected by Hamas and was accepted by Israel. Is that effort going to gain traction?

Sorry to go on, long (inaudible).

ABRAMS: Let me jump back in.

ABRAMS: I think that's all entirely correct and it's -- it does point to one big difference here, and that is the Arab attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has never had a government that was this hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood.

But it isn't just Egypt. In the past, Arab governments very often refused to choose sides. When there was violence between the Fatah and Hamas in 2006, 2007, the king of Saudi Arabia's position was basically, "You're both wrong." And despite the fact that the United States urged him to be much more favorable to the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, he saw them as two equally guilty parties for committing acts of violence against each other.

That's gone now. You can even see in the Saudi press columns in which blame is cast on Hamas. The foreign minister of Egypt yesterday basically blamed Hamas for this violence, for refusing to accept Egypt's ceasefire proposal. And of course, the Egyptians have acted to close the tunnels in a way that neither the Israelis when they were in Gaza prior to 2005, nor the Mubarak government were ever able to do.

So it's created an unfavorable background for Hamas, much more unfavorable I think than in any previous round with Fatah or with the Israelis. And this is true I think throughout the Arab – throughout Arab governments. I won't say the "Arab Street," but Arab governments. And it's true in Europe, too, where you've seen statements, for example, most recently by Chancellor Merkel saying that Israel really had a right to defend itself -- the kind of statements that you expect from the United States government, but are sometimes harder to come by in Europe.

TUTTLE: Excellent.

Well, why don't we open it up to our friends in the media who are on the call today? And I'll turn the operator for the instructions on how to open your mike.

OPERATOR: Yes, sir.

At this time, we will open the floor for questions. If you'd like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touchtone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received. If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, you can press star two. Once again, that is star one to ask a question. We are currently holding for questions. OK, we have a question from Howard Lefronte (ph) with Christian Science Monitor.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, thanks so much for doing this.

I wonder if both of you could get a little bit more into what you think is the "why" of -- of, you know, what you describe as this, you know, not -- you know, Israel's stated goals, anyway, of being quite limited so far, not -- not the broad, you know, we're going to – we need to destroy Hamas -- not that; no kind of broad goals, but this limited goal.

If you could get a little bit more into the "why." I mean, I understand, Elliott, when you talked about -- made the comparison to Sharon when he went after Hezbollah and how that (inaudible).

ABRAMS: Olmert, Olmert.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry -- Olmert. But anyway, if you could get a little bit into that. And then both of you, a little bit more on the diplomatic track, what you think, you know, if there's anything that might change that or what we might expect there.

TUTTLE: Elliott, would you like to start us out on that?


TUTTLE: Or Robert.

DANIN: Go ahead, Elliott.

ABRAMS: OK. Well, let me just talk about the first one then, why the limited goals. I think Netanyahu has been very careful and prudent throughout this, let's say, two weeks. It's clear that he didn't want a ground incursion. He waited, really, 10 days from the beginning of the intensified rocket attacks to do this.

And I think you have in Netanyahu and the defense minister, former chief of staff, Ya'alon, and the current chief of staff, Gantz, people who take a pretty pragmatic attitude toward.

And I think they recognize that what can be achieved here is limited, in fact, unless you plan to go in and reoccupy Gaza and rule Gaza and they don't. That is not the view of any of those three key officials.

So I think that for Netanyahu, he's really being sensible from a political point of view for himself and -- and his -- his government.

And I think they've learned from experience from – from (inaudible) experience it is -- you're going to be a lot better off by telling the people of Israel and Israel's allies what you think you can achieve here because you're not going to be able to bend forever the risk of attacks out of Gaza just as they haven't been able to end forever the risk of attacks by Hezbollah out of Lebanon.

What they have been able to do in Lebanon's case is get eight years of a pretty peaceful border.

So this war, I think -- you know, this is not going to end like the Six-Day War. You know, there's no great gigantic victory here.

In the -- in the immediate aftermath of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, there were an awful of Israelis that thought it was a kind of defeat for Israel and I think one of the reasons for that was the war goals that had been stated by the government were so large.

Seen in retrospective, that war looks a hell of a lot better because it produced eight years of a peaceful border. And I think the Israelis have learned the lesson of that experience.

DANIN: I want to just jump in.

Elliot's absolutely right. You know, I think there's a -- there's a broader issue, which is -- has to do with Israel's strategy towards Gaza.

You know, in 2009 during Cast Lead, there was a lot of questions as to whether or not Israel was going to go into Gaza and remove Hamas and bring the P.A. in on the back of an Israeli tank.

No one's asking that question today; it's very clear Israel's strategy is not to remove Hamas.

What this operation started off with was motivated by the fact that you had rockets coming out of Gaza by other militant groups, Islamic jihad primarily, and Israel wanted Hamas to take responsibility for it.

That's been kind of the -- the rules of the road based on the understandings that they reached indirectly with Hamas after the last operation in 2012. Hamas is the power -- is the de facto ruler of -- of Hamas. Israel recognizes it as such, de facto, and holds Hamas accountable.

And so Israel doesn't want to remove Hamas because it fears that if Hamas were to leave, you'd have even more radical groups in control or nobody in control in Gaza, both of which would be even more dangerous for Israel.

So Israel wants an address in Gaza. It wants Hamas to be that address but it wants Hamas to abide by the rules of the road. And Israel's trying to establish some rules of the road here in the – in the, you know -- in the currency that they speak to one another in which is rockets.

DANIN: So that's why the goals are limited here and Israel's trying to find a very -- thread a very delicate needle. It wants to push Hamas hard enough that it behaves, it stops rocket fire, but not so hard that Hamas comes crashing down, and that's a very hard to calibrate. You asked about the diplomatic track.

ABRAMS: Well, I just wanted to make one point about the diplomatic track.

TUTTLE: Yeah, go ahead.

ABRAMS: And I -- it's something I said, in actually my blog today. There are a number of would-be negotiators, potential negotiators. Hamas prefers that the negotiators be Turkey and particularly Qatar because they are much more favorable to Hamas.

I mean, Qatar has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Hamas-controlled Gaza. Khaled Meshaal of Hamas, the Hamas political leader, lives in Doha, Qatar. It's greatly to the advantage of those who are opposed to Hamas, the United States, Israel, Egypt, that Egypt be the key negotiator. What's been extraordinary here is that the United States has seemed to be indifferent. We have statements from Secretary Kerry basically urging everybody to jump in, including Qatar and Turkey, to see, you know, who can get the -- the ceasefire first.

There are a lot of people in the Middle East, especially in Egypt and Israel, who think this is extremely foolish. The United States should be trying to position Egypt as the key negotiator precisely because we know that the Egyptians will be tough on Hamas and will drive a tough deal. So, I think this is a -- I think this is diplomatic error by the U.S. over the last few days since the Egyptian offer was rejected by Hamas.

DANIN: So, what should the U.S. be doing, do you think? Sorry to jump in.

TUTTLE: No, no.

Rob, do you want to?

DANIN: Well, I just want to, I mean, to complement what Elliott was just saying, Elliott's absolutely right. You know, but what's striking has been the -- kind of the American approach has been over the horizon, shall we call it, you know.

Point one, you know, what's striking is that the United States has not deployed any senior American officials to the region. And everyone posits it as either John Kerry goes or nobody goes, whereas you know, in previous administrations, one would normally see the senior most official responsible for the Middle East or the now-acting envoy for Middle East negotiations, Frank (inaudible) you'd see one of them in the region, shuffling among the parties. So, you know, part one is the United States is visibly absent, but point two, complementing what Elliott said, yes, the United States has been active, you know, over the horizon.

Secretary Kerry appeared poised to be going to Egypt earlier this week, but he ran into what was going on, which was, you know, which was a discussion taking place among the Egyptians and Israelis and in essence, you know, headed back to Washington instead. But what's striking, you know, even now, is the degree to which the United States is really not, you know, leading the effort, at least visibly.

And I guess I would just add to that is -- is it's just hard to see how without a stronger American role, Egypt and you know, President Abbas is in Turkey today, Qatar, he's going on to the Gulf. You know, the Turks and the Qataris are going to try to play a role here, and you know, it's going to take a traffic cop to try to manage this.

And it's hard to see that other than the United States, who can play that role?

TUTTLE: Other questions?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Benny Omni (ph) with Newsweek.

QUESTION: Yes, two quick questions on these last two points -- on these last points you made about the U.S. roles -- U.S. role.

First of all, there's a report today in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. actually is preparing Kundar (ph) as a negotiator and that Gary (ph) is in touch with them, and may even go there tomorrow.

The second question is, is it possible -- I mean, on what Elliott said before about the (inaudible) -- or maybe it was Danin about the success of the -- the success of the -- of (inaudible) the war in Lebanon, part of it was because after that there was a very strong resolution, Security Council resolution, and European forces sent to demilitarize or to make sure that there's no arms to Hezbollah. It hasn't completely worked, but it has contributed to the calm.

The question is, can a similar situation be coached (ph) by the U.S. to demilitarize Gaza?

(UNKNOWN): Well, (inaudible), it is different, of course. Lebanon is a country with a -- with a government, obviously not in full control, because of Hezbollah.

But I would argue that the end of the Hezbollah war in 2006 was not so great, that, as yet, with the U.N. resolution, that said there were going to be new forces that are gonna police the borders, and there'll be an arms embargo on Hezbollah and all that stuff, none of it happened. None of it happened.

There was talk of European forces, border police coming in and so forth. It didn't work.

And the Israelis were very unhappy with the way that -- the way the -- with the -- with the U.N. role. Look, I -- the report in the Wall Street Journal only confirms what I think a lot of people in the region think and fear.

It is remarkable to me that the United States would view Qatar as a good or as a preferable intermediary here, because the Qataris have a very warm relationship with Hamas and virtually no relationship with Israel. Why would we prefer that as a -- you know, as the attributes of a mediator, as opposed to Egypt?

In the middle of this, you also have Prime Minister Erdogan in Turkey and his foreign minister making really quite vicious anti- Israel statements, as they do intermittently.

So, again, why would we prefer Turkey to do this?

This may end up with a -- with a U.N. Security Council resolution. And there are some things that -- that I think can be talked about in diplomatic circles.

The problem with getting people and goods in and out of Gaza is a real problem for the people who live in Gaza, of course. It's also a real problem for the people who live in Egypt and Israel, because some of the people and goods that Hamas wants to go in and out are terrorists and weapons.

(UNKNOWN): So how do you set up a system that will allow, you know, food and cement and so forth to go in and out, and people, students, people who need medical care to go in and out, but not terrorists?

That's proved impossible. The United States tried this in the Bush administration. We had a thing after Israel left Gaza in 2005, the United States negotiated a thing called the AMA, the Agreement on Movement and Access. It was a very elaborate system for having the Palestinian authority and Egypt with a certain Israeli role man some of these passages between Israel and Gaza, between Egypt and Gaza. It didn't work at all. It failed almost immediately.

And, you know, now here we are nine years later, and there is still no such system. The -- why not? Because it's extremely difficult when Gaza is in the hands of a terrorist group that is determined to import, you know, missiles from Iran and weapons from all over the place, and to move its people from Gaza outside of Gaza into the West Bank.

So it has not been possible to do that, but it would be a good goal if it were possible. Because it would make life more secure in Egypt and Israel. And it would make life better for Gazans.

(UNKNOWN): You know, one of the problems, though, in – you know, in 2016 in the Lebanese context, you know, you have something that you don't have in Gaza. I mean, in -- in -- in Lebanon, you have -- you had, at least, you know, a Lebanese government independent of Hezbollah and a Lebanese army that could fill the void, at least ostensibly (ph). And that was what the U.N. Security Council resolutions after the war were designed to do.

In the Gaza context, there's a basic problem. Who's going to run Gaza? And who's going to enforce security in Gaza and -- and be the authority? You know, up until now, you know, we now are in our third round of Israeli-Hamas fighting over Gaza. But all this is an outgrowth of the fact that in, you know, 2007, Hamas took over Gaza.

And we don't have the -- neither Israel nor the United States nor anyone really has a strategy to address that.

And so, the strategy we've adopted is essentially containment, to keep Hamas, you know, holed up in Gaza, and at the same time, you know, as I described earlier, to hold Hamas accountable for what happens in Gaza. So it's a holding action. But we haven't really figured out how to get out of it. And you know, at best what we're looking at in this context now is a return to the status quo ante.

But that will -- you know, that may silence the Gazan (ph) that's imperative, and we need that to happen. We need to, you know, lives to -- to, you know, to be secured on both sides of the border here. But we will still face a basic problem that -- that will endure and likely lead to further flare-ups unless it' addressed.

TUTTLE: Other questions in the queue?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. We have a question from Lara Jakes with Associated Press.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks very much.

Robert, a few minutes ago you said that it was striking that the degree (ph) to which the U.S. is not leading a visible effort in trying to find a breakthrough in this, I'm wondering if you could talk -- you or Elliott can talk a little bit about why you think that is.

And also, if you could discuss how the U.S. tries to walk that line between a cease-fire push by Israel or a solution that's pushed by Qatar and Turkey. I would assume it's because they want to leave all options open, but how they try to walk that line.

And then Elliott, also you -- you talked -- you've been talking a little bit about Israel's restraint, but yesterday, as you know, the State Department criticized Israel for not doing enough to prevent civilian casualties.

QUESTION: How do you all think that's going to impact a U.S. role here in trying to get -- move this process forward? Thank you.

DANIN: Well, you know, to address the U.S. role when I said the striking happens, I mean, I think, you know, I was just -- I mean, first, there's an element here of style which is, again, we don't – I mean, how many of you on the line know who the assistant secretary of near east affairs is? And that isn't -- I'm not -- that isn't a criticism of you. It's an observation about the way in which the administration, you know, leads diplomacy and Secretary Kerry, you know, in his own hands (ph), and doesn't -- you know. And so, we don't have empowered senior diplomats who are on the -- you know, who can carry some of the water out there.

And so, that was what I -- you know, stylistically, what is striking to me is the fact that you have -- you just don't have any senior diplomats on the ground and the only talk is of either John Kerry goes or nothing happens. And where the other administrations, what you see, Democratic and Republican, you see other senior officials who carry some of the water diplomatically.

But I think this is also an outgrowth of, to a certain extent, a reticence to get involved too quickly and too dramatically in Israeli-Palestinian affairs, following the breakdown of negotiations in April. I think there was an administration analysis that said, if the parties don't pursue peace along American terms, then the situation will deteriorate. That has now happened. And I think there's a sense that, OK, you know, we had an administration that there needed to be a pause and both sides needed to take stock of the development.

Now I'm not saying that the administrations wants this to be happening. But I think there's a sense that this is, you know, this is a vindication of their analysis. And so, you know, until it feels that there is a way to, you know, a way that's clear to move forward and resolve this conflict, it doesn't want to jump in too quickly. The danger with that kind of analysis is, you know, in essence, that the situation could just get out of hand in which it gets harder to bring it -- to reign it in, rather than easier.

ABRAMS: Yeah. Oh, I agree with that. I'm -- just how do we walk the line (inaudible)? Well, it's hard, because we do want a cease-fire. I mean, it's obvious the United States would prefer that there's not -- continued, say, for two week. But what I think is happening in the Middle East is that there are an awful lot of people concluding that the United States does not know how to play this game well anymore. Partly, it is the problem to which Rob -- well, he didn't allude to -- it's the problem that Rob stated that we seem to have -- now U.S. diplomacy is conducted by one person and that's always a mistake.

When Bill Burns was assistant secretary for the Near East, when David Welch -- well, they would carry some more of this burden or the deputy secretary would or the under secretary would or White House people would. And this is one failing.

Another reason I think the personal relations are not so great, certainly, at the top, the president's personal relations with the Israelis are not so great. And that limits the utility of his own personal role. But you know, look, this is classic diplomacy in the sense that there will be lots of negotiating. Some of it done in private, some of it in the newspapers.

ABRAMS: Some of it got (ph) interrupted by speaking the language of rockets. And this will come to an end. My own guess is that -- that it will come to an end in -- in less than a week.

I -- I just wish that as we're doing this, we made it clear that we may view the role of other nations as unavoidable but that we don't do it as desirable.

Because part of the problem there is that we're going to leave the Israelis and Egyptians -- if we do this, we're going to leave the Israelis and Egyptians with the -- with the sense that we don't know what our interests are and we don't know how to distinguish between our best allies and people who are not such good allies or not allies at all.

DANIN: If I could just add one caveat that we have to keep in mind. I mean, this is all right and -- and everyone has to plan according to what they can expect.

But in all these conflicts, invariably, there are surprises. Hamas has talked about surprises. But there're also surprises when things don't go as you planned.

You know, we always say this isn't rocket science -- well, it is rocket science in one sense -- but rocket science suggests that, you know, it's very difficult. And -- and so what I mean by that is we almost had that kind of situation two days ago with the -- with the killing of the four children on the beach.

Invariably, at some point, something goes awry, some sort of accident on the battlefield, if you will, that then -- in which, you know -- in which the international community is seized by, be it a hospital that's accidentally hit, a school, some sort of, you know, a rocket that gets through into Israel.

We don't know what that thing will be. But you know, we -- we -- we also have to anticipate the unexpected and -- and that – that could affect of events as they unfold.

ABRAMS: It did -- just as a reminder, it very much did in the 2006 Lebanon war because Condi Rice was in Jerusalem and on the verge of literally, the next day, going to Lebanon to conclude a pretty well-negotiated agreement between Prime Minister Siniora of Lebanon and the Israelis and that was the night that Israel hit a house in Qana in south Lebanon and killed several dozen women and children.

The Lebanese waved the Americans off and said, "Go home." The war continued after that for several weeks. So these kinds of accidents do happen.

TUTTLE: Next question in the queue, please.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Lisa Beyer with Bloomberg News.

QUESTION: Thank you.

I wonder if -- if one or both of you could explain this issue about the need to pay the Hamas workers in the Gaza Strip who have gone without pay and what this has to do -- what -- Israel's role in this, what Qatar's role is in this, what -- the P.A.'s role in this and what potentially the U.S. role in mediating this might be.

And is it wise to include this in some sort of cease-fire and negotiated settlement?

DANIN: You know -- well, I think, you know, Lisa -- you know, I think the -- it's an important issue but it also points to something larger.

You know, to a certain extent, this latest round of – of fighting erupted as a result of tensions within Palestinian politics.

Hamas and Fatah reached a (inaudible) agreement in -- in late April, in which Hamas made some major concessions including giving up its ministries in Gaza.

DANIN: Now, it did it out of a very strong sense of – of weakness, politically.

Now, one of the things they expected to come out of it was that the Palestinian Authority would start to pay salaries for Hamas employees in -- in Gaza now that the Palestinian Authority was reasserting itself in Gaza. But that was not forthcoming, and then there were discussions among different parties, including Qatar, about providing that funding. But the Palestinian authority was not very excited about this, and neither was Israel, and that did not happen.

And to a certain extent, Hamas' decisionmaking I think in this conflict has to be seen as a product of it having reached a point where it said, "Look, we have made these concessions for the national unity agreement, and we have not gotten -- we have not felt the respite as a result of it," and so we're still struggling, we're still suffering. The money's not forthcoming, and so we have nothing further to gain by continuing along the rules of the road." Or, to put it another way, "We have no interest in returning to the status quo ante." And that explains why it's difficult to bring about a cease-fire right now, because in essence, what the Egyptians are saying is, "we want to go back to the way the situation was before the fighting erupted." And Hamas is saying, "No, that wasn't so good for us, and so we want different terms now."

And that is kinda the macro story that's taking place. And the -- the payment of the salaries is one, you know, of the two, you know, one of the major elements of -- of -- of how Hamas is seeking to break out of the constriction that they -- they found themselves in up until now.

QUESTION: So, if I may, to follow up?

TUTTLE: Go ahead, Lisa.

QUESTION: If I may, two follow-ups. Does Israel have the ability, the capacity to veto Qatar paying for the civil servants, Hamas civil servants in Gaza? And then my second question is, you know, how do you -- how is this circle going to be squared?

(UNKNOWN): Well, let me -- Israel doesn't really have the ability to veto it. Here's where Qatar comes in. I mean, presumably, their contribution to arranging a cease-fire could be that they would say, "OK, we'll pay the salaries for a couple of years." This is a big amount because there are 43,000 -- usual figure -- 43,000 people on the Hamas payroll.

The problem is that we, the United States, have blocked that. Because that's money going to a terrorist group. Of the -- let's say 43,000, roughly 13,000 are police or security officials, and I think it's reasonable to guess that a substantial number of them are actually Hamas terrorists. They are members of the Izz ad-Din al- Qassam Brigades, which is the actual military force of Hamas. So, we would be -- being asked to approve and facilitate the support of those people.

Hamas is, after all, a designated foreign terrorist organization. Now, there are ways around it. You know, for example, maybe Hamas would agree to have the other 30,000 civil servants paid as part of this agreement and not the security people, and it could use tax revenues or some other source of funding to pay them.

But our -- the problem in arranging this from the American point of view is, our law really requires us to act to prevent money going to terrorist groups, and Hamas is a terrorist group.

(UNKNOWN): There's also a larger political element here, and it points to why we hit a roadblock this week. Reportedly, the Egyptians thought they had funding lined up by the Saudis and Emiratis to try to address this issue of the money. And the Egyptians don't want the Qataris to be paying that money. And -- and the engagement with Qatar by the United States, reportedly, kind of helped to mess up the deal.

At least, this is what the Egyptians have told some people, you know, according to the press reports that I've read. So, that's – you know, Elliot's absolutely right. I mean, the -- it's very hard to make the Qatar thing work mechanistically and legally, but there's also a larger political context for it, as well.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

Our next question comes from Garrett (ph) Mitchell with Mitchell Report.

QUESTION: Thanks to you both for doing this, by the way.

A two-part question. The first may have just been at least spoken to in Mr. Danin's recent comments. And that is, what's the answer from your individual perspective? What's the answer to Abu Mazen's question to Hamas? You know, what -- what were you thinking, or what were you after, or what were your objectives?

And the second question is -- this -- this goes beyond this specific conflict. And I wonder if you feel like -- I wonder if it is fair to say that the manner in which this administration is dealing with this issue reflects a -- a -- the -- the manner in which foreign policy is being conducted less out of the White House, as was the charge in the first term, and more out of Foggy Bottom, and whether, you know, Kerry has really been appointed sheriff for the second term.

ABRAMS: Let me -- let me (inaudible).

The -- the problem for Hamas -- and I think Rob (inaudible) has really outlined it -- Hamas was in a very bad situation a few months ago. And largely because of the change in Egypt -- closing the tunnels, closing the border, great reduction in economic activity -- that helped Hamas' (inaudible) whatever moved through those tunnels.

So, there's Hamas in Gaza -- it cannot pay its civil servants. And it is in a situation since the last round with Israel where it is maintaining the peace with Israel in part by policing Gaza's borders, and is, therefore, subject to the charge from Islamic Jihad and the CFLP (ph) and others -- "You're just Israel's policeman."

And so, maybe things will change if there's a peace deal that Kerry's trying to negotiate that doesn't work. So, Hamas then – then tries, and as Rob has described, going into a deal with the P.A. in which they made concessions they had previously been unwilling to make in order to get certain things, including payment of salaries. That does not happen.

ABRAMS: So, then Hamas seems to come to the conclusion, "Look, this is not working. This is intolerable. We are going to get more and more unpopular here in Gaza. More and more Gazans will conclude Hamas rule is a disaster. So, we're going to shake things up." And, unfortunately, for the people of Gaza, the way they shake things up is to cause a war. And when the rocket fire at Israel for a week does not lead Israel to invade, and Hamas turns down a cease-fire proposal and increased the rockets, the rockets that float after that six-hour truce almost guaranteeing that there would be an Israeli ground attack.

So, I think -- I think that is the background for how Hamas got to the point where it saw a -- a greater Israeli attack as actually potentially beneficial for Hamas by -- by -- by shaking things up.

Rob, you want to talk about who is the sheriff?

DANIN: Um...


Not particularly. I mean, I -- I'm not sure how much we can universalize or, you know, extrapolate from -- from this -- you know, the sort of White House-State Department divide, to the extent there is one. I mean, you know, clearly, we have a secretary of State who's an activist, who's wanted to take on various conflicts that – that the administration has been reluctant to take on. And at various times, it seems the White House has both, you know, said to Secretary Kerry, "Go ahead, and see what you can do." And then at other times, sort of reigned him in when they thought maybe there was less there than met the eye.

I don't know where -- where the center of gravity is right now in this conflict -- how this -- the White House is viewing this – this operation, and if there's any daylight, if any, between Secretary Kerry. But I don't -- I can't extrapolate too much from what's happening now.

ABRAMS: It -- it is interesting to compare the Iran talks. Because there, you know, Kerry plays a role, but Bill Burns has gone over several times. Wendy Sherman is the lead negotiator. Jake Sullivan from the White House has been at some of these talks. And so, there's -- there is an inter-agency effort at various levels. And you don't see that here. It's interesting. It's kind of a one-man battle.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

Our next question comes from Lee Smith, The Weekly Standard.

QUESTION: Thanks very much, Elliot and Rob. I'm glad that you were just talking about the Iran talks, because that's a good transition to the question I wanted to ask.

With the -- the rollup (ph) for the JPA scheduled for Sunday, I'm wondering what sort of role, you think, or what kind of part – you know, Hamas' campaign has played in this. I mean, I know that the Iranians and Hamas are not as close as they have been since the fallout of the Syrian civil war. But I'm just wondering if you see -- if you see any role at all right now, and if you see any connection to the -- you know, to the Iran talks.

ABRAMS: I think one -- one thing that has occurred to me is that, you know, the Israelis wish to maintain a credible threat of military action against Iran. And -- and if they had not gone in on the ground, despite the provocations of Hamas, I think they would have needed to worry that the conclusion in Tehran would be, "Well, these -- these guys really don't want to fight. These guys are never going to attack us." And "Look what they're willing to take from Hamas."

ABRAMS: So, I don't think this is a factor in leading Netanyahu to end his security cabinet to make this decision. But I think it's sort of in the background that -- that Israel needs to show that it is willing to mobilize 50,000 troops and undertake a serious military effort.

The other thing that it's -- that it is doing, of course, in the course of this -- what? -- 10 days now, is having a home-front war. You've got, what, half of Israel basically within range but not much damage because of Iron Dome.

If Israel did conduct a strike against Iran, there would potentially be Iran effort to strike Israel, though I don't know how much would get through, and potentially Hezbollah (inaudible) because Hezbollah, many more -- has many more rockets than -- than Hamas.

So it has occurred to me also that this is a kind of small taste of what might happen if Israel, in the end, decided it did need to strike Iran, there would certainly be a home-front.

DANIN: I think there's a flip side to it too, I mean -- which is the following.

I mean, you -- you get within Israeli military circles talk about wanting to -- at the onset of the operation and throughout has the goal, an unspoken goal but -- but secondary goal is to restore Israeli deterrents.

There's a sense that, you know, Hamas didn't feel the need to -- to, you know -- was not intimidated from -- from launching the – this operation or these operations, both the tunnels on the ground and the -- you know, and the missile firing.

And you know, this is the psychological dimension. And you know -- and this, you know, for Israel is so critical because they know the whole region is watching and if -- if Hamas, you know, is -- and if this conflict ends with -- without Israel restoring the psychological deterrent then -- then -- then it will have an effect on its – its posture, you know, vis-a-vis other countries.

I mean, Israel's whole military strategy is built around, you know, a recognition that it is, you know, a small country surrounded by much larger countries and that the only way it can maintain its --its qualitative edge is by maintaining a, you know -- a psychological edge over its adversaries by quick and decisive, you know, achievements.

And that's -- that's actually why you've had a debate within Israel and why Netanyahu's been under criticism within Israel from the right and not just the right for some who are saying, you know, the strategy that he's approaching, he's -- he's been utilizing is too moderate.

They recognize the benefits diplomatically and internationally but they fear that it won't -- it doesn't sort of, if you will, wipe the smile off of Hamas's face and that there needs to be a quick and decisive display of -- of power in order to get Hamas to back down and that the graduated approach that's been used will not do that.

And again, it's -- it's -- all this debate is -- takes place in a context of "How do our other adversaries in the region watch what's happening and understand where our relative strength is"?

OPERATOR: Thank you.

Our next question comes from Mario Platero with Il Sole.

QUESTION: Yes, I just wanted to go back to -- to Qatar for a moment and -- and try to understand why they are taking the hard line vis-a-vis Hamas -- I'm sorry, they are taking the hard line by supporting Hamas rather than helping Abu Mazen or by being more moderate.

I mean, they have money (inaudible)...

ABRAMS (?): I mean, I think there's two answers here.

ABRAMS (?): One is that, you know, everybody else is supporting the Palestinian authority and (inaudible) and -- and that's all fun, right? I mean, that's not a niche for Qatar and Qatar is very often looking for a niche where it can have a special role and -- and can really make some kind of -- what it would do is some kind of contribution. Just being, you know, the tenth country to say, we're for the Palestinian Authority, is not the kind of diplomacy that Qatar has liked to engage in.

But secondly, you're getting -- this gets to the question of, you know, what explains Qatar foreign policy. I mean, it's a strange mix. On the one hand, they have American bases, including the (inaudible) air base at Al Udeid. On the other hand, they have Al Jazeera, which has taken a very and, at times, very anti-American, anti-Israeli, pro-Hamas line. And they have had, what I would call, an ideological, as well as opportunistic foreign policy.

There was some talk last year that this was a reflection only of the emir and the then-foreign minister. But they're both -- at least formally, they're both gone. And you have a new emir and a new foreign minister. But the policy really has not changed at all. And Qatar continues to stand out from the Arab League, in general, from the Gulf Cooperation Council, from its neighbors in the Gulf with the policy (inaudible).

TUTTLE: Any other questions in the queue?

OPERATOR: Yes, we have a question from Lee Cullum (ph) with Public Media of Nortech (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you very much. And thank you for some (OFF-MIKE) insights.

Les Gelb wrote a piece earlier this week, saying if there is catastrophic earthquake erupting in the Middle East and there's not anything that we can do about it -- and that would include a peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- that the best we can do is wait for it to play itself out, which can take years, and try to align ourselves with people who can help prepare for the aftermath. That would be Israel, Jordan, of course, and even Iran. I wonder what you think about that, both of you.

(UNKNOWN): You know, I would just say at that kind of the orbital level or at, you know, 30,000 feet, that's fine. You know, but I'm not sure that it works on a day-to-day level. So you know, what I find is that you have a lot of people who argue, you know, we need to stay out of the Middle East and we need to pull back. And then, you know, comes specific issues, be it Syria, the chemical weapons, or Iran nuclear weapons, or Egypt, you know, the military. And then they say, well, we have to -- you know, the U.S. has to use what influence it has. And before you know it, we're back in.

So you know, at a macro level, perhaps, that's right. But you know, I think it underestimates the degree to which the United States can be a force of positive change, leading to the kind of outcome that, you know, Les talks about wanting the United States to see. And so I think it devalues or underestimates our ability to do good. And also, it suggests that good things will happen if we don't involve ourselves. Or put it another way that, you know, that we can help tilt the balance. So you know, I just -- I'm an activist by, you know, inclination here. And so, I do believe that there are things we can do in the region, even if we can't always fix the -- or direct the plate tectonics that are shifting.

(UNKNOWN): I would add that I think it's true that there are some very fundamental things happening in the region that the United States cannot change. For example, if Arab publics you know rise up during the Arab Spring against a series of dictatorships, you know, the United States cannot and should not, have (ph) tried to stop that, for example. And we don't know -- we still don't know quite where that is leading.

The problem I think with Les' analysis is that the United States still has major interests in the Middle East. It has important allies, and it has enemies. It has enemies like Iran, and Hezbollah, and Hamas, and Syria. And it has allies, and some of those allies are fighting some of those enemies, and we need to help them.

When -- when one talks to the Israelis or the Jordanians or the Gulf Arabs, they see Iran and Iran's allies, President Assad and Hezbollah, as a great danger to them and their own future, their own stability. And it won't do -- I mean, if we're gonna -- if we're gonna allies, it won't do for the United States to stand back and say, "Well, these are -- you know, these are long-term trends (ph). There's nothing can be done about them."

That's not the way they see it. They see it as an effort on the part of Iran, Iran and its allies and its cat's paws to increase the amount of power that they have and reduce the amount of power that traditional American allies like Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt have. They want our help.

Their fear is precisely that the view that Les very articulately present, their fear is that that view is the president's view and that he wants to kind of stand back, you know, and the pivot to Asia and so forth. But they feel under threat. And they want, very much want our help in dealing with those threats.

And so, the question of course for us is, well, what -- as a nation, what -- what is our view of this gonna be? How involved do we want to be? Do we see it as our role to help them fight off those threats? Do we see those threats to them or as threats to us and our interests as well?

TUTTLE: All right, with that, we are about two minutes out from noon. And we're gonna close the call off at noon. If someone has a brief, concise, final question, we can go to that. Otherwise, we can close out the call.

Is anyone else in the queue?

OPERATOR: Yes, we have a question from Goby Allamo (ph) with Haberter (ph).

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this.

I was wondering, I know (inaudible) to tackle Hamas, building the tunnel -- or the tunnels that basically hide all the weapons. But this is a problem that may continue. Even if they destroy the tunnels, then Palestinians will still continue to build the tunnels.

My question is, do you think Israel should consider actually sitting down at a table with Hamas and negotiating at peace with them? Because United States did (ph) it was Taliban in Afghanistan, tried to get it with PKK in Turkey, and ultimately, even though they are...


(UNKNOWN): Wait, wait, can we wrap up the question? We need to get to our answers because we do need to close this out at noon.

QUESTION: OK, so do you think Israel should actually sit with Hamas and negotiate with peace with them?

(UNKNOWN): I don't. I think, you know, Hamas is a terrorist group, which is (inaudible) dedicated to the elimination of the vet (ph) state of Israel. It's a religiously motivated group, unlike Fatah, which was a secular group. These are deeply held beliefs on the part of people in Hamas. And I do not think Israel or the United States should -- should be negotiating with them.

(UNKNOWN): Look, I would just say...

(UNKNOWN): All right!


(UNKNOWN): Oh, OK. We can leave it at that. That's fine. No, no, that's fine. Let people go.

TUTTLE: OK, well, I want to thank everyone for taking the time to call in today. And I want to thank Elliot Abrams and Robert Danin for being with us. And as always, see if our experts are available if you'd like anything on air or more in depth available anytime. Just get in touch with our communication shop (ph). Thanks very much. And we will talk to you later.


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