LOS ANGELES — Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview from Tel Aviv Tuesday that Israel is likely to undertake a “limited ground operation” in the Gaza Strip, though a sudden change could create pressure on the Israeli government to do more–or to stop.
“A lot of it depends on whether Hamas can keep the rate of firing up,” Oren said, referring to Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli population centers and nuclear installations, among other targets. “If they change [increase] the rate of firing, the pressure on Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu for a land operation will increase.”
On the other hand, Oren said, “Every passing day, where they shoot from the ground and we bomb from the air, increases the chances of what I call a ‘Kfar Qana’ incident.” Kfar Qana is the town in Lebanon that was hit twice–first in 1996, then in 2006–by Israeli bombing that caused heavy civilian casualties and built international pressure against Israel. “If we miss a target in the Gaza Strip and kill a large number of Palestinian civilians, that will put international pressure on us, including pressure to accept a premature ceasefire,” Oren predicted.
“Or, conversely, if one of their rockets gets through the Iron Dome, there will be pressure on the Prime Minister to escalate, not de-escalate. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I would think there’s a lot of thought going into a limited ground operation that will increase pressure on Hamas to stop the rockets,” he said.
Oren said that he does not see much chance that Israel would reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip to root out Hamas entirely–an option that several Israeli ministers have supported, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Oren, noting that Israel has repeatedly said that it has the right to defend itself against the Iranian nuclear threat, said:
I don’t think we’d have much international latitude. Just the word, “occupy,” is problematic. There would be a high number of Israeli casualties, to say nothing of Palestinian civilian casualties, in a fight against an enemy that is deeply dug in and using them as a shield. It would be difficult for us to ferret out Hamas without fighting our way through civilian areas. Bear in mind that there are other challenges, such as the possibility of Abu Mazen [the nom de guerre of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas] declaring a state unilaterally at the U.N. in the fall, and the possibility that Iranian nuclear negotiations go into a prolonged state, and expire. I don’t think Israel wants to be fighting in Gaza at the same time that we take on Iran.
Oren, who supported a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005–and served in the Israel Defense Forces at the time the disengagement was carried out–said that a “Plan B” for the West Bank could involve a “unilateral drawing of borders to include the maximum number of Israelis [inside Israel], exclude the maximum number of Palestinians, and end the claim that we occupy them,” countering the international strategic threat of sanctions.
“Just as we have an Iron Dome against missiles, we need a strategic Iron Dome against sanctions, he said.”
Oren said that the failed ceasefire–an Egyptian proposal that Israel accepted and Hamas rejected–was partly the result of the “good relationship” Israel has developed with the government of former military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “We have mutual trust. There are a lot of common challenges, particularly in the form of Hamas.”
When President Barack Obama initially offered to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Oren told Breitbart News, “My first reaction was to say that we don’t want the U.S. interacting with Hamas. That would be a victory for Hamas. On further clarification, I learned that the mediation would be indirect–through Turkey, Qatar, or Egypt. There was not, I think, an intention to have direct talks with Hamas.”
He added: “I would have preferred the U.S. re-think its swift recognition of the Fatah-Hamas unity government,” which President Obama pledged to work with when it was formed last month. “I think a reassessment is due.”
In closing, Oren told Breitbart News:
I would like to thank the American people for their support for Iron Dome. Back in 2012, when Iron Dome made its debut [in battle], we only had two batteries. There were barely enough to cover the south [of Israel]. And now we have seven, in fairly large part due to the generosity of the the American people. I’m walking around today in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv because of that generosity.