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Israeli Defense Forces Reservist On The Country's Military Strategy

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The cease-fire in Gaza holds for now after 11 days of rockets, bombs and death. At least 250 people were killed in Gaza - among them, at least 66 children - in intense Israeli airstrikes. And in Israel, 12 people, including two children, were killed by Hamas rockets fired at many towns.

Now, in a moment, we'll hear from a Palestinian official. Right now, we're joined by Brigadier General Assaf Orion, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. General, thank you very much for being with us.

ASSAF ORION: Thank you for inviting.

SIMON: And we should note, you're a reserve member of the IDF and understand you were called into duty this past week.

ORION: Yes, I was.

SIMON: The world has seen this before. Israel and Gaza have seen this before. Do past conflicts suggest that the level of destruction Israel has inflicted on Gaza in the end will only strengthen the hand of Hamas and inspire them just to make new rockets when they can?

ORION: I believe they don't need the conflicts for inspiration, but they have the inspiration for conflicts. This is the fourth conflict in Gaza since Israel disengaged from the Strip in 2005. Strategically, that's the first time when Hamas opened a conflict not to improve governance and the economy of the Strip but seeking to dominate the Palestinian system, including the West Bank and the rest of it.

As in the past, Israel conducted this operation to protect the citizens of Israel, to degrade Hamas threats, to impose costs and to deter it from repeating similar terror attacks in the future. Israel was not seeking to topple Hamas. As in the past, Hamas tried to attack Israel's citizens in a discriminate - indiscriminate way. And as in the past, Hamas chose the battlefield, embedding its military assets at the heart of populated areas, fighting while hiding behind the population's backs...

SIMON: Well, General...

ORION: ...Because - yes, sir.

SIMON: General, let me interject with a question, though. Does it really discourage Hamas from future attacks? Or does it, in a sense, give them a new rallying cry to look at the destruction now and say, look what Israel has done to us, look at the people they have killed? The world can see that.

ORION: It does actually both because on the one hand, it imposes cost, which they will need to insert into their calculus in the next time. And at the same time, playing the victim, it rallies support. That's the military side and the strategic side of the conflict. This was a very intensive, much more intensive conflict than the past times. Hamas launched 4,200 rockets in 11 days, just as the 50 days of 2014. Larger parts of Israel were under heavier fire. And Israel, in the same time, attacked Hamas military assets in the Strip including, notably, the underground network of military tunnels.

SIMON: I want to work in a couple more questions, if I can.

ORION: Yes.

SIMON: General, is there a new security concern now with the fighting within Israel - Palestinian Israelis roaming the streets with bats, right-wing Israelis doing the same, setting fire to property and houses of worship?

ORION: Yes, that's indeed a new dimension in the conflict coming just after significant progress in the integration of the Arab society in Israel after COVID-19 demonstrated the role of Israeli Arabs in our health systems. But this unprecedented strife, especially in the mixed towns, surfaced a lot of unattended problems like organized crime armed in the Arab society. The Arab society itself has been pleading to the government to address it. We have Jewish and Arab radicals on both sides, weakness of the police and ungoverned spaces where the rule of law is not enforced in a good way and crime syndicates are more dominant.

SIMON: Let me ask in the half a minute we have left - does the unresolved Israeli domestic political situation add to the concern right now?

ORION: Yes. We have a caretaker government, and not an elected one - four elections within two years, the prime minister failing to reach majority to form its government. And this conflict really polarized the Israeli politics. And the fault line is, again, Jewish and Arabs. This might have prevented a coalition to replace Netanyahu.

SIMON: Brigadier General Assaf Orion, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, thanks so much for being with us, General.

ORION: Thank you. Shabbat shalom.

SIMON: Shabbat shalom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.