Although the following was addressed to American audience, it just as well would apply to Europeans.
Five questions Americans must ask about the Israel-Hamas war
Marc Polymeropoulos 11 hrs ago
I have spent sleepless nights, and far too much time on Twitter, since the latest war between Israel and Hamas kicked off last week.
My emotional reactions are visceral, as I was an American intelligence officer for two and a half decades, who at times worked with both the Israeli and Palestinian Authority governments. I genuinely like and admire both people. I helped the two sides on security issues and wish that a solution could be found that would allow both to live in peace together. That dream seems to be far from reality, but I won’t stop wishing, hoping, and speaking out, given my love for the region and the people.
As we watch events unfold, I also am troubled by a lack of real understanding of the conflict in the United States. Yes, we have Palestinian and Jewish communities who are passionate about their respective causes. However, I am thinking of Americans who get their news from cable TV and social media and who are watching events unfold with curious concern. You know that the Israel-Hamas war has hit the mainstream when, at a high school baseball game in Vienna, Virginia, earlier this week, one parent who knew my background in the intelligence community stopped me and asked, "What the hell is happening over there?"
Well, here are five questions that will perhaps assist the public. Five questions not to change minds but which might help Americans to think past the sound bites and appreciate the nuance of what is a very difficult situation.
1) Who is right in this conflict?
Both and neither. Hamas is a terrorist group. They have launched rockets into Israel that have not caused damage on an epic scale only because of the technical marvel of Israel's Iron Dome air defense system. And make no mistake, Israel has every right to defend itself.
Yet, the Israeli response has been deeply troubling at times. While Hamas bears a great deal of responsibility for civilian casualties; the group uses Palestinian civilians as cover for storing weapons, intelligence gathering, and for their rocket teams, the Israelis have used disproportionate force in an urban area, killing scores of innocent Palestinian civilians. Just remember, while an unfortunate necessity at times, no one really is "right" in war.
2) Should we be okay with the civilian casualties from Israeli strikes?
No. We must remember that Gaza is one of the most packed urban environments on the planet. It is simply impossible to avoid civilian casualties, even if we take the Israelis at their word that they are making a great effort to do so. A ceasefire is imperative at this point, given the mounting death toll in Gaza. These images of destruction are also incredibly damaging to Israel diplomatically. The world is watching.
3) What would we do as Americans if our cities were subject to rocket attacks?
I would argue that post 9/11, the U.S. responded with overwhelming firepower, but with far more concern for civilian casualties. I participated in these operations in multiple theaters, and our desire for "near-zero" certainty for civilian casualties was ingrained in everything we did.
Don't misunderstand me, I sympathize tremendously with the Israeli public. There is no doubt that they are living in fear of the thousands of rockets fired on them by Hamas. Many innocent Israelis have been killed or injured. I have been subject to indirect fire attacks for months at a time in Afghanistan, and it is indeed both physically dangerous and emotionally taxing.
But an Israeli response that kills Palestinian civilians in droves is neither just nor moral, and frankly is counterproductive for Israel internationally.
4) Do American politicians really understand what is happening?
The answer is an unequivocal no, and on top of that, our politicians try and win political points by taking one position or the other. On the Right, we see the cheerleading that Israel has done no wrong, and must continue on in their campaign until Hamas's military capabilities are nearly diminished.
On the Left, there are cries about civilian casualties in Gaza, but disdain for the terror that Israelis are facing from Hamas's rockets. Senator Ted Cruz's announced trip to Israel later this week is patently absurd theater. As is the "Squad's" claim that Israel is acting like a terrorist state. I am comfortable dismissing both as posturing, as I am not confident that they are speaking from a position of authority or responsibility. Put simply, ignore the politicians if you can. The only key voice that matters is President Joe Biden, who now correctly is calling for a ceasefire.
5) Why should we even care what happens between Israel and the Palestinians?
The much heralded Abraham Accords that saw peace agreements between Israel and several Gulf Arab states never addressed the Palestinian question.
I was one of the few voices who raised alarm regarding this deliberate omission. This matters because overall peace in the Middle East is an illusion until the fundamental question of Palestinian sovereignty is addressed. The Palestinians must have their own state, as they live in appalling conditions that I have seen with my own eyes on numerous occasions.
As we crossed into the West Bank one day, with checkpoints and security fences, an intelligence community colleague of mine sadly stated to me, "Welcome to the zoo." It was a horribly disturbing but accurate depiction of life for the Palestinian people. Israel and the international community's failure to address Palestinian self-determination will condemn both sides to cyclical outbreaks of violence, and see Israel’s moral standing erode further.
I will leave you with two vignettes. I had lunch in the West Bank with a Palestinian family nearly three decades ago. It was a massive meal, probably far too expensive but was prepared in honor of my calling on their home. I looked out into the hills after a lovely afternoon and realized that the Palestinians had just as much a right to a peaceful existence as the Israelis.
Years later, I spent one evening bar hopping with Israeli security officials in Tel Aviv who were dressed casually, some even in Birkenstocks. Yes, Mossad wears sandals (the CIA should follow this relaxed dress code, but that is for another article)! We drank wine, ate sushi, and danced at a local club. I may as well have been in a California beach town, and I felt an affinity for my Israeli counterparts as if I was back home with my own friends.
What did both experiences prove to me?
That there are good people on both sides of the conflict. They all deserve better. They all deserve peace, even if it appears to be a Sisyphean task. The U.S. must do all it can to make that distant dream a reality, even if both sides have dug in. Even as they bury their dead and care for their injured. I write and speak on leadership now, advising others that when times are tough and the odds are against you, this is the most important time to lead. So I say now to Biden: Sir, try harder.
Marc Polymeropoulos is a former CIA senior operations officer. He retired in 2019 after a 26 year career serving in the Near East and South Asia. His book Clarity in Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the CIA will be published in June 2021 by Harper Collins.
Pieter, the reason for this conflict was extradiction of many Palestinian families from East Jerusalem. The other political reason was the fact that Netanyahu wanted to get attention away from an attempt to make a coalition government with Arab israelis.
Even New York Times does not support Israel and Netanyahu like it used to do before. There are too many images of educated Palestinians, especially women and girls that suffer for no reason, just because they were born under Israel and Netanyahu occupation.
Marc Polymeropoulos does not even mention Netanyahu by name. He immediately assumes that Hamas is guilty because it is a terroristic organization. I would say that Netanyahu is a terrorist and Israel is an apartheid state, but unfortunately the US is not ready to walk away from Israel. Just calling "Hamas" a "terroristic organization" does not justify killing civilians that leave in the awful world. He tries to equal both sides, but this is a wrong comparison.
Here are some very critical articles against Israel policy and against Netanyahu who just wants to be in power like Putin, Lukashenko and Trump - forever, with as many casualties as he needs for his political strategy.