Assessing Israel’s Next Moves

Posted Oct 12 2023
text only - Assessing Israel's Next Moves: An IGP Rapid Response Webinar


On October 10, SIPA’s Institute of Global Politics convened an expert panel to consider the recent Hamas attack on Israel, Israel’s response, and the wider geopolitical ramifications. Dean Keren Yarhi-Milo of SIPA, who is also the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Relations, served as moderator.

The panelists spoke for more than an hour — we’ve highlighted a few of their responses; the full program is embedded below.

Participating experts

  • Hillary Rodham Clinton, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia SIPA; 67th Secretary of State and former Senator from New York; IGP Faculty Advisory Board Chair
  • Stephen Biddle, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia SIPA; member of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies; IGP Affiliated Faculty Member
  • Nadav Eyal, Author of Revolt, the Worldwide Uprising Against Globalization; senior columnist for Yediot Ahronot Daily, Israel's most circulated newspaper 
  • Kim Ghattas, Author of Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East; contributing writer for The Atlantic magazine; IGP Inaugural Carnegie Distinguished Fellow 
  • Robert O’Brien, Cofounder and Chairman of American Global Strategies LLC; 27th US National Security Advisor; IGP Inaugural Carnegie Distinguished Fellow

Could this conflict spread outside Israel?

“What we don't know is what the ultimate goal is. Is this it, as horrifying as it already is? Or is there indeed going to be a widening of the conflict?... The potential for regional tension, conflagration, is there. The global ramifications are there as well. Because what I didn't know was that in 1982 and 1983, the Russians were rubbing their hands seeing America fail and Israel getting a beating in Lebanon. And they made sure that all of America's plans in Lebanon would fail. They had a relationship with Iran at the time, and with Syria. And today, we're watching this axis, from Moscow to Tehran, to Hezbollah and Hamas. So… this has potential for something global. And I think that this is also the time to double down on peace. I it's very difficult, after the horror that we've seen, to ask Israelis to even consider any concessions to Palestinians. But I've heard some of those voices. I've seen them. Because these cycles of violence, where people are trying to wipe each other out, it's leading us to further cycles of violence.”

— Kim Ghattas

How might Israel and the world respond to Hamas and its role in this?

“When I look at the financial support that Hamas has received over the years since 2012, when I look at the increasing role that Iran has played in Gaza with Hamas, it's imperative that we look at every diplomatic approach that we can imagine…. Iran has become the primary sponsor of Hamas now. And so we’ve got to get a more collective response to try to balance that and to try to put pressure on Hamas in ways that it will recognize and respond to…. And we also I think have to recognize that we have to rebuild a coalition of countries who will stand with Israel against terrorism, and also look for ways that we can send a message, if possible, to the Palestinian people, that the Hamas leadership is only causing them more pain and suffering…. I've been to Gaza. I have seen the urban environment. I have been in some of the small buildings that make up what is the landscape of Gaza. And 2 million people jammed in there, basically at the will of Hamas, is going to cause enormous loss. And we've got to figure out how to respond to that, as well.”

— Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton

What can be done to limit civilian casualties and suffering?

“There are things that can be done, but they're limited in their effect. So you can restrict fire to identified targets only. You can use small-caliber weapons rather than artillery and large-caliber missiles. You can fire only when you're fired upon. You can distribute warning to civilians that a strike is coming, by text message or leaflets. The IDF has developed a policy of dropping non-explosive ordnance on the roofs of buildings to tell the occupants that the building is about to be struck. You can do variations on all these techniques. 

The problem is, if you're going to do a large-scale invasion and occupation of a densely occupied urban area, and the defenders decide to fight back, it's impossible to do this without large-scale loss of civilian life and large-scale destruction of civilian property and infrastructure….

It's better to kill fewer, and it's better to destroy less, and it's better to impose less suffering than more. And we can all hope that the IDF operates in a way that produces less suffering, rather than more. But the scale of suffering we're looking at, in the event of any plausible land invasion of Gaza, is going to be stratospheric. And it's going to involve a lot of suffering on the part of Israelis and the IDF. The casualty levels you can expect in this kind of urban warfare, in an extremely densely-populated area that is aggressively defended, is nasty for the military as well as the civilians. It's just awful all around.”

— Stephen Biddle 

How will this conflict end?

“Basically, as far as the Israelis are concerned, they're talking about the possibility of handing over responsibility back to the PA [Palestinian Authority] and the international community after a long campaign in the Gaza Strip. Whether or not this is going to be possible or plausible, I don't know. But that's the kind of conversation they're having.”

— Nadav Eyal

How does the presence of hostages complicate decision making during times of war?

Now we know that there are Americans involved. So this isn't just Hamas versus Israel. This is Hamas and Iran versus the United States. And I'm not suggesting we get American troops in. I think the Israeli Defense Force can do just fine on its own. But they can use our exquisite assistance and capabilities on the hostage rescue front.

— Robert O’Brien

Watch the complete discussion: