A former deputy national security advisor in Israel is calling the attack by Hamas this weekend an “earthquake” for the country and people’s sense of security, and says the conflict has become a “battle for national survival.”
Chuck Freilich made the comments in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday, a day after Hamas militants launched a slew of rockets into Israel’s south, as well as attacks by land and sea, in what is being seen as an unprecedented attack.
More than 600 in Israel have been killed, according to government numbers, with claims by Hamas of capturing military soldiers and reports of residents also being abducted.
“This is one of the worst developments in Israel’s history. It’s the first time since the War of Independence in 1948 that Israeli territory was occupied even briefly,” said Freilich, a professor of political science at Columbia University and previously a deputy national security adviser in Israel.
“This is an earthquake for Israel, militarily, psychologically, the sense of people’s security, and it’s, I believe, a total different change in the situation, which is going to require responses by Israel on a completely different level. We cannot accept this.”
In the wake of Saturday’s attacks, Hamas has claimed the number it has captured was “several times greater” than dozens and were spread throughout the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military has confirmed a “substantial” number of people were abducted, suggesting in government statements that the number is more than 100.
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An Egyptian official told the Associated Press that Israel has reached out to Cairo for help in ensuring the safety of those abducted, with Egypt’s intelligence chief having contacted both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group for information.
Asked how Israel could approach the hostage situation and whether a potential prisoner exchange could occur, Freilich said he’s not against negotiations but said a 2011 exchange by Israel that saw more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit set a dangerous precedent.
“We can’t possibly come up with the kind of numbers they (Hamas) might want for the magnitude of the hostages today,” Freilich said.
“I don’t think we’re in a negotiating place at this point. The military operation has to take place and, of course, things will be done to try and minimize the impact on the hostages. But it has to take place regardless of that consideration.”
“I understand how horrific what I’m saying is, that if I had a loved one there, I might be taking a different position,” he continued. “But the state of Israel cannot allow what has happened to stand and we cannot give in to this kind of extortion. This is, in essence, a battle for pretty much for national survival.”
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Following Saturday’s attack, there have also been questions by security experts surrounding what some have called a major intelligence failure. Both CNN and BBC are among those citing American and Israeli intelligence and security officials as saying it is not clear how the attack was not detected earlier and prevented.
Frielich said though intelligence agencies “blow it sometimes,” he believes Hamas was taking advantage of the domestic turmoil being seen in Israel amid social divisions and massive protests over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reforms.
“The so-called judicial reform, I call the judicial wrecking ball, which tore Israeli society apart (and) which clearly weakened the IDF (Israel Defense Forces),” he said. “We’re seeing it now and they (Hamas) believe that this was a unique timing from their perspective, that there would never be a better time to attack Israel. They were proved right.”
While much of the fighting has been focused on the south of Israel, some fighting also erupted Sunday in the north during a brief exchange of strikes with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, raising fears of a broader conflict.
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With this additional conflict this weekend, Freilich raised concerns that while there could be a “clear danger” of escalation in the West Bank, the “real danger” is whether there would be an escalation with Hezbollah and potentially with Iran as well.
“There is certainly a danger of a regional escalation with a multi-front war from this perspective,” he said. “It’s hard to fight multi-front wars, but I believe we are in a war situation and considerations, of course, we try to minimize the chances of escalation, but all bets are off now.”
–with files from The Associated Press and Reuters
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