On the Record

Middle East: More Violence Likely

Martin S. Indyk

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TONY JONES, HOST: Well, to talk about tonight’s developments to Israel’s north and the ongoing crisis in Gaza, both involving kidnapped Israeli soldiers, I’m joined now by Martin Indyk. He is a former US ambassador to Israel, he served as assistant secretary of state and was Bill Clinton’s Middle East adviser at the National Security Council. He’s currently director of the Saban Centre for Middle Eastern Policy at the Brookings Institution and a board member of the Lowy Institute for International Policy and he joins us from Washington.

JONES: Martin Indyk, thanks for being there.

MARTIN INDYK, SABAN CENTRE FOR MIDDLE EASTERN POLICY: Good to see you and speak to you again.

JONES: Indeed. Let’s start with this latest and very fast-moving crisis. For the first time in six years, Israeli troops have crossed the northern border into Lebanon and once again they’re searching for kidnapped Israeli soldiers. How bad could this get?

INDYK: I think in the short term very bad, unfortunately. I don’t think it’s been reported yet, but I’m hearing that seven Israeli soldiers were also killed in this Hezbollah attack on Israel’s northern border overnight and that means that, as you said, tanks are moving across the border and I would expect to see major escalation in fighting on Israel’s northern border. Of course, Israeli tanks moved in yesterday in force to divide Gaza in two and reports out of Israel this morning, they are calling up the reserves as well. So I think that Israel is facing a crisis on two fronts and this is going to immensely complicate the settlement of either one of them.

JONES: Can the Israeli military these days handle a crisis on two fronts, do you believe, and especially with a new and rather untested government?

INDYK: Oh, I don’t think there’s a problem of deployment of military force. Over time it could become a problem, but I don’t expect either of these operations are going to last very long. The question of what it means for the government is I think a very good one, not just because, as you said, it is untested. Prime Minister Olmert, although an experienced politician, has not had these kinds of national security responsibilities before. Nor has his Defence Minister, Edmundo Perez, who was a union leader before he took on that position. So this is quite unusual for Israel to have no generals in the top political positions in the midst of this crisis. That’s good news and bad news. The good news is that I think as politicians, they will be looking to try to find political ways out of this conflict. The bad news is that the Israeli people will not have as much trust in the steadiness of their hand because they don’t have those national security credentials and as politicians they may feel it necessary to take stronger actions than generals who like Sharon or Rabin who have that security credential and could exercise restraint without coming into criticism from their people.

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