by Ambra Visentin
Eric Salerno, journalist, special correspondent, expert on Africa and the Middle East, was the Jerusalem correspondent for the Italian daily Messaggero for almost thirty years. In this interview, he explains the possible scenarios that could emerge in the current conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Listen to the interview
50 years after the Yom Kippur war in 1973 a large scale conflict is breaking out again. What factors led to this?
“To try to analyse why it is happening now is to understand that it shoud have been realised years ago, long before now, that something was going to happen eventually.
I think it’s important to realise that the Palestinians have been pushed into minor areas, which are even smaller than they were 20, 30 years ago when the Oslo Accords were agreed. They are much less the territories that could become a Palestinian state, that would make sense at least.
In addition, the Israelis have built a lot of bypass roads in the Westbank that allow the Israelis to go on one side of the road. Whereas the Palestinians, through checkpoints, are sometimes able to go from one village to another village, or from one town to another village, but only on these separate roads built for them, which many international organisations have defined as an apartheid system that divides and controls the population.”
Now that these attacks have taken place, what other parties will be involved and why? I think of Iran, for instance.
“The Iranians are using, and I am not saying that I agree with them, but they are using their strength as a nation to try to damage Israel. We are talking about the government in Tehran that says ‘we want to eliminate Israel’. So they are funding Hamas and also people with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but I don’t think they really want to be involved in this war. They know that Israel has the strongest army in the Middle East, and not just the Middle East. They know that Israel has a lot of help from the Western world and that the United States is prepared, as Hillary Clinton once said, to ‘bomb the shit out of Iran’, so anything is possible over there and they don’t want to get there.”
Does Israel see Tehran as a threat?
“Israel, on the other hand, is afraid of a war with Tehran because it knows that the first thing that will happen is that Hezbollah in Lebanon will respond by attacking Israel with something like 10,000 sophisticated missiles that are somewhere in Lebanon.
And Tel Aviv would probably be destroyed by Hezbollah, before the Israeli air force is able to level Lebanon, which it has obviously promised to.”
The international community has taken a firm stance in favor of Israel. The narrative seems incomplete. What should be said so that people can better understand this conflict?
“I think first of all it’s very important, and it can be said in an intelligent way, that we are totally against Hamas and this terrible thing, let’s call it a war, that they started. This rave party that was going on in the south of Israel, in the middle of the desert, they went in and found about 260 bodies over there, not only Israelis but others who had gone to this party and were having fun, and they massacred them. Why did they do that? It wasn’t a war against Israel. It was a very stupid, brutal attack.
I think what we have to say to the world is that we are totally against what happened. Hamas is not a legitimate part of anything. The Palestinian people are not Hamas and Hamas is not the Palestinian people. And we should be careful that we don’t support anything that might make us supporters of this ‘military operation’ by Hamas, because we support the Palestinian people. They are two different things. This is an internal conflict that has started between the Palestinians, Hamas on one side, and the majority of people, probably even inside Gaza, don’t support Hamas.”
In terms of military strength this conflict is unbalanced. What can we expect if there is not ceasefire in favour of peace talks?
“One of the tragic but important things I have heard is that a lot of people are saying ‘let’s consider that we have already so many people that have been killed over there, so let’s give up on these hostages but let’s get rid of Hamas'”.
And how will Israel try to achieve its goal?
“Israel will go into Gaza, probably, there will be a lot of dead people around. The Israelis have told the Palestinian population to leave, but there is obviously nowhere for them to go. Unless Egypt opens the border and says ‘come’ and it’s flooded with refugees, which could be one of the military and political objectives of the Israelis today, to get rid of the Palestinians in Gaza by getting rid of Hamas.”
What could happen if the Palestinians in the West Bank join this war?
“So far, the situation in the West Bank and Jerusalem appears to be relatively calm. There have been casualties in various incidents, but for the moment they remain at the same level as in the last two years.
If the Palestinian population in the West Bank is somehow involved in the fighting, there is a danger that the Israelis will take advantage and try to move the whole population out of the West Bank, across the Jordan River, into Jordan.”
If the conflict doesn’t stop, which other countries might intervene and on which side?
I don’t think that we will see a military advantage for any country to intervene on either side. But there is another possible scenario, that is potentially dangerous for the stability of the whole region. The population of most of the Arab states has been politically and socially supressed over the years, they don’t agree at all on the peace with Israel that has been signed by their leaders, and they would like to see the Palestinians, their ‘brothers and sisters’, live free in their own country. I think they might revolt in a country as big and potentially very strong militarily as Egypt.”
Find out more on our Palestine-Israel conflict factsheet
Cover image by Anas-Mohammed on Shutterstock