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Middle East correspondent for The Economist Gregg Carlstrom, on the reality of the war since the ceasefire ended.

Joe Biden’s five ’noes’ in the Israel-Hamas war

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The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is well and truly over, with the war expanding to include southern Gaza, where many have already fled to escape the destruction in the north.

Meanwhile, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in disagreement with Israel’s biggest supporter, the US, over what should happen after the war ends. 

So how significant is tension between the US and Israel? And could it limit how long the conflict can go on?

Today, Middle East correspondent for The Economist Gregg Carlstrom, on the reality of the war since the ceasefire ended. 

 

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Guest: Middle East correspondent for The Economist Gregg Carlstrom

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[Theme Music Starts]
 
##ANGE:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ange McCormack. This is *7am*.
 
The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is well and truly over, with the war expanding to include southern Gaza, where many have already fled to escape the war in the north.
 
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in disagreement with Israel’s biggest supporter, the US, over what should happen after the war ends. 
 
So how significant is tension between the US and Israel? And could it put a time limit on how long the conflict can go on?
 
Today, Middle East correspondent for *The Economist* Gregg Carlstrom, on the reality of the war since the ceasefire ended. 
 
It’s Thursday, December 7
 
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##ANGE: 
Gregg, early last Friday morning the truce between Israel and Hamas expired and the fighting resumed. What have we seen in Gaza since then?
 
##GREGG:
The war is back. And in some ways it's more ferocious than even what we saw in the first month and a half of fighting in Gaza. There have been reports that just on the second day since this truce expired, there were 700 Palestinians killed in Gaza.
 
For the Israeli army. There have been two focal points. One of them is on a couple of areas in northern Gaza where they have yet to send troops in large numbers. So there's a neighbourhood called Sheikh Za'id, which is in northeastern Gaza. And then there's Jabalia refugee camp in the far north of the Gaza Strip. Again, both of those areas had not really been focal points of fighting before. The Israeli army thinks that most of the Hamas militants who are still in northern Gaza are in those two neighbourhoods. 
 
Along with that, there's also been a push into the south. Of course, if you go back to the first week of the war, the Israeli army told everyone in northern Gaza to evacuate south of Wadi Gaza, the riverbed that runs through the middle of Gaza and the fighting until now had been focussed on the north. But the Israelis think that much of the Hamas leadership, many of its fighters, also fled to the south, along with more than a million civilians from northern Gaza. 
 
So what we've seen is Israeli troops beginning to push into Khan Yunis, which is the first major city south of that riverbed, south of the evacuation line. 
 
##Audio excerpt – News Reporter:
“Israel sent real bombardment around this area, the southern Gaza. It’s now relentless”
 
##Audio excerpt – News Reporter:
“Dozens of Israeli tanks were reportedly arriving into the southern part of the Gaza straight near Khan Yunis.”
 
##GREGG:
This is obviously raised a lot of concerns about what's going to happen to the now almost 2 million civilians who are in southern Gaza and where they're going to be able to go. They can't flee back to the north. That's still an active war zone. It's also largely destroyed. And so there's there's nowhere for civilians to go. 
 
The Israeli army over the weekend published a map of Gaza that divided the territory into hundreds of different numbered zones. And the idea is that the Israeli army will tell everyone in Gaza on a rolling basis which zones it's planning to fight in and ask civilians to move to other areas. But the map isn't very clear on where some of those zones begin and end, and it's really unclear if people who've been displaced in many cases already, if they're going to be willing and able to be displaced perhaps numerous times again, as the war expands in the south.
 
So all of that is happening against the backdrop of what Israeli officers called their window of legitimacy, closing the window that they have in which to conduct this war. There is growing international pressure on Israel to end the war. 
 
There's also growing domestic pressure around the question of the Israeli hostages who are still being held in Gaza. So you get a sense talking to people in the Israeli army that they are trying to push ahead very quickly with their campaign in southern Gaza because they don't know if they're going to have much time left in which to continue fighting.
 
##ANGE: 
So let’s talk about some of those international tensions, Prime Minister Netanyahu says Israel will continue the war until all its goals are accomplished. What’s the United States saying in terms of how long it will continue supporting Israel’s campaign?
 
##GREGG:
From the president, from Joe Biden. The message continues to be there's no push for a ceasefire. Israel has the right to defend itself and America is behind that. When you listen to some other people around Joe Biden, though, the rhetoric from America has become increasingly critical of the Israeli war effort. We saw this last week, Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, made a visit to Israel. 
 
##Audio excerpt – News Reporter: 
“The six day cease fire between Israel and Hamas is set to end soon. Earlier tonight, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken touched down in Israel.” 
 
##Audio excerpt – Antony Blinken: 
“Well, thank you, Mr. President. This is my fourth visit to Israel since October 7th.”
 
##GREGG:
He joined the meeting of the Israeli war cabinet, which is obviously an unusual thing for a secretary of state to do on a visit to a foreign country. It shows you how involved the Americans have been in this war effort since the start and also increasingly how concerned they are about this war effort.
 
And there is one point, according to leaked comments from the meeting, where Yoav Gallant, the Defence Minister, said that Israeli society was still united behind dismantling Hamas, which is true, “even if it takes months.” And Blinken told him, “you don't have the credit for that”, for going on for months with this campaign.
 
So, how long America will support the war. Again, it really depends on Israel's tactics and conditions on the ground. 
 
One question is civilian casualties, how deadly this campaign in the south is going to be. 16,000 Palestinians have been killed in almost two months of fighting and huge concerns that as the Israeli army goes into densely, densely populated southern Gaza, that those numbers are going to skyrocket.
 
And America is also still pushing for more hostage diplomacy. The reason for this weeklong truce was a deal to release. In the end, 110 of the Israeli and foreign hostages who were being held in Gaza. There are still close to 140 hostages who remain in Gaza. 
 
And there had been negotiations indirectly between Israel and Hamas about extending and expanding that hostage deal. Those negotiations have for now been suspended. The Mossad officials who were in Qatar negotiating have been told to come back to Israel. 
 
But the Americans are still trying to revive those negotiations. And so all of those things, I think, will affect how long America is willing to support a continued campaign in Gaza. And then the big question, I think, for the Americans is what comes after the war? And they haven't gotten very far in those discussions.
 
##ANGE: 
Yeah, where are those discussions up to exactly, when we look at who might be responsible for Gaza after this war is over?
 
##GREGG:
I think it's going to be Israel that is responsible for Gaza, not because anyone wants it to be responsible, but because none of the other options are either good or realistic. 
 
Going back again to that war cabinet meeting that Secretary Blinken attended in Israel last week, he pushed the Israelis again to allow the Palestinian Authority to come back to Gaza after the war. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the occupied West Bank and used to control Gaza as well, until Hamas threw it out in 2007. 
 
And the response from Prime Minister Netanyahu was that he said, “as long as I'm in this chair, the Palestinian Authority will not come back to Gaza.” He's used that kind of rhetoric before. He's ruled out a couple of times bringing back the P.A., but this is the most forceful comment that he's made about it. And he did it apparently in front of the American Secretary of State who was urging him to let the P.A. come back.
 
Now, there are all sorts of questions about whether the PA is even strong enough to come back. 
 
It's also worth remembering that when Netanyahu says “it won't happen as long as I'm in this chair”, he may not be in that chair for very long. He is historically unpopular at the moment. His corruption trial also resumed this week after a two month hiatus because Israeli courts were suspended because of the war. So he looks like a prime minister who's on his way out and other Israeli leaders might be more amenable to the idea of the PA coming back to Gaza. But even if they are, it's not going to happen quickly. 
 
I was speaking with an Israeli official yesterday who said even if there's a change of government and the government wants the PA to come back, there will probably be a period of 1 or 2 years where the Israeli army is in charge of security and where Israel has to coordinate humanitarian aid and reconstruction in what is an absolutely devastated territory.
 
##ANGE: 
After the break - the one sticking point that the US and Israel can’t agree on. 
 
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##ANGE: 
Gregg, we’ve been talking about how Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has found himself disagreeing with Israel’s biggest supporter and ally, the US. How significant is it that we’re seeing tension in that relationship?
 
##GREGG:
It's a very familiar place for Netanyahu. This is someone who has clashed with Democratic presidents all the way back to the 1990s during Netanyahu's first term as Prime Minister when Bill Clinton was the president. He certainly clashed with Barack Obama, most famously over the nuclear deal with Iran, which was the centrepiece of Barack Obama's Middle East policy and something that Netanyahu worked very, very hard to try and scupper.
 
So confronting Biden and being at odds with the Biden administration is familiar ground for him. But I think a couple of things are different this time. 
 
One is that Netanyahu's political concerns are much more acute. He really is worried that after the next election, he is going to be pushed out of power. And he's already lost the Israeli left. He's lost the Israeli centre. He is desperately trying to hang on to his right-wing base. 
 
And so in the past, when he clashed with America, he sometimes used America. There were things that right-wing coalition partners wanted to do that Netanyahu didn't want to do, expanding settlements in the West Bank, for example, things like that, where Netanyahu might not have wanted to do them because he was worried about the consequences. 
 
And so he used the Americans as a foil. He would say, listen, I hear you guys, I really want to do this. But, you know, it'll make Barack Obama mad and make Joe Biden mad. So I can't do it.
 
He's not doing that anymore. What he's doing is completely going along with his right wing base because he is just obsessed with hanging on to them. And so he's found himself now in a position where there's this irreconcilable conflict with the Americans. 
 
We've seen that, for example, in what Blinken called his five nos, he set out a list of five things that cannot happen after the Gaza War.
 
##Audio excerpt – Antony Blinken: 
“Ultimately, the only way to ensure that this crisis never happens again is to begin setting the conditions for durable peace and security…”
 
##GREGG:
One of which he said was any reduction in the territory of Gaza.
 
##Audio excerpt – Antony Blinken: 
“No reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends. No attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza. No reduction in the territory of Gaza.”
 
##GREGG:
Netanyahu, though, is pushing for exactly that. He's pushing for the creation of a buffer zone around Gaza that would reduce the territory of Gaza, even though the Americans have said quite clearly that they don't want to see that happen. 
 
##ANGE: 
Right, so can you explain a bit more how this buffer zone might work, and how has the US reacted to this idea?
 
##GREGG:
There's already a buffer zone around Gaza. There's an area of several hundred metres around the entirety of the Gaza Israeli border where civilians are not allowed to build homes, where people are not allowed to go. You know, it's a surreal experience when you go into Gaza. You drive through this sort of no man's land for about half a kilometre where there's nothing built up. There are no structures there. You are fenced in on both sides by chain link fence. There are remote controlled machine guns on the top of the Israeli watchtowers behind you.
 
So there's already a buffer zone that exists. And the proposal is to expand that, to have a larger area on the border between Israel and Gaza where Palestinians are not allowed to go.
 
The idea behind that for the Israelis, obviously, a lot of it has to do with trying to make people in the south feel safe again. You have tens of thousands of Israelis who've been displaced from towns near the border with Gaza. They do not want to go back unless they have a feeling that what happened on October 7th is not going to happen again. 
 
And part of that for the Israeli government would mean setting up a larger buffer zone to keep everyone in Gaza away from that border. 
 
A foreign policy advisor to Netanyahu says there's a three tier process in Gaza. He says the first step is to destroy Hamas. The second is to demilitarise Gaza and the third is to de-radicalise it. And he says that creating a buffer zone would be part of that second step of demilitarising the territory. 
 
What the issue with that obviously is the Americans are not happy with it. It means expanding the area that is not available for Gazans to live on, reducing the territory of Gaza. Again, that's one of the five no's from Blinken, Arab states also opposed to it. 
 
And I think it's a it's a smaller sign of a bigger problem, which is that there is going to be a prolonged Israeli occupation of Gaza after the war. You know, this buffer zone, someone's going to have to police that buffer zone and that's going to be the Israeli army. 
 
It's also going to mean the Palestinians who used to live there, many of whom don't have homes to return to anyway after the destruction of the war. They are going to be displaced for a long period of time.
 
Long occupation, extensive displacement. This is not something that anyone wants to see, but it looks like it's going to be the post-war reality in Gaza.
 
##ANGE: 
And Gregg, if the likelihood of the Palestinian authority having a role after the conflict is diminishing…What do the solutions left on the table really mean for the over 2 million odd people in Gaza and their say in the future of their home?
 
##GREGG:
You know, you heard these concerns a lot, talking to people during the truce when people had a week to, in some cases, go back to their homes and see what was left of their homes and their neighbourhoods. And so many people went back to find there's nothing there. Their homes were destroyed, their neighbours homes were destroyed, their businesses were destroyed. People really have lost everything. 
 
There is going to be an enormous reconstruction bill for Gaza. There are some estimates already that put the damage as high as $50 billion. Nobody wants to foot that bill unless it’s part of the broader diplomatic process, nobody wants to put $50 billion into rebuilding Gaza. If there's a possibility that a few years from now this all happens again and there's another ruinous war. 
 
So when you talk to European officials, certainly when you talk to officials in the Gulf, they say we'll help. But there needs to be an effort at a two-state solution. There needs to be an effort at a peace process so that the conflict might actually end. But it's very hard to see that happening.
 
Prime Minister Netanyahu on the Israeli side, lifelong opponent of a two state solution, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, supports one but doesn't have any power to make it a reality. And most Palestinians want him to resign. He's deeply unpopular. So the leadership on both sides would need a radical change in order to even start talking about a peace process. 
 
There's this optimistic view that you come out of the war and you have some kind of an effort towards diplomacy. And coupled with that huge reconstruction effort financed by Western and Arab countries to rebuild Gaza and improve the lives of people there 
 
You have a much more pessimistic reality it seems like we're heading towards, which is a lengthy Israeli occupation of what will be a very large, very miserable camp for displaced Palestinians for the foreseeable future. 
 
##ANGE: 
Gregg, thanks so much for your time today.
 
##GREGG:
Thank you.
 
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##ANGE: 
Also in the news today, 
 
Bill Shorten will soon reveal the government’s review into the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
 
Bill Shorten will give a speech at the National Press Club today about the changes to the NDIS, which are partly predicted to address the scheme’s rising costs. 
 
And 
 
The Bureau of Meteorology has issued heatwave warnings to nearly half of the country this week; with western sydney predicted to be as hot as 42 degrees on Saturday.
 
The Bureau said while records weren’t likely to be broken by heat over the coming days, the first ‘burst’ of above-40-degree-days in summer can come as a ‘shock’.
 
I’m Ange McCormack, this is *7am*. We’ll be back again tomorrow. 
 
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