MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 14th of November, 2023. This is WORLD Radio and we thank you for listening. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: the information war in Gaza.
Early on in Israel’s war, Western news feeds lit up over reports that a hospital in Gaza had been leveled by Israeli shelling.
REICHARD: Very soon it was clear that Hamas had blown the story out of proportion…and was most likely responsible for the blast that killed Palestinians camped in the hospital parking lot.
Since then, it’s become clear that a propaganda war is underway as well as urban fighting.
EICHER: Joining us now to talk about the war is Seth Frantzman who is in Israel as we speak. He’s reported extensively on wars in the Middle East, authored two books on drone warfare and ISIS, and is an adjunct fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
REICHARD: Seth, good morning.
FRANTZMAN: Good morning.
REICHARD: Both protestors and politicians condemn Israel for its attacks on Gaza. They say it violates international law by bombing unarmed civilians. What does international law have to say about responding to attacks on Israelis as Hamas did?
FRANTZMAN:Well, countries have a right of self defense, obviously, and a terrorist criminal organization is, you know, is an organization that you're allowed to target and you're allowed to dismantle it. You can go in and arrest their members, or if their members are armed, obviously, you know, you're allowed to target them. So international law would certainly be on the side of Israel. But it's clear that when you're fighting in a very dense, complicated urban environment, like the Gaza Strip is, and the Palestinians have a lot of sympathy, that, you know, Israel has to be super, super careful in terms of who it targets and what kind of munitions it uses. And, you know, if you have one terrorist in the building, and there's 100 civilians in the building, you're not supposed to level the building. Israel has a lot of technology that it uses to make sure that it can reduce as much damage as it can. But I think we all see in Gaza, you know, there is a lot of civilian houses that are damaged in this conflict.
REICHARD: Last week someone at the State Department blasted President Biden for supporting Israel…accused the President of spreading misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war…and supporting genocide. Seth, remind us what genocide is…and whether that’s what’s happening in Gaza?
FRANTZMAN: Well, genocide would seem to be more applicable to what Hamas did on October 7, when it attacked Israel and killed 1200 people. Genocide is the attempt to exterminate you know, a part or in whole a group of a group of people based on you know, parameters like ethnicity or race or again I'm not sure religion, but basically the idea of exterminating in a group of people. I mean, the Holocaust, Armenian Genocide, the Rwandan genocide, the genocide in Darfur, these are all very well known examples.
REICHARD: You mentioned Israel’s tech and efforts to take out terrorists in an urban environment…What do we know about where Israel is in its goal of defeating Hamas?
FRANTZMAN: Well, Israel, Gaza Strip is a very small area, and Israel has basically sent in ground forces there two weeks ago, two and a half weeks ago. So it first started with a three week bombing campaign, and then once it had degraded the Hamas, you know, terrorist infrastructure sent three divisions, which is, you know, 30 to 40,000 men, or what have you, with tanks, into Gaza, and it surrounded Gaza City. It's operated very slowly and cautiously to kind of surround the city there so that it can kind of slowly but surely get civilians to leave the areas of fighting. It opened humanitarian corridors so the civilians can leave. And then it tries to go block by block to go after the Hamas terrorists and also to uncover all the infrastructure that Hamas has because what Hamas did is it tunneled underneath the Gaza Strip and built 500 miles of tunnels. And the real struggle is trying to get them out of the tunnel. So this is a very, very slow complex conflict.
REICHARD: Many voices in the media are condemning Israel for cutting Gaza off from fuel supplies. But the The Wall Street Journal reports that Israel delivered fuel to the Al Shifa hospital and Hamas fighters wouldn’t allow medical personnel to access it. How does it help the Palestinian cause for Hamas to keep hospitals from getting fuel?
FRANTZMAN: Hamas has a long history of using hospitals and civilians in general as kind of human shields. Hamas generally seems to steal the fuel or regulate how much of it the hospitals get. It's in Hamas's interest to have the hospitals permanently in a crisis mode where they are saying to the international community, “we need fuel,” because then the international community pressures Israel to slow down the operations. Whereas Israel's goal is to get the civilians to move out of the hospitals to move to southern Gaza, where there are more hospitals and lots of humanitarian aid being given to the civilians. And then Israel wants to go into the hospital and see if Hamas has built, you know, the terrorist infrastructure that Israel has claimed is underneath some of these hospitals like Shifa Hospital. And I think that's, you know, of course, it's never a pretty sight to see soldiers have to surround a hospital.
REICHARD: What is Israel doing to avoid playing into Hamas’s propaganda games?
FRANTZMAN: Hamas is a terrorist organization, many of the fighters dress in civilian clothes, it's pretty difficult then to know, if a guy who's in civilian clothes one minute and goes into an ambulance is somehow legitimately part of that ambulance, or if you know, an hour later, he picks up by an AK 47. Israel has a lot of technology. But it's never easy to have to fight in these types of environments. And I think therefore, that's why we see Israel moving, moving very, very slowly block by block. And often, in fact, just pausing for a day or days on end, in some cases, in some places.
REICHARD: How does this conflict compare to the war with ISIS?
FRANTZMAN: Hamas committed crimes on October 7 that are direct parallels of ISIS. This is exactly the stuff we saw ISIS do in Iraq and Syria, it's exactly what ISIS did to the Yazidis. The difference is, is is in some sense that ISIS had more time. It was a bit more powerful, the war to defeat ISIS took years, but the process of defeating them in Mosul, Iraq and Syria is exactly what Israel is doing in Gaza. It was a slow process. But this is the kind of difficult, slow campaign that you have to do against groups like this.
REICHARD: Is there any aspect of this story that you think the mainstream news is failing the cover?
MR: Well, if we ask Israelis, you know, would you like to go back to October 6, and have this not happen, to prevent it somehow, you know, through better defenses, or maybe a pre emptive attack or something? I think most Israelis will of course say, yes. If we asked Hamas supporters, would you like to go back to October 6 and prevent this terrible war? And unfortunately, a lot of people that are supporting Hamas would say no, let's do it again. So I think that's the big difference.
REICHARD: Seth Frantzman is with Foundation for Defense of Democracies where he is based in Israel. Seth, thanks for joining us.
FRANTZMAN: Thank you.
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