[FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW] “We had a situation in a time of peace where a thousand people were mutilated and butchered before the IDF responded. And yet, that ignited these people on the campus to root for the people who were murdering and beheading.”
To make sense of the realities of the Israel–Hamas war, I sit down with classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson, bestselling author of a number of books including “The Dying Citizen” and the upcoming book “The End of Everything: How Wars Descend Into Annihilation.”
Did Hamas miscalculate Israel’s response? Will Hezbollah intervene? What is Iran’s play now? And what do many in the West misunderstand about Israel and Hamas?
“A lot of people apply rules to the Jewish state they would never apply to any other ally. And that explains the schizophrenia that we have,” Mr. Hanson says. FULL TRANSCRIPT
Jan Jekielek: Victor Davis Hanson, so good to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Victor Davis Hanson: Thank you for having me on.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, I want to do a primer here on what’s happening in the Middle East right now, what’s happening with the Israel-Hamas War, how this all came to be, and how you view this from your unique military history lens.
Mr. Hanson: It’s multi-faceted. There were social, economic, and military precursors. You would call them long-term factors, and there were short-term factors. Long-term, Israel had reached a zenith as far as its own history in terms of affluence and leisure. Anybody who has gone to Haifa would be astounded by it, compared to an American city. I was just there, and it made San Francisco look pathetic in comparison. It really did. It was clean. It was crime-free. It was prosperous. People were out walking at midnight. It has a beautiful harbor.
They had the Accords with the Saudis, the resurrected Abraham Accords. They were exuberant. You would meet Israelis in government and commerce, and they would say, “In the last two years we have 20,000 Gazans working for us. We haven’t had any trouble. When they get injured, we take them to a hospital. We’re teaching them methods of sophisticated agriculture. We’re going to be friends with the Saudis.”
The Iran deal fell through, as we knew it would. That gave them certain assumptions that were impossible given their neighborhood, so they had a political disagreement in the fashion that we do. Perhaps Netanyahu is as controversial as Trump, so they’re going through this political and civil war almost. But we’re safe, we have Canada and Mexico, and we’re away.
They had the same type of dispute over the Supreme Court, where we had a million people in the street protesting the Netanyahu government. They had people that were not signing up or not reporting for their IDF [Israel Defense Force] reservist call. That’s an extravagance that Western societies can afford, but not them, but they have lulled them into that since. That created a sense of unpreparedness that was known to Hamas.
Iran, after the Biden administration came in and stopped all the sanctions, had $50 to $70 billion in additional oil revenues. We were giving them sanction relief. Obama had done that, but Trump had stopped it. They knew abstractly how much wherewithal Hamas was getting in terms of money, rockets, weapons, and maybe Hezbollah, but they didn’t conceptualize that as threats to the IDF, in a way that they had not during the Yom Kippur war either. It was the same mentality, and that gave an opening for Hamas. That was one thing.
The second was when Hamas went in there and thought, “We’re going to attack in a time of peace when they think they are playing us off against the Palestinian authority. They think we want to be Singapore, they believe our rhetoric, and they’re completely unaware. Then in the short-term we’re going to go through the gate or the wall.” It’s not much of a wall if you look at it compared to what you think a wall is, or what the new Trump wall is in comparison.
“We’re going to do it during the holiday. We’re going to do it early in the morning when they’re not expecting it. We’re going to be brutal in a way that no one’s ever imagined before. We’re going to decapitate. We’re going to desecrate. We’re going to mutilate. We’re going to torture. We’re going to engage in things that are unspeakable like necrophilia and rape.”
“We’re going to take hostages. We’re not just going to take hostages, we’re going to take young kids ages 2, 3, and 4. We’re going to take elderly women, and we’re going to do two things. We’re going to be so pre-civilizational that we’re going to shock them into terror. We’ve got to do something.” They were just completely out of control. I know that this sounds unrealistic, but that was their mentality.
The other presumption was, “We’re going to be so depraved in our violence that we’re going to make the argument that only people who were being exploited would ever reach that level of barbarity, and you made us do it.” Third, they have a whole expatriate community of Middle Eastern people throughout Europe and the United States. They especially understood the new DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] on campus. They thought, “We can do all of this, and we won’t get any global disdain, because the universities and the institutions of Western society are pretty much controlled by the pro-Palestinian Left.”
They were right in all those assumptions. They only made one mistake—they miscalculated the Israeli response. They looked at the first four days of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but they didn’t look at the next 15. Had they done that, they would have realized that the response was going to be medieval, and that’s what we’re watching today. They are going to be destroyed.
Israel’s political parties have temporarily coalesced. People from all across the spectrum have united. They have come to the idea that there’s no two-state solution, and you cannot make peace with people who do these things. Hamas overestimated their ability to shock the Israelis, or scare them, or terrify them, or win the approval of the world. That’s what they were thinking, but there’s still a lot of people in the world who are going to give Israel a green light.
This is the first time in our lifetimes, and I’m 70 years old, that I don’t see any restraint on Israel. I don’t see a Western diplomat, or Macron, or Scholz calling them up and saying, “Listen, you’ve had five days of barbarity, we’re going to cut your aid off,” or Joe Biden saying, “You do this and do this.” I don’t see that happening, and that applies to Hezbollah and Iran as well.
Mr. Jekielek: There are people rebelling even in the U.S. government because of the U.S. response being pro-Israel.
Mr. Jekielek: At the same time, I’ve read some compelling analysis talking about how the U.S. empowerment of Iran may have played a significant role in this, simply because of Iran feeling like they are unchecked.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. They had the financial wherewithal when the sanctions were relieved, and the disposable income to arm Hamas and Hezbollah to levels that no one had ever imagined would be possible, so they were riding high. Iran, at this juncture said, “We have new allies. We have the Chinese. We’re selling drones to the Russians in the Ukrainian war. The Obama idea of a Shia Crescent of Tehran, Damascus, Beirut, and Gaza is actuated. It’s there now. In the U.S. government, we have Robert Malley, who’s one of us.”
They would say, “We have people in the Department of Defense that he’s helped insert there, and we have a non compos mentis president, that is probably being heavily influenced by Obama’s Ben Rhodes-type of Iran deal.” He is back in the news lately lecturing Israel. With Hamas and Hezbollah, Jan, your train of thought is they wouldn’t do anything without the permission of Iran, and that’s true. Iran was the other player. Just as Hamas has misjudged the geo-strategic landscape, and then the mentality in Israel in particular, so has Iran.
This is the first time since the Iranian Revolution, some 43 years ago, that there’s no restraint on retaliation to Iran. We have a huge force that’s assembling off the coast of the Middle East. If Hezbollah or Iran were to attack that, Joe Biden would be led by events. He couldn’t stop the response from the indignant American people, and that response would be existential to Iran, and they know that. It even applies to Hezbollah.
They got themselves into a jam by the level of barbarity. If they had gone in there and taken two hostages or five hostages, we’d be back to the same old wash, rinse, spin cycle of the Middle East. But they were so exuberant in their depravity and exhilarated by it that it really changed the mentality of the players.
If Hezbollah says, “If you go in one more day, we’re going to send rockets.” The Israelis’ collective idea would be, “What are you going to do? Rape our dead? You’ve already done that. What else could you do? Behead babies? You’ve done that. Do your worst, and we’ll do our best, and let’s settle it.” That’s a very dangerous attitude to have, and that’s what the Israelis have right now.
That’s why Hezbollah has not intervened so far, and it’s kind of counterintuitive, isn’t it? The consensus is if they use an inordinate or what we call disproportionate use of force in Gaza, that will infuriate Hezbollah, and then they will intervene with their huge rocket force. But classical strategy, the tragic view says that they will not, if they thinkBeirut ends up like Gaza City. They know that could happen very easily, and they really haven’t recovered from the 2006 war with Israel.
Anybody who predicts what might happen in the Middle East is usually wrong. My sense is that Iran and Hezbollah have found themselves in a position that initially they thought was so envious and so great. As they start to examine it in its fullness, they are not finding it so inviting. I don’t think the Russians would ever intervene on their part, because they’re stuck in Ukraine. I don’t think the Chinese have any interest at all, other than keeping the sea lanes open, avoiding a theater war, keeping the oil flowing, and vicariously hurting the United States.
Other than that, they’re not going to intervene, not when they have a million Muslims in work camps themselves. As in Cold War, proxy wars, I don’t see where their patrons intervene. I looked at what they have, their wherewithal, and I’m not that impressed with it compared to the United States, Europe, or even Israel.
Mr. Jekielek: Back in 2016, one of Xi Jinping’s top, top advisors said, “A good plan for America would be to keep America involved in multiple wars, with one of them ideally being a terrorist entity. That’s how America can be destabilized and we can do what we want, and therefore America won’t be focused on us.”
Mr. Hanson: That’s what the Chinese are looking at. The only thing that’s holding them back from attacking Taiwan are the logistical problems of crossing the South China Sea to get to Taiwan. It didn’t work out too well for the Russians so far in Ukraine, and they’re worried about something like that. They’re worried about the financial part.
But they do like the idea that the United States has exhausted artillery shell depots, and that Israel has sent them to Ukraine, that we’re six years behind with our Javelin supply, that our fleet is shrinking, and that we’re $33 trillion in debt. They like all that, and so they want all those pressure points. But they do not want to intervene and confront the United States, at least not yet. I don’t think the Russians will do it, and I don’t think the Iranians want to.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you think about Iran making these small scale attacks on U.S. troops?
Mr. Hanson: That’s designed for two reasons. One, ultimately as Hamas erodes, people are going to say in the Shia world, and to some extent in the Sunni world, “Where were you? We took on the Jews. We took on the world. We were willing to behead Jews in Israel, and what did you do? You have all these rockets you talk about, but you didn’t really start a war. Iran, what did you do? You funded the whole thing, it was your idea, and we’re your proxies.”
Iran says, “We had some people attack in Syria, the Houthis sent some rockets, and we told some people in Lebanon to go.” That’s what they’re doing, but notice that they have calibrated it just enough to say they’re doing things to distract, but not enough to earn a righteous response, not yet, at least. Hezbollah is the same way.
They want to maintain their credentials as the anti-Western, pro-Palestinian tip of the spear, but not to the degree that they’re going to get in trouble with Israel and the United States. They’re starting to look toward politics. They say, “Wait, there’s a Democratic president and Left-wing people, and there’s no opposition to them, because we know that conservatives and Republicans are always against us. At least with this president, we have the Left in the street being anti-war. But if the Left is ambiguous about the war, and the Right is for the war, we’re not going to have that dynamic during the Iraq War with George W. Bush, with that huge anti-war movement.”
Then they look at Europe, and the Europeans are terrified now of radical Islam. They’re looking desperately for the campus, but the campus is starting to incur a big backlash. The university presidents, the faculties, and the students have no idea what they have done with these demonstrations. Everybody has been living in la-la land and riding high, and now there’s going to be some type of accounting.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s look at the domestic situation for a moment. Recently, people have gotten some sort of clarity about these campus groups, which tend to be extremely Left-wing. But it seems odd on the face of it that Palestinian Islamist types, or people supporting that, would be on the same side as the far-Left.
Mr. Hanson: Trans, gay, far-Left.
Mr. Jekielek: Right, and you have these perplexing groups like Queers for Palestine.
Mr. Hanson: It’s perplexing because if anybody who was an American student went over to Gaza or the West Bank, and they got on a corner with a megaphone and said, “Hamas sucks,” they would be shot. If they had purple hair, and they were trans with a ring in their nose, they would be shot. Then added to that, if somebody leaves the Middle East on a student visa or a green card, why are they leaving? They’re leaving corruption, poverty, tyranny, autocracy—and they’re going to where?
The West, where they can be secure, prosperous, and free. No sooner do they get here, or they’re here in the university, what are they cheering for? Those same governments, which is, “Hamas, one election, one time.” That is an apartheid society, if you’re not a Arab-Muslim. You are a secondary citizen if you’re a woman. In their 1988 charter, it says, “Your duty is to marry, have children, and stay at home.” They’re cheering that, and so that doesn’t resonate well with them.
The American people are looking at all this, and they’re saying, “Yes, we knew about affirmative action. Yes, we knew about woke. Yes, we knew about DEI, but we didn’t really understand the mechanics of what it was producing, and we are creating monsters. The longer they’re in college, the more degrees, the more that they think they’re educated, the more callous and vicious and cruel they are.”
We had a situation in a time of peace where a thousand people were mutilated and butchered before the IDF responded. Yet, that ignited these people on the campus to root for the people who were murdering and beheading. They were not saying the Israelis are committing genocide by retaliating, that hadn’t happened yet. But their instinct, their training, and their ideology was so perverted and out of mind, that was their natural Pavlovian response. We can’t have that anymore, and we have to look at how to stop that.
People are going to say, “Donald Trump did it when he came in.” An American voter is not going to feel, after what they’ve witnessed, that they want somebody from Gaza, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, or maybe even Egypt, coming to the United States on a green card and a visa. Because from the time they arrive in the United States, and are thankful and gracious because of the security and freedom and prosperity they can experience. But in about two weeks they’re out in the street tearing down pictures of Jewish captives, and people know that.
They’re going to ask, “What created these very wealthy privileged kids to pour out at Harvard yard or UCLA, and chant rivers to the sea?” That is basically a euphemism for extinction. Maybe it’s the fact that these global endowments now are $35, $50, and $60 billion. Maybe there’s so much money for the Center for Palestinian Studies, or the Center for Diversity Equity, or the diversity, equity, inclusion czars at each school and university.
Maybe we just better start looking at that, and the things that have been floated. Maybe we better get the federal government out of the student loan business, and let these huge endowments back their own loans. Maybe all these crazy studies majors would drop out. Maybe the moral hazard would be where it always should be—with the university. Maybe we should tax their endowment income, because they’re not nonpartisan—they’re actually indoctrination.
If Stanford has a roughly $40 billion endowment, and they’re getting $3 billion, and they spend $6 billion, maybe of that $3 billion, they’re going to have to spend $2 billion in income tax because they’re not a nonprofit as we define it, not after what’s been going on at my campus. Maybe people are going to say, “We have to take a look at the tenure of these professors that say that Jews are pigs or excrement, or that we need to follow Jewish children around.”
At my university they say, “In my class, all you Jews go over there and take your property with you, so that you know what apartheid is like.” Maybe we just have to say to the faculty, “Maybe you need a five-year contract. Here’s what you’re going to do. Here’s the things you have to write. Here’s what your teaching evaluations are. Here’s what your peer evaluations are.” If they don’t fulfill this, they’re gone, just like a plumber or electrician.If you had a conservative House, Senate, and president that would be enacted, I’m pretty sure.
The old arguments for the university were two-fold. They said, “We’re creating a highly intelligent, highly educated 50 percent of the population, which is necessary for democracy. We’re staffing the FBI and the civil service with educated people with BAs. More importantly, we have disinterested research. Our PhDs, our technology people, our law degrees, our businesses are the elite of the world, and that makes us the most competitive and prosperous society. This is thanks to the MBA program at Stanford, or the law school at Yale, or the political science department at Princeton.”
Now people are looking at this and saying, “No, the Covid thing showed us how warped science is on the campus. No, climate change showed us that if you dare speak out and challenge a vaccine or climate change, you’re going to be shouted down.”
When we look at the students, they don’t know anything. If you gave them a map of the Middle East, they wouldn’t know the difference between Aman and Tel Aviv. Yet, they’re spouting and espousing these ideas, so they’re failing at what they said was the price of this extremism. The schools say, “You don’t like what we’re doing, and you don’t like the free speech area, and you don’t like all these crazy ideas, but we help you because we turn out educated people, and we turn out the professions.” But that’s not true. The people are going to say, “You broke the bargain, so we’re going to call you on it.”
Mr. Jekielek: You’re saying this has exposed the fact that a lot of these universities are creating activists instead of scholars.
Mr. Hanson: It’s like a scab. We all knew there was a putrid wound, but it was scabbed over. This Gaza thing tore it off, and they came out in their arrogance. Americans had no problem with one side saying they support Israel, but they do have a problem when you start saying from the river to the sea, or you start talking about genocide, or you start tearing down things at Cooper Union, with that picture of those students in the locked library, and people pressed on the glass windows outside. It was like a scene out of The Walking Dead, and they were trying to get in. It was scary.
We haven’t quite seen that since the 1960s or 1970s. It’s going to get worse as this war goes on, and they have no idea what the public thinks of them. If you look at polls, most people have had a radical shift. They don’t believe that higher education is a necessity anymore. The faculty rate as below used car salesmen as far as professions people have admiration for. They’re committing collective suicide.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, I want to digress here. The term genocide is thrown around, and that what Israel is doing right now in Gaza is genocide. Words have meaning, but this word has been heavily adulterated. Black genocide is being thrown around, and also genocide against women. Does that word even have any meaning for us ? The State Department has decided that the Chinese regime is committing a real genocide against a group of people, the Uyghurs, but that all seems to have lost meaning somehow.
Mr. Hanson: Genocide is from the Greek word genos, it means a tribe or a group of people, and the suffix means killing. We’ve seen it before with the effort of the Turkish government to try to destroy the Armenians as a people. We’ve seen it, as you said, with the Uyghurs. We’ve seen it, of course, with the Holocaust. It means a massive effort to kill thousands of people.
But when they use that term for the Middle East, then you think Israel is engaged in a systematic effort to wipe out the Palestinian people. You say to yourself, “21 percent of Israel is Palestinian, and they have the highest standard of living outside the Persian Gulf, and they have more rights and voting. They have political parties. They form the opposition in a way that’s impossible in Gaza, impossible in Syria, and impossible anywhere else in the Arab world.” That’s not fitting the definition of genocide.
When you look at the conduct of war, if Israel wanted to conduct genocide, they wouldn’t be phoning people or dropping leaflets to get away. The people who would be subject to genocide would not be forcibly taking their own people and putting them in front. For example, do people really who use that word think that in the Polish ghetto, Jews that were militant and resisting the Gestapo took other Jews and put them in front of them, assured that the Gestapo wouldn’t shoot them?
Did the Armenians who were fleeing the Turkish people, the militant Armenians that wanted to fight back, take other Armenian children and put them in and think, “Now, the Turkish people won’t kill us?” Of course not, that doesn’t happen. What the Israelis are doing doesn’t fit any imaginable definition of a genocidal power.
It’s very funny too. There’s a big debate going on, as you know, at UCLA. There’s a chant, “Israel, Israel, you can’t hide. We caught you in genocide.” But the thing that I was curious about is that you have all these pro-Palestinian and Middle East immigrants, and students, and Leftists all saying, “We caught you in genocide,” which is false. But they themselves have been advocating for genocide, because they have a phrase, “Palestine will be free from the river,” meaning the Jordan River to the sea, the Mediterranean.
That just assumes the complete liquidation of Jews in Israel. They’re calling for it openly, and then they’re saying, “We caught you in genocide because you had the audacity to go back and hit us in Gaza City after we murdered a thousand of your people. We’re calling our parents up and saying, ‘I killed 10 Jews. Allahu Akbar. Come on, great.’” It’s surreal, it’s La La Land. They think this is going to get them empathy. Only a society that was completely morally bankrupt would give them empathy. There’s something very sick going on there in this cult of hatred.
Hamas has been autonomous, and Gaza has been autonomous since 2005. We are forgetting that the Israelis under Sharon said, “You export greenhouse industries, you’re all getting out, it’s not worth fighting with Gazans. It’s yours, take it. You’ve tried it with Egypt, we tried it, you’re on your own.” They elected, as happens in the Middle East, a government, one election, one time, and they got Hamas.
Yes, there are a lot of innocent Gazans. But the 1988 charter that predated that election says that they’re not interested in negotiations. They’re interested in jihad to destroy Israel, and they voted for it. Yes, it is corrupt. Yes, it’s true, as a recent article in Foreign Affairs pointed out, the popularity of Hamas has declined. But was the popularity of Hamas declining because it was corrupt and didn’t give services, or was it not sufficiently killing Jews?
My point is this; this unpopular, supposedly hated government went into Israel. Israel was told if you bomb Hamas sites in Gaza, you’re going to alienate the people and make them like Hamas, and they don’t like them now. If they don’t like them so much, why did hundreds follow through the hole in the fence?
It’s like the irregulars that followed the Gestapo in Eastern Europe. They tagged along to rape and to loot, and to take captives. When they brought captives into the streets of Gaza, why couldn’t you find one Gazan who intervened and said, “Don’t desecrate that Israeli corpse. That poor woman is bleeding, do not spit at her.” Not one, not one.
The argument that there’s a captive Gazan population that is furious at Hamas, and you’re only going to drive them close to Hamas when they otherwise would reject them, I don’t see any evidence for it. I see a lot of evidence that says, “I like Hamas now because they finally went and did something.” That something is killing Jews on the offensive.
They were giddy about it, and the people who support them in the West were giddy about it. Again, it took them a nanosecond to go, “Yes, fly the flags. You’re killing Jews, finally. Now we can accept your corruption, and your bribery, and the miserable conditions because it was all worth it. You went into Israel and killed a thousand Jews.” That’s the mentality.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s hard to imagine an entire population of people could think this way.
Mr. Hanson: There’s a Western conceit that we project in a very paternalistic way about what they should think, and how they should. Why don’t you just read what they write, rather than project what you think they should write. They have the 1988 Hamas charter, and they’ve altered it a little bit for political reasons, but it’s all there.
I will paraphrase the rantings of people in the gutter who say, “You stupid Westerner, you thought you were going to get Singapore. We’re not interested in Singapore. We’re interested in killing them, and pushing them, and that’s what we teach our children from an early age.” When you bring a little Jewish kid as a captive they’re going to get other children to insult him while he’s a captive, and that’s deeply ingrained.
The Western mind says, “Money coming from the Gulf, money coming from the UN, restored money from the United States, EU money, hundreds of billions of dollars in this small little enclave. It’s going to be like Singapore that has a beautiful beach and the Hyatt Regency. It’s all going to be there. They can export fruit and vegetables to Europe in the winter.”
They’re not interested in that. They’re interested in destroying Israel, period. You can argue about why they became that way. There were mistakes made. But ultimately, they have never had anybody in the West say, “I will support you only if you have regular elections, and you stop this hatred of Jewish people. Then if you do that, we’re willing to help you, but not otherwise.” But we never gave them any conditions.
Donald Trump came in and said, “You support terrorists, we’re not giving you the $700 million.” There was an outrage saying that he was cruel. I’m not necessarily happy about this fact, but Donald Trump came in and he looked at what we’re talking about, and he said, “This man Soleimani is not only killing people in Iraq and subsidizing the strategies of Hamas, he’s killing Americans and he did that during the Iraq War.” Trump took him out. Then they said, “You can’t do that.”
Then he said, “ISIS is an abomination. We’re not going to put one soldier on the ground to kill them, but we’re going to bomb them heavily.” Then he said, “There’s no reason why we would give any money to people who support terrorism. The $700 million is gone.” Then he said, “For all practical purposes, they started these wars and then they lost the Golan Heights. They used it to shoot down on civilians. It’s been in Israeli hands since 1967, and it’s not going to go back.”
Then he said, “Jerusalem is the historical home of the Jews. It’s Israel’s capital, there’s East and West,” and at each juncture he did that. Our foreign policy establishment, the best and the brightest, the most sophisticated, the Robert Malleys of the world, the Jake Sullivans, the Anthony Blinkens, the Brookings Institute, all said, “If you do one of those things, you’re going to blow up the Middle East.” Nothing happened.
What blew up the Middle East? It was restoring the aid, lifting the sanctions on Iran, and agreeing to pay them $1.2 billion for each hostage. It was telling Israel, “You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that,”and intervening in Israeli politics. That gave the impression that the United States was favoring them, and that encouraged them to do what they did.
It’s a funny thing about the human mind, deterrence or the ability to warn somebody that you’re unpredictable, maybe slightly crazy, but warn somebody, “We have the wherewithal that if you’re foolish enough to start a war, in a cost-benefit analysis, you will lose, and we’ll show you before you do it, how you will lose.” That is a humane mentality and it saves life. Appeasement or mollification is when you think, “I just don’t want to be harsh. I don’t want to come across too bellicose.”
Weakness guarantees war. Human nature being what it is, we damn the people who keep the peace like Reagan, and we worship the people like Jimmy Carter, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama who cause wars. You know that as well as I do, Jan, about the Ukraine War. There was a reason why Russia went in during the Biden administration, and previously during the Obama administration, and previously during a weakened Bush administration when he went into Georgia, but not during the Trump administration.
Mr. Jekielek: What does a ground offensive mean? As we’re recording right now, that’s what’s happening.
Mr. Jekielek: Of course there’s all sorts of predictions, but what does that really mean? This is a new thing.
Mr. Hanson: Anybody who thinks they know what’s going to happen the next day in the Middle East is crazy, because it’s so volatile and unpredictable. But I think the Israeli IDF is trying to prepare Hamas and Hezbollah, and everybody into thinking that they’re going to come in one dimensionally, with block by block Stalingrad-type fighting, maybe with a little bit of Fallujah and Mosul mixed in. I think we will see that when they go in, they will come back out. It’s better to look at the Gaza Strip as a series of ink spots. They’re going to come in, occupy an area, blow up all the tunnels, dispose of the Hamas apparatus, and then move out or move somewhere else.
Their idea will be that each little ink spot will be unpredictable. They will have no idea from what direction, they might even come in from the West Bank. They may come from the ocean, but each little ink spot will incrementally, very slowly, methodically, insidiously will start to conglomerate.
At any given day, the Hamas defenders will have no idea which neighborhood or tunnel of Gaza City is going to be targeted, and which direction they’re coming from. That’s much more likely, and that will be very long, drawn out, and expensive.But it will be much more sophisticated than everybody is suggesting, just one-dimensional and fighting street to street.
Mr. Jekielek: At a cost of lives.
Mr. Hanson: At a great cost of lives, yes. Is it a great cost of lives compared to Ukraine? No, it is nowhere near that. There are 800,000 dead, missing, wounded on both sides in Ukraine. I don’t think this is extraneous to say this. If you came from Mars and you looked at Ukraine and Israel, you would say it’s very bewildering that the Americans are telling the Ukrainians, “You need all the weapons you can get, and you must be disproportionate. We have to give you the edge in weapons.”
We are telling the Israelis, “You must reply proportionally. Don’t do too much. Don’t use your advantages to rub it in.” They’re telling Mr. Zelensky, “Given your extreme conditions, it’s okay to cancel elections and declare martial law.” They’re telling Mr. Netanyahu, “You better be careful. We’re watching every move. You have to have a coalition government. Do this, and do that.”
They’re telling the Ukrainians, “You’ve got to hit back. You’ve got to be preemptive. You can take out the Black Sea Fleet. You can take out an oil depot. If you have to take out a bridge or a strategic road, you don’t have to call the locals that live in that area and say we’re going to bomb or send a rocket. There’s such a thing as collateral damage.” We tell the Israelis, “You can’t have any collateral damage. You can’t do that.” I could go on and on and on, but it’s schizophrenic.
It can’t be that Ukraine is existential. You would admit that what the radical Palestinians did, even the Russians didn’t do in Ukraine. We have to be frank—it is anti-Semitic. People apply rules to the Jewish state they would never apply to any other ally, and that explains the schizophrenia that we have.
Mr. Jekielek: By any report, a lot of anti-Semitism has come out of the woodwork.
Mr. Jekielek: Everywhere, frankly. Was it just there waiting, or is this a new thing? What’s your view on this?
Mr. Hanson: There has always been anti-Semitism, but what’s new about this is a couple of things. On the eve of World War II, you had people in the United States, the American-first people, Father Coughlin or Charles Lindbergh, saying, “The Jews are going to get us in another war,” or, “The Rothschild octopus is behind this.” It came from the Right, and it was in a very crude fashion with rallies, and it was easily spotted and dissected.
The institutions at that time were still center to Left, and they were the vanguards to spot it and to call it out. It was The New York Times, the major newspapers, Edward R. Murrow, and people like that. This time around, it’s on the Left. The institutions are not the watchdogs, they are promoting it, so The New York Times and The Washington Post will print the false story about the hospital bombing in Gaza.
More insidiously, it’s coming from people under our new Obama-Biden progressive paradigm of DEI that has a binary ideology. The whole world, particularly the United States, is bifurcated into oppressors/oppressed, victimizers/victims, and colonialist/subject. In that breakdown, Israel is now constructed as white, capitalist, successful, and Western. The Palestinians are the victims, non-white, poor, and exploited. There is no nuance.
People in the United States feel that they’re subjected to the DEI industry. That’s why BLM has posters of gliders glorifying mass death. That’s why we have Palestinian students resonating with their chants of from the river to the sea. That’s why we have trans people for Gaza. I’ve seen that poster. They feel that they’re exempt, because as victims they are expressing anger at victimizers, and they’re not anti-Semitic. But they are anti-Semitic.
It’s much more difficult than calling out a Charles Lindbergh or a Father Coughlin. Today, they’re insidious because they say, “We are victims. We are immune. You cannot call me a racist because I’m black, I’m Chicano, I’m Asian, I’m gay, I’m trans. You cannot do that. I’m a student, you can’t do that.” Yet, we have to judge them by their words. Even Charles Lindbergh didn’t support students chasing Jews into a library and pounding on the windows to get to them.
Charles Lindbergh didn’t openly side with people who were saying, “Destroy the Jews.” It’s more insidious, it’s more dangerous, and the faculty is terrified. I’ve used that metaphor before. The faculty is Dr. Frankenstein. They created a Frankensteinian monster with their admissions, their immigration, their curriculum, and their Left-wing dogma. That monster is now devouring them, and you can see how these feeble presidents react.
What would it take to get a college president to say, “On my campus, you’re not going to separate students, or you will be fired immediately. You’re on my campus, you’re not going to call Jews pigs and excrement. On my campus, you’re not going to say to go after Jewish children.” Because we all know if a person substituted trans or black for the word Jew, or if you had some crazy white racist professor who said, “All the blacks are going to have to sit over there,” that person would be fired immediately by that president.
There would be no due process, and you wouldn’t even worry about it. But the game they play is, “We’re sober and judicious, this is a complex matter, and there’s all sorts of issues involved.” That’s basically all a disguise for their anti-Semitism, and fear of what they’ve created. The lunatics are running the asylum on campus, and the administrators are terrified of them.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor, as we finish up, there is a question on a number of people’s minds, with all these factors at play, all this instability, and all these powerful players. The term World War III has been coming up, so what are your thoughts?
Mr. Hanson: I’ve been reading a lot of these articles called 1939 Redux and World War III. There’s the added force multiplier when people write that we’re going to be in World War III and it’s going to be nuclear because of Russia and China. There is also some mystery about Iran’s nuclear status, Israel’s nuclear status, and ours as well.
There’s a much greater likelihood of a nuclear escalation in Ukraine because that’s right on Russia’s border. It has historical grievances against Ukraine and vice versa. The people who are writing these articles are not grappling with it. They dismiss it out of hand, and say, “There’s no chance there is going to be a nuclear confrontation.”I look at North Korea, and I don’t think North Korea is going to use nuclear weapons.
China is sending six warships to the Middle East area. Even in our bastardized state, the United States military could take them out 10 seconds if it wanted to. The U. S. has a huge fleet, and if it really wanted World War III, it would send a hundred ships.
Then I look at their attitude about the Islamic world. China’s got a million Uyghurs in camps. Russia flattened Chechnya, a Muslim province. I don’t think there’s any empathy from China and Russia to intervene against the United States. China wants the sea lanes open because 40 percent of its oil imports come from there.
They both only have a vague sense that whatever America is for, they are against. They like the idea that there is tension. They want the United States to spend time, capital, labor, and munitions. They like the idea that we’re supplying Israel, Ukraine, and we’re almost empty of strategic reserves. I get all that, but I don’t see the trigger.
Would it be a trigger if they launch 100,000 rockets from Hezbollah? Then Israel does what? They level Beirut, and China says, “Don’t level Beirut.” No. Russia says, “Don’t level Beirut,” or Iran decides, “You know what? The United States is just too big for its britches. Biden is cognitively-challenged. They’re disunited. We’re going to sink that fleet. We’ll have Hezbollah send 10,000. We’ll send 10,000.”
They take out the U.S. Eisenhower, and the United States does what? I know Joe Biden would not want to react, but he would be forced to react. They would take out all of the Iranian new nuclear facilities and the power grid. They wouldn’t bomb them, of course.
Mr. Jekielek: Oil refineries.
Mr. Hanson: Yes, the oil refineries especially, and then they would stop. I don’t see that turning into a theater-wide confrontation. It would be terrible, but would it be like the 600 to 800,000 casualties in Ukraine? No. The mentality is baffling, I’ve never seen anything like it. We have something right at the doors of Europe, where we’ve never seen this level of violence, this level of death, this level of sophisticated munitions, and this level of nuclear threats.
Every month somebody from Russia threatens to nuke us, or to nuke Britain, or they’re sending weapons to Belarus, so that we’ll have a tactical war, and no one says a word. I don’t see the symmetry of concern, and I don’t see the step-by-step progression that leads us to Armageddon.
Mr. Jekielek: But perhaps for another talk we should discuss the threat that you see in there.
Mr. Hanson: I do see it there. I’m very worried about Ukraine for a variety of reasons because you have an unstable dictatorship. You’ve got the greatest losses that Russia has experienced since World War II. You’ve got people in the West that are talking about sinking the Black Sea Fleet and hitting the Kremlin. We’ve had drones from Ukraine going in.
All of that is perfectly strategically logical when you’re attacked. I have no problem with the logic, but the logic only goes so far when you’re dealing with a country that has 6,500 nuclear weapons. I’ve been attacked a lot for what I just said. They say, “Don’t give into nuclear threats from Russia, that’s what they want.” Okay, then don’t give into World War III threats from Iran and Hezbollah.
Mr. Jekielek: Victor Davis Hanson, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Mr. Hanson: Thank you for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining Victor Davis Hanson and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jan Jekielek.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
Views expressed in this video are opinions of th