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Home » Former Ambassador to Israel Dennis Ross on Israel’s political future – “Intelligence Matters”

Former Ambassador to Israel Dennis Ross on Israel’s political future – “Intelligence Matters”

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In this episode of “Intelligence Matters,” host Michael Morell speaks with Ambassador Dennis Ross, a leading expert on the Middle East, former senior U.S. diplomat and currently counselor and distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ross and Morell discuss recent political changes in Israel, including the outlook for the governing coalition and the background of newly elected Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Ross, a former senior adviser on the Middle East to multiple U.S. presidents and secretaries of state, offers observations on Benjamin Netanyahu’s future and background on recent tensions in Gaza. Morell and Ross also discuss the prospects for engagement with Iran. 


  • Benjamin Netanyahu’s future: “I think that it’s premature to write his political obituary, but I do think that the image, his image of being a magician, that he could always pull a rabbit out of the hat and somehow survive — that’s taken a hit. The more — as I said earlier, the more he tries to explode this current government, the more I think it makes him look more political and less like a leader. It makes the current government and Bennett look like they’re trying to manage for the country.” 
  • Recent tensions in Gaza and Jerusalem: “This is a classic case where technically this issue is viewed in narrow terms legally. Those who are pushing for it might be right. But when you deal with issues of Jerusalem, you want to be wise, not just right. And here’s a case where there are two issues that will always create an electric response that takes on a life of its own when it comes to Jerusalem. One is evictions, displacement of Palestinians. The other is the religious sites.”  
  • Rise of hardliners in Iran: “I do think that the Trump policies did contribute to it, because here was the argument of those who said we can advance if we do deals with the with the Americans in the West. So they did the JCPOA. Everyone can debate whether this was the best possible deal or not. But from an Iranian standpoint, they lived up to it. Trump pulled out of it. They paid a price for it. And it undercut the arguments of those who said we can gain by doing these.”

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Intelligence Matters: Ambassador Dennis Ross
Producer: Olivia Gazis

MICHAEL MORELL: Dennis, thanks for joining us for a second time on Intelligence Matters. It is good to have you with us again.

DENNIS ROSS: Always a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me.

MICHAEL MORELL: So there’s a lot to talk about, but I did want to take a minute and mention, since the last time you were on the show, you published another book. This one is, “Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny.” Can you tell us a little bit about what the book is about and what are some of its most important themes?

DENNIS ROSS: Well, the essence of the book and really the premise of the book is that Israel is facing what are some pretty basic decisions about its identity and its character if it stays on the path that it’s been on, meaning if it keeps building outside of what I call the settlement blocs, it will become increasingly difficult to separate Israelis and Palestinians. In that case, you really end up with one state, a binational state, not two states for two peoples.
But it’s a hard decision because the settler constituency is an important one politically, and therefore it requires the leadership of a prime minister to say, ‘OK, I’m going to make a historic decision to preserve who we are.’ And the book, in a sense, using that as the take up point, says, ‘Well, let’s look historically at four Israeli prime ministers who are different ideologically, but they define leadership very much the same way,’ which assumed, among other things, that you you don’t defer decisions, you don’t avoid decisions. You take them on, you educate your public as as necessary.

And as I said before, they were quite diverse. David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, diverse ideologically, but very similar in terms of defining what their role as prime ministers would be. And in a sense, this book is saying, ‘Let’s look at what they did, who they were, how they themselves evolved, and can we see them as a model for Israel’s prime minister today?’

MICHAEL MORELL: Sounds very interesting, sounds like a book worth reading; which is a great transition actually, to the first topic that I wanted to chat with you about, which is Israeli politics. So Benjamin Netanyahu just finished 12 years as Israel’s prime minister, a period of time that spanned nearly all of President Obama’s two terms and the entirety of President Trump’s term. And as you know, this was Netanyahu’s second tenure as prime minister, having served three years from 1996 to 1999. He’s now been replaced by Naftali Bennett, not a household name in the U.S. What can you tell us about Prime Minister Bennett, about Bennett, the man and and his politics?

DENNIS ROSS: Bennett, the man, is someone who really represents, first of all, the next generation. He’s forty-nine years old. He’s twenty-two years younger than Benjamin Netanyahu. His parents came from the United States and made it to Israel. He was raised during – at least part of when he was growing up in San Francisco, which is where they’re from. So he is a fluent English speaker who has very much a kind of an American inflection.
He is someone who served in Israel’s most elite commando unit. He is someone who started two high tech companies, sold them both and made an enormous amount of money. He very definitely was on the right side of the political spectrum. He used to in many ways, press Bibi Netanyahu from the right. He was chief of staff to Netanyahu at one point. And he is from those, I can say, who served with him in Sayeret Matkal, which, as I said, the most elite unit, some of whom I know, they they all say that he’s actually very pragmatic.

My own experience with him is also one where I have the sense that his ideology is real. But he also believes in solving problems. And in some ways, we see that even in terms of his readiness to go ahead and form a government that is a historic government from any standard – because for the first time in Israel’s history, one, you have an Arab party that is a member and a formal member of the coalition, part of the coalition signed agreement; never happened before.

You had Arab parties that supported the Israeli government from the outside and helped to keep them in power, which was true for Yitzhak Rabin’s government, but they were never formally part of the government. So a historic threshold has been crossed. And in a very interesting time, because in the most recent conflict, there was terrible intercommunal violence that really shocked most Israelis.
And here you see in the aftermath of that, you suddenly see an effort, I think, to to build bridges, really profound bridges. And it’s a government as well that has two right wing parties, I would say three center parties. One is a center left leaning Yesh Atid, which is Yair Lapid party is probably a center left party. What is probably a centrist party, Yisrael Beiteinu, which is Lieberman’s party, is probably a center right party. And then you have two left parties. The Labor Party has become much more left and and then you have Meretz.

So it’s an unusual government in terms of covering the whole spectrum politically. But then also having an Arab party, many doubt that it will be able to sustain itself because there isn’t a whole lot of ideological convergence and there is an acceptance on one thing, which is opposition to Bibi Netanyahu.

I’ll just conclude this side by saying the following, because Netanyahu is now the head of the opposition and has so clearly stated he wants to bring down this government as soon as possible; just as he created a kind of a glue for this group while he was in power. So long as he’s the focal point of the opposition and trying to bring him down, he creates a glue for them while they’re in power.

MICHAEL MORELL: So going back to your book is there a possibility here that Bennett could be one of these leaders that you’re looking for?

DENNIS ROSS: You know, we always look at leaders who grow in office, and I do think Bennett has that potential. He’s very smart. And and now he’s put in a position where certainly part of his traditional base has been alienated from him. He is presenting himself as someone, I have to say, using language that is very Bidenesque, in terms of saying, ‘We’re going to represent everybody, those who are against us, those who are for us. It’s time for Israel to change the character of our politics, get back to who we’ve always been. Just because someone disagrees with you, they’re not an enemy. They’re not a traitor.’

And the first thing he said when he convened his cabinet for the first time was he said, ‘Look, we’re all going to have to soften our ideology and adjust to be able to work together. We’re here to work for the country.’ And it suggests, at least in the early going, he’s adopting a posture that that promises potentially to show that he can be one of those who can measure up to what would be the standard of leadership. We’ll see.

MICHAEL MORELL: And we haven’t seen enough policy decisions yet to give us any indication, would that be fair?

DENNIS ROSS: That’s very fair. This is so early. No big decisions have been made. The challenge that this government has made for itself, there hasn’t been a budget approved in the last couple of years. And so they they’ve established as part of their coalition agreement this is what they will produce. And it’s not an accident that the budget has been introduced. It’s not a simple thing to reconcile what are all the competing interests.
And so I think being able to achieve a budget, a two year budget, that will be significant. Some of the personnel appointments will be significant, but they’re going to be – inevitably every Israeli government will face unexpected challenges, surprises. And how this government copes with them will go a long way to determining whether Naftali Bennett is prime minister measures up to those figures that we wrote about in the book.

MICHAEL MORELL: You talked about the stability of his government and the importance of having Netanyahu there, right, in terms of the stability. What are the risks that his government faces going forward here in terms of whether it can hang on or not? What will be the challenges?

DENNIS ROSS: They’ll be two kinds of challenges. One will be internal. There will be those, you know, connected probably to prime minister – former prime minister Netanyahu, who will look for all sorts of opportunities to throw in landmines, to try to play on the fissures, the inherent fissures, because, as I said, you have the left, the right and you have an Arab party.

There will be those who will, you know, will try to push, I think, the illegal settlement building or they’ll try to push for a demolition of illegal construction by Palestinians. They’ll push what they think are those basic fissures within this government, basic ideological divides, and they’ll try to play on them. So they’ll certainly look to create crises that will make it difficult for one side or the other to go along already.

As an example, there is an issue related to development in the Negev as it relates to the Bedouin. And there’s a push on the part of the right to try to force some Bedouin out. And and obviously that would create a fundamental problem for Mansour Abbas and the Ra’am party, which is their party. So there are examples like that.

There’s a whole question of what we’ve seen, will there be evictions? And that’s really a Supreme Court decision. But how is that issue going to be handled? It is interesting that this government went along with the decision of the previous government to allow the the March of the Flag. This is something that is done normally on Jerusalem Day, which commemorates the 1967 War and the reunification of Jerusalem. The one thing they did is the police allowed this to go forward with a slightly different route, even though Hamas had made all sorts of threats.
The new public security minister is Omar Bar-Lev, who is from the Labor Party, and he made the decision for this to go ahead. But you could see four people on the left side of this coalition. This was probably not a simple issue because they were worried about what the implications of it were. And yet we already see here’s an example of where they figured a way to work together and they will face more of these kinds of hard choices.

MICHAEL MORELL: Dennis, is Netanyahu done or is there a chance we could see him back in the top job?

DENNIS ROSS: I think that it’s premature to write his political obituary, but I do think that the image, his image of being a magician, that he could always pull a rabbit out of the hat and somehow survive – that’s taken a hit. The more as I said earlier, the more he tries to explode this current government, the more I think it makes him look more political and less like a leader. It makes the current government and Bennett look like they’re trying to manage for the country. 

If he succeeds, I’m not sure that it ends up translating into anything except a new election where, with four elections, he couldn’t put together a government. And so it’s not so easy to see if there is an election that he’s able to put together such a government. So while I’m not prepared to write his political obituary, I think it’s a real uphill climb for him. And I haven’t even mentioned anything about the trial that he’s been indicted in. There’s a trial looking at three different indictments against him. And so we don’t know what the future of that’s going to be. That trial likely will drag on for a while. So I you know, I wouldn’t say that he’s necessarily done, but it’s not so easy to see his pathway back.

MICHAEL MORELL: So if he is done, can can you reflect a little bit on what his legacy as prime minister will be? How will historians look back at his 15 years as prime minister?

DENNIS ROSS: He is the longest serving Israeli prime minister; David Ben-Gurion was 13 years. Ben-Gurion resigned in 1963 when he was still a relatively – it wasn’t that old at that time, but he made the decision to to leave in the case of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Fifteen years is obviously an extraordinary tenure. On the one hand, I would say on the positive side of the ledger, anybody who’s been to Israel and see that it is truly the startup nation, you have to give Netanyahu a lot of credit.

He carried out a series of economic reforms, did a lot of privatization, created all sorts of incentives, deregulation to get out of the way of innovation. And he certainly contributed a lot to this. I wouldn’t say he’s solely responsible for it because a lot of the sources of development that express themselves in terms of making Israel a startup nation were actually done during Prime Minister Rubinstein. But there’s no escaping the fact that Netanyahu gave this a big boost.

Anybody who comes to Israel sees this is a very advanced country in every sense, cutting edge in every sense. And he certainly deserves some credit for that. It’s – and deservedly so, I would say also he was very effective. But when I do, I think when I talk about him, when it comes to dealing with the Arabs, he was always strategic when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians. He was always political. What I mean by that with the Arabs, he engaged in all sorts of very practical quiet under the table, below the radar screen cooperation that build actually that built on what were his recognition that there were converging threat perceptions as it related to radical Islamists, whether they were the Iranians or whether they were the al-Qaida or Muslim Brotherhood.

He understood this and he found ways quietly to cultivate relations with the Arabs. And ultimately that contributed to what we saw with the Abraham Accords. So you have to give him credit for that.

Where I think he does less well is, I think, he did something that I worry about. Israel has always been, at least historically, an American interest, not a Republican or Democratic interest. And he undermined in many respects Israel’s bipartisan relationship with the United States even before Trump, who he embraced in a way that was probably excessive.

Any Israeli prime minister would have wanted to get along with an American president and especially someone like Trump. But the zip between getting along and so enthusiastically embracing and the the impulse to sort of line up with the Republicans in a way that was left little to the imagination, that has a longer term consequence. And I think we’re seeing some of it now.

Certainly the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has become deeply critical of Israel in a way that almost seems reflexive, as opposed to thinking through exactly what the Israelis are doing, what the Palestinians are doing and the like. So I am here. I think that he bears a lot of the responsibility for that. And I think he also bears a lot of the responsibility for putting Israel on a track where it runs the risk of becoming a binational state.

What motivated me to write be ‘strong enough?’ The courage was precisely the concern that Israel is on a track by default of becoming a binational state, unless, in fact, it makes some conscious decisions to change course. And that’s really, again, I think one of one of his legacies, his successor that I’m hopeful can undo it.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, Dennis, good transition to the second topic I wanted to chat about, which are the recent clashes between Hamas and Israel, which you referenced earlier. Can you explain what happened perhaps from the perspective of both sides?

DENNIS ROSS: Yes, and it’s really important to put this in perspective. There’s a backdrop to what recently happened. It starts with Mahmoud Abbas canceling the elections. Ninety three percent of the Palestinians who are eligible to vote registered for these elections. These would have been the first elections since 2007. The fact that 93 percent registered to vote tells you a lot about how much the Palestinian public wanted the election: not because they had high expectations that everything was going to be transformed, but they clearly wanted to be able to express themselves and express their voices.

Now, the cancellation of that created a sense of opportunity for Hamas. And there’s a second element that created a sense of possibility for Hamas. And that was, there is a long standing legal issue affecting the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. This is Jerusalem, just outside the Old City, being outside the wall part of Jerusalem. There’s a neighborhood called Sheikh Jarrah; there are several families that moved into Sheikh Jarrah, which was after the 1948 war. The Jordanians took over East Jerusalem and they moved a number of families who were refugees into houses that have been owned by the Jews, prior to the war in 1948. So what Israel defines as its war of independence, so they don’t necessarily have legal title.

These homes were owned by Jewish families prior to ’48. There is a right wing settler group that seeks to settle in all the areas, including these Arab areas. And they were able to buy these properties actually from a trust that owned them. And they’ve been pushing for evictions. This has worked its way through the courts. And the lower level courts have found that these families should be evicted. The Supreme Court has not acted on it yet.
This is a classic case where technically this issue is viewed in narrow terms legally. Those who are pushing for it might be right. But when you deal with issues of Jerusalem, you want to be wise, not just right. And here’s a case where there are two issues that will always create an electric response that takes on a life of its own when it comes to Jerusalem. One is evictions, displacement of Palestinians. The other is the religious sites.

And that leads to the third issue that has helped propel this. And that was that there were disturbances on Jerusalem Day and rocks were being thrown – the way the Temple Mount of the Haram esh-Sharif, this is a platform on the surface where there are two mosques, Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the Dome of the Rock. Below it is known as the Ha-Kotel, and this is where the Wailing Wall, the Western Wall. There are thousands of Jews down there praying and stones are being thrown over the side, you get hit by a stone 300 feet above you, hit you in the head, it will kill you, or certainly it can.

So Israeli police want to stop the stone throwing, but for some reason that mystifies me, they went into the mosque. Now, they claim, because rocks and metal bars were accumulated there. Where the mosque is, is far removed. I mean, I joke that George Washington couldn’t throw a stone from there to the Kotel.

So what you want to do is you want to stop those who are throwing the stones. But for some reason, there ended up being an assault into the mosque. And this went viral, as you might imagine, because everybody who was there has a phone and they become a reporter. And that just set everything aflame. Then Hamas sought to take advantage of all this, to make themselves a defender of Jerusalem, to gain control over the Palestinian movement more generally. And so they launch rockets against Jerusalem.

If you think about it, there are 360,000 Palestinians who live in Jerusalem and those rockets actually hit there. They might well have killed the Palestinians, but that wasn’t their concern. What Hamas wanted to do was make a statement, seize it themselves and present themselves as the protector of Jerusalem. They knew crossing that threshold, Israel would respond in a very tough way and they didn’t care. They knew that the Gazans would be the ones who pay the price for it. And they didn’t care. They wanted to score political points. So Israel responded with rockets.
First of all, Israel responded to these rockets by carrying out attacks, going after the military infrastructure within Gaza. Now, Hamas builds a vast military infrastructure. And I want to put this in some perspective. In 2014, there was a conflict that went on for 51 days between Israel and Hamas at the time. At the end of that, Hamas had 3,300 about 3,300 rockets left. When during this conflict, when it began, they probably had about 30,000, so they use from 2014 until 2021 massive rearmament. And these rockets, by the way, have more payload, more range and and were more effective.

In addition, they built a very extensive network, underground network of tunnels. Now, the tunnels weren’t there to protect their people. They were there to protect their fighters, their leadership, their command control and they’re built into what are areas that are not only completely civilian, but they built them under hospitals, under schools. They built them in places and they fire rockets from places that, in a sense, challenged the Israelis to hit and bear the stigma. When they do so, Hamas is basically positioning themselves to target Israeli civilians with their rockets on the one hand and in a sense, try to use their population as human shields on the other and hope that Israel pays the price for it, which in many ways they did in this conflict.

I just want to make one last point on this. When Hamas built this vast network of tunnels, they used an enormous amount of cement, steel, iron, electrical wiring, and wood. Now Gaza is an impoverished place. All of this material that was used for building this vast underground tunnel network could have been used for construction and development and economic progress above ground. But that’s not Hamas’s priority. And they have kept Gaza in a state of deep impoverishment even prior to this conflict.

MICHAEL MORELL: Dennis, is there a way to fit what happened here into the broader narrative of the peace process for the last 20 years?

DENNIS ROSS: I think there is. There was an effort when Hamas took over Gaza in a coup in 2007, and the logic of the effort was, ‘Let’s show the contrast between the West Bank with the Palestinian Authority; let’s show how they develop and that they offer a future, and let’s show the failure of Hamas in terms of, they offer nothing but pain.’ That was a good theory, but it never fully materialized, in part because the party is far too corrupt, in part because to be fair, the Israelis have not created the kind of space that could have made it more effective.
I would say that we have too often spent too much time riveted on ‘Let’s solve the whole conflict’ when the circumstances weren’t there to solve them, but what we should have done is create the conditions where Palestinians genuinely could have advanced, where they could have had increasing political space to make decisions, where we were investing in that, in a sense, working with the Israelis to give them greater political and economic space to create some successful models for the Palestinians so they could see what could be achieved. 

Enough wasn’t done in that regard. Too often we went for, ‘Let’s Go solve Jerusalem, refugees, borders and security.’ And it’s not that those shouldn’t be solved, but you always have to recognize as a diplomat, as a negotiator, you have to recognize what you can achieve at this particular juncture and what you can’t achieve. I would much prefer us to create a new baseline which makes what is impossible today possible tomorrow in the sense we have too often focused on the end game when we didn’t have the circumstances or conditions that allowed us to move towards that end game.

MICHAEL MORELL: Dennis, maybe we can switch in the last segment here to talk a little bit about Iran. We just had a presidential election and we don’t know the outcome because we’re actually taping this a day before the election. But I’m wondering how you would describe Iranian politics going into the election.

DENNIS ROSS: There is no doubt that the balance of forces within the elite, within Iran, and there is such a thing as elite politics and rule; we have seen with people like the current President Rouhani and his foreign minister Zarif. These are people who believe in the Islamic Republic, but they’re more pragmatic. They believe that the Islamic Republic can advance by being more integrated into the into the international community and the international financial system.

The Supreme Leader, who is unfortunately from this standpoint, the decision maker, he doesn’t use that. He sees the need to preserve an Islamic Republic and its ideology by having enemies and the enemies justify the kind of strict internal controls. And we’ve seen the balance of forces shift in favor of those who embody the ideology, the resistance ideology that the Supreme Leader has always promoted. So we’ve seen a shift.

The Revolutionary Guard has much greater power. It’s clear that Ebrahim Raisi is the favorite candidate. So we’ll see whether he actually wins. But he’s clearly the favorite candidate. The media gives him dramatically more attention. He’s obviously the choice of the Supreme Leader. He’s the head of the judiciary. This is someone who, when he was a much younger man, presided over revolutionary courts that put tens of thousands of people to death in the late 1980s because they were seen as real or imagined enemies of the of the Islamic Republic.
And so he comes from what’s known as the principle side of the arguments there. And whether he wins or someone else wins, it’s still the Supreme Leader who makes the decisions. And it’s going to be a more hard line government than we’ve seen. Now, the question is, does that make a big difference?

Practically, my own view is they still want sanctions to be released, but they’re trying to signal that they’re in no hurry to have them released and they’re trying to build pressure on us by pressing ahead with their nuclear program. I believe we’ll probably still get back into the Iran nuclear deal sometime this year. And the challenge for the Biden administration will be how do they retain leverage to try to do what they seek, which is a longer, stronger deal? And what do they need to be able to do to counter what the Iranians are doing in the region?
The Trump administration applied what they called maximum pressure on the Iranians, which was really maximum economic pressure. They did squeeze them economically, but it didn’t change any of Iran’s behavior. They didn’t stop any of their active support for Hezbollah, for Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any of the Shia militias within Iraq. Maybe they couldn’t provide as wide array of material resources, but they still provided – Hamas was still getting money from them. They were effusive in their praise of the Iranians.

After the conflict, Hezbollah was probably still getting 400 billion dollars a year. The Shia militias within Iraq were still being supported, so they didn’t change their behavior. What we’ve seen is if you’re going to be effective with the Iranians, you need a strategy that applies economic, political and even at least the threat of military pressure. And you need to create an isolation of the Iranians. And I hope that the Biden administration, I suspect that this is the way they’re thinking about it, understands that you believe the Iranians are way out. But you also have to keep the pressure on them and it’s more effective when it’s not the U.S. acting alone.

MICHAEL MORELL: Dennis, why have the hard liners gained strength over the past few years? What’s behind that?

DENNIS ROSS: I think there’s probably a couple of factors that have contributed to it. I do think that the Trump policies did contribute to it because here was the argument of those who said we can advance if we do deals with the with the Americans in the West. So they did the JCPOA. Everyone can debate whether this was the best possible deal or not. But from an Iranian standpoint, they lived up to it. Trump pulled out of it. They paid a price for it. And it undercut the arguments of those who said we can gain by doing these deals. So that certainly contributed, I think, to their strength.

I think, though, that what also contributed is that the basic desire to dominate the region is still, you know, the most important driving factor in Iran’s behavior. And inevitably, that tends to push them in directions that’s going to produce a backlash against them. And one of the interesting things about the the interview, the set of interviews that Foreign Minister Zarif gave them was supposed to be for the kind of oral history of the Rouhani presidency, where he was very candid in terms of saying that the Revolutionary Guard consistently undercut his diplomacy. He didn’t know what was going on in Syria. Here’s what they were doing that made it much harder to achieve the kind of things he wanted.

I think the point to bear in mind here is that people like Rouhani and Zarif were permitted to do certain things like negotiate an Iran nuclear deal, but they weren’t the ones who shaped the policy when it came to the rest of the region. And what I’m suggesting is that context plays into the hands of the hardliners because sooner or later it produces responses. Now, the really interesting question is, can you devise a policy where you can create a set of choices for the for the Iranians, where it becomes clear that what the hard liners are doing are costing unmistakably, costing Iran versus what’s available if you change the course and the direction.

MICHAEL MORELL: So from a policy perspective, assuming we get a new nuclear agreement, which seems likely to me sounds like it seems likely to you as well, I guess the question is, how do you have a nuclear agreement and then keep the pressure on them from a regional perspective? How do you balance that from a policy perspective?

DENNIS ROSS: I think what you do is you decide to take a page from their book. Their book is a nuclear file is one thing. We’re free to do whatever we want in the region. And the answer to that should be, ‘OK, the nuclear file is one thing and therefore we’re free to do whatever we want in the region.’ And so, you know, if you think about it everywhere where the Iranians are in the region, you know, in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and Yemen, you either have a failed state, a failing state, or a state that is largely paralyzed because of what the Iranians are doing.

So I think one of the things to do is we should be competing in the region. We should be highlighting their failures. So, again, I said there’s a political dimension, there’s an economic dimension, there’s a military dimension. We have the Israelis now in CENTCOM, Central Command, which means we could do all sorts of planning where, we with the Israelis and the key Arab states, we could do contingency planning to focus on what are the options that the Iranian Shia militias are likely to engage in. Let’s develop plans to counter them. Let’s raise the cost to the Iranians and what they’re doing. You can do this in a variety of ways. Let’s do more to create the ability to counter their ballistic missiles, creating more of an integrated missile defense network, do more to promote the kind of drone technologies and cooperation. Build on the Abraham Accords and build that coalition. Widen it. When you take these kinds of steps, when you create in a sense a counter coalition, you’re also enhancing your potential for deterrence. Because the more you show the Iranians we’re going to raise the cost of what you’re doing in the region, the more you give them incentive to look for different ways to operate.

MICHAEL MORELL: Dennis, thank you so much for joining us. It’s always great to hear your views. They’re so thoughtful. And let me remind our listeners again of your most recent book, ‘Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny.’ Given the political changes in Israel, it sounds like the perfect time to read it. So thanks again for joining us, Dennis.

DENNIS ROSS: It’s always a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me.


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