The Israel-Hamas War — and What It Means for the World | Ian Bremmer | TED

The Israel-Hamas War — and What It Means for the World | Ian Bremmer | TED

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Helen Walters: Hello, everybody. Two days ago, on October 7, the Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization Hamas attacked Israel, overrunning two military bases, occupying territory, killing hundreds of Israeli citizens and taking dozens more as hostages. It was the most significant breach of Israel's borders since the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The attacks were clearly long- and well-planned, and they sent shock waves of fear and panic through the region and the world.

Obviously, it's two days later. It is way too soon to understand all of the ramifications of these attacks. But we can try to understand how we got here and the implications of this awful moment.

So we asked our community to share their questions and to answer them, I am joined by Ian Bremmer, president and founder of political risk research and consulting firm Eurasia Group. Hi Ian. Ian Bremmer: Helen, great to be with you. HW: Alright, so let's get right to it.

We've had a number of our community who really want you to explain the very simple question of how we got here. So can you share the historical context for this moment? And if you like, give us a bit of a Gaza 101. IB: Well, I mean, Gaza, we've got a population, a Palestinian population of just over two million, 2.2 million, exceedingly poor. And, you know, without sovereignty, without statehood, and a part of the Palestinian occupied territories, also the West Bank, more people, 3.5 million. The West Bank run not very well by the Palestinian Authority, which recognizes Israel's right to exist. Gaza, run really badly, with very little resources, run by Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist.

Now we've been talking about a two-state solution for a very long time. For the idea that the only way you end up with stability between the Israelis and the Palestinians is if the Palestinians have some ability to govern themselves, have some control over their economic trajectory, over their foreign policy, over their borders. That is not where we stand right now. And indeed, the idea of a two-state solution has kind of lost the collective interest, imagination, traction, for two reasons.

First, because the Middle East has moved on. A bunch of countries around the region have found that they are interested in developing direct relations, some formal, some informal, with Israel, and that they're willing to do that irrespective of resolving the Palestinian question, the Palestinian problem. And we've seen that with the Abraham Accords under the Trump administration, where the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco all directly established diplomatic relations with Israel.

If you go to Dubai or Abu Dhabi today, you will see Israeli tourists like you wouldn't imagine. And they’re having a great time and they’re spending money and they're taking in the sites and they're very welcomed by the Emirates. Unimaginable that was going to happen 10 or 20 years ago. In fact, Saudi Arabia was very close, not within weeks, it wasn't imminent, but certainly within months of signing a deal with Israel that would allow for them to open diplomatic relations.

And there's already been a number of high-level diplomatic relations informally between Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Netanyahu. So, in other words, across the region, you had Israel, frankly, in the strongest geopolitical position that they've been in decades. They've been surrounded by enemies. Well, now they're increasingly surrounded by countries they can do business with. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, there was an announcement of a deal where the United Arab Emirates was investing massively into solar power for Jordan, which would then be given to Israel in return for desalinized water processed by Israel.

Even five years ago, inconceivable a deal like that could happen. So the Israelis, technologically very sophisticated, an advanced industrial economy, are only standing to make more money by doing business with all of these countries. What's been happening with the Palestinians? Nothing. The answer is nothing.

They're not benefiting economically. And all of these deals for Israel have happened without any consequences, any contingencies for the Palestinians. And indeed in Israel, you know, there have been a lot of headlines. Israel's made a lot of news this year, but not because of the Palestinians. Israel has made news because of their own domestic constitutional crisis, an effort by the Prime Minister, Netanyahu, and his right-wing coalition to engage in judicial reform, an Israeli judiciary which is very independent, which has, in the context of democracies, a very surprising amount of authority over making but also interpretation of laws in Israel.

What can and what cannot be considered a reasonable law to be executed. And for a country that doesn't have a constitution, not surprising perhaps, the judiciary is so powerful. And Netanyahu facing corruption charges and with a very weak right-wing coalition relying on far right, extremist right party as part of that coalition, was pushing for these reforms.

Now, why am I talking about that? Because for the last six months, there have been unprecedented demonstrations across Israel, peaceful demonstrations, but bringing out the entire country. Because they were concerned about a constitutional crisis. Kind of an irony for a country without a constitution. If Netanyahu persisted, went ahead with these reforms.

No one was talking about the Palestinians. And indeed, large numbers of troops that had been in the south were moved to the West Bank as the Netanyahu government was expanding the settlements in that territory and responding to Palestinian reprisals against those settlements. So they weren't focused on the issue. They took their eyes off the ball. Israel had other priorities, and the Palestinians were in a position not only to lose their friends around the region but also increasingly an afterthought for the Israeli government and the Israeli people.

That is the backdrop for where we are today. HW: So let's dig in a little bit into the idea that you bring up of the kind of the troubles that have been roiling Netanyahu and the Israeli government themselves. So I think one of the things that has been brought up is the massive failure of intelligence and defense systems in Israel that allowed this attack to happen. What happens next? Do you see Israel uniting around Netanyahu? Do you see this fracturing even worse with anger at what happened in the lapses in defense and intelligence insights? Or what happens next? IB: Well, the first point I should make is just for everyone to understand what has just happened to the Israeli consciousness.

It is unimaginable that, you know, certainly someone in a developed country could have any understanding of what the Jewish people in Israel are presently going through. This feeling that, you know, after the Holocaust and, you know, the land being provided to them to have a safe haven to create an independent Israeli state. And the need to defend their borders, the historic fights they've had with their neighbors, the war in 1973, when a number of Arab nations decided to fight against them. And, you know, the continual sense of besiegement with missiles from Hezbollah, for example, terrorist operations. This is not like a bolt from the blue when the United States experienced 9/11.

Israel’s 9/11 is both massively greater in the impact on Israel but also comes for a country that was supposed to be prepared for this. I mean, Israel represents the gold standard on border security around the world. Not like the United States, where you've got, you know, all sorts of people running across and "build the wall" becomes a clarion call precisely because nobody understands how to defend the border, no. And also, intelligence collection, surveillance, digital surveillance, human intelligence collection on the ground, especially in the occupied territories. This is what they do.

And the fact is that right now, today, Netanyahu's legacy will not be anything that he has done to date. It will be this failure and how he responds to it. Period, end of story. Nothing else is close. So what that means for Israel is that all of the issues that have roiled this country over the past year, all of the political polarization, and it's not a two-party country, it’s a many, many-party country. You know, the joke is you get three people together in Israel and, you know, you form a new political party.

And if you go to the coffeehouses and the rest, everybody's talking politics. Everyone reads the newspapers. This is a highly politically literate and divided population. But as of right now, priority one, two and three for the entire Israeli people is to respond to these attacks, these terrorist attacks.

And how are they going to respond to them? Well, number one, they've got to find a way to get their people back. There are 100-plus, and we don't know the exact numbers right now, hostages that are being held in Gaza, most of whom are civilians. And they will do everything to get them back. And they may well have direct American support in trying to accomplish that. And then it will be to go into Gaza, to remove the leadership of Gaza, to disarm the militias in the territory of Gaza, and to do everything they can to try to ensure that this cannot happen again.

And making that happen is a very, very tall order. It might be a taller order than the Israelis can accomplish, and certainly the knock-on consequences will be grave even for just Gaza. And that is before we talk about any potential expansion of the war. But for now, the Israeli people will stand together.

And there's already talk of a government of national emergency that would bring together Netanyahu with the leader of the Israeli opposition for the purposes of fighting this war so that everyone in Israel is together collectively, ensuring the national security of the people of Israel. And I think that for the course of the coming months, and let us remember, this is not just, you know, an attack against Israel and now they respond. It is very likely there are Hamas operatives on the ground inside Israel right now that the Israeli government has to find and neutralize. It is also true that, you know, you're still actively expecting that there are going to be additional attacks, whether those are missile attacks or whether those are direct incursions, nobody knows, but given the level of planning that was required by Hamas to make these strikes over the weekend, which nobody in Israel thought was possible, no one expected it, right now, that level of concern would be higher than anything else on the political agenda. And again, that will not move for the foreseeable future. HW: So I want to talk more about all of that and expand this to obviously the broader geopolitical implications of this.

But I want to just play out the 9/11 reference a little bit if you can, because obviously 9/11 happened some time ago with the attack on the United States. But we know with retrospect, with hindsight, that some of the decisions that were made after that were misguided, they were misjudged, they actually led to terrible harm. How and who is going to make sure that these types of decisions are not made? And how can Israel avoid making decisions that will be bad? IB: As someone who was in New York on 9/11 and saw the second tower go down and saw how the city rallied together, how the country rallied together, President Bush, over 90 percent approval in the country a couple of months after 9/11, how the world came together to support the United States, the coalition of the willing, well beyond NATO. I mean, poor countries that had no business caring about what the United States was up to providing troops on the ground and support for the Americans. Russia, Putin's Russia, calling up Bush and offering, you know, the former Soviet republics in Central Asia as bases to support for logistical operations for the war in Afghanistan.

I mean, the level of support for the United States after 9/11 was singular. And there's no question that the outpouring of concern, I mean, when I saw in Berlin, shining on the Brandenburg Gate, the Israeli flag with the star of David in Germany, in Berlin, in Germany, and given the history and given what that means and given the Alternative für Deutschland doing well in East Germ -- all of that, I mean, this is a singular moment in the relationship between Germany and Israel. The European Union suspending aid to the Palestinians, the support for Israel is extraordinary.

Narendra Modi In India. It is not universal for every country, but it is absolutely wide-ranging. And I got a readout, I spoke to several of the folks involved in the Emergency Security Council meeting at the United Nations this weekend. The condemnation of these attacks, everyone but Russia. And again, so in that regard, this is very, very similar to 9/11.

Now, the broader question that you're asking, Helen, which I'm also very sensitive to, is in 2023, looking back on 9/11, the Americans made some horrible, horrible, long-lasting mistakes. And some of those mistakes were in the United States. I mean, if I think about how much money was spent and wasted in the Department of Homeland Security, on personal security and safety in the airlines, how much money was wasted, how much economic inefficiency as a consequence of overstating the terrorist threat in the US, everything else secondary to that.

But also, the rights that were stripped back for, in some cases, all Americans in terms of surveillance and the Patriot Act. But also targeting Muslim Americans across the country and so much mistreatment of American citizens as a consequence of that. But that's nothing compared to the mistakes made internationally. A war of choice in Iraq, responding to 9/11 with trillions of dollars wasted and lives, millions of lives destroyed. Afghanistan, 20 years on, a failed war with the Taliban returning to power and a failed state. Yes, bin Laden was killed, and I think people around the world cheered that, not just in the United States, and Al Qaeda was destroyed at the highest levels and in many cases uprooted completely.

But no one can look back on the 20-plus years since 9/11 and say that the American response with the war on terror was successful. You can't do that. And Israel is not the United States. The Americans have extraordinary strength and resilience in its national security capabilities and the size of its economy, also in where it's located geopolitically.

Israel certainly has the military strength in the region, but the the country is small. The territory is small. And certainly it is not in a geopolitical space that is comfortable.

And so I think the danger here is that as the Israelis respond against Hamas, as they should and as they must, and as they work to destroy the leadership of that terrorist organization and disarm the militants that are involved in the attacks against Israel and pose an ongoing threat. But that is certainly not the only knock-on consequences of Israel's decision making. And the potential for this to become a broader war that would envelop the Middle East in conflagration and that ultimately could even end Israel is real in a way that the war on terror could not have threatened the United States existentially. And I, as a consequence, I certainly believe that a unity government will make it less likely that the Israelis overreact in that way. I certainly believe that the United States, in providing very strong and committed support, but also notes of caution in what can be done and what should not be done, will hopefully restrain the worst impulses. And, you know, in the early moments, again, we all understand why Israel would feel the need to react in the harshest possible way.

But I certainly worry when I see the Israeli defense minister refer to the attackers as inhuman animals and announce a siege on the entirety of Gaza, which means no food, no electricity, no water. And this is a territory that already has 50 percent poverty, already has fewer than half of its population with access to clean water. I worry about what that is going to mean for the Palestinian people as well as for Israel long-term. You know, I think it was Golda Meir who says, "I won't hate you for killing our children. I will hate you for making me kill your children." Ultimately, the Israeli population is most threatened by what the terrorists of Hamas unleash from Israel.

HW: So do you think that was part of the incentive for Hamas in doing this? Because surely they knew that the response would be swift. And surely they knew that the world would rally around such atrocities. So what do you think was their motivation, and do you think that they underestimated what might happen? IB: Oh, I don't think they underestimated what might happen. But it's a compelling question.

It's really hard to put yourself in the mindset of someone like a Hamas leader. But, you know, I had to do that just a few months ago when Yevgeny Prigozhin was marching with his Wagner forces on Moscow. And people were asking me, "What is going through this guy's mind?" Because it's clear he's going to get killed, right? I mean, you turn against the Kremlin and Putin, you’re not walking away from that. And when he cut the “deal” and everyone said, "Oh you know, he cut a deal" -- He's dead man walking. Like, literally, that was the reality. And as soon as the Hamas leaders decided that they were going to commit these atrocities against Israeli civilians, they're dead.

There is no future for these people. So I think there are two different things going on. The first, and this is analogous to Prigozhin, is that Hamas felt themselves in an increasingly untenable environment, that they were losing their support in the region. And even the Saudis were about to normalize their relationship with Israel.

They had no influence in ability to get anything done, no leverage with the Israeli government, which was only becoming harder and harder lined against them. And in that regard, they were increasingly in a corner. Their options were increasingly all bad. And, you know, we know that people that find themselves only with horrible options frequently do irrational things. And I would not underestimate that in driving the decision of Hamas to take that action. It's kind of like why would 77 percent of a Gaza population in the last elections they had, which was some time ago, why would they vote for an organization like Hamas? Well, I mean, they wouldn't if they had economic opportunities.

They wouldn't, if they had education, they wouldn't if they could come and go from Gaza as they please. But the worse the situation gets, the more they are willing to vote for an organization that is prepared to burn it all down. And by the way, there's a lesson in that, even for those of us in very wealthy, very stable countries. So I think that's one set of motivations, but another set of motivations certainly is an ideological effort of Hamas to insert themselves as more dominant in the conversation, to radicalize the Israeli population, to undermine the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Because if this fight, you know, gets the Israelis to kill huge numbers of Palestinian civilians, and by the way, Hamas will facilitate that, right? I mean, Hamas is absolutely going to be engaged in operations, you know, in residential buildings. They do that intentionally. They're not going to make it easy for Israel to take them out. They want to make it bloody. They want to paint the Israelis as just as bad as Hamas, if not worse.

They will take human shields. The IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, usually gives warnings about when they're about to attack a building. They ask the civilians to leave. Well, Hamas tells those civilians that that's disinformation. They do everything they can to make the Israelis seem complicit with the kind of indiscriminate attacks against civilians that Hamas engages in themselves. They want to bring the Israelis to their level.

And they also want to radicalize the Palestinians in response, not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank. And they want to radicalize the Arab street. They want people across the region to be, you know, in uproar against Israel and in solidarity with the Hamas cause and in solidarity with the destruction of Israel.

They want Arab leaders to be saying what the Iranian supreme leader was posting on social media this weekend, calling essentially for a genocide against the Zionist regime. That is ideologically what Hamas is trying to accomplish. And again, Israel must do everything in its power not to allow Hamas to drag them there.

HW: It’s interesting, in your talk in Vancouver this year at TED2023, you were talking about the rise of different orders, and I do just get the sense that everything is connected. You have Russia, you have Ukraine, you have Iran. There are these ideological battles that are now becoming real-world wars.

And so I wonder if you can, especially the mention of Iran, I don't think it's confirmed yet, the intervention of Iran in this, but certainly the "Journal" was reporting that Iran had been involved, deeply involved in setting up these attacks. What does this mean? What does this mean for the world at large? And then I also have a follow up question, which is, what do you think the US should do? IB: So let's talk in terms of the world at large and starting with Iran, certainly that "Wall Street Journal" piece over the weekend drove an enormous amount of news. It was saying, hey, the Iranians basically planned this. I will tell you, that was a very lightly sourced piece, relying on Hamas.

And I would not have gone to print with that if I had been "The Journal." HW: Yeah, the US has not confirmed that at all. IB: In fact, the US has actually said that there is not hard evidence at this point that fingers Iran as having directly orchestrated or ordered these attacks. Now, let's be very clear. The Iranians have publicly expressed strongest possible support for Hamas. The Iranians have historically funded and provided military support directly for Hamas.

So they clearly are not innocents in this. And I would be surprised to learn that the Iranians had no idea that this was going to happen. I suspect that they were aware.

But awareness and orchestration are two very different things. Now, since the attacks occurred, Hezbollah, which of course, is also very much aligned with Iran and gets a lot of direct military support and training from the Iranians, they have, I say only, but in this context, is only, they've only engaged in some missile strikes, some rocket strikes against an Israeli military -- not base, but military outpost. A soldier’s outpost. And the Israelis, in response, immediately engaged in strikes back against Hezbollah.

That's it. If the Iranians were behind this and wanted to be seen as behind this, Hezbollah would be involved in these attacks. They are far more capable than Hamas. The Iranians have claimed that they have had no role, that this was an autonomous Hamas operation. And indeed, Iran has been doing better geopolitically of late.

The Chinese facilitated a breakthrough in Iranian relations with the Saudis. The Iranians have engaged with the United States, and six billion dollars of Iranian assets are set to be unfrozen, have not been unfrozen yet, but are set to be transferred to Iran. Five American civilians that were held unjustly as hostages in Iranian jails have been released and sent to the United States.

The Iranians have reduced the top level of uranium enrichment and some of their stockpiles, allowing inspectors in. Now, this is not a return to the Iranian nuclear deal, the JCPOA, but certainly on the basis of all of that and even some high-level discussion that the Iranians might be willing to engage directly with the United States diplomatically through the good offices of Oman, none of that seems aligned at all with the Iranians pulling the trigger on an attack against Israel that would almost certainly lead to massive retaliation once the Israelis found that out. So I am sitting here saying I would be surprised, not with a high level of confidence, and, you know, the Iranian regime has a very old supreme leader who is also dealing with internal instability and a transition that is coming. So never say never. But I would be quite surprised if we found out that the Iranians directly ordered this.

Now, it is useful that the United States has both sent a fleet off of the Israeli coast to show stalwart support and will be providing a level of at least military coordination and operational intelligence, may well do much more than that. We can get to that when we talk about the United States, but is also very publicly saying "We do not yet have any evidence that the Iranians are involved." In other words, the message from the United States is very clear: do not expand this war into Iran, because the consequences of that are 150-dollar crude at a minimum.

The consequences of that is the world goes back into global recession. The consequences of that are conflagration in the region. And I think, I do believe that the Israeli government is quite aligned with the United States in not wanting to go there. HW: I keep coming back to the human cost of this because the reality is that people are suffering, people are being killed, and many more people are likely to be killed. If, indeed Hamas has kind of hijacked this story with extremist action, I wonder what you see from the Palestinian side of kind of a more moderate type of push towards trying to get understanding, trying to get peace in this nation or trying to get peace in this area.

IB: I mean, that's the most tragic piece of this, is the ability of Hamas to successfully hijack big pieces of the political spectrum for the Palestinians. I mean, there are so many people in the West right now that view the Palestinians as equivalent to Hamas, and nothing could be further from the truth. But that reality, that perception is going to make life so much worse for the people that have suffered the most. They are the powerless.

The Palestinians are the stateless. They lack resources. They lack a proper military.

They lack the capacity to defend their own territory and to defend themselves. And we've already seen, even over this most tragic weekend for Israel, that the number of deaths and casualties for the Palestinians are almost as much as they were for the Israelis. And when you go back over the past 20 years, who've had the most deaths, who've had the most casualties, consistently, it's been the Palestinians. Who's going to suffer the most going forward? Consistently, it will be the Palestinians. Who suffered the most from the US war on terror? It was, of course, the Iraqis and all of the tribes in Afghanistan. This should not surprise anyone, but it is the unfortunate reality that of course, Hamas leadership will be destroyed.

But the biggest damage that they will have done would have been to their own people. To the Palestinian people, who now will face almost unfathomable deprivation. And there’s very little that the rest of the world is going to do about it. HW: Do you see a movement within Palestine to step up if Hamas is done? IB: I certainly believe that the Palestinian Authority will try to see this as an opportunity to push for more international engagement from the region to take seriously a cessation of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a rolling back of the territory that is presently occupied and a revival of peace talks that would bring about a two-state solution where the Palestinians, less land than perhaps they would have gotten in the days of, you know, Arafat and Rabin, but nonetheless, something that feels sustainable, a country that one might be able to raise children with a sense of hope. There is no one in the occupied territories of Palestine that could say that for themselves for their children today.

So I think that is the hope. But, you know, clearly right now is not the time for that. Not because we don't want it, but because events will overtake it immediately and have already overtaken.

Now, the hope is that the violence that will spread in the West Bank can be contained. That we do not see a war in Gaza become a war in the West Bank, that we do not see an occupation of Gaza become an occupation of the West Bank. That is, I think, the priority now. You have to know sometimes when you actually have a trajectory for peace, and when you have to do your best to avoid war expanding. We do not have a trajectory for peace right now.

We are at war. There were plenty of opportunities over the past years to take off ramps, to engage more seriously. They were ignored. And it is precisely that reality that has brought us to a point where we now are on defense, where we are hoping that this does not get much, much worse. That is the story of the Middle East today. HW: Do you think Israel will annex Gaza? IB: I think the Israelis don't know.

Again, don't underestimate the shock, the emotional shock that all of the Israelis are facing today. They are not making long-term strategic decisions right now. They are making immediate, short-term decisions. What can we do to make sure the country is still defended, our borders are still secure, that terrorists are not, you know, right now running around in our midst, planning further atrocities? That is priority number one. And very close to it is getting those hostages back and safe and I'd say unharmed.

They've already experienced a lot of harm. That's beyond the realm of possibility right now. There will be, in the coming weeks, and there's also some shock and awe, you know, Netanyahu immediately posting, some buildings getting demolished in Gaza and saying we are, you know, at war. That is, I mean, they’ve engaged in these sorts of airstrikes before, and we already know of families that have gotten killed, entire families in some cases of nine, of 13 people, lots of children, this sort of thing. We will see that.

But in terms of what's the nature of the long-term objectives, the occupation, the Israelis are not close to making that decision. And I also think that other countries that Israel trusts and Israel needs will have some ability to have influence over Israel in making that decision. I'm not just talking about the US now. I'm also talking about countries in the region that Israel would like to maintain relations with. So there needs to be very active multilateral diplomacy behind the scenes, quietly, high-level, with the Israeli government in the coming days and weeks. HW: I want to talk a little bit about the media coverage of the attacks and of what is happening right now.

A lot of the people who had written in with questions for you are really confused by the rhetoric that they're seeing. They're not sure what to trust, who to trust, what to believe. And I want to get your sense, you're a very online person. And so what is your take on this, and how can we think about how to understand what's happening, especially in such a kind of, real-time situation? IB: Well, first of all, there's always the fog of war. There's always disinformation from both sides actively trying to promote a narrative that is more effective for them, that they're doing better than they otherwise are, and that the other side is engaged in greater atrocities than they actually are.

You see lots of that, lots of immediately fake videos putting out of buildings that are being destroyed, people that are being killed, you know, sort of, people that are providing, you know, sort of, support for, sort of, "kill all the Jews" and "kill all the Palestinians" that actually came from previous conflicts, not from the present one. There's plenty of that. This time around, there's also so much more hatred. There's, on social media especially, there's so much more willingness to promote, algorithmically, opinions that you would never hear in your family, that you would never hear in your community, in your school, but it's being bombarded.

And this is very different from the so-called mainstream media, whether it's the BBC or the Deutsche Welle or it's Fox News or CNN. No, no. Social media has become a far more greatly polarized and hate-filled space.

I've received at least 30 death threats over the last 48 hours from complete randos. A few people that I actually could track if I really needed to, most anonymous accounts. But clearly people that are writing me directly, some of whom are really, really pro-Israel, some of whom are really, really pro-Palestine and some of whom are probably just trolling for the lolz, as they like to say. It is increasingly very hard to navigate this space without becoming incensed and deranged. Having said that, as much as I find Twitter/X a space antithetical to civil society, I also know, as someone who does analysis, that some of the best real-time information from sources on the ground is being passed through on X and is not found in other places.

It will not come through in mainstream media. So for the average person, you need to spend a lot more time filtering and figuring out where to go and who to follow. But it still is the one place that you can go. And you know, it really does, the whole thing profoundly worries me because when you're in an environment that you can no longer know what is truth, what is real information, it is really hard to maintain a society that is human. When you have people that are saying that all Israelis are X and all Palestinians are Y, and that is where much of social media, I mean, a strong majority of social media is there right now, you cannot have dialogue, you cannot have solutions, and you can very easily tilt into war, into radicalism, into fascism. This is something we all need to be guarded against.

And I truly believe that the social media companies need to be regulated on this. They are acting as if they have no responsibility for what's on their sites. That, you know, it's just like the phone company. That if you and I, Helen, are having a conversation about blowing something up, well, we're responsible for that. But the phone company isn't responsible, and I accept that.

But, Helen, if you and I are having a conversation about blowing something up and then the phone company takes that conversation, identifies everyone else that might be interested in blowing something up or has considered it, and takes that conversation and promotes it to them, then you, the phone company, are responsible, you are liable, you should be taken down. And we are in a war right now, and the social media companies are actively fanning the flames. They are spraying fuel on the flames, and they’re doing it globally. Globally, so much so that countries like China that are authoritarian and control their media space actually have sort of an intrinsic political stability advantage in "information warfare" over open societies that should be the most resilient. That’s crazy, and we can’t keep going down that path. HW: The ironies are writ large.

OK, so we are coming on our time, but I wonder if you can leave us with a sense of what should we be watching for next? What should we be looking for? IB: First, we need to look for Lebanon. This is the issue of Hezbollah, which so far has been the dog that has not barked. Is that going to continue? It is the place that you are most likely to see tipping point escalation if it were to occur.

And you have Hezbollah operatives of many different stripes. They are loosely organized, they're well-trained. But that doesn't mean that they're all following, you know, marching orders from one direct leader. The potential that this could -- you could see escalation with some Israeli farmers getting killed, and then the Israelis respond.

And before you know it, you're in a much bigger firefight. Lebanon's involved, Hezbollah is involved, and then it knocks on to Iran. That is sort of the gateway drug in the Middle East even if nobody wants that fight. That's one thing to watch. Second thing to watch, of course, imminently is what happens with these hostages. Do the Israelis get them back? Historically, that has always been the top priority, and it is today.

But Hamas has control over that. And, you know, if the Israelis are not prepared to negotiate with Hamas to release militants presently in Israel prisons, and it's very hard for me to imagine in today's environment they would be willing to do that, well, how exactly do they get them back and how many of them can they actually free? Again, you know, the Israelis and the Americans have far, far better tradecraft on the ability to get these hostages out than Hamas have to take them. But Hamas has exceeded expectations over the past 48 hours, and I would worry very much about that. That would be the second thing I'd watch most closely right now.

And then finally, the nature of the Israeli government itself. Do we have success in putting together a unified national emergency government, in which case we will have more stability in governance and decision making that comes from Israel and also greater willingness to consider longer-term engagement with those Palestinians, particularly in the West Bank, to start, at least, that might be looking for a more constructive path now that they are back on the agenda. I don't have a high amount of optimism that that's going to happen. But you asked me for something hopeful, that would be something hopeful.

HW: Ian Bremmer, we are so grateful for your time and for your insight. Thank you so much for joining us, stay well. IB: My pleasure Helen.

2023-10-15 22:37

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