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Why Israel is losing the war of global public opinion over its tactics in Gaza

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, the majority women and children, since Israel's war in Gaza began, according to health authorities there. Ami Ayalon is a former director of Israel's internal security service, the Shin Bet. In an essay published by Foreign Affairs this week, he argues that global opinion is turning against Israel, but he still believes the war is justified.

AMI AYALON: It's a war of defense, and it is a response to the horror, violence. Hamas do not recognize our right to a state, a Jewish state, on the land of Israel.

FADEL: Speaking to our co-host, Michel Martin, Ayalon says Israel is currently winning on the battlefield but will ultimately lose the war if they don't maintain the support of the international community and lay out a plan for peace.

AYALON: The major mistake that our leaders did is that on the second or the third day after the 7 of October, our Cabinet ministers decided not to discuss the day after. Once we do not know to describe the day after, we do not have any concept of victory, we do not have any political goal. We tend to forget that, you know, war is only a means to achieve a better political reality. This is the definition of victory. Our leaders do not understand that when we fight a war against a terror - ideological, theological, radical terror organization, we are fighting in two dimensions. One is a battlefield, but in order to defeat Hamas, we have to win the war of ideas. And we cannot do it by the use of military power. The only way to do it is to create or to present a better idea.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Can that still happen?

AYALON: Of course. The first question that we have to ask is why - why Palestinians are fighting. My answer is very, very simple. They see themselves as a people. We do not recognize them as a people who deserve a self-determination and a state alongside of Israel, but what Biden is telling us now - and I believe that he is totally right - that we have to launch again the negotiation, in order to create hope among Palestinians.

MARTIN: Can I ask, based on your experience as the former director of the Israeli Security Agency, did the scale of the October 7 attack surprise you?

AYALON: No, it did not surprise me because 50 years earlier, on the 6 of October, the October War started, and we lost 2,000 and almost 700 people. And what we learned after Yom Kippur is that our security doctrine should be based on, yes, a major and very powerful military organization, IDF, but in addition, we have to use diplomacy. And this is something that we forgot, because I think that most Israelis do not understand that victory for Israel is to see, on the other side of the border, a Palestinian state, because once they will have a state, they will have something to lose, and if I learn something in the Shin Bet, the most dangerous enemy is an enemy that has nothing to lose. This is exactly what we saw on the 7 of October.

MARTIN: The leader of the Democrats in the United States Senate, Chuck Schumer, said recently that, you know, he feels that Netanyahu needs to step down, that a new government needs to take place in order to achieve these results. Do you agree with that?

AYALON: I totally agree. I think that Netanyahu - he's a great leader, but this is a leader who leads his people to a dead end. He is leading us to the end of Zionism. If we shall follow Netanyahu, we shall go on, you know, building settlements, and we shall face an ongoing war that nobody, nobody knows when it will end. The only way for us, first of all, to defeat Hamas - because for Hamas, it's a nightmare - this is the end of the of the dream of Greater Palestine, so in order to defeat Hamas, the ideology of Hamas, we have to present a better future in which most Palestinians will believe.

MARTIN: Do you have hope that a better day will be possible?

AYALON: Yes, I have hope, because I was the deputy and then the commander of the navy and, later, the director of the Israeli Shin Bet. I was sitting with Palestinians who are in our jails. We saw them as terrorists, but they became my friends - you know, Jibril Rajoub and Mohammad Dahlan - and we cooperated. And they told me every day, we are doing everything in order to stop terror, Jewish terror and Palestinian terror, just because we believe that on the end of the road, we shall see, we shall have our freedom, our state alongside Israel. The moment that our people will not believe, forget about us. And if you ask me what happened, when the diplomacy collapsed, this is exactly what happened. They lost hope, and when they do not have hope, we shall not have security.

MARTIN: That is Ami Ayalon. He is a former commander of the Israeli navy and a former director of the Israeli Security Agency, the Shin Bet. We are talking about a piece that he's just published in Foreign Affairs. Admiral Ayalon, thank you so much for speaking with us.

AYALON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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