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  February 18, 2015

Iran Negotiation Leaks Won't Affect Netanyahu's Prospect for Re-election

Economist Shir Hever also discusses an Associated Press report about attacks on the Gaza civilian population during Operation Protective Edge
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Shir Hever is an economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Relations between the U.S. and Israel may be reaching a new low. Reports have come out citing that U.S. officials are suspicious that Israel may be leaking information about the Iran negotiations to the press. Fearing the leaks, media organizations are reporting that the American government is limiting the information that it shares with Israel. This is all taking place as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waging a reelection campaign in Israel.

Here to give us the latest on how that campaign is running and the significance of these suspected leaks is our guest, Shir Hever. Shir is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center.

Thank you for joining us, Shir.


DESVARIEUX: So, Shir, let's start off with the story about the leaks. I'm trying to get a sense of what made the Americans even suspicious that the Israelis were looking at this information. But more importantly, if this did happen, what would be even the motivation for Netanyahu and the Israeli government to do something like this?

HEVER: Well, the whole story about Netanyahu going to speak before Congress, even though this is against the interests of the White House, is something that originally seemed like a ploy by Netanyahu just to get more popularity in the upcoming elections in Israel, something directed at the Israeli public, like, for example, his trip to Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks to show himself as a sort of representative of Israel around the world.

But the more it becomes clear that he's actually doing irreparable damage to the relations between Israel and the U.S., the more it becomes clear that Netanyahu's trip to the U.S. and these alleged leaks regarding the negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, information that Israel is in a position to disseminate and thereby sabotage these talks, are actually--. So this thing could actually mean that Netanyahu is here not serving his own political campaign but actually his donors. More than 90 percent of the donors to Netanyahu's political campaign are from the U.S. He's being supported by very strong conservative forces within the U.S., especially Sheldon Adelson. And these donors enjoy the opportunity to bash Obama or to make Obama look bad, even if it means that Netanyahu is going to pay a certain political price for this. And I think Netanyahu believes that he can afford to pay this political price, because his victory in the upcoming election is almost certain.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. So, almost certain.

Let's talk more specifically about this campaign. Is it at all going in the wrong direction? Is he still more or less a shoe-in, especially in light of the divide that you mentioned and his posturing in front of President Obama and other Democrats? Now more than 20 Democrats say they will not be attending his speech next month. I would assume that this would hurt him in some way. Is it hurting him at all in the polls?

HEVER: The media in Israel is much more concerned these days with stories of corruption in Netanyahu's home and the use of public funds to pay for a very luxurious lifestyle for him and for his family at the public expense, things which are unprecedented in Israeli politics in their sheer magnitude. And every week there is another story that comes up with another somebody from the prime minister's office coming forward or some kind of leak in information about the public funds that are being wasted to pay for things like ice cream and wine, and in the thousands of dollars, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars when it comes to international travel. So this is mainly in the news, and the story of his visit to the U.S. is not as important.

I think the fact that despite all of these scandals, the polls seem to show that there is not much change, Netanyahu continues to be the only reasonable or only probable candidate to be the next prime minister, tells us something about the level of corruption in the Israeli political system altogether. Many Israelis have just completely lost hope of changing the political system from within. And there is a large belief that the elections is not really about choosing the next prime minister, but maybe slightly rebalancing the power distribution between different political groups and different ethnic groups within Israel. So that's where the election is going. And, in fact, the leaders of the opposition have made it very clear that if they would be able to make the choice, make a coalition in which not Netanyahu would be prime minister but they will have the option to choose a different plan [incompr.] in order to have that kind of coalition, they have to make the coalition with the Arab parties, with the Palestinian parties inside Israel. And they will maybe have enough votes to do that. And they made it absolutely clear that they would not opt for this option. They would rather sit in opposition rather than cooperate with their Arabs. And I think that sends a clear message that there is actually nobody who really wants to be prime minister more than Netanyahu himself.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let's pivot and talk about Netanyahu's legacy, something that happened last summer. The AP released this study that talks about the high civilian death toll in Gaza, the house airstrikes. Can you speak to some specifics? What was so compelling in this study for you, Shir?

HEVER: This study confirms what has been already told to us by Palestinians from Gaza, from the beginning of this the Israeli attack in the previous summer, that this attack was an indiscriminate massacre of civilians, defenseless civilians by air bombardments and the artillery fire on a massive scale, at least an unprecedented scale in recent history, where the Israeli army has killed very large numbers of civilians compared to a relatively small number of fighters. There was--we cannot ignore the fact that Palestinians did resist the Israeli invasion. There was collaboration of all of the different Palestinian factions--it's not just the Hamas party who were fighting together against the Israeli army with very limited means. And many of them paid with their lives.

But according to the AP survey that was done right now, there are more than 60 percent of the casualties were civilians. And from the air bombardment, that's especially interesting, because AP has taken a sample of 247 houses that were directly bombarded by the Israeli Air Force and artillery. And they checked who lived in these particular houses, and they did quite an in-depth study. They checked the names and found to see whether these names were mentioned by the various factions in Gaza as names of fighters who were commemorated after their death, and they found that only 11 percent of these houses actually contained armed individuals. Eighty-nine percent of the houses contained no weapons and no one armed, and nevertheless these houses were bombarded with people inside them.

DESVARIEUX: But, Shir, I'm sure the other side would be saying, but you know what? It's not like they intentionally targeted these homes. They would probably point to the fact that this is just what happens with war. Hamas uses human shields. You've heard these arguments. What would you say to that? What would be your response?

HEVER: I think this is the importance of the AP report now, because it really undermines the Israeli narrative about that war. This argument, as if Hamas has been using human shields to protect their fighters, this is an extremely racist argument. It presents the people of Gaza as if they don't care about their own family, about their own neighbors.

We should remember Hamas is a political party which is Palestinian. These are Palestinian people living in Gaza. And to imagine that they would be willing to sacrifice their own neighbors or their own family members in order to somehow deter the Israeli army from attacking a military target is preposterous and very racist. You would not make that kind of claim regarding Israelis, for example. You wouldn't say that Israel is putting children in harm's way in order to get a sympathy around the world for fighting Hamas. So that's very important to say right at the start.

But what the Palestinians have been claiming is that this argument is also preposterous because Israel has no qualms about attacking and killing the civilians. And what this AP report shows--it proves it, actually, it proves that it's not that Israel has bombed buildings in which there was at least one member of some hiding terrorist armed to the teeth and using human shields to protect themselves, because only 11 percent of these houses actually contain people with weapons, which means 89 percent of the houses that Israel bombed were just homes of families. And that completely disproves this whole human shield argument.

DESVARIEUX: But, Shir, I could hear them also saying this is part of the fog of war. You know, it's not like they knew that there was only 11 percent of these homes had fighters in them. What would you say to that?

HEVER: Well, this is actually the second part of the Israeli narrative, which has been debunked by this AP report. And that's something that we should pay very close attention to, because the Israeli army has been claiming again and again we have the most precise weapons--smart bombs, excellent intelligence--we know exactly what we're doing, we know exactly where we're bombing. And they've actually made very repeatedly this argument that because they have the ability to focus their firepower on armed targets or on the intended targets of their fire rather than on civilians nearby, and that their weapons are sought after in the international community and that Israel can export these weapons, because they have the ability to target specifically the people they're aiming and avoid this problem of fog of war. And now we know that in fact all of this hype about the Israeli intelligence and precision weaponry is nothing more than hype. Israel--the Israeli army has used brute force, very unprecise artillery, bombs which are certainly not smart by any extent of the word, to kill mostly innocent and defenseless civilians. And this is something that sooner or later will affect the sales of Israeli weapons around the world, because this argument, as if somehow Israel can make clean war, just doesn't stand anymore.

Now, there is a very important fact we have to look at. More than 60 percent of the people that were killed by the Israeli army in this war last summer were civilians. But when we look at how many Israelis were killed by Palestinians in that war, then less than 10 percent of them were civilians. So 90 percent were soldiers. So do we want to make the argument, then, that maybe the Palestinian resistance groups like Hamas are more concerned about not harming civilian lives, they are more--or maybe they have more precise weaponry and more efficient intelligence? I don't think we want to make that claim. I think it just shows that the only thing that the Israeli forces were effective at doing is keeping most of the civilians out of harm--the Israeli civilians out of harm's way. But when it comes to using their offensive capabilities, they have made no effort to distinguish between civilians and the fighters.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Shir Hever, joining us from Germany, thank you so much for being with us.

HEVER: Thanks for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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