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How is the U.S. mediating the Mideast crisis?

July 18, 2014 at 6:29 PM EST
Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the progress of Israel’s ground invasion into Gaza and how Hamas is responding, plus the changing outlook for a cease-fire, as well as America’s role in attempting to bring about peaceful resolution.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And Margaret joins me now.

So, Margaret, you have been talking to all parties. You have been talking, of course, to Americans, to the Israelis, and people close to Hamas. What do you — what do they believe that Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu, means when he says, this could expand significantly, this operation?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, as he said, the first aim was to get after these tunnels.

And these aren’t just the tunnels going into Israel. These are also the tunnels inside Gaza they are used to store and move weapons around. But once that’s concluded, there is a list of other targets.

A senior Israeli official said to me, now, remember ground forces can take many forms. We could introduce special forces, go after special targets, mainly perhaps assassinating top officials. We could create no-go zones in certain areas where a lot of rocket attacks come from. We could do hit-and-run attacks on key installations.

He did say though that the key for them is not to let the Israel Defense Forces become themselves a target. And that means being very mobile and fluid and flexible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so — and what is Hamas saying in response to this that it’s going to do?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Hamas is really — you notice, in the piece, we said that there hadn’t been much resistance.

People close to Hamas says they’re right now sitting back, trying to assess what the Israelis are up to. They’re saving their munitions, which they have been stockpiling a long time, in anticipation of a major conflict. They don’t know if, say, Israel’s going into a major population center and maybe they can suck them into house-to house fighting.

This person said to me, I think they’re playing it day by day. They don’t really know what they’re going to do next, but they’re going to keep firing enough rockets into Israel to remind people they’re there, until they think they can get a cease-fire that will give them something more than they had going into this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But on the Israeli side, are there concerns that they could end up getting sucked into an endless or almost endless ground war?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, yes, there definitely are concerns. And you certainly hear voices in Israel saying this.

But, remember, Prime Minister Netanyahu was also under pressure from people saying he wasn’t being aggressive enough. So, he’s taken this action. Someone close to the prime minister said to me today, look, I know my prime minister. He’s very conscious of this. Remember, he grew up in the United States during the Vietnam War area. He knows about a quagmire. He could have also mentioned the more recent Hezbollah war.

On the other hand, the same official said — I said, well, what if they keep firing rockets? And he said, well, now that we have crossed that psychological line, that barrier into introducing ground forces, he said — and they can take many forms. He said, I can’t imagine the prime minister would fully withdraw some ground operation until the rocket firing stops.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, before this happened, there was — there were efforts to try to come up with a cease-fire. Where does all that stand?

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

Well, really in the deep freeze, from everything I can find out today, Judy. I mean, there were great hopes for these talks going on in Cairo which we talked about the last couple days. There were predictions they could have a deal as early as today. At this point, though there are some officials still there, it’s pretty clear that the Israelis told me they concluded Hamas was on another planet, what they were demanding.

Hamas felt dissed by both the Israelis and even the Egyptians, who wrote it in such a way that Hamas doesn’t even get mentioned in the agreement, if you look at the text. They talk about Palestinian factions. And they didn’t get anything.

And so, though the action seemed to shift to Turkey today — we just saw Mahmoud Abbas Abbas in Turkey — here you have Prime Minister Erdogan accusing Israel of genocide. So, nobody really thinks Turkey is going to be the locus of a deal. That said, the Americans are working with Turks and others very hard to try to get them to use their influence with Hamas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of the Americans, how do the Americans see any influence they can have in bringing this to some sort of peaceful resolution?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, it’s interesting, Judy.

They are — first of all, they’re sending a double-barrelled message, and you heard this from the president today, which is, yes, of course Israel has the right to defend itself, rockets raining down on your citizens, but we’re supporting a limited operation, and we want Israel to be mindful of civilian casualties.

And I’m told that, privately, Secretary Kerry in particular has told Prime Minister Netanyahu, look, you are in danger of really losing European support if these civilian casualties approach anything such as was seen in ’08-09, where 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

So, the U.S. is just trying to get both sides to walk a fine line here, but get as quickly as possible to a cease-fire, before it gets out of hand. Secretary Kerry has said he’s ready to go the region. There was talk he might go as early as yesterday. The fact he hasn’t gone yet tells you that they don’t think the time is quite right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner reporting for us on yet another troubling story this week.

Thank you, Margaret

MARGARET WARNER: Pleasure.