In a special breaking news edition, Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich, director of AJC Jerusalem, joins us to break down Israel’s Operation Shield and Arrow and the threat posed by the Iranian-backed terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has fired over 900 rockets toward Israel since Tuesday. Leibovich also provides an update on how Israelis are coping with the latest escalation and efforts being made toward a ceasefire. 

*The views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the views or position of AJC. 

Episode Lineup: 

  • (0:40) Avital Leibovich

Show Notes:

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Transcript of Interview with Avital Leibovich

Manya Brachear Pashman: 

Welcome to a special breaking news edition of People of the Pod to bring our listeners up to date on what's going on in Israel. Joining me is Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, Director of AJC Jerusalem. Avital, welcome, and I hope you are safe. But how are you doing? Tell me.

Avital Leibovich:  

Thank you. It's an opportunity for me to be here with you today and to share from the ground our experiences here in Israel. This is already the third day of the operation. There's tension in the air, but I think that our resilience as Israelis is quite strong. And I'm sure we will overcome this situation as we have in the past.

Manya Brachear Pashman:

So what is going on there–who is firing the rockets that are now falling on Israel?

Avital Leibovich:   

So the operation is directed towards the Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Islamic Jihad in Gaza is the smaller of two terror groups in Gaza. It's backed and funded and directed by Iran. And its charter is pretty clear, I would say. Basically, the organization believes that Israel has no right to exist. And in order to make sure that we will not exist, Iran is funding its military capabilities. They have managed to build an arsenal of rockets, of mortars, of drones. They have managed to train soldiers, militants in order to conduct anti-Israeli operations. 

And Israel decided to initiate an operation, following two events. The first event was a week ago, where over 100 rockets were fired by this organization, the Islamic Jihad, within 24 hours, towards Israel. And the second event actually took place on Pesach, on Passover, in which 34 rockets were fired from Lebanon within 10 minutes by factions of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Lebanon. So this was an opportunity to make sure that Israel is preventing further escalation and basically defending its people.

Manya Brachear Pashman:

So where's Hamas in all of this?

Avital Leibovich:   

So Hamas has in the past, decided to actually sit quietly and not intervene. And this is common. We've seen this in the operation last year, we've seen this in the operation two years ago. And you may want to ask what the reason for Hamas sitting back and the reason is that Hamas has a lot to lose. Currently, Israel declared that it's only looking to target Islamic Jihad targets, namely not Hamas targets. And Hamas understands that if it will join the celebration of Islamic Jihad, then the price Hamas will pay will be very, very high, for one. 

There are 18,000 Palestinian workers entering Israel from Gaza on a daily basis. These kinds of workers bringing salaries back home, actually move some sort of an economic cycle inside the Gaza Strip, and the shopping power is stronger and stronger by these workers. If Hamas will join the operation, then obviously, Israel will close the border and will not allow these workers to enter. And additionally, I'll remind our listeners that Hamas is still renovating Gaza from previous operations. So it would be quite serious from their perspective, to stop the renovation and then create further damage. Because as you know, Hamas and Islamic Jihads' arsenal of weapons are very much inside densely populated areas.

Manya Brachear Pashman:

So what are we seeing in terms of – is the Iron Dome doing its job of protecting Israelis?

Avital Leibovich:   

So I would say thank God for the Iron Dome, I would say thank God for the very strong and strategic partnership Israel has with the US, which is very highly valued here. The Iron Dome is basically saving their lives with a whopping success rate of 90%, the Israeli people know that there's something in the sky that will be able to protect them. There are thousands of people that have spent the last three days in shelters, their spirit is quite broken. Because sitting in a shelter, whether you're a four year old child or a 30 year old mum, and hearing constantly sounds of explosions and jets flying in the air, this is not a normal kind of atmosphere.

Manya Brachear Pashman:

By the time this airs, perhaps a ceasefire will be reached, wouldn't that be a blessing? Are you optimistic that that will happen?

Avital Leibovich:  

You know, living in the Middle East, you have to be optimistic in routine times, in emergency times. Talks of a ceasefire began yesterday. But we have to keep in mind that there is a lot of fake news, a lot of false publications. And I don't see an end to the current situation, the next couple of hours, maybe in another 24 to 48 hours. And I'm just getting a report that there was a direct hit of a building in Rehovot, which is a city maybe half an hour from here, half an hour from Tel Aviv. So we're not there quite yet. I do want to mention, in this context, Egypt's role. Media has put a focus on Saudi Arabia's role in the region. But we must not forget that Egypt is a strong partner. And this is the partner who actually mediates between Israel and the different terror groups in Gaza. They have an important role. Israel respects this role. And we should not forget this very, very significant actor in our region.

Manya Brachear Pashman:

Well Avital, thank you for that addendum and thank you for joining us. I really hope that you're able to stay safe and that we are talking about a ceasefire very soon.

Avital Leibovich:  

Thank you for the opportunity.