Ambassador Dennis Ross has played an important role in U.S. Middle East policy in recent decades, being the point man in the peace process in both the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.
On Saturday night, he spoke on stage at the weekly Tel Aviv rally in solidarity with the Israeli hostages still being held by Hamas, making the case for a more long-term vision in the fight to dismantle Hamas and shape the future of the Gaza Strip.
Ross, now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and co-chairman of the board of directors at the Jewish People’s Policy Institute, said he sees “a different Israel” this time. “I look at October 7 as a 9/11 squared – and that has an effect on people. How can it not have an effect?”
He acknowledged that the Hamas attack has shaken most Israelis’ faith in Palestinians – and also in the Israeli government and military that failed to protect them on that day.
“I was less surprised about who Hamas are. [After] they took power in the Gaza Strip, they threw Fatah people from rooftops,” he said. “The most shocking thing for me was the lack of preparedness in Israel. A strategic surprise can always happen – 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the ’73 war. But what I couldn’t imagine is that it would take so long to muster a defense, that people in the south would be on their own for so long.”
Although the cruelty of Hamas was not a surprise, Ross says he “couldn’t believe the array of weapons” the terrorist organization holds. “Israel needs to destroy the vast bulk of military infrastructure, which has been built in a way that I don’t think anyone fully appreciated. It’s astounding what they were producing … Hamas is not a militia, it’s a military.”
He went on to say: “Imagine if Hamas had just a 2 percent interest in building Gaza. With what it did with its military capability, with the tunnels – they could have turned Gaza into Singapore.”
As for Israel’s current extremist government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ross says Israelis can’t expect the United States and other global powers to accept ministers who envision kicking Palestinians out of Gaza and rebuilding Israeli settlements there. “They are basically saying, ‘We will control Palestinians forever, and they will simply accept it.’ And it also is a vision that suggests that somehow Israel is a superpower and doesn’t need anyone else. People like [Bezalel] Smotrich and [Itamar] Ben-Gvir are living in a world of their own. But it’s not a world of reality.”