On August 1, 2014 – 13:30 (ET) Wolf Blitzer of CNN interviwed Gershon Baskin.
The following is a transcript.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome back our viewers in the United States and around the world. I’m Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Jerusalem.
Israel says its forces are scouring parts of Gaza. They’re looking for a soldier who was captured by militants who launched a suicide attack on a tunnel earlier in the day. The soldier identified as 23- year-old Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin.
His father spoke out today saying he’s certain the Israeli army will find his son.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMHA GOLDIN, FATHER OF HADAR GOLDIN (through translation): We want to support the Israeli army and the state of Israel in its fight against Hamas in Gaza and we are certain the army will not stop under any circumstance and will not leave any stone unturned in the Gaza Strip and will bring Hadar back home safe and sound.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Two Israeli soldiers who were with Goldin were killed in that attack in southern Gaza. Israel is now searching desperately for this missing Israeli soldier. We’re told Israeli forces in that area in southern Gaza are literally going house to house. A massive manhunt under way.
Our next guest has a unique perspective on what could happen next. Gershon Baskin was the initiator of the secret back channel used to negotiate the release of another Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. He was also an adviser to the peace process of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, an advisor to the former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, as well. Now he’s the CEO and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.
You and I agreed, potentially, the capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas or Islamic jihad or some other faction could be a game changer right now. Why?
GERSHON BASKIN, CEO & FOUNDER, ISRAEL/PALESTINE CENTER FOR RESEARCH AND INFORMATION: The Israelis were accepting a cease-fire, calculating their steps in order to end this operation, and now the operation cannot be ended while Hamas is holding an Israeli soldier underground somewhere in Gaza. It means they can’t stop the operation until they find that soldier, dead or alive, and bring him home. They’re not going to walk themselves into another situation of having to negotiate a prisoner release with Hamas, which will give Hamas another victory.
The whole purpose of this operation is to weaken Hamas, to turn Hamas into a nonfactor in terms of the future of Israeli/Palestinian relations. Right now, Hamas is claiming victory, both in the military against Israel for all its achievements, of shooting rockets all over Israel, of closing down civil aviation to Israel for 36 hours. And now holding an Israeli soldier forces the Israeli army to remain in Gaza even longer.
BLITZER: The spokesman for Hamas denies Hamas is holding this soldier. That’s not unusual necessarily, is it?
BASKIN: No, It’s not unusual. When Gilad Schalit was first abducted, the political wing of Hamas refused to take any responsibility or claim any knowledge of that. It lasted into several weeks before Hamas admitted they were behind it.
There was an earlier announcement by the number-three person in the Hamas, Musambusbuk (ph), who is in Cairo who early in the day said, yes, we have a soldier, and even gave his name. Later in the day, he put out an announcement they have no knowledge of Hamas holding a soldier or not.
It’s also very interesting that the Israelis put out an announcement the soldier was abducted, is missing and the Israelis are looking for him.
BLITZER: Usually, in a situation like this — and you know a lot about it. You helped get Gilad Schalit out of Hamas captivity after five years. Usually, Hamas, or Hezbollah, for that matter, in Lebanon, when they held Israelis, they want something for any information about that soldier, proof of life or anything else, right?
BASKIN: Right, for sure. They want release of prisoners, which will be their demand. They will try and isolate the issue with the abducted soldier from the other demands that they have with regard to changing the situation in Gaza, ending the siege, giving them a seaport, an airport, whatever their demands may be. This will be a separate negotiation they will try to do to get further achievements. And I think they won’t get it. I don’t think Israel is going to play the game right now. We see the Israeli ground operation, with 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 soldiers in Gaza. Israel’s not going to leave.
The other thing I think the military wing of Hamas wants to achieve is more opportunities to kidnap additional soldiers and kill additional soldiers, so they’re drawing Israel further into the battle in Gaza at a time when Israel was contemplating removing its forces from Gaza.
BLITZER: That’s why this is a game changer.
BASKIN: That’s right.
BLITZER: And if what we saw over the first four weeks, let’s say, of this war was brutal, you say it has potential to get a whole lot worse.
BASKIN: It has the potential to get worse. I think we’ll see over the next days a full occupation of the city of Rafah.
BLITZER: Rafah is the southern —
BASKIN: It’s a big city. Probably, Rafah, and its surrounding villages, it’s about 250,000 people.
BLITZER: You think Israel’s going to go in there and take over that site?
BASKIN: I think they’ll go in. They’re going to start on the outskirts and they’ll be leveling the city, house by house, as they search for the soldier, to find the opening to the ground tunnels. There was an announcement made that Israel informed the only hospital in Rafah to evacuate its staff and patients.
BLITZER: When was that?
BASKIN: Over the last hour, the last hour and a half. This is apparently because Israel believes there’s probably an underground bunker beneath the hospital where maybe the soldier’s being held, where maybe some of the command posts are being held, where maybe some of the leaders are there. There is a tactic in the past where hospitals were used as bunkers.
I would propose to Israel, as they were doing this operation, that they understand this is going to be a humanitarian disaster. And the United States and the United Nations and the government of Israel should call right now for creating a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to leave Rafah tonight, tomorrow morning, to let them go to the West Bank, to let them go to Sinai, where are they can go to get out of the line of fire, because we can’t afford for more hundreds and thousands of civilians to be killed in this operation.
BLITZER: You see that scenario definitely unfolding?
BASKIN: I think if Israel is going to go into Rafah with its very densely populated areas, 250,000 people, we’re talking about a humanitarian disaster.
BLITZER: Yes, that sounds like a nightmare to me.
Gershon, thank you for joining us. Is there any opportunity you might see for yourself to play another role in trying to get this Israeli soldier out, the role you played the last time? BASKIN: I don’t see that happening. I don’t see that happening.
What I can do and what I’m trying to do is throw out some of these creative ideas, like the humanitarian corridor to save human lives. The best I can do is throw out out-of-the-box ideas because the people sitting around the table with all the generals and all the military folks have one way of thinking, and they usually don’t think out of the box.
BLITZER: Gershon Baskin, thank you very much for joining us. Let’s hope that scenario does not unfold. It sounds like a total nightmare.
And if you thought it was bad before, get ready, it could get a whole lot worse.
The conflict that’s fueling the violence in Gaza, certainly decades old, but some loyalties across the region are new. Those critical alliances, their impact, when we come back.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.