The attack Hamas launched on Israel Saturday was “a genocidal savage rampage by uncontrollable militants who were simply trying to destroy Jews,” says Victoria Coates, who formerly served as a deputy national security advisor to President Donald Trump.
Hundreds of Israelis were killed in the initial attack and the death toll, which includes at least 14 Americans, continues to rise.
Reports of Hamas torturing Israeli citizens and beheading babies are “appalling, and it shows you what these people are capable of,” says Coates, who is vice president of the Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Coates joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain where Hamas got the resources to launch such an attack against Israel, and why Hamas and Israel have been in conflict for so long.
Listen to the podcast below or ready the a lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: Victoria, thank you so much for being with us today.
Victoria Coates: Well, thank you, Virginia. I wish it was different circumstances, but always good to visit with you.
Allen: I do too. Saturday morning we woke up to unbelievable news about this barrage of missiles that had been launched against Israel by Hamas. And we were just all watching in real time as we were seeing this situation unfold. What do we know so far about both the number of lives that have been lost and the number of individuals that have been taken hostage by Hamas?
Coates: This is really an unprecedented and radical attack by Hamas into Israel, the first in 50 years of this scale. And of course it took place just as Israel was marking the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, so obviously timing very deliberately chosen.
It was in some ways a low tech attack in that the terrorists used guns and knives and motorcycles. There were some paragliders, there was a water element to it as well. But for the most part, they evaded detection by the Israeli and American intelligence services because they did go low tech.
They went to handwritten notes delivered by couriers. So the kind of intelligence we and Israel were accustomed to having simply wasn’t there. And that’s how they did it.
They just swarmed en masse into southern Israel. And the latest report I’ve heard, I don’t know that this number’s completely confirmed, but it’s probably right, is 1,100 were killed, tens of thousands wounded, and then you have some number of hostages that have been dragged back to Gaza. The numbers are very soft on that because nobody really knows. But 150 seems to be the number.
Hamas has said that if Israel continues to take offensive action against Gaza, they’re going to start executing these people publicly and publishing the videos of it.
Allen: Well, the videos, the images that we’re seeing are really disturbing, that are floating around social media, that are in the news. We’ve heard reports of Hamas beheading babies, killing civilians. What do we know about this?
Coates: Yeah, it’s rough. There’s no way around it. But I think folks need to see this.
There’s a video of a girl being set on fire and let die, and they all cheer.
There are photographs of children being tormented.
And as you said, the beheadings seem to be a particularly choice action for the terrorists, and the rapes of women beside the bodies of their husbands …
It’s just there’s nothing normal about this attack, Virginia.
There’s nothing legitimate about it. It wasn’t military to military under any stretch of the imagination.
This was a genocidal savage rampage by uncontrollable militants who were simply trying to destroy Jews, not just kill them—they weren’t going shoot them or something like that.
They wanted to torture them, and they wanted to humiliate them, and they wanted them to suffer before they died. It is egregious, it’s appalling, and it shows you what these people are capable of.
Allen: This is really historic in many ways. One of the ways that it’s historic is just with technology. We haven’t previously been able to watch something this horrific play out with such vivid graphic detail available to the public. Amidst that, what is the response that we see from the American people, from young people? What are we seeing on college campuses?
Coates: Well, there are basically two stories. On the one hand, you do have enormous support for Israel among the American people. That’s why Congress votes year in and year out to give so much support to Israel because the American people want it. And that remains strong.
I was proud that Heritage flew our flags at half-mast over the weekend in a sign of solidarity. And certainly there’s been an outpouring from our members of Congress.
Sadly though, we’ve had a lot of silence out of the White House. The president has not been forthcoming with remarks. There hasn’t been much from the vice president.
What we’ve gotten from the secretary of state, for example, has been deeply disappointing. Secretary [Antony] Blinken put out a statement yesterday calling for restraint and supporting Turkey’s efforts at a ceasefire, which he quickly took down, but that should never have been written.
That was the same message, that was the first message out of the White House out of the Office of Palestinian Affairs, whatever that is. Again, saying, Let’s minimize civilian deaths. This was before the attack was even under control.
But most shamefully, as you mentioned, we have the response from academia, from college campuses, which has been a really, I think, shocking, ugly display of the antisemitism that is corroding and invading our institutions of higher education.
We had Harvard, a large number of student groups who all put out a very pro-Palestinian, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel statement that was condoned by the college. Then the college came out and didn’t say anything to counter this. They just sort of said, Oh, we believe in free speech.
Which prompted Larry Summer, who’s been one of the mainstays of Harvard’s campus for 50 years, he actually went to [Massachusetts Institute of Technology for] undergrad, but got his master’s and Ph.D. from Harvard, he’s a president emeritus and a professor at the college—it has in many ways defined his life.
He came out and said, I have never felt so alienated and alone on campus. And made the point that when Ukraine was invaded, there was a huge show of solidarity with Ukraine. The Ukrainian flags flew and he supported it. And now this, Harvard coming out very much against Israel.
Last thing on that is Thursday is supposed to be a day of solidarity with the Palestinians across multiple college campuses. I think everybody needs to be on the alert for this activity. Sure, it’s their right to gather and do hateful things.
But you could think about stuff like, “Well, we don’t necessarily have to pay their funding through our tax dollars if they decide to do this noxious racist type of activity. And instead of standing with Israel, they want to stand with the terrorists who slaughtered both Israelis and Americans.”
Allen: Let’s talk a little bit about the history here. I think it’s really, really important to touch on, explain, if you would, just some of the background of the conflict between Hamas and Israel. Of course, Israel has now declared war on Hamas in response to the attack. Why has Hamas and Israel been in conflict for so long?
Coates: Well, basically, the Palestinian population of what would you call the Holy Land has been in violent opposition to the Jewish state for as long as they’ve existed.
And when Israel was founded 75 years ago, they immediately attacked, with the support of Arab neighbors, and attacked and attacked and attacked. So you have 1948, 1967, 1973, the successive waves of attacks, which Israel, quite heroically, turned back.
Then you have the Intifadas, the uprisings in the ’90s and 2000s of the Palestinians in Jerusalem, primarily Hamas takes over the Gaza Strip in the southern part of the country and Fatah, the Palestinian authority takes over West Bank, so the portion of Israel around Jerusalem that’s inhabited by the Palestinians.
And it’s just been a horrible, horrible relationship from the get-go because generations of Palestinians have decided that violence against Israel is more important than their children’s future. They are consigning their children basically to worse and worse suffering instead of the kind of prosperous existence the Palestinians could achieve if they would make up their minds to live in peace with Israel. But they haven’t.
This just spectacular display of grotesque violence shows you that spirit is alive and well. There’s a whole new generation of Palestinians, they’re going to be stuck in this spiral of failure.
This really ironic and profoundly sad thing is they’re the ones who are ultimately going to suffer the most.
Allen: Do we know how Hamas got the strength, got the resources, got the firepower to carry out such a violent and extreme attack against Israel?
Coates: We know exactly how they did it, and it’s the Islamic Republic of Iran. When the Trump administration was in office, we made it our business to starve Iran of resources as much as we could, in ways big and small.
That was our focus because we knew they, dollar for dollar after the original Obama-era nuclear deal, spent that money on military violent mayhem terrorist groups, and we knew they would do it again.
When the Biden administration came in, they reversed that policy. They stopped enforcing sanctions on Iranian oil exports, and so Iran’s now up to over a million barrels a day to communist China, and that is a tens of billions of dollars revenue stream for them.
They poured that money—it was in the Wall Street Journal—that they’re focusing that funding on Hamas and their Lebanese group, Hezbollah, because they want to attack Israel.
So Hamas was the tool here, you could say the puppet, but the puppet master was obviously Iran, and that they were the ones who trained this, equipped it, organized it, and ultimately directed it.
So this is Iran attacking Israel.
For all of those who are going out to say, celebrate the Palestinians on Thursday, they should actually, if they were honest, admit that they’re celebrating the supreme leader of Iran.
Allen: The Biden administration has been advocating for a nuclear deal with Iran. How does this situation leave that?
Coates: It’s always been a mystery to me why first the Obama, and now the Biden administration, were so confident they had a good faith negotiating partner in Iran. It seems to me this is a country that routinely chants, “Death to Israel and death to America,” in the same breath. And they consider themselves at a state of war with us and have been for over 40 years.
And yet you think you’re somehow going to be able to take their word for something as serious as a nuclear weapon in the hands of that kind of regime.
So it is very strange to me that now twice these Democrat administrations have made getting into a nuclear deal with Iran one of their prime directives, I think they would be much better off spending that time and energy supporting the people of Iran who hate their government, who want to be friends with America. I’m old enough to remember when that was the case. It was a much nicer state of affairs. And interestingly, they don’t seem particularly interested in the Palestinians. They seem much more interested in making friends with the Israelis.
Allen: Victoria, I know you have to go. You’ve been doing media hits nonstop—Fox, CNN— and really appreciate you taking the time today. Quickly before you go though, I’ve already heard reports from some journalists indicating that there is a double standard between GOP lawmakers who have called for an end to aid to Ukraine, but who are now advocating for aid for Israel. What’s your response to that?
Coates: Yeah, it’s very interesting. There’s a movement afoot to link additional funding for Ukraine to military support for Israel because of the attacks.
I think these things are different and separate, and they need to be kept that way because Ukraine is in the middle of the savage invasion of Vladimir Putin. The United States has committed $113 billion so far. They want another $24 billion, that would take us up close to $150 billion, and that’s in 18 months.
Over the course of Israel’s 75-year history, the U.S. taxpayer has given Israel $150 billion. So that’s two years versus 75 years. So that’s a huge difference there.
Another difference is the historic nature of that investment in Israel has developed Israel over time, with the ingenuity of the Jewish people, into one of our greatest allies, a huge security partner.
They keep the American people safe, we help keep the Jewish people safe. That is a wonderful relationship, despite these events, that I think it really is important that we protect and preserve.
Finally, Israel actually does have some wealthy neighbors, but they’re certainly not going to contribute to Israel’s defense. As a matter of fact, they’ve pretty much said the opposite. So unlike Ukraine, which has neighbors like Germany and France and Italy, the three biggest economies in the European Union who could be doing a lot more to help Ukraine in its defense, Israel doesn’t have that. It’s Israel and America, or it’s Israel alone.
Allen: Victoria Coates of the Heritage Foundation, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you for your expertise. We really appreciate you being with us.
Coates: Thank you, Virginia.
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