Emma Alberici speaks with Ehud Yaari for his assessment of the wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence which has resulted in the deaths of around 50 people.
TranscriptEMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Another terrorist attack in Israel has left at least one soldier dead and 11 people wounded in one of the most serious Palestinian attacks against Israelis during a month of violence.
This is the moment Israeli forces rushed the bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. The gunman grabbed a soldier's rifle and went on a shooting rampage, sending bystanders running for their lives.
The attacker was shot dead after a long gun battle and the incident has prompted a swift response from security forces. Israeli troops have begun using concrete barriers to block off roads between Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods.
MICKY ROSENFELD, ISRAELI POLICE SPOKESMAN: One man was severely taken to hospital, received medical treatment, unfortunately confirmed that he passed away a few minutes ago. Heightened security is continuing in the area and our police units are still in and around the central bus station.
EMMA ALBERICI: A spate of attacks this month has heightened tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories and led some to describe it as the start of a new intifada. Around 50 people have died in the recent violence, which has in part been triggered by Palestinians' anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The only thing that's changed are Islamist hoodlums, paid by the Islamist movement in Israel and by Hamas, who are entering the mosque and trying to put explosives there, and from there, emerge and attack Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount and Christian visitors. That's the only change in the status quo. Israel will protect the holy sites, we'll guard the status quo. Israel is not the problem on the Temple Mount, Israel is the solution.
EMMA ALBERICI: Ehud Yaari is the author of eight books on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He's an international fellow at The Washington Institute and is considered one of the most authoritative Middle East analysts. He's visiting Australia and he joined me in the studio a short time ago.
Ehud Yaari, welcome to Lateline.
EHUD YAARI, ISRAELI JOURNALIST: My pleasure. Thank you.
EMMA ALBERICI: Now, this latest shooting in Beersheba is part of a wave of violence over the last month or so which has seen something like 40 Palestinians dead and about nine Israelis. Do you fear we're now on the verge of a much bigger, bloodier conflict?
EHUD YAARI: I hope not. What's happening is that there is a spate of violence which has taken the form of stabbings of Israelis on the streets, all over the place, mainly in Jerusalem and the outskirts of Jerusalem. The second thing which is very special about this spate of violence is that very often, it's teenagers, Palestinian teenagers, encouraged, if you want, incited, to take a knife or a potato peeler and try to kill an Israeli. Soldier, not a soldier, a girl, a boy, etc. We had an incident in which a 15-year-old Palestinian teenager was stabbing a 15-year-old Israeli, Jewish kid, on a bike in adjoining neighbourhoods. There is no central command for this. This is not what used to be called an intifada. It's mainly an outburst of youngsters who do not remember the lessons of the previous intifada in the early-2000s and were for years educated that to be a martyr is the right path. That's what you want to do, to be a martyr. And the second thing, they have lately had a - for months, a lot of propaganda about claiming, arguing that the Israelis were out to divide control of the al-Aqsa Mosque, Temple Mount, etc., which has no basis in reality, but it caught like fire in the field. And many, many Palestinians believe that this is the case, so the slogan is: "Let's defend al-Aqsa".
EMMA ALBERICI: US Secretary of State John Kerry says that he'll meet this week with Benjamin Netanyahu and also with Mahmoud Abbas. What is that likely to achieve?
EHUD YAARI: Not much. I think that what is important now are two things, mainly. One, we need to see very strong international condemnation of terrorism. This time it's mainly in the form of stabbings on the street, random stabbings of people. And I think if we have this kind of international condemnation of this phenomenon, then we will see more action by the Palestinian Authority, Mr Abbas, which we have not seen so far. There is a lot that he can do in order to calm down the situation. For example, by letting his people know that he has accepted insurances, and he did, from Prime Minister Netanyahu, that there is no change on the Temple Mount, in the al-Aqsa Mosque. If I may have a word, we have a very basic issue here, and that is, Israel always has accepted Muslim rights and the sacred Muslim places in Jerusalem. Never a question about that. To this day, the Palestinian leadership refuses to accept that there was any Jewish history in Jerusalem, that there was ever a temple in Jerusalem.
EMMA ALBERICI: Hamas and ISIS have both praised this latest killing of an Israeli soldier. Does Israel have anything to fear, do you think, from the build-up of Iranian ground troops in Syria?
EHUD YAARI: ISIS is now on our border because the terrorist organisation active in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt has joined ISIS and is now the "Sinai Province" of ISIS, so, they are very close now.
EMMA ALBERICI: But you've also got this build-up of Iranian troops in Syria.
EHUD YAARI: Yes. I think, personally, that there is an exaggeration in the number of Iranian troops. There is a very strong, deep Iranian involvement in support of President Assad of Syria. Now, to a certain degree in collaboration with the Russians, who have sent significant forces, mainly Air Force, into Syria. The main argument is what to do first. You go - you remove President Assad, responsible for the massacre of over a quarter of a million people of his own nation, responsible for the displacement of almost 10 million people, Syrians. Many of them now try to go to Europe. Or you first concentrate on ISIS. I think when Mr Netanyahu meets on Wednesday with Secretary Kerry, this is one of the issues, because the Israelis stand, and many Americans feel likewise - I don't know about the position of the Australian Government - that first you get rid of Assad, you delink Iran from its proxies in the Arab world and then you can take care of ISIS. So far, Iran seems to present a bigger threat than ISIS.
EMMA ALBERICI: Yes, this was the question I was about to ask you: whether the greatest threat to the region was Islamic State or the growing Shia Iranian influence?
EHUD YAARI: Well, I think that many people misread the nuclear deal. Many people expected that after - and it's now in - took effect today.
EMMA ALBERICI: It was adopted on the weekend.
EHUD YAARI: Yeah. It's adoption day now. I think many people expected that you will start to see tacit collaboration, cooperation between Iran and its militias, 100,000 militia members, Shiite, in Iraq for example, and United States fighting ISIS. I think the message the Iranians are giving is very clear. The message is: "We, the Iranians, we are now going with the Russians. We prefer Mr Putin. And together with Mr Putin, we are going to save President Assad."
EMMA ALBERICI: Are you saying Iran can't be trusted to keep its end of the bargain?
EHUD YAARI: Oh, I think the Iranians will - are already in some ways stretching what they are allowed in the deal. For example, by having tests of ballistic missiles and developing new ones. I think what the Iranians are saying: "Yes, we are willing to postpone for 10 years, maybe 15, developing a nuclear bomb. But in the meantime, we are going to keep striving for a regional hegemony. And this time we are going to do it together with the Russians." US is absent in the region. US is absent - Arabs will tell you, Israelis will tell you, and with the absence of the United States, a doctrine of retreat by President Obama, you see Putin coming in and you see the Iranians collaborating with him.
EMMA ALBERICI: Well that's precisely what Henry Kissinger wrote today when he said that, "Russia's unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilising the Middle East."
EHUD YAARI: Kissinger, ah - I used to make the pilgrimage to see Kissinger in New York for years. Kissinger kicked the Russians, the Soviet Union, out of the Middle East in the early-'70s. Mr Obama has invited them back. Invited them back by creating a vacuum, a void in the region, no American presence, no American leadership. He wants to keep away from the quagmire. What you get? You get the Russian Air Force over Syria.
EMMA ALBERICI: US Secretary of State John Kerry told the Russians that, "Propping up the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad would be totally self-defeating to the point of farce." What's the alternative?
EHUD YAARI: I think that there should be an understanding between the Americans and the Russians, the Russians being now underground in Syria, and I don't think that ...
EMMA ALBERICI: In the air. They insist they're not on the ground.
EHUD YAARI: Yeah, but they have a base on the ground and they have troops protecting the base and we can go into that if you want.
EMMA ALBERICI: And the Iranians are on the ground.
EHUD YAARI: And the Iranians are on the ground and they keep losing generals there. But I think basically what we are talking about is the possibility of a transition government in Syria through an understanding between Russia and the United States, endorsed by the Security Council, in which you can bring together different factions of the Australia - of the Syrian opposition and armed groups around the table and start a process. It's not necessary that ISIS will take over if Assad is no longer there. It's not necessary that Nusra, which is the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, will take over. That can be taken care of.
EMMA ALBERICI: But this is not the Russian strategy. The Russian strategy does not include any efforts to remove Assad.
EHUD YAARI: I think the Russian strategy at this point is to make sure everybody understands that there is no deal in the Levant, in the Fertile Crescent. It's Syria, Iraq, etc., without Russia. That's number one. That's the end of the Kissinger era. And the second thing the Russians are saying: "We are willing to ..." - and they are saying, "We are willing to contemplate a deal over Syria, a transitional process in Syria." And I think that Mr Putin is not married to President Assad. And I believe he is willing to discard him for the right price. There needs to be an indication that President Obama wants to be engaged in Syria at all. And what we are seeing now, this collapse, this huge implosion in the Middle East, is in many ways the result of American inaction.
EMMA ALBERICI: Ehud Yaari, we're out of time. I thank you very much for coming in to speak to Lateline.
EHUD YAARI: Thank you for having me. Thank you.