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Opinion | Thomas Friedman on Iran, Israel and Preventing a ‘Forever War’

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Tom: Yeah.

Ross: —— tomorrow if they thought they could win it. So if you are in the Israeli cabinet right now, are you thinking, “We must strike back to restore deterrence and maintain fear”? Or are you thinking, “Iran failed sufficiently that they will be deterred from trying this again”? What are you thinking, and what are they going to do?

Tom: What are they going to do? I don’t know, Ross. I’ll just say what I’ve been thinking from Day 1 of the war: that Israel needs to ask itself what its worst enemies want it to do and do the opposite. And it’s rooted in a larger framework that I have, which is that I can write the history of this conflict for you long. I wrote a whole book, “[From] Beirut to Jerusalem,” about it. Or I can write history really short, and it fits on a business card: war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, going back to 1929, if not earlier. And the difference between the two sides is what each did in the timeout. Israel built one of the strongest economies in the world. Hamas dug tunnels and nursed a grievance. And my view is that the Israeli No. 1 objective should always be to get to the timeout whenever they can, as much as they can.

Now maybe in this situation, it’s unavoidable. They just can’t. That’s what they would argue. I’m not sure that’s the case. But Israel wins in the timeouts, and it loses in times of war, especially where we are now historically, politically and technologically in a social wired network world where when you lose on TikTok now, you don’t just lose Muslim Americans in Michigan. You lose a whole generation. And I think Israel is in real danger of losing a whole generation right now.

Carlos: I wonder if we could maybe spend some of our remaining time talking about what the next timeout might look like if we’re able to get there. Back in January, which feels so long ago, you wrote a column saying that Oct. 7 had propelled a fundamental rethinking of the Middle East inside the Biden administration. You outlined what you thought was an emerging Biden doctrine for the region. Given how the conflict has evolved since then, how is the administration thinking about the region, broadly speaking, now? Is there a coherent doctrine that you see still at work or in development here?

Tom: Carlos, I’d just say before I answer, I’ve been doing this my entire adult life. I’ve been following the Middle East since I was 15. I’m now 70. This is the absolutely worst moment I ever remember and the most worrisome for the whole region spinning out of control.

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