Israel would prevail if Gaza war becomes regional, former PM says

'We know from our experience our universal support will erode very quickly and the legitimacy of the whole operation will be put under question,' Ehud Barak says

In this July 2000 photo, Ehud Barak, left, is pictured alongside Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state at the time, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David, Maryland. AFP
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Israel's military would prevail even if the war with Hamas escalates to a wider regional conflict, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday.

Mr Barak, who served as Israel's leader from 1999-2001, warned that Hezbollah has 10 times more rockets and missiles than Hamas but Israel is “still stronger” and would win even if Syria and the West Bank are drawn into the conflict.

“It's not an existential threat, but it will take more time, more losses and more friction with our supporters in the world,” said Mr Barak, speaking via video link to an event hosted by Foreign Policy magazine.

Before becoming prime minister, Mr Barak, 81, served as the top officer in the Israeli army. He went on to serve as defence minister from 2007 to 2013.

His comments came as Israel bombards the Gaza Strip and conducts increased ground operations. The Israeli government has said it wants to eradicate Hamas after gunmen attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostage.

According to local tallies, more than 8,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and a humanitarian crisis is worsening in the besieged enclave, home to 2.3 million people, with Israel blocking the entry of water, food, medicine and fuel.

Only a trickle of aid has been allowed through the Egyptian border but this has increased in recent days.

Gaza's high death toll, which includes more than 3,000 children, has sparked international protests.

But US President Joe Biden's administration has staunchly supported Israel's right to defend itself and has opposed calls for a ceasefire.

The US has blocked two UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire and has pledged more military support to Israel.

“The United States stood behind us in an impressive and unprecedented way from day one,” Mr Barak said.

International support is likely to wane in the coming weeks, Mr Barak said, and so could international public opinion, complicating Israel's goal of eradicating Hamas.

As the death toll in Gaza soars, the Biden administration's tone has shifted slightly in recent days, with calls for Israel to do more to avoid civilian casualties.

“We know from our experience our universal support will erode very quickly and the legitimacy of the whole operation will be put under question,” Mr Barak said.

“Still, America will be with us – but it will be more complicated to them to stay there behind us.”

Updated: October 31, 2023, 5:39 PM