February 1, 2024
10:30 am - 11:30 am


Zoom Briefing

The Middle East Institute (MEI) hosted an on-the-record briefing to discuss US military action against the Houthis and other militant groups throughout the region.


Gen. (ret.) Joseph Votel
MEI Distinguished Senior Fellow
Former Commander of US Central Command

Amb. (ret.) Gerald M. Feierstein
Distinguished Senior Fellow
Former US Ambassador to Yemen


The following transcript was automatically generated and may contain errors.

Courtney Lobel [00:00:08] Good morning everyone, or good afternoon depending on where you're joining. I'm Courtney Lobel, the Chief Development Officer of the Middle East Institute. I'd like to welcome you to another one of our sessions in our virtual briefing series. Since October, we've been holding these weekly briefings with two of our MEI experts to give you an analysis of a conflict in the region. And this morning, we have two of our most distinguished scholars to talk to us about a particularly timely moment. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, is with us today. He's an MEI distinguished scholar and had many other postings in his 41 career with the US Foreign Service. We also have with us this morning, General Joseph Votel, retired former commander of U.S. Central Command and prior to that, U.S. Special Operations Command, also with his 40 year career in the US Army. So thank you both so much for joining us this morning.

Since mid-January, U.S. forces have been striking targets in Yemen in response to the attacks in Red Sea shipping. And this past weekend, three American service members were killed by a drone attack in northeast Jordan. I'd love to invite our speakers to talk about those events and others in the region, and then we will shift to a Q&A with all of you on the call today, I'll give you directions on how to ask a question using the unmute function. But at any point during our guests remarks, you could submit a question in the chat, and I'd be happy to ask that for you. With that, I'd love to open the floor to Ambassador Feierstein to give you our opening remarks. On the current moment that we find ourselves in. Ambassador, over to you.

Gerald M. Feierstein [00:01:52] Thank you, Courtney, and thanks, MEI, for, the invitation to join you this morning. We've been asked as Courtney said to comment a little bit about the deterrent value of military force and in this particular moment in time and, what's going on in the region. And what I'm going to talk about primarily is, the rather delicate, diplomatic dance that's going on between the United States and Iran, primarily understanding that this is all about Gaza, and that the moment that we're in is that focused on what's happening there. But that's not where the issue of military force is coming into play for the US.

Both the U.S. and Iran are engaged in this delicate dance. They've both put themselves in a bit of a corner in the sense that they have said that they don't want to see an escalation, they don't want to see the situation in Gaza erupting into a full blown regional conflict. And therefore that puts a ceiling on how much either side is willing to do, how far either side is willing to go in trying to defend its interest and to force a change in the behavior of the other side.

So the big issue, of course, and what we've seen and Joe is going to speak specifically on Tower 22. What we saw in Tower 22 the other day was, in fact, the greatest threat that we're facing right now. And that is the threat that one side or the other will miscalculate. That something that will happen will force a response by the other side that will, in fact, lead to an escalation.

And to speak specifically about the Yemen situation first. So, the complication for the United States and the application of force in Yemen, and we saw that, indeed, the U.S. conducted another strike this morning. But, the complication for the U.S. is that in addition to its desire not to escalate, it also is under a great deal of pressure not to do anything that's going to undermine the negotiations to bring an end to the Yemen civil war. And that particularly is coming from the Saudis, as well as from the United Nations and from others, that we leave the door open for the Houthis, hopefully to reach a political resolution of the Yemen conflict as well as everything else.

The Houthis, are being smart, frankly, understand, therefore, that what the US is under fairly strict ceiling about how far we're able to go. The US, as the Biden administration has tried to use all of the tools at its disposal to try to to deter and dissuade the Houthis from carrying out these attacks in the Red sea and, the Bab al-Mandab. They have used diplomacy, communicating through various channels to the Houthis. They've tried to use sanctions, the designation of the Houthis as a specially designated terrorist group. All of these things, as well as military force. They haven't worked. Again, because the Houthis understand what the U.S. limitation is on how far we're prepared to go. They don't believe that the US is going to or able to really do any significant damage to them. And they understand also that what they're doing in the Red sea is popular, both domestically within Yemen as well as within the region. So they've got every incentive to continue to conduct.

But again, the incident at Tower 22 demonstrates what the risks are inherent, to this, U.S. - Iranian dance that's going on, as long as there are no casualties, the military exchanges have been manageable by both sides. Neither side has seen the requirement to really step up. But the U.S. deaths in Jordan the other day, changed the calculus, and they put pressure on the Biden administration to respond more robustly. And as a result of that, we saw that the Iranians through Kataib Hezbollah have tried to bring the situation back. We saw Kataib Hezbollah announcing that they would no longer target U.S. personnel, U.S. facilities. Because the Iranians have an interest in restoring equilibrium in this very tense exchange between the U.S. and Iran.

And, of course, we also have the additional factor of the Iraqi government interest, which is desperate not to get drawn into an open ended conflict between the United States and Iran. So the bottom line is that each side is trying to calibrate their using the application of force as a way of trying to change the behavior of the other side. But they don't want to cross red lines. And everyone, of course, understands that the situation is going to persist as long as the conflict in Gaza is going on. And of course, the Israelis are a third player, but they're not part of this engagement between the U.S. and Iran. They're pursuing their own interests. And therefore, as long as Gaza continues to be hot, the risk for the U.S. and Iran of tripping into something that neither side wants is going to persist. And let me stop there.

Courtney Lobel [00:08:10] Thank you so much, Ambassador Feierstein. General Votel would love to invite you to speak about the current moment before we open it up to Q&A with people on the call.

General Joseph Votel [00:08:19] Thanks Courtney, and thanks Gerald for setting the table there. And thanks to MEI for being such a great platform to help the American people help others, be aware and understand what is happening in this very critical part of the world here. So, really glad to be here. So, Gerald did a great job of kind of laying out the big picture here from both of US and Iranian standpoint. So let me dive in just a little bit and talk about a couple of things that are right in front of us right now. And I'll start with Tower 22. For many of you are aware, you've been following the news for the last couple of days. Tower 22 is a relatively small, US position in the intersection of Jordan, Syria and Iraq. That has actually been in place for a number of years now, It was put in place to support our campaign against ISIS. And about 350 soldiers there performs a unique logistics and support function for our operations, particularly those in Syria. And when it was struck the other day by this drone, of course, resulted in a large number of casualties. And, what you've seen is the administration and the Pentagon going through a planning process for the last several days, looking at how we might not respond. And so, of course, our president has already said that we are going to respond to this. He seems to have made a decision either on the general direction or maybe more specifics. And, well, that is, to be determined hopefully relatively soon, but the options available from a response standpoint, I think are quite broad, for the United States, as Gerald indicated, certainly we're all thinking about the military response here, and that will be a component of it going after these organizations that have perpetrated this. We've assigned responsibility, the so-called Islamic resistance in Iraq, of which Kataib Hezbollah is a major component, of course, an organization that is well known to us, going back to the 2005-2006 timeframe. So we've confronted them a number of times. So what I would expect we would be seeing would be strikes against organizations like Kataib Hezbollah really going after leadership, command and control, facilitation, nodes and facilities, you know in a more comprehensive manner. Our strikes to date have really been limited to, mostly storage or origin locations where attacks have come from. I do think what we will likely see here is something a little more broad, that is going after the network and trying to if not decapitated, certainly deal a significant blow. I think also that has been referenced by John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman in the last couple days is this will be multi-tiered, meaning that we will see some strikes against the militant groups. And we may also see some strikes that are more directly linked to Iran's role in this. This could be against, Iranian Quds Force leadership in Iraq or Syria or maybe some other locations as well. It could be against some of the facilitation nodes, and command control elements that they are trying to send a very, very clear message to them, the tearing of this could mean that it's going to take place over several days as well. So a lot to learn here about all of this. But we definitely are, I think are on a track for some type of military response. As I mentioned, there are lots of options that are available here. And so the most effective approach from my perspective would be not just military strikes, but also, looking at, the diplomatic things we can do, the informational things we can do and the economic things that we can do. And is likely in this area that we'll see more things being directed against Iran. And don't forget, we have unique cyber capabilities and of course, a number of our intelligence community capabilities that can all be brought to bear in this. So there's a lot of options. The multi hearing of this could mean a combination of a variety of those things over time, to create effect and try to return to a place where there is more of a deterrent aspect in place here. And, back to maybe more of a status quo ante that we had previously. Turning To the Red sea very briefly, Gerald talked a lot about that, as you are aware we've struck back as recently as this morning. Most of these are strikes against identified drone launch locations. And, a few other affiliated locations with that, in the last 24 hours, we have at least on one occasion, the USS Carney has shot down a ballistic anti-ship ballistic missile, over the Red sea. I expect that this this will continue. I think our capabilities down there are quite good right now, especially with combined UK capabilities. They US and UK are really providing the majority of the military capacity into this. I think looking forward, I think there's really three potential futures here. One is to continue doing what we're doing, which is very much of a defensive posture here, striking where we see potential launches, shooting missiles out of the air and as necessary, where we can defend ships that are continuing to move through the the Red sea. Second option would be to step up strikes, more than we have already done. And, then perhaps combine that with some other measures. I do agree with Gerald. Just striking in, Yemen without something else is not going to probably get us where we need to be with the Houthis right now, given their mindset and how they're looking at this. There has to be much more focus on the diplomatic and other aspects of this to really kind of bring this back under control. I think it's interesting that we saw, as Gerald referenced, Iran and Kataib Hezbollah kind of change the language a little bit yesterday, which to me indicates that, you know, I think a very clear indicator of Iran's role in all of this, so they can be influenced in this. And that, I think is important. And that will likely not be accomplished through just strikes against drone locations. It will have to be accomplished in some other ways. Of course, there are other approaches that can be taken, you know, shutting down the supply routes, doing other things that put more pressure on Iran. And, you know, things done by the countries around the area there, towards the Houthi leadership, could all be combined to do smaller things. These are all things that can be explored as well. Finally, all of that is Gerald mentioned against the backdrop of what is happening in Gaza. That seems to be the impetus for all of this activity. So it's important, I think, to watch, what the United States government is doing in that particular situation. I did note before coming on this morning that we have instituted sanctions or something against some of the more militant settlers in the West Bank, that may be an indication of a little bit more robust, a little bit more muscular approach to put pressure on the government of Israel to move forward here and in negotiations and do some other things here while recognizing that they have to address the challenge of Hamas. So a lot to be addressed here. But clearly all of this emanating from the operations in Gaza. So, Courtney, I'll stop there and happy to address any questions.

Courtney Lobel [00:16:33] Thank you so much, General Votel. At this time, I'd like to open up the discussion to all our callers on the line. You can submit a question using the chat box on zoom, and I can read it to either of our scholars. Or you could use the raise hand function on zoom. Keep your hand raised until I call on you and unmute you. Then kindly state your name and affiliation and direct your question to one or both of our MEI scholars on the call. And again, you can also submit your questions via the chat and zoom at any time, and I'd be happy to read them to our speakers. To kick it off, ambassador Feierstein, I'd love to ask you about other actors in the region. What are the Saudi interests or the interests of the Emiratis and the Egyptians? And how does that affect US freedom to maneuver in the current moment?

Gerald M. Feierstein [00:17:23] Thanks Courtney, it's a great question because it frequently comes up of why or not the Saudis or the Emiratis or the Egyptians, doing more to support what we're doing, particularly, in terms of defending our interests in the Red sea, protecting navigation and international shipping. And the reality is, that each of them is looking at this, from the specific aspect of their own interests. For Saudis, their main interest right here is protecting this dialogue that they have going with the Houthis. They very much want to get out from under, the burden of the Yemen civil war. They have been negotiating with the Houthis for some time, in order to accomplish that. And they're very concerned that either U.S. action or some other action, might, in fact, drive the Houthis away from the bargaining table. And it could, under worst case scenario reignite the conflict and the Houthi attacks on Saudi infrastructure on Saudi oil facilities and on other aspects. So the Saudis have very much been, advocating and advising the U.S. to try to maintain, some calm and not to overreact to the Houthi attacks. As with the Egyptians, you know, who are probably the single country that has suffered the most economically because of what's happening in the Red sea and the millions of dollars in revenue, from the Suez Canal that they've lost. But they also have been extremely careful. They have not criticized the Houthis. And, again, fundamentally, all of these actors, the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Egyptians are very aware of the fact that within the context of what's happening in Gaza, what's happening in the Red sea, the Houthi attacks are broadly supported by their own populations, who are furious about what's happening with the Palestinians. And therefore, they need to tread very carefully and how aggressive they might be. And, in trying to limit the Houthi attacks or push back against the Houthis again, this is going to persist until there is a ceasefire in Gaza. At that point, I would anticipate that the Houthis would stand down, and if they don't stand down, I think that our friends and partners in the region would be much more willing to push back.

Courtney Lobel [00:20:11] Thanks so much, ambassador. General, would you like to say anything or should I ask our next question?

General Joseph Votel [00:20:16] Why don't we go to the next question.

Courtney Lobel [00:20:19] Right. Our first question is from David Cloud. David, please go ahead.

David Cloud [00:20:27] Hi. Thanks. Thanks for doing this to both of you. A question to General Votel, can you address in your military judgment whether you think restoring deterrence with Iran after the Tower 22 attack requires a sort of direct U.S. military action against Iranian targets and even outside Iran or even inside Iran, and whether if that occurs, as seems likely, it jeopardizes the administration's goal of not sparking a wider regional conflict. And along with that, how do you think Iran would respond to such an attack?

General Joseph Votel [00:21:05] Thanks, David. It's an excellent question. So I think one of the things that has to come out of Tower 22 and the reponses is that there has to be a very unambiguous message to Iran that we hold them responsible for the actions of these militias and really this broader axis of resistance that they've created across the region. So, you know, I think, the targeting of this has to include some targets that are of value, to Iran and which the loss of which other destruction, which other, the effect on which have, are felt by Iran. So, whether those actually have to take place and in Iran itself or can take place other places, I think there could be a debate about that. I think striking in Iran is an incredibly big decision and one that I don't know that we have, we understand exactly how Iran will respond to this. I guess this goes to another part of your question here. I think it's important to appreciate that Iran today is not the Iran of ten years ago or 15 years ago. They have a sophisticated air defense thing. So they do have the ability to defend themselves, and they have the ability to strike back across the region, with a fairly robust missile capability, that they have developed, working with a variety of others here. So, I would expect that there would be some type of response if we actually struck in Iran. Again, location matters, target matters in terms of this. If we went after we might be less of a response. We went after something on the coast that is strictly military. And if we went after something that is deeper in the country and more prominent to the citizens and more and thus more embarrassing to the regime. There are Iranian ships at sea that could be targeted there. We have a variety of tools that are available to us. We could shut down, some of their harbors. We could stop ships that are coming out of Iran, and inspect them on the high seas. We can do a variety of things, like this as well. So, you know, I think what is important in all of this is to really make sure that we are as unambiguous in assigning the responsibility to this. We can select the targets, I think, in a variety of different ways to have an effect on Iran. But I think we have to be very clear in our rhetoric and our narrative, that we hold Iran responsible for this.

Courtney Lobel [00:23:55] Thank you so much. Our next question is from Amanda Mouawad. Amanda, please go ahead.

Amanda Mouawad [00:24:04] Hello, Mr. Ambassador and General Joseph, this is Amanda Mouawad, from, Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, AFP. So my question is for both of you, we're seeing recently that the Yemeni government, the internationally recognized government, is actually seeking international military support and portraying itself as the savior during this period in Yemen and as if it's taking advantage of the situation. So do you think that the US or the Western countries are willing to respond to the government initiative? Do you believe they will engage in a new front by arming pro-government forces and providing air cover for operation against the Houthis?

Gerald M. Feierstein [00:24:51] Thank you, Amanda. And, I know I owe you the answer to some questions, actually, what I would say is, no, we saw the comments, from, Mr. Zubeidi along those lines that the answer to the Houthi attacks of the Red sea is to strengthen the forces of the internationally recognized government, the Presidential Leadership Council. I think, you know, to be honest, the last thing that the world wants to see is re renewal of the broad fighting inside of Yemen. I think that, right now, the international community is mostly focused on trying to see a negotiated resolution of this conflict. We're almost up to the ten year mark since the Civil War started. And, you know, the idea that we would now build up the anti Houthi forces to the point where they could renew the fighting, I think is, is simply not in the cards. We're not going to go to that route.

General Joseph Votel [00:26:04] Yeah. Amanda, just to reinforce what Gerald says, I agree with that. I don't think that is a likely option at this particular point is, as you're probably aware, we did have some programs in the classroom. We worked very closely with forces of Yemen and that were quite successful against al Qaeda. We are able to do that because there was a supportive government in place. And, we had a good approach for it. But, I think doing this right now, I don't know, it's not certainly not in the United States interest to get involved in a major fight down the end of the Arabian Peninsula here. When there are actually other more pressing issues resolving the situation in Gaza and restoring some type of, deterrence with Iran, to me, would be much higher priorities, that we ought to be pursuing in the region versus trying to do something with the recognized government of of Yemen.

Courtney Lobel [00:27:07] Just as a reminder, if you'd like to ask a question, you can use the raise hand function in zoom and leave your hand raised and then we'll call on you. You can also submit a question in the chat, and I'm happy to read it aloud to our speakers. I'm going to take a chat question now, which I think is for both of our speakers. We're seeing the events in Gaza, tension on Israel, Lebanon border, the border between Jordan, Iraq and Syria and in Yemen, in the Red sea. How coordinated is your assessment? How coordinated are U.S. responses diplomatically and militarily to these individual conflict tensions? So I think that questions for both of you. Ambassador, do you want to go first?

Gerald M. Feierstein [00:27:49] Sure, I guess, what I would say is that, you know, all of this falls within the framework of Gaza and the intense efforts that the US is making, you know, with Bill Burns employed, with Tony Blinken employed. I saw that Tony is going back to the region in a few days for his fifth visit, since the conflict started. So, I think again, I would say that all of these issues that you raised quite correctly, you know, the Israel's northern border, The Iraq, Jordan, Syria tri-border, the Red sea are all linked to what's happening in Gaza, and all will be resolved when Gaza is resolved and when we're in a ceasefire situation there. So I think that the administration is quite correct and trying to manage these other situations, I know, our friend, Amos Hochstein, has been representing the administration very effectively in trying to maintain calm on the Israel-Lebanon border, and others to try to maintain stability as much as we can in those other conflict areas while we focus our attention on ending the fighting in Gaza.

General Joseph Votel [00:29:19] Yeah, I would join Gerald in a lot of this. I actually would give the administration, the US government, a fairly high grade in terms of how they have handled the really difficult situation for the last several months. I mean, you've seen repeated travel by the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, director of the CIA, a variety of other administration officials into the region that I think have been there to promote, you know, the diplomatic aspects of this and then keep people talking in this. And I think that's been complimented by our Centcom commander, who I know is in the region right now as we speak again, doing this to not just with the Israelis or anybody else here, but really talking to people across the region on this. And I do think, we are endeavoring to try to coordinate all of our elements of power in the very best way that we can. I think the challenge with this is that coordination in an environment where there's much less of it there is a very diverse threats against us here, whether it's Houthi drones and missiles or whether it's Shia militia groups or whether it's whatever's happening in Lebanon or other places here in the region, I think present a lot of you know things coming in from the sideways that often times require us to respond to that. So we're obviously very focused on Tower 22 right now. But I think what you do see is that now you've seen us necessarily focusing on that, but also maintaining our main line against trying to address what is happening in Gaza and trying to bring that to some logical conclusion at some point. So I think we are operating in a coordinated fashion and may not always look like that, it is a little bit of sausage making, as you might imagine here, but I think the administration is definitely trying to pull all the levers that it has available to it to address the challenges of the region.

Courtney Lobel [00:31:29] General Votel, another question for you. We had a speaker on one of our previous calls in this series who made the point that the cost of inaction against the Houthi threat for commercial shipping is profound. Can you address that? And whether you feel our response so far has been effective and what you'd like to see the US do in terms of military action on this issue going forward?

General Joseph Votel [00:31:55] Yeah, I guess, and, you know, I'm really a victim of my own experience here and in my own, you know, background here. I do think it's important for these organizations, particularly these militia groups that we see in Iraq and Syria and to some extent, the Houthis, as well, that you do have to respond quickly and decisively with them. I think that makes a difference. The Houthis that we're dealing with today are not the Houthis that I dealt with in 2016. Whenthey tried to do this and we immediately struck back and,I think did it in very quickly, very decisively and were able to kind of restore. It didnt end activity, we saw problems with mines and other things like that, but it was much more manageable because we had very clearly articulated where the red lines were and that there would be consequences with this. I do think with Shia militia groups, I think we have tried to do the minimum that we could, I don't think that has been good enough, but I think we have allowed them to continue to push the lines, and we have to be stronger with them and know that, unfortunately, I think we've now learned that lesson the hard way again, at Tower 22 and, recognizing that, we do have to be more strident in our responses to these types of attacks on our troops.

Courtney Lobel [00:33:29] Ambassador Feierstein, as a former ambassador to Yemen, we certainly welcome your remarks on this. And also, there's been many diplomatic efforts on the Yemen front. How do you assess options going forward for some sort of diplomatic intervention at this particular moment?

Gerald M. Feierstein[00:33:45] Yeah. Thanks, Courtney. And, certainly, I agree with Joe's assessment. What I would say is, you need to be careful about how you approach this issue, because to a certain extent, the Houthis have been trying to provoke, the kind of response that we have seen in the Red sea, for several reasons that I mentioned earlier on, they understand what our limits are. We do want to protect international shipping in the Red sea in the Bab al-Mandab. No doubt. We don't want to see this conflict escalate. And we don't want to jeopardize negotiations that are ongoing to end the Yemen civil war. So the Houthis understand entirely what the red lines are that we're operating under, as well as, how far they can go. And they are going to stay under that radar. Again, the biggest issue is the issue of miscalculation. Joe mentioned the issue of the USS Carney. My understanding, based on press reports, is that the missile came closer to the carney than people would have liked. And therefore, you know, again, if one of the Houthi missiles or drone strikes the U.S. naval vessel, that is going to require a much more aggressive, much more robust response from the U.S., but keeping in mind that the Houthis were, under air attack by Saudi Arabia for seven years, during the course of the Civil War, they believe that there is little that we can do that's going to significantly damage their interests. And therefore, the best thing that we can do is continue to message, continue to use our channels of communication to them to try to keep this from getting out of hand. And, as Joe said, to continue to operate defensively, in the Red sea, to try to ensure that Houthi missile launches, drone attacks don't succeed. We should make note of the fact that the EU has now announced that they're going to be sending a naval task force to the Red sea to support what we in the UK are doing. I think the Germans are on board. The Belgians are on board. So we're going to see more capability flowing into the Red sea, to provide these defensive measures against the Houthis. And again, waiting to see an end to the Gaza conflict.

General Joseph Votel [00:36:32] Yeah. Just to add, I think it's important to appreciate just the impacts of what's happened in the Red sea. Gerald alluded to it. Just the impact on, Egypt and transit revenues through the the Suez Canal, which is really, I think, the major source of their revenue there, at least the reports I've seen, that the revenue has been down like 40%, which seems a little bit low to me. I would have expected to be higher, but about greater than 70% of the normal shipping that goes to the Red sea has now been diverted. And you know, to include LNG and a variety of other things that people are very, very dependent on are going longer routers. And then, to add to that, literally all of the humanitarian aid that is going to Sudan has been shut off completely. So there are very significant impacts of what is happening in the Red sea. And so I'm glad to see other international partners step up. And that is what it's going to take is incredible international pressure to help resolve this situation and open up this critical waterway again for international commerce.

Courtney Lobel [00:37:45] Thank you both. I saw a couple of hands go up and then go down, so I'm not sure if our speakers just answered a few of the questions, but if you do have a question, please go ahead and raise your hand or you'd be welcome to put it in chat. Ambassador Feierstein, I wanted to ask you a bit more about the Biden administration's diplomacy with Israel during this time. What kind of leverage do you think we should be using, or should not be using to try and compel a solution to the crisis that you both noted is kind of at the center of all of this tension and conflict.

Gerald M. Feierstein [00:38:24] Well, that is actually the $60,000 question for me, you know, and, we're in a situation where we've seen the reporting, we've seen the comments from the president as well as from Prime Minister Netanyahu. We're not necessarily on the same page with the Israelis about many of the things related to Gaza, not only, the extent of Israeli military operations, but the flow of humanitarian relief to the Palestinians. And also some of these day after questions and, I think, Joe also alluded, to the fact that, beyond Gaza, we are also seeing, serious concerns about heating up the situation in the West Bank. And, the possibility that not only the government of Israel, but extremist settlers are, doing things that are going to make maintaining the calm in the West Bank that much more difficult. So again, it's a very difficult, complicated, dialogue that we have with the Israelis, that we have the president, who has said over and over again that we support what Israel is trying to accomplish. We support, the idea of eliminating Hamas's capacity to threaten Israel from Gaza. And yet, we have to think about our own broader interests of what happens after this. How do you move beyond this current moment and get into a situation where not only have you resolved the immediate threat, but that you are taking steps to go beyond that, to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for for good. And I think that the other complication for the U.S., of course, is our friends and partners in the Gulf, in Egypt, in North Africa, who are equally concerned about what's going to happen with the Palestinians. The Palestinian issue has come back onto the front burner in the region in a way that it hasn't been for a number of years. And how is the administration going to balance, between maintaining our support, our traditional support for Israel? But also understanding that there is a broad regional demand that we be more engaged and more focused on day after issues and how to move forward with the Palestinians. Very difficult conversations, that Tony Blinken is having that the president is having directly with Bibi Netanyahu, and, we're not on the same page yet. And this is something, that I think is still a work in progress.

Courtney Lobel [00:41:18] Thank you. And General Votel, if I'm not mistaken, I think Israel was added to the Centcom area of responsibility while you were commander. Or perhaps it was after.

General Joseph Votel [00:41:26] No, actually it was after. So I did have the honor of visiting, there are a number of times, in fact, I think it was the first Centcom commander that actually went there in uniform in early 2019, and went as the Centcom commander. Normally we had done that a little more in low visibility manner. You know, it's interesting just on kind of what you were asking Gerald there and thinking about there's an interesting, op ed in, I forget what newspapers by Thomas Friedman this morning he talks really about this particular issue and about what might be emerging as our strategy towards the Biden administration strategy towards the region. And, he makes the argument that it really has three different components we ought to be paying attention to. One is a more strong and resolute stand by the United States on Iran. I mean, there's a very clear recognition of what Iran is doing. We've been largely focused on nuclear weapons programs and things like that in the past. And certainly those that have operate in the region appreciate what they do with their proxies and things like that. And the malign activities are going on. But the first, component of this would be a very strong and resolute stand on Iran. Second thing to what Gerald alluded to would be kind of a doubling down on trying to address the Palestinian issue here and try to, you know, support a state for non Hamas, Palestinians, with a more strengthened Palestinian Authority or some type of authority that can actually, live in coexistence with Israel. And then the third component of it would be kind of an expanded security alliance with Saudi Arabia recognizing that, this is, you know, the improving relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia has been one of our big objectives for a while and remains an important one for us. And would have a long lasting and, important effect on the region. So I think, you know, all of that. None of that, of course, is easy. But I think for our listeners is, you know, these are some things we be paying attention to as we move forward. And in the tragedy of what we've seen of October 7th and, Tower 22 and a variety of things in between here, hopefully, you know, a more coherent, approach to the region by the United States, I think would be a good outcome of all of this.

Courtney Lobel [00:43:59] Well, we're coming up on the one hour mark, so I think we are going to wrap it up here. If any of our callers had a question that they didn't get to ask on the call, please email And we'd be happy to get that question to one of our two scholars. I also want to thank our two scholars on the call today. I don't think we could find two better experts to brief on this particular issue at this particular moment, and we're really honored to have you both spending your time with us this morning and being associated with MEI. Please, if you missed any part of this conversation, it will be posted on our website later today at and you can also listen to any of the other 12 sessions that we've had on a weekly basis since October, on the whole range of issues associated with this conflict. So thank you again to our speakers. Thank you to all of you on the call today, and please look out for an invitation to next week's briefing, which will be released soon. Thank you.

Gerald M. Feierstein [00:45:01] Thank you.