Video Interview with Yair Golan

by November 2023

A transcript of the video is below.

I’m Yair Golan, a former general in the Israeli Defense Forces until 2017. I was the Deputy Chief of Staff. Since then I became a politician in leftist parties and I served as a member of the Knesset from 2019 to 2022.

Q: What did you do on Saturday, October the 7th, 2023?

In the morning, I started to hear the news from the south and it sounded so horrific.

Q: What did you hear? What was the first thing that you knew?

Terrorists in [the border town of] Ofakim, terrorists in the district headquarters of the Home Front Command. It’s far, far away from the border, so it sounded really unusual. Therefore, I put on my uniform and went straight away to the Home Front Command National Headquarters in Ramla. Then I discovered there is a huge chaos in the south. So I asked the commanding officer of the Home Front Command to be his personal envoy to the south, and that’s exactly what I did. I took a rifle and drove…

Q: Who gave you the rifle? Where did it come from?

From Command Headquarters. It was really easy. I’m well-known there, I commanded this command for more than three years. So I was very welcomed in the headquarters. I know most of the officers and the NCOs. It was quite, I would say, a warm meeting. I went to the south. I approached the district headquarters. By noon, the battle there was over and the soldiers and the commanding officer of the southern district had fought remarkably well. They managed to kill all terrorists in the barracks. I helped them to reorganize. Then I got a phone call from my sister and she asked me if I can take out of the combat zone people who escaped from the Nova Music Festival. So I asked her, send me a [GPS] location, otherwise I can’t find them. That’s what she did.

I drove my private car, a Toyota Yaris, fantastic for driving into fields. I drove my car and found them. I took them out of the combat zone. Then I got another phone call. Then I got another phone call. It went on three times. All in all, I took six guys out of the Nova Festival, out of the combat zone and managed to bring them to safety.

Then the day after, I remained in the south and went from one unit to another and visited most of the kibbutzim from Be’eri to the north in order to understand what happened, in order to encourage the troops. And in order to provide first-handed intelligence to the Home Front Command Headquarters, in order to shape the right policy.  It was, I think, quite effective.

Q: What did you see in the kibbutzim, in the houses?

I need to say that what we have experienced is a brutal, cruel attack by savages who went into the kibbutzim, killed babies, women, pregnant women, burned houses. It was so outrageous. It was horrific. This is something I wouldn’t imagine in my life that could happen here in the State of Israel. I think it’s kind of a wakeup call.

We need to understand what we’re fighting and we need to understand that there is no handling the conflict, managing the conflict between us and the Palestinians. Conflicts need to be solved by military measures and by diplomatic measures, by economical measures and by policy. What we experienced in the last 14 years under the rule of Netanyahu is zero policy. Sit and do nothing. And by doing so, we weakened the Palestinian Authority from year to year and strengthened our worst enemies like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This is outrageous.

We need a government with a trusted prime minister who is a real leader, an honest leader. And we need a policy on how to move forward with initiative, how to move forward, as I mentioned, with military initiative and civilian initiative in order to get a comprehensive policy for the State of Israel and in order to solve the Palestinian issue once and for all.

Q: You told me that you never thought something like this could happen. You were the Deputy Chief of Staff, one of the prominent candidates to become Chief of Staff. What do you think in real time what should be happening with Gaza, how the problem of Hamas’s control of Gaza, since 2007, should be solved?

It will be a very long campaign. We need to think in terms of the United States of America, after September 11th, declaring war on global terror, and it lasted for years, for 20 years at least. We need to think in the same terms. I cannot see reasonable conduct of such a war without the following.

First, we need to solve the problem of the hostages. Second, we need to have a trusted government. You cannot win a war with an untrusted government, with ministers who are criminals. This is outrageous and it won’t happen. Therefore, we need to replace this government and then fight decisively this long war against terror. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or in Lebanon, Syria or elsewhere. Yes, we are going to fight it and we are going to win it, but we need a trusted government for that.

Q: I want to ask you about Hamas. We are talking about the conception that you can make some kind of deal with Hamas. This is what the Prime Minister believes. This is what many people in military intelligence believe. What did you think about Hamas and the danger of it in Gaza while you were still in the army?

I would like to explain what is the misperception concerning deterrence. Deterrence is a fictional concept. It exists in the minds of people. You don’t know exactly what the others have in their minds. Deterrence is a very limited term. We need to understand that there is a threshold for any deterrence. If the motivation for a better future or if the level of suffering is too high, deterrence could vanish immediately, in a day. You cannot know when and where it happens.

We need to think, I would say in depth, in order to understand that deterrence is a very limited term and there is no deterrence for eternity. We are talking about our enemies and they want to kill us. And we need to understand that this deterrence cannot exist without an offensive approach.

From a military perspective, the fact that we were on defense, without attacking Hamas over and over, and over again, this is a shame. The same is true concerning Hizbullah in the north. There is a price for it, but if you want to deter your enemy, you need to be on the offensive all the time.

Q: Can you deal with enemies such as Hamas and especially Hizbullah without dealing with their primary support: Iran? I’m not saying that there are no other proxies. Iran is a sponsor of Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad, and partly of Hamas. What can you do about this?

It does not necessarily mean that you need an open war with Iran tomorrow morning. In fact, we have been fighting Iran on a daily basis for many years. Therefore, I think that it’s a matter of operational approach: how to conduct this war.

Here and there, you need to hit Iran directly. It could be done by clandestine measures directly. Here and there it’s better to deal with the proxies of Iran and we need to admit it’s extremely complicated to fight Iran directly because it’s about 1400, 1500 kilometers to the east of Israel. It’s really complicated. We are not the United States of America with carrier groups and this ability to project forces overseas. We need to understand our limitations.

Therefore, the main campaign is against the proxies of Iran on our borders. These attacks on our borders are totally unacceptable. Therefore, somewhere in the future, and I believe not in the far future, we need to destroy Hizbullah. I don’t see other ability to live safely along the northern border, especially after the example we got from Hamas in the south, in the southern part of Israel. So I would say that what we see right now is the opening phase of a new era. This new era will be completely different from anything we have experienced before.

Q: What should be happening right now in the West Bank? I think one of the dangers right now to now to Israel is not only Hezbollah to the north, but the serious deterioration in the West Bank and the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

Here I think the policy is quite clear, from my perspective of course. We need civilian separation from security responsibility. It’s very simple and very hard to implement.

First and foremost, we need to lessen civilian friction [with Palestinians]. The meaning of that is that we need to shape our future borders like we started to do during the implementation of the Gaza Disengagement Plan in 2005. It was good for Israel, lessening the civilian friction. By doing that you provide less and less opportunities for terrorists. But you can do that while you keep security responsibility in your hands. We should not do the same mistakes like we did in the Oslo Process or like we did in the implementation of the Disengagement Plan in 2005. That was wrong.

Overall, security responsibility over all the West Bank, but at the same time lessen the civilian friction. In order to do so we need to shape our future borders, we need to say to the [West Bank Israeli] settlers, to the most extreme elements in the Israeli society, where it’s possible to be and where it is not. Israel needs borders. Without borders, you cannot control your own population. I think this is one of the main national goals for any future government in Israel.

Q: You paid a dear price when you said, which everybody understands that you were right about, that there were dangerous processes in the government, in society that remind you of dark times. You joined the left party, Meretz, which is not in the present  Knesset. But in the West, you see how leftists say that what you said, what your friends say, it’s not enough. They would want you to take full responsibility for all of the atrocities and to say that Israel is responsible also for the death of its own people. Basically, they talk about simplistic measures like ‘stop the apartheid’. What does that actually mean? Were you surprised that this is happening in the left part of the political spectrum here and in Europe?

I think that leftists in the world lost their way and the main manifestation of that is losing the moral compass. Come on, killing babies is all right? This is the way you fight for your freedom? No. This is outrageous. These are atrocities and we need to eliminate them from Earth. This is not the way we fight.

Q: They will tell you that there are dead babies in Gaza right now.

We asked all civilians in the Gaza Strip to move south of the Gaza riverbed [wadi], to be safe. Creek, rather than river. You can reach safe regions in the Gaza Strip in order to save your life.

We have no intention to play according to the rules of Hamas, and Hamas forces its own civilians to remain in the most dangerous places in the Gaza Strip and we need to acknowledge that. I think that after that outrageous attack on our civilians we have all justification we need to fight Hamas decisively.

We have no intention to give up. There is no other way. We need on the one hand to fight terror decisively and on the other hand to promote peace wherever it’s possible. This is the right policy for Israel and for the world.

Q: How do you think Israel should explain itself today? We see the leaders of the world, also some leaders of the Arab world, seem to support Israel in its fight against Hamas. But on the other hand you see huge demonstrations in the Arab countries, in Europe, in the US. What is Israel doing wrong?

Let the common people who manage to survive after the brutal attack speak. Very simple. Just let them speak. Yesterday I visited those who survived the attack on the Kibbutz Holit and Kibbutz Be’eri, and Kibbutz Kissufim, in the south, in the border area of the Gaza Strip. I can tell you, it’s devastating. Devastating stories. How mothers managed to save the life of their babies. How fathers gave their lives in order to save their families and many stories about those who didn’t survive. In some cases they were raped, they were tortured and they were burned to death. This is their true story.

You just need to move from one location to the other location, meet the refugees in their own country and hear them and understand them. Maybe from the outside, it looks like a far away conflict without true people who are truly beaten by terrorists. But if you meet these people you start to understand to what extent we fight a brutal enemy.

Q: As we speak, we have this endless parade of leaders from the West coming to Israel, supporting the Israeli people and this is of course very moving. Some Israelis, though, think that the idea behind these trips is also to keep Israel away from ground operations. It was rumored in the New York Times that there are fears in the American administration that there is not a good enough plan, that Israel doesn’t have a plan for its fight in the south.

I think it would be irresponsible for me to say something about the operational plans. I don’t know the exact operational plan and I don’t see intelligence and operational considerations. But I would say the following. First, and I think I mentioned that, we need to solve the problem of the hostages. Then we need to trust the government and then we will fight decisively Hamas, Islamic Jihad and any other terrorist organization. This is what we should do. Operational questions, all right, I don’t know, I don’t see all the intelligence. Therefore, I think this is not something for public discussion.

I think the IDF is ready and I think the readiness of the IDF is not the most important issue right now. Strategic consideration and international considerations are more important at this stage of the campaign.

Q: You mentioned the hostages. This is something painful that’s settled in the heart of every Israeli since October 7th. I cannot go to sleep without thinking of the kids who are there. I look at my own kids and I cry. Do you think that any price is good enough to pay?

Yes. I think the question of the price right now is irrelevant. If it’s needed to free 6,000 Hamas prisoners from our prisons, it’s okay. This is not the question. We need to bring them back, and after that, fight Hamas. Anyhow, it will last for four, five years at least. No need to hurry. We need to regroup as a nation. We need to understand our goals for  fighting Hamas and our goals concerning the Palestinian arena.

Q: What are your political plans? Everybody is thinking about the responsibility of the government, where the government should go. Then I hear the voices that say, first of all, we don’t know how we can make them go, and second, what would be next.

I think we need a political entity which represents this willingness to fight terror decisively, and at the same time to achieve the political goals of Israel in a peaceful manner. There is no contradiction between the two. What we need to provide our citizens is the following: security, safety. They need to feel they live in a safe country. This and any government should provide these assets by any possible measure, militarily, diplomatically, economically, and so on, and so on. This is the only way to move forward. In order to achieve that we need a strong political entity that takes these principles and make them something real in the political arena.

Q: Is there a role for moderate Arab states and the Abraham Accords countries, Egypt and Jordan in the next stage of bringing security back?

We cannot predict the future exactly, but we can shape destiny by start walking on the right path. I have no doubt that Israel, on the one hand, should be a very strong country, militarily, and on the other hand, we  need to seek for peace wherever it is possible. And by combining these two principles, we will survive in this much struggled-over area for eternity.

Ksenia Svetlova
Ksenia Svetlova is the Executive Director of ROPES (The Regional Organization for Peace, Economics & Security) and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs. She is a former member of the Knesset.
Read the
print issue
Get the latest from JST
How often would you like to hear from us?
Thank you! Your request was successfully submitted.