Ari Harow in Jerusalem on May 9, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Ari Harow in Jerusalem on May 9, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
featureIsrael at War

Netanyahu confidante’s 2014 Gaza war retrospective a blueprint on current conflict

“The similarities are extremely relevant,” said Ari Harow. “Many of the lessons that were learned from 2014 are being implemented today.”

Ari Harow intended his forthcoming book about the 2014 Gaza war and the complicated relationship between the Israeli and U.S. leaders at the time to be a retrospective. Then Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Suddenly, My Brother’s Keeper: Netanyahu, Obama & the Year of Terror & Conflict that Changed the Middle East, Forever by Harow—a longtime confidante who has the ear of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—got turned on its ear.

“When I wrote the book, I was writing it from a historical perspective, from a personal perspective,” Harow, who was Netanyahu’s chief of staff during the 2014 war, told JNS. “Little did I know that on Oct. 7, the book was really going to turn into somewhat of a microcosm of what we’re seeing today.”

Harow, who sat in on war and security cabinet meetings, as well as dealings with the United States and the international community in 2014, told JNS that the conflict in his book began when Hamas terrorists kidnapped and then murdered three Israeli teenage boys. The abductions led Israel to launch the wide-scale search “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” and eventually, the ground incursion into Gaza “Operation Protective Edge.”

“The similarities are extremely relevant, and many of the lessons that were learned from 2014 are being implemented today,” Harow said.

One thing he told JNS that is different about 2014 and 2023 is the U.S. president.

“The United States had a very short leash with Israel in 2014. There were comments that came out of the White House—both behind closed doors and some of them very public—that put Israel in a very uncomfortable position,” Harow said of former President Barack Obama.

“We weren’t confident that the U.S. administration would be there to defend us,” he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden “made his position very, very clear on what happened” on Oct. 7, and that “the horrific massacre as a launching point for the Gaza war really shook the president and the United States in a different way,” Harow said.

The Netanyahu confidant said communication and coordination between the Biden and Netanyahu governments is “one of the lessons that both countries learned from the 2014 war.”

Islamic Republic: ‘The tentacles are problematic’

Israel’s willingness to challenge Washington when it came to regional security and to continue to battle Iran (of which Hamas serves as a proxy and benefactor) is another lesson learned and being applied in 2023, according to Harow.

My Brother's Keeper book by Ari Harow
“My Brother’s Keeper: Netanyahu, Obama & the Year of Terror & Conflict that Changed the Middle East, Forever” by Ari Harow. Credit: Courtesy.

That lesson has changed the Middle East’s complexion entirely, he believes.

“Without dealing with the octopus’s head, the tentacles are very problematic. But ultimately, it is the octopus itself that we have to be looking at and the region’s—be it the Gulf states, even Saudi Arabia—move towards Israel was not a result of international diplomacy alone,” Harow said.

“It was extremely influenced or tremendously influenced by Israel’s willingness to stand up against the threat of Islamic fundamentalism from Iran and its proxies, and to stand up to allies as well and say, ‘This is something that needs to be dealt with,’” he said.

No other issue brought the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama into starker relief than that of Iran, according to Harow.

The “two different worldviews” came into focus during Obama’s first international speech in Cairo, which served partly as a call to the Muslim world “to try and bring them back into the fold, and that included Iran,” he said.

Netanyahu saw Iran and its proxies as a great threat not just to Israel, but to the United States and the entire West. The Israeli premier stacked his inner circle with like-minded people, including Ron Dermer, his ambassador to Washington.

However much personal animus appeared to come to the fore in the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, Harow insisted to JNS that it wasn’t personal—at least, not from Jerusalem’s perspective.

“It wasn’t a personal animosity that drove them. It was never personal. You have two sharp, very intelligent individuals, who had very, very different worldviews, and they were both extremely determined to act upon those worldviews,” Harow said. “Both of those players viewed their roles in a historic sense and from a historic perspective, and sometimes even the greatest of allies, even brothers, come to a point where what’s best for their own countries is at odds.”

Harow credits Biden and Netanyahu for managing the relationship after Oct. 7. He added that at some point, potentially soon, what is best for the United States and for Israel, at least in the minds of their leaders, may indeed be at odds.

If and when that happens, the 2014 blueprint, which Harow lays out in his book, which is slated to be published in January, could become even more prescient.

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