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Iraq Forces Push to Retake Fallujah from ISIS; Israeli Knesset Approves Divisive Defense Minister; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 30, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET




CLARISSA WARD, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: the fight for Fallujah, Iraq's army launches a ground offensive to seize the city from ISIS as the

U.N. warns as many as 50,000 civilians could still be trapped inside. I speak to former U.S. Special Assistant to Baghdad, Ali Khedery.


ALI KHEDERY, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO BAGHDAD: Because right now, we're just going through a cycle, where the world powers are trying to

defend their interests. And in doing so, they're waging a series of proxy wars with these tens of millions of Iraqis and Syrians caught in the



WARD (voice-over): Plus, from hard right to far right, what now for Israel?

As a divisive ultra nationalist takes over as the country's new defense minister, government spokesman David Keyes and former military general Amos

Yadlin join me live to discuss.


WARD: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Clarissa Ward, in for Christiane Amanpour.

Fifty thousand civilians are trapped tonight in the middle of a battle for the city of Fallujah, as Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. air support and

Shiite militias, try to wrest control from ISIS.

As the noose tightens on the terrorist group, the U.N. Refugee Agency says reports are emerging of ISIS gunmen going door-to-door, executing these who

refuse to fight for them.

More than 500 families have managed to flee the violence to makeshift camps. But even there, there is risk, as water shortages become an

increasing concern. I spoke to former adviser to U.S. Central Command in Iraq, Ali Khedery, who had this sobering assessment.


WARD: Ali Khedery, thank you very much for being on the show.

Let me start out by asking you about the significance and the importance of Fallujah, because of course we've heard so much about Mosul.

Why is Fallujah important?

KHEDERY: Well, Fallujah is a city of approximately 300,000 people that is just west of Baghdad. And so it has historically been used as a launching

pad for attacks by neo-Ba'athists, by Al Qaeda in Iraq and, most recently, ISIS as a staging ground for attacks into Baghdad.

The current battle is important, however, because the remnants of the Iraqi army along with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and a commander of the

Quds Force from Iran, are leading the charge into this Sunni city.

However, many of the forces are either Shia Arabs or in the Iranian forces. And so there are lots of sensitivities about what would come the day after

Fallujah is liberated.

WARD: Let's talk about that, because a photograph has emerged of Qassim Suleimani, with the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard outside


What is Iran's involvement in this battle?

And what are the likely repercussions of that involvement?

KHEDERY: Well, General Suleimani's involvement is an extremely grave development. He has repeatedly bragged that he controls Iranian foreign

policy across Iraq, Syria, the Levant and the rest of the Middle East. And he has played a very negative and, frankly, murderous role historically.

He participated in killing and maiming hundreds or maybe thousands of coalition forces throughout the Iraq War and indeed was complicit in

killing and maiming thousands of Iraqi, both civilians and military officers.

Today, on Memorial Day in the United States, when we are supposed to be honoring the 4,500 Americans killed in Iraq and the 32,000 wounded, it's

extremely ironic that the United States Air Force and U.S. Central Command is providing cover for General Suleimani and his allied militias as they go

into Fallujah.

Also, the United Nations has said approximately 50,000 civilians remain in Fallujah and some 500 or so ISIS fighters are there. So it's very

important to keep in mind that leveling a city that was home to 300,000 people, where 50,000 people continue to be trapped, only to kill 500 ISIS

fighters, leveling it would not be a smart move.

We have to think about the reconstruction and what all those homeless civilians, where they're going to be after those forces enter the city.

WARD: And this is something certainly I've seen in Syria, visiting towns that have been liberated from ISIS by Kurdish fighters. The towns are

completely deserted, people don't want to live there. They're going with the old adage that I guess better the devil I know.

So let's talk about the civilians, specifically of reportedly ISIS death squads roaming the streets, threatening to execute anyone who leaves the


How can a bloodbath be averted here?

KHEDERY: Frankly, it's very hard at this point. The reality is Iraq today is a failed state where the government doesn't even control a majority of

its territory, nor even the capital, nor even the green zone, as we've seen in the developments over the past --


KHEDERY: -- several months. So in Fallujah, you have a civilian population that is trapped between radical militant Sunni jihadis, ISIS and

Al Qaeda and radical militant Shia jihadis, again, the Iran-backed militias and death squads.

And they face the very real prospect of being squeezed by both of these jihadi groups, because the civilians are in the center, as these Sunni and

Shia jihadis wage a tug of war with very, very lethal munitions. So, again, the civilians are in the center of all this.

And what I frankly fear is a repeat of what happened in Ramadi, where, according to Iraqi prime minister Haider Abadi's own estimates, 80 percent

of the city was leveled.

WARD: I think you paint a pretty bleak picture -- and with good reason. But I wonder if you have any cause for optimism when you look at the push

now against Raqqah and Syria, the ISIS stronghold; a push against Mosul or the beginnings of a push against Mosul in the north and now Fallujah,

previously Ramadi.

Do you have any sense that the days of ISIS may be numbered?

KHEDERY: Well, obviously any defeat for ISIS is a good defeat. The problem is, frankly, what seems to be lacking from the United States, from

the coalition and from the Iraqi government is a strategy for the day after because it was that lack of forward planning that led us to this point,

again, after years of sacrifices, trillions of dollars, thousands of lives.

That's why ISIS manifested, was because of the injustice -- or the perceived injustices of the Iraqi government, the Syrian governments,

backed by Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran.

The lack of a reconstruction program, a truth and reconciliation program across Iraq and Syria means that those societies are going to continue to

be polarized and thus radicalize and eventually push toward jihadism.

You have tens or hundreds of thousands of young males, who, again, are not in schools, which means they will not have jobs, which means they will not

have hope in the future. And ultimately that is a ripe feeding ground for the next Al Qaeda, the next bin Laden, the next ISIS.

WARD: So if you were in Iraq right now, whispering into the ears of those in power, what would you advise them?

What would you tell them?

KHEDERY: Well, to be perfectly honest with you, as much as I personally like Prime Minister Haider Abadi and I generally respect him, the problem

is, he does not have much authority. He doesn't, again, control much of the country. The southern Shia third of the country is dominated by the

Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Shia militias.

The central Sunni third is dominated by ISIS and neo-Ba'athists and the Kurdistan region in the north has been virtually completely autonomous for

about two decades now.

So the real authority over the future of Iraq rests with the world powers, the United States, Europe, Russia, China, so on and so forth and, frankly,

the regional powers, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

What I would hope is that these major forces all can leave -- can set their interests aside and try to restore some peace and civility to the region,

again, for the sake of these tens of millions of Iraqis, Syrians and now Yemenis.

But I'm a realist and I know that's not going to happen which is the reason why at the end of the day, I'm not especially optimistic about the future

of the region, because, right now, we're just going through a cycle where the world powers are trying to defend their interests and, in doing so,

they're waging a series of proxy wars with these tens of millions of Iraqis and Syrians caught in the crossfire.

WARD: A bleak picture indeed. Mr. Khedery, thank you for your time.

KHEDERY: Thank you.


WARD: Well, as Iraqi forces encircle Fallujah, next up, we look at a political move shifting Israeli politics toward the hard right as Avigdor

Lieberman ascends to the defense ministry, we ask what his influence could mean for the future of Israel -- after this.





WARD: Welcome back to the program.

Another day, another political tremor in Israel. The Knesset has confirmed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's choice for defense minister today, the

right-wing politician, Avigdor Lieberman. This after the more moderate Moshe Ya'alon resigned his post over political differences with the prime


And Lieberman brings controversy to the office, having suggested disloyal Israeli Arabs should be beheaded and threatening to assassinate the leader

of Hamas within 48 hours of taking office if he doesn't return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.

In a moment, I'm joined by the former director of Israeli military intelligence, but first David Keyes is the spokesman for the prime

minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He joins me now from Israel.


WARD: David Keyes, thank you so much for being on the program.

I guess the first question would be, should we expect the leader of Hamas to be dead within 48 hours?

DAVID KEYES, NETANYAHU SPOKESPERSON: I think what you can expect is this Israeli government, under this prime minister, will keep up its commitment

to a vision of two states for two peoples while maintaining security for the Israeli people. This isn't a move to the hard right or anything else.

This is a move in which every Israeli can feel that the government will pursue peace with its partners, will take every opportunity to create two

states for two peoples. And the great tragedy here is that the Palestinian leadership has continually rejected our attempts to even meet.

It's very hard to forge peace with a partner if you can't meet with them. And in the last seven years, President Abbas has agreed to sit with us only

seven hours. And that's a tragedy for both Israelis and Palestinians because you can't have peace if you can't even sit together.

WARD: So are you saying essentially that Avigdor Lieberman's reputation as being a strongman, a hard right, is somehow undeserved, that he's somehow


KEYES: Well, Avigdor Lieberman shares the prime minister's vision of two states for two people. He himself is a settler who said he would be

willing to leave even his own home in order to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

So the barrier to peace is not the addition of another minister who supports two states for two peoples. The barrier to peace here is the

Palestinian leadership, which, on a daily basis, is educating its children to hate and not to love, to dehumanize and not to respect. That is the

real barrier to peace here.

The barrier to peace is groups like Hamas, who are calling for genocide against all Jews. This may be disturbing for some of your viewers to hear.

And I'll quote it in the original Arabic, but when the speaker of the parliament stands up and says -- and I'll say it in Arabic -- (speaking

Arabic) -- "count every Jew and murder them all down to the very last one," that's the real barrier to peace here.

WARD: So I guess the other question is because it's well known that there was not a lot of love between Lieberman and between Prime Minister Benjamin

Netanyahu. Some people are suggesting that maybe this is an cynical appointment, an attempt for Prime Minister Netanyahu to save his own power.

How would you assess that?

KEYES: I don't think it's cynical at all. I think it's an expansion of the Israeli government, which will give a wider base and more stability to

this government and more opportunities to seize every opportunity for peace. A lot of people were skeptical about Menachem Begin, said he

couldn't forge peace. But sure enough, when we were met with a real partner who was willing to sit with us, like Anwar Sadat, Israel not only

forged peace but upheld it for nearly four decades.

People were skeptical about Yitzhak Rabin but when we had a real partner for peace like King Hussein, peace was forged with Jordan as well. And I

have no doubt that this prime minister is not only willing but indeed eager to forge peace with all of our neighbors.

And as soon as the Palestinian Authority merely accepts our right to exist and understands that we are a legitimate state in this region, we can move

forward with the peace process.

WARD: Let's talk a little bit about the relationship between the military and between the civilian government, because it's no secret that it's a

little bit tense at the moment. Of course we heard --


WARD: -- on Holocaust Memorial Day from the number two major general, Yair Golan (ph), the number two in the IDF, who compared some of what he called

the more disturbing trends in Israeli society to certain processes that led to the rise of Nazi Germany.

What did you make of that statement?

And how would you categorize the relationship now between the military and the government in light of it?

KEYES: I think talk about this massive rift between the army and the government is simply not true. I see how the generals interact with the

prime minister. And I think this is a people's army. It's under a civilian leadership and I think Americans can appreciate that principle of

having the civilian authorities maintain control over the military.

At the same time, officers feel free to express their opinions. But when they're appropriate. So I don't think that this so-called rift exists in

any sense in which it's being spoken about.

WARD: And yet you heard the prime minister come out and condemn those comments and even condemn officers from speaking out like that on

contentious political issues.

I mean, where do you -- or where does your government stand on this issue of what kind of a role the military should play, how much involvement they

should have or how much of a say they should have in these political issues?

KEYES: Well, the prime minister has full faith in the army. It's an incredible army. It's a people's army. It's an army in a democracy and,

within the confines of that, officers are free to say what they think.

But, of course, the ultimate authority of how and what the army does needs to remain in the hands of the elected prime minister of Israel. So I think

that people don't understand the basic dynamic here between the army and the civilian authorities.

And that so long as the government maintains control over what the army says and ultimately does, that's the proper balance in any democratic


WARD: Final question: should the world expect to see any real difference in Israeli policy going ahead with Avigdor Lieberman as your new defense


KEYES: The position of this government has not changed. It continues to support two states for two peoples living side by side, Israel and a

Palestinian state that finally recognizes our right to exist.

All we ask for is the right to exist in peace and that that potential state doesn't have the weapons to destroy us, as too many leaders have said over

the years. So there won't be a change in that fundamental policy. Both Avigdor Lieberman and the prime minister continue to support that with the

support of the Israeli people.

And that makes peace much more likely if only we had a partner on the Palestinian side who accepted that framework, who was willing to negotiate

directly and who was even willing to come to the table.

WARD: David Keyes, thank you so much for being on the program.

We're going to turn now to Tel Aviv to talk to the former director of military intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces, Major General Amos


You heard David Keyes there, he is saying essentially, it's business as usual. Don't expect any big changes.

What's your take on the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister?

MAJOR GENERAL AMOS YADLIN, FORMER IDF: Yes, I agree with him that we will not see a dramatic change, because Israel has a very solid system of

decision-making on national security, which basically start from the top, from the prime minister.

It was not changed and professionally, based on the judgment and the decision and the staff work of the general staff, led by General Gadi

Izenko (ph). So the two important part, the professional part of the military and the political part of the prime minister are there.

There is a new defense minister with maybe different ideas than the previous one and we have to pay all the respect to the leaving defense

minister, General Ya'alon, who devoted his life to serve his country as a soldier, as a commander, as chief of staff and as defense minister.

But we had before personalities and politicians who were not generals before as defense ministers. You can remember David Ben-Gurion, which was

not a general. Shimon Peres was not a general. Moshe Ales (ph) was not a general. So the triangle of the decision on defense between prime minister

and the first minister and chief of staff is always tensions. But these tensions are institutional into the decision-maker in a way --


YADLIN -- that nobody of the three can take it dramatically to the wrong side.

WARD: So essentially what you're saying is that you're not concerned at all about the fact that Avigdor Lieberman has very little military

experience, certainly when compared to General Ya'alon.

You're saying essentially that this is not an issue, that there is no need for concern here.

YADLIN: No, Israel defense is always -- must be under a need of concern. We cope with the try of Iran to achieve hegemony in the Middle East,

supporting terror, supporting the Assad regime. We may face another round vis-a-vis Hezbollah, vis-a-vis Hamas.

The defense ministry is very important position concerned how to build the ideas. We have now a discussion with the U.S. about a new MOU for a

defense assistant. So it's a lot to be concerned on.

But on the general picture, I think and I will say it again, we have a very good system of check and balance on decision-making process to this caution

decisions that should be done refer our defense.

I also can remind you people that in the opposition or in the background, were considered to be very radical, like Prime Minister Begin or Prime

Minister Sharon. And we all remember that when Prime Minister Sharon achieved a location of the prime minister office, he say basically the

perspective from here is different from the perspective in the opposition.

And I guess Defense Minister Lieberman will go through the same process.

WARD: So let me ask you about these tensions between the military and between the civilian government.

How do you feel about them?

Do you feel that a muzzle has been put on the military in terms of being able to speak out on contentious political issues?

YADLIN: The military is not speaking on political issue. The incident you mentioned with the previous speaker, with David, was about professional and

ethical positions and attitudes, that a commander in the IDF should address, should address his unit, his people, his officers.

The issue of should he address it on the Holocaust Memorial Day is another issue. But the idea is speaking up and should speak up on every

professional issue and on every -- in the general staff level, on every strategic issue.

There is no doubt in Israel who, at the end of the day, have the authority to decide. And this is the political level. So the IDF sometimes is -- in

the past was -- if you remember the '67 war, the IDF was pushing to stop the time of Israel waiting for the war and to go and to plant (ph).

The IDF today is a very cautious military with consideration and understanding of the constrain and limitation of using military power. And

they will raise it to the political level and at the end, the decision of the political level will be executed as it will be directed by the

political level.

WARD: My final question, do you share any concerns that have been voiced by many people, even in Israel, that there has been a pivot to the right in

your country?

YADLIN: You know that I was the professional candidate to be a defense minister if the other -- the center in Israel would won the election.

Unfortunately, we haven't won the election.


YADLIN: But I don't think that Israel is drifting to the right.

WARD: OK, thank you, I'm so sorry, General --


YADLIN: Most of the Israelis are in the center.

WARD: Forgive me for interrupting you. I'm so sorry, we're out of time. But thank you so much, General Yadlin, for being on the program and we look

forward to talking to you again soon. Thank you.


WARD: Coming up, we turn to some very different regions as we imagine the less-known well-known world of Panjab, Sapmi and Raetia. I'm not making

these places up. They're nations in a league of their own, taking part in an extraordinary football championship that kicks off -- next.





WARD: And finally tonight, as FIFA fanatics limber up for the UEFA football championship on June 10th, imagine a world you've never heard of

taking to the pitch.

The ConIFA cup got underway this weekend, a championship for states unrecognized by FIFA as well as the United Nations. Hosted this year by

Abkhazia, a breakaway state from the country of Georgia, the competition sees little heard-of places like Szekely and Raetia and the Chagos Islands

go toe-to-toe in a bid for rarely recognized glory.

Only the second time the ConIFA World Cup has ever taken place. The first championship in 2014 saw the county of Nice, a historical region in France,

kick the Isle of Man to the post. Only 12 out of the 35 nations ConIFA nations are competing in this year's cup.

The competition lasts just a week and will end this Sunday. giving us another two years to figure out where on Earth it will be next time.

That's it for our program tonight and remember, you can listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter, @ClarissaWard. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.