It's been more than two months since the Hamas attack on Israel. What conclusions should be drawn? How should the situation in Gaza and Lebanon look after the war? What will the IDF be like? We asked these questions to the former Deputy Chief of General Staff and former head of the National Security Council, Uzi Dayan.

Interviewed by Gabi Wolfson.

It's been two months since the war began. It's apparent that they caught us off guard. Can we say that the army and the security system, in general, have recovered and stabilized?

First of all, I want to say that I don't like engaging in analyses of military actions unless it allows us to draw necessary immediate lessons. It's clear that we faced a number of issues. Those include operational issues like holding the defense line on the border and multi-faceted intelligence issues, both global and regarding routine information gathering about what the enemy is planning for tomorrow. The response to the attack was not fast enough. Currently, the army is at war and is doing it generally well despite most soldiers and commanders lacking experience in this type of warfare. Notably, there's excellent coordination between different branches of the military. I mean more than just the coordination between armored forces and infantry. Also, the overall coordination between ground forces and the Air Force. This includes target detection and the instant transmission of information to the Air Force. It also involves using precision weapons developed in the past, primarily for waging war against conventional armies. Now, these weapons are successfully used against terrorists.

Israeli society also responded quickly. What happened last year - protests, threats to refuse to be drafted into the army, and so on - all took a back seat. Israeli society demonstrated unity and the ability to react quickly and correctly. The political system still has much to learn. Eight months ago, I wrote a letter urging all Zionist parties to show responsibility and join the coalition without preconditions. This letter was signed by 12 out of 14 heads of the National Security Council. Now, there is a need to show responsibility again. Some have done it, and some haven't. Politics should focus much more on ideology than politics, but we know that life is different.

Regarding Gaza, the outcome of the war should be a situation where we control the sector to the extent that launching rockets toward our territory is impossible. In addition, a regime should be established there that is most similar to what was in Germany after the end of World War II. It should be like Berlin after the defeat of the Nazis if you like.

As you know, Berlin was divided into zones, and each country controlled its own zone.

I'm talking about complete military control. I'm talking about the trials of Hamas leaders who surrendered unconditionally. The remaining Hamas leaders must be eliminated. Perhaps someone may manage to escape... We'll have to control the most essential components of the regime. Replace UNRWA, control school programs that currently instill hatred towards Jews, and deal with water and electricity issues. That's how we destroy the power of Hamas. It won't destroy the ideology of Hamas, but when the ideologists have no territory, no weapons, no power - their ability to do evil is minimal. Today, some people adhere to Nazi, antisemitic ideology. But they cannot implement it.

Germany went through denazification, and the Germans got their country back. Who will rule in Gaza?

Yes, but the war there lasted for six years. In Germany, some supported the Nazis, and some opposed. Hamas came to power in Gaza through free elections. Eighteen years ago, we handed over the entire territory of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, and a year later, it was already in the hands of Hamas. We can no longer afford such experiments. I'm not saying that we will remain in power in Gaza forever. But there must be changes in borders. Today, there is nothing between Gaza and our settlements except a fence. From this, there are two conclusions. We must control the border between Gaza and Egypt. And this is not just the Philadelphi Route. It is a space one kilometer wide, not a hundred meters. And on the other side, there is the so-called northern strip. There used to be Elei Sinai, Nisanit. Obviously, withdrawing from there allowed terrorists to come dangerously close, within a hundred meters of Netiv HaAsara and in dangerous proximity to Ashkelon. What I'm talking about is the necessary minimum. I'm talking about immediate perspective. Then, there will be ideological and political disputes in Israel. Then there will be elections, and then there will be discussions - settling in the Gaza sector, talking about the resettlement of Gaza residents. I prefer to leave all of this aside for now. The first goal has not been achieved yet. They can still launch rockets from Gaza.

I want to go back to what you said about the sector's southern part. I spoke with someone you know well – Yaakov Amidror.

Indeed, I know him.

Like yourself, he was the head of the National Security Council. He told me – "It would be wonderful if we could retain the Philadelphi Route. But that means we will be occupying Gaza by force and, therefore, will be responsible for what happens in the sector." Do you disagree with him?

I would like to understand what Amidror meant precisely. Usually, we think alike. I'm talking about what needs to be done in the near future. If we don't do it, the highway through which weapons are supplied to Gaza – above ground and underground – will continue to operate. I don't believe that all the weapons entering the sector were brought in by trucks. They don't have a free port, and so on. So, I think it is necessary to be there. In general, when you're fighting terrorism, you need to maintain control over the borders of the area of operation. Otherwise, Hamas or Hezbollah feel free and immediately invite Iran to help them. For this reason, we must maintain sovereignty in the Jordan Valley.

The government has outlined two goals for this war – toppling the Hamas regime and creating conditions necessary for the release of hostages. Gradually, we see how these two goals are increasingly conflicting. How to resolve this?

I don't think they are conflicting. These are two tasks that complement each other. Hamas is setting conditions that we cannot accept. And what allowed us to release some hostages is the ongoing military pressure on Hamas. It is not only neutralizing the missile threat; we constantly get closer to Hamas leaders and the ge tages. There are several possible models of action. A military operation is carried out whenever you have information or believe that the information at your disposal is reliable. We should start detaining the close relatives of Hamas leaders. Currently, we have about 700 Hamas fighters in our hands. It is necessary to detain the close relatives of terrorist leaders.

Is that important to them? Does it affect them at all?

It does if we detain direct relatives. These are very serious and strong advantages. In general, there is an apparent disproportion in the war on terror. We are much stronger in terms of military potential but winning is much more challenging for us. To win, we need to free the hostages, eliminate most of the Hamas leaders, and expel this whole organization from Gaza. For them, it is enough to survive. Even if they don't emerge from the ruins, the day after the ceasefire comes into effect, they look out into the street, see that Gaza is in ruins, and then decide to launch a rocket towards the beach in Rishon LeZion.

So, from the standpoint of Hamas supporters, they are winners.

Not only from the standpoint of Hamas supporters. From the perspective of Israeli society as well. What will Israelis say in this situation? "You fought and fought, and the threat remains." Therefore, the only solution is the destruction of the majority and depriving Hamas of territory. Who remembers the Japanese Red Army today? What remains of the Italian Army Brigades? Even the PLO went into negotiations with us under the Oslo Accords because they understood that they could not continue to control the actions of their terrorists from Tunisia.

Does the 1982 model in Beirut seem realistic to you?

I believe not. First of all, Hamas leaders are unlikely to agree to such a deal, and frankly, I don't see how the state of Israel would agree to it. It's too early for this question, although it is already evident that from this perspective, it is also essential to retain the Philadelphi Route to avoid the possibility of a deal between Hamas and the Egyptians, which would allow terrorist leaders to escape from the sector.

Let's go back to the topic of the hostages. Suppose we continue to exert pressure on Hamas, and Yahya Sinwar proposes a ceasefire and the start of negotiations. What should we do?

If we reach a partial, temporary ceasefire is reached, and they release hostages daily, I would consider it necessary to agree. But it should be precisely a ceasefire, not a truce that manipulates reality.

But I'll make the question more complicated. At some point, we will come to a situation where Hamas declares that negotiations about days and groups of hostages are exhausted. They will ask to stop the war in exchange for everyone who remains in Gaza. What do we do?

I would respond with a refusal to this proposal. And here is another delicate and essential point. When negotiating the release of hostages, we need to know their condition. Who is alive, who is not, who needs medicine, and so on. The Red Cross is unable to provide us with such information. That is why if we have the opportunity to bring back people under the conditions of previous ceasefires, which were called pauses, we must do it because the lives of hostages are in danger. We should act fast, but we can continue to strike Hamas later.

Yes, at some point, Hamas will demand to stop the war in exchange for the release of the hostages. In this situation, we must do two things. Firstly, demand proof that the hostages are alive, as it is very likely that some of them are no longer with us, and we do not know that. Secondly, we must demand complete surrender without any conditions in exchange for a ceasefire. We promise not to kill those who surrender, but they will have to face trial. Surrender and proof that the hostages are alive. There can be no talk of such a deal without these two conditions.

It's a challenging situation.

It is not easy, primarily because our country cares about human life. We all know that there are countries that do not negotiate at all with terrorists on exchange deals, saying that such deals only lead to new abductions. There are such countries, right? We behave differently.

Is this good or bad, Mr. Dayan?

You know, I am a student of Professor Aumann in game theory and efficiency analysis. I can tell you that from the standpoint of cold logic and calculation, in the long-term perspective, the policy of not negotiating with terrorists is correct. The State of Israel cannot and does not want to behave in such a way. It is structured differently. It is based on an unwritten agreement that forms the concept of security. Citizens are ready to serve three years in the army, volunteer, and settle in unsafe places. The state, in turn, guarantees to do everything in its power to rescue citizens from trouble if something happens to them. I can be a witness to the defense of this unwritten agreement. My father died in the War of Independence when I was 100 days old. Later, I had to deceive the army twice to join the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal). I had a torn meniscus, and it still isn't mentioned in any army document. Besides, I refused to let my mom sign a document stating that she agreed to my service in this unit, and I signed it myself. These crimes are already statute-barred, and I'm not afraid to discuss them (laughs). So, I know how Israeli society is organized. We cannot base our actions on cold calculation, on an exact analysis of operational studies.

Doesn't this indicate the weakness of Israeli society?

It does not indicate weakness. It does not indicate strength. It suggests the essence of Israeli society.

Let's talk about the north. How do you assess the situation there?

We must look at Iran to talk about the situation in the north. Iran has three strongholds in the Middle East: Hamas, Hezbollah, and Yemen's Houthis. From Iran's point of view, Hamas no longer exists. The Houthis are far away. They can create some mess in the Red Sea but cannot drastically change the situation. Hezbollah remains. They are stronger than others but also more open to attack. Iran is actively holding back Hezbollah now, fearing the possibility of a regional war and the loss of a second outpost in the confrontation with Israel. The practical picture is more complicated. Hezbollah may nurture a new Hamas or something like that. But if we talk about the conclusions from the events of October 7 regarding the border with Lebanon, there are several. The first is obvious. Emergency standby units (כיתות כוננות) should turn into emergency divisions. They must be much better equipped – have machine guns, night vision devices, etc. Soldiers should be stationed in every village.

In other words, we must improve the defense system.

Exactly. But that's not the main point. A few days ago, I drove along the Lebanese border. There are villages, and the distance from their fences to the borderline is 20-30 meters. Misgav, Hanita, Shlomi. It can't go on like this. It is necessary to create a special zone – Americans call it a death zone or a free-fire zone – between the border and the Litani River. Infrastructure there must be destroyed, and residents must be notified that they are required to leave this area. Anyone remaining there risks their life.

Are you talking about the zone between the border and the Litani? Did I understand you correctly?

Yes. The distance is determined by the ability of anti-tank missiles to hit targets on Israeli territory. Anyone who finds themselves in this zone is a legitimate target.

No Lebanese will be able to be between the Litani and the border with Israel.

Yes. Today, there is shelling from Lebanese settlements into Israeli territory. There must be a zone that protects from these attacks. In addition to this, it is necessary to station the army in those places where there are only a few meters between our settlements and the Lebanese territory, and there is no protection. We cannot accept a situation where anti-tank projectiles are fired from Lebanon towards the guard's booth in Misgav Am. That's what happened a few days ago.

And what should be done?

Deploy the army between the settlements and the Lebanese. If it is necessary to keep the military on Lebanese territory in several places for this, then so be it. Someone will call it a change of borders. I call it de facto changes. This is necessary if we want residents to return to their homes.

What are you proposing? Is it feasible in our imperfect world with the presence of the UN, the US, the EU, etc.?

We are on Lebanese territory, and let's start implementing the resolution. The Lebanese army? Please. UNIFIL forces? You can't rely too much on them, but I don't rule out that possibility. Anyway, all of this happens while we are on Lebanese territory. I understand that this does not answer the question of how to deal with long-range missiles held by Hezbollah. I'm a realist and outline what should happen in the early stages. We'll see what happens there. If everything is quiet and peaceful, we won't start a war. Israelis never shoot first when everything is quiet around. As Golda Meir once said, "If the Arabs lay down their weapons, there will be no war; if Israel lays down its weapons, there will be no Israel." It's true to this day.

The events of October 7 were a shock to the entire country, including, I assume, to you. Have we learned any lessons?

In some aspects, yes; in others, not entirely. First and foremost, we've learned lessons regarding the necessary firmness in the war with Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and, by the way, in Judea and Samaria, where we also fight against Hamas quite successfully. But we'll have to reassess many aspects of Israel's security concept and the lifestyle of Israelis. We will need to increase the size of the army significantly. The military will remain in Gaza for an indefinite period; everyone understands that today, we will have to noticeably strengthen forces operating in Judea and Samaria, as well as those guarding the borders. We haven't said anything about what will happen if a major regional war breaks out. In practice, this means that soldiers will have to serve longer. Today's mandatory service is three years; in practice, soldiers serve two and seven months. Now, soldiers will serve three full years. Besides, more women will be drafted into combat units. This war has solidified the status of women in combat units more than even during the War of Independence.

What is the reason behind it?

It's related to how they operate – for example, in tank units, how they fought and continue to fight, and how many die. How many girls are being drafted into combat units now open to them? I see the data – the number of female recruits is higher than planned everywhere.

Another topic is reservists. Today, you serve until 40, officers five years longer, and in some units up to 49. I believe that all the changes in the defense of settlements on the border will fall on the shoulders of people older than today's reservists.

Another question – the draft of ultra-Orthodox. These days, I am finishing developing a program that will be presented to the army's personnel department. The main point shouldn't be that two thousand of them want to enlist, and we reluctantly give them that opportunity. The solution must be more serious, comprehensive, and based on the fact that ultra-Orthodox soldiers can provide significant assistance in guarding settlements.

Another topic is replenishing supplies in army depots and bunkers. We will have to restore the operation of many weapons production lines. I'm talking about artillery, aviation, and more. These production lines have not been functioning for several years now. They are paralyzed. Now, they will have to be restored. There is an agreement between the US and us – the so-called prepositioning. According to this agreement, the Americans hold weapons in the region that match what Israel has. This includes, by the way, a non-deployed field hospital. Of course, not only that. Tank weaponry, bombs for the Air Force, artillery shells. All of this belongs to the US and NATO, but we will be able to get something from it. Recently, by the way, a lot has been transferred to Ukraine. We will have to produce more weaponry.

Then, we must adapt our defense concept to the new reality. First and foremost, the importance of a preemptive strike. No one would have agreed if someone had suggested launching a preemptive strike to prevent the attack on the fifth or sixth of October. We will have to review our approach to this issue. Second, it is the status of Iran. Even in the US, I think they understand this necessity. Let's imagine what it would be like if Iran had nuclear weapons on October 7. And there will be consequences with long-term effects. I am primarily talking about the education system. The situation with settlements in general and settlements in the border area in particular will change. Here's one figure that is very important from my perspective. In 2048, there will be approximately 20 million people living in Israel. And this number might increase due to antisemitism. Twenty million means over 14 million Jews. This is more than currently live worldwide.

And what does that mean?

It means that we must make a decision about our borders, for example, officially fix the status of the Jordan Valley for Israel. Overall, on a strategic level, as I've said before, the peace process is the rest in peace process. Arafat destroyed the peace process. Hamas buried it. The Americans continue talking about two states. Still, I don't see such a possibility in the Middle East today, even though the Americans speak about some updated Palestinian autonomy. It's not a reason to quarrel with the Americans now, but it's also not a reason to give up positions.

What should we do in this context?

Today, there is the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is on his last legs. Let's imagine that, for natural reasons, Abbas disappears. What do we do? Should elections be held in the Palestinian Authority, where Hamas will overwhelmingly win? Unlikely. We must be prepared to take control of the entire territory, including the "Zone A" areas, which, as you know, are currently fully controlled by the autonomy. We don't want to control the lives of millions of Palestinians. But we also don't want what happened near the Gaza border on October 7 to occur in Judea and Samaria. In Judea and Samaria, we control the territory. But organizing an attack on a settlement, an attack in which dozens of terrorists are involved, is not difficult.

And finally – the concept. Today, everyone criticizes the idea, but without a concept, there is no strategy. In other words, without a concept, every event needs to be considered separately. An idea is necessary and must be based on the principles of active defense everywhere, defining borders, and a much larger army than today – emphasizing readiness for a preemptive strike.