Writer, former political advisor Dan Senor speaks at Duke on future outlook for Israel-Hamas war

<p>The event was held at the Washington Duke Inn.</p>

The event was held at the Washington Duke Inn.

Dan Senor, a writer and former political advisor, spoke at a Monday evening event to nearly 200 Duke community members about the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and where the conflict may go next.

Senor was interviewed by Frank Bruni, Eugene C. Patterson professor of the practice of journalism and public policy. The event was sponsored by the Jewish Life at Duke, the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy, the department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, the Duke University Middle Eastern Studies Center and the Jewish Business Association.

Senor previously served as a senior advisor to former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s campaign for vice president and a foreign policy advisor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He was also a Defense Department official based in Iraq and chief spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition of U.S. Central Command in Qatar. 

Senor has written for numerous publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Financial Times, and has authored two New York Times bestsellers — “The Genius of Israel: The Surprising Resilience of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent World” and “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle” — the former of which was available for attendees during the post-event reception at the Washington Duke Inn.

Bruni began by asking Senor about Israel’s response to recent attacks from Iran. Senor celebrated the multinational defense efforts from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Kingdom and France, which he said came at a time when it may have seemed that “Israel was alone in the world.”

Senor emphasized Israel’s need to be “reestablishing deterrence” through a strong defense. 

He said that Israelis had two different mindsets — one before Hamas’ attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 and one after. Before, Israelis were tolerable of threats with the understanding that these threats could be “managed” through the Iron Dome missile defense system and other defense programs, according to Senor. Now, he says that Israelis cannot ignore these threats.

“Most Israelis, including the Israeli government from right to left, believe there's no way Israel cannot respond,” Senor said. 

Despite low approval ratings for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and significant polarization within Israel’s war cabinets, Senor noted the continued support among Israeli citizens and government officials across the political spectrum for a continued Israeli effort against Hamas.

Senor said that he never thought that “the outrage of the world would be directed at Jews for objecting to being massacred, and that’s exactly what has happened.” 

There has been significant backlash across the globe for the Israeli military’s conduct during the ongoing offensive on Gaza. As of April 11, around 33,500 Palestinians have died in Gaza, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Senor explained that the typical ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths in warfare is anywhere from 3:1 to 5:1, civilians to fighters. According to Senor, the current casualty ratio of Hamas fighters to Palestinian civilians is about 1.4:1, significantly lower than usual. 

Hamas has disputed this figure, estimating that it had lost half of the fighters Israel is claiming it killed, which would bring the ratio higher to around 4:1.

“[Israel] is fighting this war in the most responsible way that they can, and even still, it is attracting this kind of [negative] attention,” Senor said. 

“This is by any measure the most scrutinized war anywhere in history,” Senor continued. “... This is like the Vietnam War with social media. The whole world is watching.” 

In speaking on repercussions of the war in the U.S., Senor is “worried” about President Joseph Biden’s “confusing” tone surrounding Israel, pointing to Biden’s “distanced” messaging from Israel despite continuing to give the country weapons and ammunition. He believes this contradiction, coupled with the “breakdown in order” as a result of some protests, may be demoralizing to voters.

Toward the end of the event, Bruni opened up the floor for students to ask their questions. 

Senior Alanna Peykar, co-president of Students Supporting Israel, asked about what Israeli optimism looks like today, noting that it continues to rank top five in global happiness levels despite the war. 

“Israelis are raised with the sense that they're part of something larger than themselves,” Senor said. “I think giving people that sense of purpose, especially young people, is the ultimate antidote to the despair and the mental health crisis we are watching in many parts of the Western world.” 

Senor reminded the attendees to not be consumed with anger in this situation of “decision makers dealing with a bunch of really bad options.”

Junior Alexa Ahdoot, co-president of Students Supporting Israel, asked Senor about his predictions surrounding Israel’s next steps in an anticipated ground assault on the Gaza border city of Rafah.

“I do think Rafah will happen,” Senor said. “[The debate] is about how to do that in a way that minimizes Palestinian civilian casualties and doesn't create tension in Egypt.” 

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Madeleine Berger | Editor at Large

Madeleine Berger is a Trinity senior and an editor at large of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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