Middle East

Fallout From Israeli Raid On Flotilla Continues

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Sheera Frenkel, reporter based in Jerusalem
Aaron David Miller, author, The Too Much Promised Land

An Israeli commando raid killed at least nine activists on a flotilla of aid ships headed to the blockaded Gaza strip. Turkey has recalled its ambassador. The U.N. and the U.S. have called for impartial investigations. And Egypt has temporarily opened a crossing into the Palestinian territory.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Israel says that Palestinian activists attacked commandos as they boarded the ship from a helicopter and that soldiers acted in self-defense. Organizers of the aid flotilla and the Turkish government say that Israelis opened fire immediately in an act of murderous piracy.

The facts may yet be established by the impartial investigation launched by the U.N. Security Council yesterday, but the fallout will not wait. There is renewed pressure on Israel and Egypt to rethink the Gaza blockade. Israel's longstanding good relations with Turkey may not survive. Ankara wants the United States to denounce the raid.

The indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians, sponsored by the U.S., are threatened, at least. Nine people are dead, dozens more wounded, hundreds of others are under arrest, and the groups that organized this aid convoy say that more ships are on their way to Gaza and plan to arrive this weekend. What we know about what happened and about the repercussions.

Later in the hour, Morgan Freeman joins us to talk about his new TV show that asks big questions about science, "Through the Wormhole." But first, Israel's raid on the flotilla.

If you have questions about what happened and what happens next, our phone number is 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we begin with Sheera Frenkel, a reporter whos been covering the story from Jerusalem. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Ms. SHEERA FRENKEL (Reporter): Thank you.

CONAN: And do we know any more about how this raid went so disastrously wrong?

Ms. FRENKEL: Well, it seems that as eyewitness accounts are emerging, the story just becomes more and more muddled. You're beginning to hear accounts from both the Israeli naval commanders that were onboard the ships and who took part in the Israeli military operation and by actual activists that were onboard the ship, and each one has maintained their narrative.

The Israeli naval commanders say that they boarded the ship armed only with paintball guns and were attacked immediately after they repelled from the Blackhawk helicopters down onto those boats. And then you have activists saying that these Israeli naval commanders opened fire as soon as they got onboard the ship and that people on the ship may have attacked them but did so in self-defense.

The issue is that all the footage emerging from this is, you know, it's heavily edited. It's either coming from the activists or it's coming from the IDF. And since there were no sort of media crews onboard to just film the entire thing as it went down, I don't know if we'll ever really get to the bottom of exactly what happened there.

CONAN: And as you suggest, some of the people arrested yesterday after all the ships were brought into Ashdod, the Israeli port, some of them have been processed and are being sent home?

Ms. FRENKEL: Yeah, so it was about, just over 700 people that were brought in yesterday off of six different ships. The Marmara, the Turkish ship that was where all the violence took place, that had the vast majority of the people. That was about 500 people onboard there.

And just over 600 are actually just being currently held in Ashdod. They've refused to be deported, and I think another 40 people or so have already been deported.

So it's left to be seen how Israel is going to handle this diplomatically. I think that those people who are refusing deportation have been given access to their ambassadors, to food and water, but they're not being given permission to contact their families or to have any kind of contact with the media.

CONAN: In any case, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Canada at the time, on his way to Washington, a trip he cancelled, said he had to go home. He was also supposed to meet the Turkish foreign minister while he was in Washington, D.C. That man met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. Meanwhile, has the prime minister had anything to say since he's returned home?

Ms. FRENKEL: Well, the first thing he did was - I think was meant to be done in quite a public way was the Israeli soldiers that were wounded in an operation, and he stood at their bedside and said that he was proud of the Israeli army. So he was sending a really clear message here, that he's not going to be making apologies anytime soon.

At the same time, we hear that there's a lot of diplomatic activity happening between Israel and the United States. You know, Netanyahu's visit to D.C., where he was supposed to meet with Obama, was sort of the first step in mending relations between two governments which have been very, very tense over the past few months.

And now, Obama's - the Obama administration has stood out as sort of one of those sole voices in the international community but haven't gone so far as to defend Israel, but they've urged people to wait and see what happens after an investigation. They haven't joined the international criticism of Israel.

So, you see sort of Obama and Netanyahu both in a very precarious situation, where they're sort of hanging on to one another, and it's going to be difficult for the Obama administration to continue to support Israel in light of all the, you know, international community chiming in now.

CONAN: The indirect talks, George Mitchell(ph), as I understand it, is due in the region tomorrow.

Ms. FRENKEL: He is. George Mitchell will be arriving tomorrow, and of course, there's also been talk of whether or not these peace negotiations can continue.

They're already so fragile, and you've already seen two or three different instances where they've been on the verge of collapsing. You know, this trip by Mitchell is only going to be his second time doing this sort of shuttle diplomacy between the two sides. It's, you know, a 40-minute drive between Ramallah and Jerusalem. He visits one side, then he visits the other side.

And the Palestinians are coming under quite a bit of pressure, not just from their own people but from neighboring Arab states, to call off the talks completely. And Mitchell, I'm sure during his visits here, will be discussing that with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and urging him to stay the course and not withdraw from these talks.

CONAN: We see some suggestions from the Israeli government today that they may relax at least to some degree, the blockade on Gaza. The Egyptians say they may temporarily open the border crossing on their side. They, of course, have been enforcing the blockade, as well.

Ms. FRENKEL: Right. Well, the Egyptians actually have opened up Rafa(ph), which is a very rare step for them to take, considering that it was just opened a few weeks ago. So the Egyptians have already opened up Rafa for Palestinians wanting to cross over into Egypt. And Israel has called a press conference tomorrow, asking reporters to come down to the border with Gaza. They want to make a show of bring in humanitarian aid.

They're also saying that the 2,000 tons of aid that this flotilla was attempting to bring into Gaza is going to be looked over by the Israelis. And if they decide it's all, you know, that it's within the guidelines of what they allow into Gaza, they're going to bring it over. And I think, again, this is a gesture by the Israelis to try and show that they will allow more aid into the Gaza Strip.

CONAN: 800-989-8255. Sheera Frenkel, a reporter based in Jerusalem, is with us, and Dan(ph) is on the line from Birmingham.

DAN (Caller): Yes, thank you. I was just wondering: Who makes the kind of decision in Israel to send out, you know, commandos to confront these people? To me, any lower-level diplomat couldve seen that this was a setup. No matter what happened, it was going to look bad for the Israelis, and there was going to be potential for someone to get hurt. Why not send a diplomat out or a bureaucrat or the Red Cross or anything like that, rather than army guys?

CONAN: Who's taken responsibility for the plans for this operation, Sheera?

Ms. FRENKEL: That's actually a perfect question because that sort of debate is happening right now in Israel. The unit that was sent out, (unintelligible) 13, is one of the most famous Israeli naval commando units. But they're the kind of guys that go out and do covert military operations behind enemy lines.

They have very little experience dealing with civilians, dealing with riot control, with crowd control. And so that decision, by the way, was made in the top military echelon. It was the prime minister of Israel was involved.

But there's a lot of debate in Israel right now among the Israeli military establishment of why it wasn't a police force, why it wasn't riot police, perhaps armed with people from the foreign ministry, perhaps, you know, with diplomats who were approaching the ships.

Now, Israel says they had intelligence that there might have been violence, and that's why the military was handling this. But you are hearing the beginnings of criticism, saying that it shouldn't have been this unit. It shouldn't have been a unit that, as I said, has only operated in these sort of very different circumstances to the one they faced on this ship.

CONAN: Dan, thanks very much.

DAN: Thank you.

CONAN: A couple of other quick points before we let you go, one of which, some rockets fired from Gaza into Israel today. They apparently landed in an open space. Israeli aircraft responded.

Ms. FRENKEL: Yeah, you know, this we heard yesterday that there was attempted rocket firings, and it didn't really come as any surprise. We're hearing that it was a small splinter group. It was not Hamas that took responsibility.

Right now, things in Gaza are calm after riots and rallies yesterday, and I think everyone's waiting to see what happens in the next couple days with this next group of boats that are involved in the flotilla, if there will be ensuing violence. And I'm sure we're going to see more sort of action like that happening in Gaza.

CONAN: Okay, Sheera, and those boats are due in a couple of days or three days?

Ms. FRENKEL: They're saying within two to three days, those two boats will arrive. One of them, by the way, the Rachel Corey(ph) has quite a big group of Americans onboard.

CONAN: Sheera, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

Ms. FRENKEL: You're welcome.

CONAN: Sheera Frenkel, a reporter based in Jerusalem, has been covering this story for us, and she joined us on the line from her office.

Also with us is Aaron David Miller, former advisor to six secretaries of states on Arab-Israeli negotiations between 1978 and 2003, both for Democratic and Republican administrations, the author most recently of "The Too Much Promised Land." And he's joined us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back.

Mr. AARON DAVID MILLER (Author, "The Too Much Promised Land"): Appreciate it.

CONAN: And while this is clearly a botched military operation, ultimately are the facts going to matter a great deal?

Mr. MILLER: I don't think so, and that's unfortunate in the post-modernist world in which we live. The narratives are very clear here, and all sides have an investment, it seems to me, in making a point rather than essentially making a difference and finding a way out of this. And I think that's part of the problem.

You've got two Arab-Israeli conflicts. You've got the one that happens on the ground concerning the negotiations, and then you have a separate Arab-Israeli conflict, which is waged in capitals, through media, through advocacy groups, through ministries of foreign affairs, each trying to create their own narrative, their own explanations and their own sets of needs and requirements.

And this Gaza incident is reflective, it seems to me, emblematic of a dysfunctional, broken, Arab-Israeli arena. And I think it happened largely because you've got three or four realities that intersected finally all at the wrong time.

You have an Israeli blockade, which tries to pressure and isolate Hamas but meanwhile punishes a million and a half Palestinians. I don't think it's sustainable. It creates rage and despair. You've got a legitimate Israeli effort to stop the importation of high-trajectory weapons to an organization whose charter and basic philosophy wishes, wills Israel not to exist.

You've got activists, most of whom are probably quite sincere about aiding Palestinians. They certainly need the aid, but clearly a determined minority who were either prepared for a confrontation or looking for one.

And you've got a broken Palestinian national movement composed of two parts with two different security services, two different ideologies, and this case, Hamas has received quite a political windfall as a consequence of this.

So all of these pieces somehow need to be addressed if, in fact, you're going to avoid a repeat, if not when the next set of, next flotilla shows up or a broader Israeli-Hamas confrontation.

CONAN: We're talking with Aaron David Miller about the incident in the Mediterranean Sea a couple of nights ago, when Israeli commandos boarded ships bound to deliver what they described as relief supplies for blockaded Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.

Nine people are dead, others injured. Hundreds more are arrested in Israel and some of them refusing to identify themselves and refusing to cooperate. This is a story that is going to go on. And, as we mentioned, more ships are due to arrive in the area carrying aid again for Hamas and for Gaza. They're scheduled to arrive in two or three days.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Israel continues to fend off international condemnation for yesterday's raid on a group of ships headed for the Gaza Strip.

Turkey's government demanded an apology and reparations. Here in Washington the Obama administration faces pressure to speak out strongly against the raid and against its ally, Israel.

The president's latest push for peace in the region and attempts to repair his sometimes rocky relationships with the state of Israel face new challenges at best.

If you have questions about what happened and what happens next, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Aaron David Miller, author of "The Much Too Promised Land" and former advisor to six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations. And Aaron, how big a deal is this?

Mr. MILLER: Well, it's interesting because I was trying to set this in some sort of perspective. You know, Operation Cast Lead, which is the name the Israelis gave their military initiative in Gaza in December '08, January '09, lead to the deaths of 13 Israelis and I think somewhere between 13 and 14 hundred Palestinians.

It lasted three weeks. It resulted in the destruction of large areas of Gaza, action at the Security Council. But when I look back over the course of the last year, that crisis obviously morphed into a variation, which created this one, but the reality is, that changed almost nothing.

A lot of people died. The U.S.-Israeli relationship was barely affected by that. The negotiations remain stuck. Hamas and Fatah are still divided. The Arab world and Israel still finds a way to accommodate themselves to one another, tensely to be sure.

So against the backdrop of that crisis, it's hard for me to understand how sustainable this crisis is. At some point in coming weeks, or months, the crisis will subside, action on the Security Council will end, maybe the Americans will have success in pressing the Israelis more on their own to relieve, to some degree, the economic pressure against Gaza. Maybe the proximity talks will limp along.

But the reality is, I'm not entirely persuaded this crisis is going to change much, because basically the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation and the prospects for reconciliation between these two is really a long shot.

CONAN: One thing that has changed, that offensive in Gaza was during the Bush administration, not the Obama administration. As we mentioned, there has been some serious disputes between Washington and Tel Aviv in the last few months. They were trying to patch that up with the meeting scheduled for tomorrow, but American diplomats are said to be privately furious that this operation has put back months of effort that they've invested in these proximity talks.

Mr. MILLER: Well, I think had the incident not occurred, the meeting today at the White House between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would probably have been pretty much of a kiss-and-make-up session, because I think the administration reached the conclusion that fighting with the Israelis without a strategy, without a purpose, basically was a road to nowhere.

And the reality is, fighting with the Israelis is an occupational hazard. Every serious American president or secretary of state that does serious diplomacy Kissinger, Carter, Jim Baker, Bush 41 all had tensions with the Israelis. But the tensions were directed and drove a strategy, which resulted in an advance in the Arab-Israeli negotiations.

Here we find ourselves 16 months into the Obama administration, with a significant rift with Israel, with proximity talks, but no easy or quick prospect of success.

So like other issues Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq there doesn't appear to be a clear strategy that is going to lead to easy or quick success.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation, Anita(ph), Anita with us from Goshen, Indiana.

ANITA (Caller): Hi, I'm just curious about what international law actually says. Israel is saying that they were within their rights to board this ship, even though it was in international waters, and I'm just wondering: What is the law of for that kind of thing in international waters by international law? That's it.

Mr. MILLER: Anita, people take on this issue as a lifetime effort, and they make their careers in studying all of its complexities, and I'm certainly not a lawyer and I'm not an international.

My understanding is that in waters of third parties for example, if this ship was in Egyptian territorial waters, the Israelis would have been in violation had they blockaded or moved to board it. But in international waters, in a relationship of confrontation, perhaps even in a state of war, it's my understanding and I'm not sure whether history bears me out or not - it may, given the problems that we had in blockading Cuba and even during the Second World War whether or not a country is not within its own rights to take action against what it deems to be a hostile vessel during a time of war in international waters.

Don't quote me, and don't shoot me, because I'm not sure I know the answer, but that's at least a preliminary response.

ANITA: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Thank you. Let's go next to this is Al. Al's with us from San Antonio.

AL (Caller): Yes, this provocative action by Turkey, you know, Turkey used to be an ally of Israel, but with the new leader of Turkey who has now joined forces with Iran and Brazil, as we saw two weeks ago, the complexion has completely changed.

This was a provocative action. It was well-telegraphed, and for Israel to take down their blockade of Gaza would be like committing suicide. We can't expect them to do that.

CONAN: I don't think there's much doubt that this action was intended as a provocation, as much to deliver aid. That would have been nice, but if it got people to rethink, put pressure on Israel to rethink the Gaza blockade and put attention on that, that clearly was the purpose here.

AL: Well, as far as providing aid, everyone knows that Israel provides all the humanitarian aid necessary, as long as it's inspected and made sure that the products that are going in are not to be launched back via missiles on Israel.

CONAN: No, I understand your point, Al, but this - Aaron David Miller, this was clearly intended to be, except for the death of nine of their people, this must have been everything the organizers hoped.

Mr. MILLER: Well, in fact, paradoxically, this works, and in fact helps to ease the blockade. There will be those who argue that it was well worth the effort. And these nine people and it's a tragedy, it really is, for their friends and their families, a real tragedy - may well be viewed by their colleagues as martyrs in the cause. It's just how many martyrs in the cause do you really need?

And the question of aid to Gaza, Al, I think is a bit misplaced. The Gaza economy is not only not growing, it suffers from huge shortages in various sectors.

And yes, the Israelis have allowed a substantial amount of humanitarian aid in, but not enough to address the economic despair and the desperation of a million and a half Palestinians. And that desperation and look, I'm not here to write a brief for Hamas, nor am I here to write a brief that argues the Israelis shouldn't have the right to try to impede, prevent and essentially stop the importation of high-trajectory fire, because that storyline is going to come back again as Hamas's missiles and high-trajectory weapons reach a degree of depth and precision and lethality that is going to be a huge problem for the Israelis in the future.

But the reality is, you do not fix this problem by increasing people's sense of desperation and rage, and that's exactly what happens and is happening in Gaza now.

AL: One thing that people forget is that one side of Gaza is controlled by Egypt. Everyone wants to blame Israel, but Egypt has the same influence.

CONAN: And the Egyptians can hardly be pleased to find out that they're being focused upon too, that this is a serious problem for them as well. Al, thanks very much for the call. And indeed, he's right. Egypt opening the Ratha crossing today but temporarily, because if they keep it open, they fear they're going to be labeled as being effectively in control of Gaza, responsible for it.

Mr. MILLER: That and the fact that Hamas is an offshoot of Huan(ph), the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Egyptians watch their internal, domestic opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood, extremely carefully.

No one wants to lose control. That's the real problem. And in the process, as the old African expression goes: When elephants fight, only the grass dies. And in this case, Gaza is dying.

CONAN: What about the government in Turkey? There has been a new regime, relatively new regime there, deteriorating - relations with Israel have been deteriorating over time. They did take an active part in trying to negotiate with Iran, also with the efforts of Brazil to negotiate a uranium swap, which the Israelis were extremely skeptical so was the United States, for that matter.

Nevertheless, this is a NATO ally of the United States. There was mutterings about Article 5 of the NATO charter.

Mr. MILLER: Yes, and the Turks Turkish motivation predates this crisis, obviously. They're clearly unhappy with the EU accession. They want to demonstrate their independence. They have a natural market in the Arab and Muslim world. They've overcome their post-Ottoman aversion, and so have the Arabs. And the Turks frankly are determined, it seems to me, not only to increase their commercial presence in their building and constructing and selling everywhere, but they're determined to create new relationships, better relationships, with the Arab world.

And this issue Erdogan knows well. The Palestinian issue plays extremely well. It's going to be awhile before the Israeli-Turkish relationship returns to anything like normalcy. It may well take a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict actually to achieve that.

CONAN: What would happen if Turkish naval vessels accompanied the next couple of aid vessels?

Mr. MILLER: Yeah. Well, now you're into the kind of speculation which is quite real but still, I think, at this point improbable. I mean, nations basically do risk calculation. They're not suicidal, and they're not going to put themselves in a position - in a situation where what could be an interesting foreign policy initiative becomes a matter of national import, embarrassing the government, and the Turks find themselves literally in a military confrontation with the state of Israel and a diplomatic confrontation with the Americans.

CONAN: And let's get another caller on the line. This is Ahmad(ph), Ahmad with us from Minneapolis.

AHMAD (Caller): Yes, thank you for taking my call. I was wondering if you have any indications on what the Obama administration is going to say about this. Are they going to condemn this as an act of violence and massacre and terrorism like Turkey has called them, or are they going to call Netanyahu a man of peace like Bush called Sharon a man of peace? And I am hoping - I'll tell you what I'm hoping. I'm hoping that he will condemn it because each time that Israel does something, one of these acts, that they go and kill civilians, it really makes the Muslim population around the world hate America even more and cause more terrorism problems and security problems for the United States.

CONAN: And this - Ahmad's point goes back to the suggestions by General David Petraeus in recent months that the American support for Israel cost it the support of Arab nations, and, indeed, could be militarily damaging to the United States as it continues to pursue the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. MILLER: Yeah. I mean, Ahmad, I think from your point of view, the policy initiative is probably running the other way. The administration, before this incident, I believe, made a judgment that they cannot simply remain in a perpetual state of political war with an Israeli prime minister. If they wanted leverage over Israel with respect to Iran, and the reality that sanctions will not be effective, and we may well be moving to a time where the default position is a military confrontation. If they want...

CONAN: With Iran, you're talking about?

Mr. MILLER: ...with Iran. If they want Senator Mitchell to succeed and turn his proximity talks and his direct negotiations into an agreement, they cannot do that over the objections - over the collapsed political fortunes of an Israeli prime minister. I think that decision has already been made. They've already condemned it by associating themselves with the Security Council's statement. I don't believe that they're going to come out on the other hand and basically have a love fest with the Israeli prime minister.

But they are going to try reset - there's a favorite word of this administration - their relationship with the Israelis in an effort to make it functional. Because the reality when this - the reality is when this crisis is done, when tempers and passions have cooled, when there's no longer reaction in the Security Council, what will be left is an unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the prospects of more crises. The administration wants to get through this with their relationship, both with Mahmoud Abbas and the state of Israel, better than when it started. That's not going to be an easy objective, but that's what they intend to do.

CONAN: Ahmad, thanks very much for the call.

AHMAD: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Aaron David Miller, author of "The Much Too Promised Land." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And what about internally in Israel? As in any crisis, you would expect the first reaction of most people to rally behind the government, to rally behind the troops that were involved in this.

Mr. MILLER: Well, the Israelis will be torturing themselves for weeks to come in the press and on television with respect to the wisdom, the judgment, the competency of their political leaders in endorsing this military operation. The more pressure that the international community puts on the government and on the Israeli public - travel to Europe, spend money there - the more negative the reaction is going to be in the part of the Israeli public.

I think, basically, that most Israelis will certainly rally around their troops. But you're going to see a debate in Israel. There may even be - not a state committee of inquiry, I doubt - but some form of investigative committee that will examine the decision-making process, because the minister of defense, Ehud Barak, a critical part of this coalition, clearly came up with the options. And the political establishment, including the prime minister, had to choose one. So it's not as if one part of the Israeli government recommended something that the other opposed, which is why the stability of the coalition under these circumstances seems to me all but guaranteed.

CONAN: Ehud Barak from the Labor party. But there was a Labor minister who's quoted as saying in the papers this morning that - she brought up at the meetings that this is not a security issue. This is a public relations issue and the military was the wrong way to - took the wrong branch of government to do it.

Mr. MILLER: Right. And you're going to see that debate played out in Israeli over the next week and/or weeks.

CONAN: As that goes forward, it seems, as you say, as if the coalition is secure then everybody is just going to hunker down and await the next development?

Mr. MILLER: I think, by and large, that's true. And the question is, what is the next development? "Does this crisis have legs?" quote, unquote.

CONAN: Or does it have a silver lining somewhere inside of it?

Mr. MILLER: Or does it have a silver lining? And, again, I looked at Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli invasion of Gaza in December '08, January '09, to see whether or not I could eke out of that catastrophe a silver lining. For the government of Israel, there was one silver lining. You had an end, by and large, to high trajectory weapons fire from Gaza - emanating from Gaza since the conclusion there of operations, of sporadic rocket attacks, but nothing like the barrage that we've seen.

So, in that sense, from Israel's narrow point of view, strategic point of view, that operation was a success. This strikes me as being extremely difficult, given all of the moving pieces, to imagine how you pull it all together in some sort of initiative to make the situation better.

If you had one Palestinian Authority that was capable of acting in a unified, coherent manner, maybe - that's just one of the pieces. The Israelis still have a problem with the importation of weapons which largely come through tunnels because of the efficiency of Israel's naval blockade, which is one of the reasons they will continue to inspect vessels in addition to pride and the political reality that they don't want to create a new precedent by allowing ships to actually land an offload supplies themselves. Hard to see right now in the eye of the storm how this can be made in to anything of real consequence and of real value.

CONAN: Aaron David Miller, a gloomy conclusion but we thank you for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. MILLER: It's a pleasure, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: Aaron David Miller, former adviser to six secretaries of State on Arab-Israeli negotiations, now a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He joins us today here in Studio 3A.

When we come back, we're going to be talking with the great Morgan Freeman -his latest challenge: explaining the universe. He tackles some of the big questions in a new series on the Science Channel. And he'll tackle your calls. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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