Hardball | November 19, 2012
>>> the sixth straight day, israel pounded targets in the gaza strip . palestinians say the death toll has reached 100, including 53 civilians. palestinians responded with a barrage of more than 1,000 missiles into israel . they're trying to negotiate a peace deal between the two sides to avoid a ground invasion of gaza . why is this happening now? does it have anything to do with the potential strike on iran and its nuclear sites? richard engel is nbc news chief foreign correspondent and joins us from gaza . richard, listen to this conversation which happened yesterday. it was " washington post " columnist david ignatius , very good in the intel community, and also talking to blogger tom ricks about whether or not a potential strike on iran has anything to do with the fighting going on right now.
>> some people think that what this is about is in preparation for a likely war with iran , israel testing the rockets that would be fired against it from gaza , next from lebanon so, we may see something with lebanon soon because it's a preliminary, kind of a warm-up round for the real conflagration ahead that involves iran .
>> you really think there's a chance that israel would strike iran and try to take out those nuclear --
>> yes, especially given the timing of the gaza thing. if they waited until after the american elections are over and now they're getting down to business.
>> i guess that's the question that call for some speculation, but is it possible that netanyahu and his cabinet and the knesset have decided the best way to deal with iran is to get involved in a hot war and then -- obviously iran 's arming the enemy, arming hamas , and going for the source of the problem and bombing them as part of a hot war situation?
>> reporter: it does obviously require some speculation, but it also requires some analysis, and i think it makes a lot of sense. if you look at this, israel really picked the timing. israel could have gone into a war with hamas almost at any time and found its rocket launches as a pretext. but it chose to do it now. israel has been testing its iron dome defense systems , which would certainly come into play if there was a war with iran . it's been testing the new middle east , testing egypt's stance, forging new relations with rob morrison -- mohamed morsi, seeing how the arab world is post the arab spring. testing hezbollah and testing president obama , who interestingly immediately threw his lot in with israel . the president didn't say we want to call for cessation of hostilities and calm, he said we agree with israel 's right to defend itself. israel 's real enemy is iran . if remember netanyahu was at the u.n. holding up his bomb chart. he wasn't talking about hamas . he was talking about iran . that is israel 's overriding threat. they have been able to deal with hamas pretty handedly. i've seen just yesterday israeli warships able to take out a single hamas militant who was sitting in a chair by the waterfront. so one warship fired a rocket. you could barely see the ship on the horizon and take out an individual militant. israel has been telephoning the houses of neighbors of hamas militants and telling them to get out of their houses. it has their phone numbers. so there is something suspicious about this. israel has too much intelligence on hamas , has been able to deal with hamas too confidently, and you have to wonder is there really a different objective.
>> could it be better for israel . you speak positive about doing this, to get rid of the missile sites in hamas , in the gaza before they attack iran , therefore they can't be used for retaliation.
>> that's certainly -- that's an extra bonus. you get to defend your own cities. you figure out how well the iron dome system works, which has been an untested system, which has actually proven to be remarkably effective, the most of its kind in the world. you set back hamas ' capabilities. you test your own intelligence. and you also test the arab world . i think that was the great unknown here.
>> how would egypt react, how would the sinai react. and so far there has been a degree of calm and morsi, although he's been sympathetic to hamas , something the israelis knew he would be, has not proven to be an irrational actor.
>> it would be good for israel to catch iran in the act of arming its enemies. therefore, they would be reacting to an aggressive action by the iranians, not initiating an act of war . makes sense to me. thank you. nbc's richard engel in gaza . we'll be right back. got