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'Everybody got it wrong': How did Israel fail to detect Hamas' planned invasion?

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross. There are so many questions surrounding Israel's failure to detect that Hamas was planning a devastating attack on Israel. Why had Israeli intelligence and military leaders become relatively dismissive of the threat posed by Hamas, focusing instead on Hezbollah? When security officials did try to warn Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel's enemies might be planning an attack, why did Netanyahu ignore the warnings? After Hamas launched the attack, why did it take so long for Israeli soldiers to arrive where Israelis were being slaughtered?

My guest, Mark Mazzetti, co-wrote with Ronen Bergman and Maria Abi-Habib a long article investigating those questions. He's a New York Times investigative reporter based in Washington focusing on national security. He's also been reporting on the negotiations between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. toward a deal in which the Saudis would recognize Israel in return for the U.S. selling more arms to the Saudis and signing a mutual defense agreement with the U.S. The war has put those negotiations on hold. Mazzetti was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on Donald Trump's advisers and their connections to Russia. Mazzetti shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for reporting on the intensifying violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Washington's response. Mark Mazzetti, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Thank you for returning.

MARK MAZZETTI: Thanks for having me back.

GROSS: So Israel was unprepared for Hamas' attack, but Netanyahu was warned by military and intelligence leaders that an attack could be in the works. Or maybe I should say his government was warned. What were the warnings?

MAZZETTI: So the story of all the missed signals and unheeded warnings before October 7 is sort of a story of failure over a number of years, not just weeks and months. Everybody got it wrong. However, in the months before the attack, so this summer, Israel's top generals were giving warnings to Israel's senior leadership that they saw the increased threat of attack to Israel by primarily Iran and Iran's proxies, most notably Hezbollah. There was a concern that there was training, that there was preparation for some kind of an attack. They did see something coming. And as we reported in our recent story, in July, one top general even tried to deliver this warning to Netanyahu, and Netanyahu refused to meet him. However, it should be said that when I say everyone got it wrong, even the generals and the intelligence officials did not see a attack by Hamas from Gaza coming. They were also myopic about what the true threat was.

GROSS: Why did Netanyahu decline to meet with intelligence and military higher-ups who wanted to warn him about the possibility of an attack?

MAZZETTI: Well, I think he had the sense that there was not a specific threat or specific intelligence about an attack that they wanted to give him, that they were trying to head off. It was more in the line of, if you, Netanyahu, continue this political agenda which had plunged Israel into turmoil - and recall, what was going on at the time was Netanyahu was in the midst of a sort of power grab where he was taking power away from Israel's judiciary. And this was causing mass protests in Israel. What the generals and intelligence officials saw was that this political turmoil was weakening Israel, and that Israel's enemies saw this as an opportunity, possibly, to attack.

So the warnings they were delivering were more in the line of, this is a weak moment for the country, and Israel's enemies might pounce. I think Netanyahu, in this case, likely saw them more as political actors advancing the other side of his political agenda, and he didn't think it was worthwhile. Remember; also at the time, there were mass resignations from Israel's armed forces in terms of its reserve corps. And so this was one thing that was really concerning the generals, that the military was not prepared for any kind of attack.

GROSS: So the warnings that the Israeli government was getting from military and intelligence officials was about Hezbollah and not Hamas. Hamas is the militia and now government that controls Gaza. Hezbollah is the Iranian-backed militia group based in Lebanon. And there's been a lot of back and forth attacks along the border between Lebanon and Israel over the years. So why were the warnings more about Hezbollah than Hamas, when it was really Hamas that carried out the major attack?

MAZZETTI: For many years now, pretty much the entirety of Israel's security state and its political leadership has focused on Iran as being the principal threat to Israel. Netanyahu has, you know - most of his sort of national security agenda is talking about the existential threat that Iran poses, primarily in the form of its nuclear program, but also in the form of its principal militant arm, Hezbollah. This has been backed up by generals, intelligence officials, that Iran is the main threat. And decisions are made about how to devote resources to dealing with that threat. Now, they were also seeing, during the months - the summer months, spring and summer, that Hezbollah was carrying out war games.

They were picking up intelligence that Hezbollah might indeed be poised to do something, so it's not to say that there was no threat. But what was going on at the time was, with such an intense focus on the north, the northern border, and also the Iran and Hezbollah threat, there was very little attention paid to Hamas in Gaza and what threat they might pose. And I think there's a couple reasons for that. The first is that there was a fundamental assessment by the intelligence community in Israel that Hamas was just incapable of carrying out an attack like they did on October 7, that they just were not very sophisticated, they - Israel had built this big wall that divided Gaza from Israel, that they could not do anything with such sophistication that Hezbollah might be able to pull off.

The second is that there was an assessment that they just weren't interested in it - that they're governing in Gaza, that they do not want to invite a war with Israel, and that any kind of mass, sophisticated attack from Gaza would invite a military response from Israel like we're seeing right now. There was an assessment that Hamas was not interested in that. So there was just a fundamental failure of analysis about just the threat that Hamas posed.

GROSS: And you say even the U.S. stopped getting intelligence on Hamas.

MAZZETTI: Yeah. The American intelligence agencies some years ago basically stopped treating Hamas as a concern. They saw Hamas as a regional issue. They saw Hamas as Israel's issue that didn't pose real threat to Americans. And so therefore - again, going back to where you devote your resources - the belief was that Hamas posed so little risk that it was not worth resources, in terms of collection, when there were other threats out there.

GROSS: Netanyahu's 2008 campaign slogan was strong against Hamas. And in a campaign video he pledged, we will not stop the Israeli Defense Forces, we will finish the job. We will topple the terror regime of Hamas. But you write that over Netanyahu came to see Hamas as a way to balance power against the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. And the Palestinian Authority has sought a peace agreement with Israel in return for a Palestinian state. So over time, Netanyahu started to, in his own way, support Hamas - like, help Hamas. Can you explain how he did that - like, what he gave Hamas and why?

MAZZETTI: Sure. This was, in essence, a kind of divide-and-conquer strategy for Netanyahu. But it was a sort of cynical strategy by Netanyahu that was very controversial in the past, and some past ministers of his resigned over it. But it was a sort of way to balance Hamas from - with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, to sort of allow Netanyahu to say publicly, well, I have no real partners. I've got Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. They're indistinguishable. Hamas wants the eradication of Israel. And so therefore, we can never really have peace with the Palestinians. And so by strengthening Hamas, he sort of put them on the same plane as the Palestinian Authority. And it allowed him, in essence, to sort of slow roll the peace process and sort of make it - kick it down the road so there was never real pressure on him to sit down at the table and talk about a Palestinian state.

GROSS: Right. So he could say there's two different groups here. There's Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. They're not even on the same page. And Hamas wants to destroy Israel, whereas the Palestinian Authority just wants a Palestinian state. So, you know, how can I negotiate with two groups that have separate agendas? Was that what he was trying to say?

MAZZETTI: Yes. And, you know, recall, the Palestinian Authority is very weak. They have weak leadership. And so the - a strategy to prop up Hamas, in a way - for Netanyahu was a way to weaken all of his, you know, diplomatic adversaries and, as I said, just sort of relieve the pressure on him to sort of sit down at the table to deal with the Palestinian issue in any kind of real way.

GROSS: Do you think that that policy that Netanyahu had helped Hamas amass enough arms and shroud everything in secrecy to stage the attack that they staged last month?

MAZZETTI: I think it's unclear now just how much the Netanyahu policy ended up having a direct role in the October 7 attacks. And I think it's something that may - over time, we'll know more. But I also think that it was of a piece with this general attitude that, you know, Hamas was not a threat that Israel needed to worry about. And now, of course, Hamas, over the years, has done - there have been incursions. There have been rocket attacks into Israel many times in the past. But nobody envisioned what happened on October 7 as a possibility. And I think that, again, you know, they were operating in the open, right? Hamas was carrying out exercises, in some ways, even, you know, staging rehearsals for what they did on October 7, that went largely ignored by Shin Bet, which is Israel's domestic security service, because, again, the assessment was that this was an exercise. These are exercises. They're not actually going to do the real thing.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mark Mazzetti, a Washington-based investigative correspondent for The New York Times focusing on national security. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF PATTI SMITH SONG, "SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Mark Mazzetti, a Washington-based investigative correspondent focusing on national security for The New York Times. He co-wrote a long investigative piece about how Hamas managed to get past Israeli security and carry out its attack inside Israel. He's also been writing about the pact that was in the process of being negotiated between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S. We'll talk about that a little bit later.

There weren't a lot of Israeli soldiers at the Gaza border at the time of the attack. And the technology - the surveillance technology that Israel had there and the wall that it built on the border between Gaza and Israel didn't seem to - well, it definitely was not enough to secure Israel against attack. How did the Hamas fighters get around those securities - the technology, the wall?

MAZZETTI: You're right that there was a sort of hubris among Israeli intelligence officials and military officials that technology would keep the country safe, at least specifically regarding Hamas. They had built this wall some years ago that is both above and below ground. They had wired the area with surveillance cameras and saw that this was a way to reduce the troop presence in southern Israel so that these - those resources could be put elsewhere. And what we're finding out is there's a number of ways that Hamas was able to circumvent this technology.

I mean, in one case, we reported that Israel had even stopped listening to the handheld radios that Hamas fighters carried because there was a view that it wasn't worth the time and effort. Like, these low-level fighters talking to each other on walkie-talkies couldn't possibly be of any intelligence significance. And what Israel found after the attack was when several of those fighters were found dead with those walkie-talkies, that they were central to the attack and that it was - it had been such a bad decision to stop listening to that traffic. There was also ways that Hamas fighters managed to, it seems, jam the surveillance technology, to find gaps in the surveillance technology, and we're still learning more about how they carried this off, but perhaps managed to shut off some of the cameras. So Israel was, in effect, blind to the attack for the critical period of time it would have taken to respond in a timely way.

GROSS: So Israeli intelligence had seen Hamas doing military exercises in the middle of the night, just before the attack against Israel, so the military sent a small group of soldiers to the border. And then the attack happened. So can you talk about, like, that moment, that decision to, you know, just send in a small group of soldiers and what happened to those soldiers?

MAZZETTI: Sure. So as we reported in our story, in the hours before the attack, the leadership of Shin Bet, which is the domestic security service of Israel which has the responsibility for Gaza, was watching an elevated activity of Hamas fighters in Gaza and sort of trying to decide what it meant. Now, the things that they were seeing were in keeping with what in the past has been just military exercises by Hamas. And so what they were trying to figure out was, is this cause for alarm?

And it wasn't until around 3 a.m. when - so just a few hours before the actual attack, when the leader of Shin Bet decided, OK, we should make this decision to send what they call the tequila team, which is a group of counterterrorism troops, down to the border just as a sort of protective measure, so they're there. They still weren't convinced that Hamas was going to carry out attack, but they were doing it to be safe.

And going back to what we said earlier, there was still this fundamental assessment that Hamas was not interested in an attack and not capable of an attack. And so that sort of colored the judgment here. If they were trying to decide - is this an exercise or is this the real thing? - they erred on the side of it being an exercise because their conclusion was that Hamas wasn't going to do this. And another sort of sign of just how wrong they were on this was that it wasn't until right before the attack happened that anyone decided that the threat was great enough to wake up Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was sleeping and on vacation, and tell him what was going on.

GROSS: So the people who were hiding out in shelters or, you know, in rooms in their homes, the people who survived in the kibbutz, they've reported that they waited hours for help from the Israeli military. Why did it take so long? I mean, they were calling - you know, some of them were, like, on radio or TV reporting what was happening, and still they were just, like, waiting for help.

MAZZETTI: That is still such an important question that we only have partial answers for right now. I mean, it's clear, as we've reported, that it wasn't until the actual attack happened that the Israeli security state sort of kicked into action, realizing, like, there was no forewarning of this that could have allowed for a swifter response. But then after the attack, why did it take so long? Well, there were very few troops down in southern Israel, as we've and others have reported, because of other reasons. They were redeployed elsewhere. There are questions about why the law enforcement, the police, security services, took so long to respond. Colleagues of mine in Israel have reported about just how there was this reliance on technology providing enough advanced warning to sort of take humans out of the loop in terms of needing to respond. Or, I mean, Israel is a small country, right? So if you have enough advanced warning with your technology, you can get to where you need to be soon enough.

But as Israel learned in tragic fashion, that wasn't the case. So you're right, there were people who were victims of the attack who had to report that it took far too long for there to be an Israeli response. And that's just going to feed into the many questions that - there's already going to be an official inquiry into what went wrong. And that's going to be one of the central questions asked is, why did it just take so long? And why was a country that is by far the most militarily advanced country in the Middle East, that invests so much in its own both foreign and domestic security, could have handled this so badly?

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mark Mazzetti, a Washington investigative correspondent for The New York Times focusing on national security. We'll be right back after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AYUMI TANAKA TRIO'S "RUINS II")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview I recorded yesterday with Mark Mazzetti, a Washington-based investigative correspondent focusing on national security for The New York Times. He co-wrote a long investigative piece about how Hamas managed to get past Israeli security and carry out its attack inside Israel. He's also been writing about the pact that was being negotiated between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S. If an agreement is reached eventually, it would likely lead to Saudi Arabia recognizing Israel and, in turn, getting things the Saudis want from the U.S., including purchasing more U.S. weapons, starting a nuclear power program and a mutual defense pact with the U.S. We'll talk about the Saudis a little bit later.

Do you have any insights into why Hamas decided to plan such a massive and devastating attack inside Israel, knowing that the Israeli response would probably be a devastating, massive counterattack in which thousands of Gazans would be killed?

MAZZETTI: Terry, that's sort of the central question that I think everyone's asking. And nobody has, that I've heard, really good answers to it. It's a lot of speculation about why Hamas would do this and why Hamas would do this now. There is, I think, one line of thought that Hamas sort of started to see the writing on the wall with where the Middle East was going, that they saw Arab countries, Arab leaders who were beginning to make peace with Israel. They saw the Palestinian cause recede in the minds of at least the leadership in the Arab world - not necessarily among the people, but Arab leaders who once saw the Palestinian cause as, you know, sort of central to their foreign policy mission. It was no longer at the top of the agenda. And that perhaps this was a devastating way to get the Palestinian cause back on that agenda. But, again, that is a - that's speculation. And I think that there's still so much we need to know and learn about why Hamas did this now.

GROSS: There's some speculation that one of the reasons why Hamas planned this attack now is that the Saudis were trying to negotiate a deal with Israel and the U.S., which included the Saudis recognizing Israel and opening diplomatic relations. Why would Hamas see that as a real threat to Hamas?

MAZZETTI: Well, in that theory, that Hamas did this to sort of derail this diplomatic initiative, playing that out, it would be Hamas saw that, effectively, the Saudis were about to sell out the Palestinians, that they were going to make peace with Israel without pushing for a Palestinian state. And then if the Saudis made peace with Israel without demanding a statehood for the Palestinians, then, basically, they had lost their last chance and that if they could derail that peace process or derail that diplomatic initiative and sort of blow this up, then maybe there would be a chance down the road for a Palestinian state.

Now, again, while that makes some intellectual sense, we don't know yet why they did it. But there's no question that, in the reporting that I've done in recent months about this Saudi-Israel initiative, the Palestinians - while everyone said, yes, there's going to have to be something for the Palestinians and certainly the Saudis would have demanded it, no one I spoke to was inferring that a Palestinian state was at all feasible. It was not something the Saudis were pushing for. And, more importantly, there was no way that Netanyahu's hard-right-wing government was going to allow it. So that would have been a deal breaker. And so therefore it was off the table.

GROSS: The way you describe it, it seems the Saudis were more interested in what they could get from the U.S. than they were interested in helping the Palestinians.

MAZZETTI: That is, I think, largely correct. I think that while Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia says publicly - and, I should say, privately to American officials - that any peace with Israel has to include concessions to the Palestinians - he does say that. However, it does appear, in interviews I've had with people who have been in these negotiations, at the very top of his agenda for any kind of a normalization of relations with Israel were two things - one, a new defense agreement with the United States and, two, some sort of U.S. blessing and possibly assistance in a civilian nuclear program in Saudi Arabia. Those were the two things he wanted most and, I should say, it looked like American officials were on the path to give him in order to make this deal happen. So the Palestinians were part of this. But in reporting some of my colleagues in Israel have done - did before October 7, they didn't get the sense that the Palestinian leadership thought that they were going to get a really great deal, even if the Saudis were trying to drive a bargain with the Israelis.

GROSS: Another thing that it seems the Saudis want from the U.S. is the ability to buy more U.S. weapons. So why would the U.S. agree to these things? I mean, Iran has a nuclear power program that the U.S., outside of the Trump administration, that the U.S. has been trying to monitor or stop. You know, Trump pulled out of the Iran agreement. But, you know, certainly Israel sees Iran's nuclear program as an existential threat. The Saudis have been rivals of Iran. So what's in it for the U.S. if the Saudis have - if they have a nuclear power program, what's to prevent them from creating nuclear weapons eventually? And also, if they have more U.S. weapons that they bought, what's to prevent them from using it in a war against the U.S.? 'Cause, you know, countries change sides. We've seen that happen. And if there's a mutual defense agreement, would the U.S. really want to get involved in a war that was more of a Saudi war? It just seems like vulnerabilities for the U.S.

MAZZETTI: I think these are all questions that a lot of people were asking in the months before the October 7 attack, which is, what's in it for the U.S. if they do this pact with Saudi Arabia as a central part of normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia? And I think it certainly surprised me how much the Biden administration really was pushing this. And at first, I was skeptical that they really were. But certainly over time, over the summer, saw that the president's senior advisers were devoting a great deal of resources and time and trips to Saudi Arabia to try to make this happen.

So their argument is the following for why it's in the American interest - first off, that it is a good thing in general for Saudi Arabia, which is effectively the most powerful Arab country in the Middle East, to make peace with Israel, its longtime adversary, although those two countries, for a number of years, have had a sort of de facto peace even though they haven't had an official peace. That's one reason that it would - and if there are concessions to the Palestinians, that would be good as well. The second is the sort of more geopolitical reason that they would - the Biden administration made this argument that Saudi Arabia, like it or not, is this centrally important player in the world. And what we've seen in recent years is Saudi Arabia is trying to sort of shed its dependence on the United States and is looking at other great powers as partners in a way to sort of increase its own independence. So they see Saudi and China developing closer ties. They saw, earlier this year, Saudi and Iran make a sort of peace deal that was brokered by China.

And I think that woke up a lot of people in the Biden administration about this that - well, if China is getting so involved and they're - maybe Saudi Arabia is getting pulled into China's orbit, what could the United States do to pull them back into the U.S. orbit? And I think that was the sort of geopolitical argument for a security relationship with Saudi Arabia - would, the argument went, pull Saudi Arabia back into the American orbit? You would have, in effect, a defense pact, a sort of pledge to protect Saudi Arabia. And your question is, well, why is that in the American interest now that we've had two decades of wars that we've been trying to extricate ourselves from? Why pledge to defend Saudi Arabia, which would just get us more embroiled in the Middle East? It is a good question. Some would argue that we've already had, in effect, a commitment to defend Saudi Arabia. Look at the first Gulf War in the '90s. That was largely a defense of Saudi Arabia. So it's all - it is complicated. However, there was an argument being made that this was in the American interest.

GROSS: I think we need to take another break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mark Mazzetti, a Washington-based investigative correspondent for The New York Times. He focuses on national security. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOLANGE SONG, "WEARY")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Mark Mazzetti, a Washington-based investigative correspondent for The New York Times. He focuses on national security. He co-wrote a long investigative piece about how Hamas managed to get past Israeli security and carry out its attack inside Israel. He's also been writing about the pact that was being negotiated between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S., which is now on hold because of the war.

So Mohammed bin Salman, MBS, who's the authoritarian ruler of Iran - he's the crown prince and the de facto ruler. He's very authoritarian. It's his people who beheaded the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. So this is who we're negotiating with. One of his goals now is to make Saudi Arabia less dependent on oil and make it an international business center. So is that part of the reason why he wants to negotiate a deal to help him toward that goal? And how would a deal help him toward that goal?

MAZZETTI: At least according to American officials who have met with him in recent months to discuss a possible deal with Israel, they say he articulates the economic advantages of a deal because, as you say, it's part of his - what he calls Vision 2030, which is a remaking of Saudi Arabia, modernizing Saudi Arabia, you know, turning it into a commercial and economic hub that it isn't now. And so first, peace with Israel would bring Saudi Arabia potentially sort of more into the sort of accepted community of nations that the world wants to do business with, could boost commerce in the country, could bring more tourism. Then if you look at a country like the United Arab Emirates that has Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which does have a great deal of tourism, which is a commercial hub, that - Mohammed bin Salman sees that as what Saudi Arabia could be at a much bigger scale.

And so people who have talked to him have said that he saw - he does see economic advantages of this. Now, as you point out, of course, this is someone who, just a couple years ago, was an international pariah because of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, because of his fierce crackdown on dissent in the kingdom, jailing his critics, jailing dissidents and someone whom President Biden, when he was running for president, said he wouldn't do business with. So it's been quite a remarkable change in what - in a not very long period of time from pariah to the world leader that every great power now wants to have on their side.

GROSS: So what role do you see MBS playing in the future of this war, in the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations? And how much - you know, how much power do they have in deciding the outcome of this three-way deal that's being negotiated and is now on hold between the Saudis, Israel and the U.S.?

MAZZETTI: Well, in a way, MBS has most, if not all, of the leverage here, and maybe he has all along where he is the one who can say, yes, I'm going to make peace with Israel. But here's my price. And, yes, the Palestinians are part of my agenda. But here's what I'm willing to accept. And that both - it has been clear, certainly it was clear before October 7, that the Israelis and the U.S. really want this. And so therefore, it's really MBS' ability to kind of name his price, which is extraordinary, again, going back to this idea that we're now five years after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, an act that turned MBS into this sort of international pariah. Well, now he's the person who holds most of the cards here in the future of all this.

GROSS: Let's talk about what it would mean if the Saudis recognized Israel and opened diplomatic relations. What would it mean for Israel?

MAZZETTI: Well, I think there's a reason that Benjamin Netanyahu was so eager for a deal. It would have been a big political win to say the most important, powerful Arab country in the world officially recognizes Israel, for the first time ever. And that is - would have been a diplomatic coup for Netanyahu and something that he was very eager to get. And, let's face it, not to be, you know, overly cynical, it would have been important. It would be important if Saudi Arabia and Israel recognized each other, just in terms of the history there, the history of Arab nations and Israel. We shouldn't diminish that this would have great significance, for whatever agenda everybody has, to make this deal. It would, on its face, have been significant and could be significant if it still happens.

I think it would also just be important to show just how much there has been a realignment in the Middle East, where in the past, it's been Arabs versus Israelis. Now, increasingly, it is Arabs and Israelis against Iran. They see Iran as a common enemy. And so that is something that certainly President Trump has pushed - this pushing together of Arab nations and Israel, the so-called Abraham Accords that happened at the end of the Trump administration, where the United Arab Emirates and other countries recognized Israel. Well, this would have been the Abraham Accords on steroids, that Saudi Arabia does it. And it would all be - or largely done in service of this goal, at least in the minds of the Saudis and the Israelis' leadership - to sort of further isolate Iran.

GROSS: What is the status of this possible accord between Israel, the Saudis and the U.S. now? It's definitely paused because of the war. Is it derailed or just paused? Do you have any insight into that?

MAZZETTI: According to American officials I've spoken to who have met with Mohammed bin Salman since the October 7 Hamas attack, he has said that he is still willing, at some point, to discuss a peace deal with Israel, a normalization of relations, that this is not dead. But certainly, for the time being, it is on ice, where - how could the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel at a time of a very bloody Israeli offensive in Gaza that has roiled the Arab world and has been very unpopular? And it would be something that Mohammed bin Salman presumably would not be able to do anytime soon. But that doesn't mean that sometime down the road he might not be open to doing some kind of a deal. And the big question is when.

GROSS: Mark Mazzetti, thank you so much for joining us today and for explaining so much.

MAZZETTI: Thanks very much.

GROSS: Mark Mazzetti is a New York Times investigative correspondent based in Washington, focusing on national security. The Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II novel "All The Light We Cannot See" has been adapted into a miniseries. Our TV critic David Bianculli will have a review after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN SONG, "SHENANDOAH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: November 3, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
In this interview, Terry Gross misidentified Mohammed bin Salman as the ruler of Iran. In fact, he is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.