Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?

Analysis Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?
Israeli protesters call for a hostage deal with Hamas and the removal of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?

Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?
  • Critics in the war cabinet have accused the PM of lacking a ‘day after’ strategy for Gaza
  • Fragmentation within government and among the population raise specter of mass protests

LONDON: Last Wednesday evening, five Israeli soldiers were killed and seven others wounded in a “friendly fire” incident in northern Gaza.

The five paratroopers, aged between 20 and 22 and reported by The Times of Israel to have been part of an ultra-Orthodox company of paratroopers, died when an Israeli tank mistakenly fired on their position during confused fighting in Jabaliya.

They are not the first Israeli soldiers to have died at the hands of their comrades. According to the IDF, of the 279 personnel killed so far in Gaza since the start of ground operations on Oct. 27, 49 have died in similar incidents or accidents.

But after seven months of war, with Israeli troops fighting and dying over territory that had, ostensibly, already been cleared by the IDF earlier in the war, the stark futility of these latest deaths has struck a bitter chord in Israel.




A member of Israel’s security forces aims his rifle during an Israeli raid at the Nur Shams camp for Palestinian refugees near the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm, on January 4, 2024. (AFP)

As Benjamin Netanyahu continues to evade making a deal with Hamas to bring home the remaining hostages — an ongoing national trauma emphasized by the recovery on Friday from Gaza of the remains of three of the victims of the Oct. 7 massacre at the Nova music festival — many fear the Israeli prime minister is pursuing a strategy of perpetual war solely in a bid to save his own political skin.

It has been no secret that over recent months Israel’s military has been pushing Netanyahu to develop a “day after” strategy. Last Wednesday, just hours before the deaths in Jabaliya, Israel’s defense minister broke rank to publicly criticize his prime minister.

In an extraordinary video address, Yoav Gallant, a former general, revealed that since October he had been consistently pressing Netanyahu in cabinet meetings to work toward a political solution in Gaza.

The end of the military campaign, he said, “must come together with political action. The ‘day after Hamas’ will only be achieved with Palestinian entities taking control of Gaza, accompanied by international actors, establishing a governing alternative to Hamas’ rule.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “this issue was not raised for debate. And worse, no alternative was brought up in its place.”




A protester speaks on a megaphone while holding up a sign depicting Israeli politicians during an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2024. (AFP)

Gallant then embarked on an unprecedented public attack on Netanyahu that at times veered close to open revolt. “Indecision is, in essence, a decision,” he said.

“This leads to a dangerous course, which promotes the idea of Israeli military and civilian governance in Gaza. This is a negative and dangerous option for the State of Israel — strategically, militarily, and from a security standpoint.”

In short, he said: “I will not agree to the establishment of Israeli military rule in Gaza.”

Then he issued a direct challenge.

“I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip, that Israel will not establish military governance in the Gaza Strip, and that a governing alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be raised immediately.”

Netanyahu did not immediately respond to the attack in public. But right-wing national security minister Itamar Ben Givr — part of the shaky coalition government Netanyahu must hold together to cling on to power, and who has called repeatedly for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and its resettlement by Jews — demanded Gallant be sacked.




Israel’s defense minister said that since October he had been consistently pressing Netanyahu in cabinet meetings to work toward a political solution in Gaza. (AFP)

Then, on Saturday, Benny Gantz, the other member of Netanyahu’s three-person war cabinet and his main political rival, announced that he would withdraw his centrist National Unity party from Israel’s emergency coalition on June 8 unless the prime minister agreed to a six-point “day after” plan for Gaza.

Gantz’s plan includes securing the return of hostages, ending Hamas’ rule, demilitarizing Gaza and establishing an international administration with “American, European, Arab and Palestinian elements” to manage its civilian affairs.

“Personal and political considerations have begun to penetrate the Holy of Holies of Israel’s national security,” Gantz said.

“A small minority has seized the bridge of the Israeli ship and is piloting it toward the rocky shoal,” and steps have to be taken urgently to avoid a “long and harsh existential war.”

Gantz also called on Israel to “advance normalization with Saudi Arabia as part of a comprehensive process to create an alliance with the free world and the West against Iran and its allies.”

Benny Gantz’s 6-point Gaza blueprint

  • Bring the hostages home.
  • Topple Hamas rule, demilitarize the Gaza Strip and gain Israeli security control.
  • Alongside that Israeli security control, “create an international civilian governance mechanism for Gaza, including American, European, Arab and Palestinian elements — which will also serve as a basis for a future alternative that is not Hamas and is not (Palestinian Authority President) Abbas.
  • Return residents of the north (evacuated due to Hezbollah attacks) to their homes by Sept. 1, and rehabilitate the western Negev (adjacent to Gaza, targeted by Hamas on Oct. 7).
  • Advance normalization with Saudi Arabia as part of a comprehensive process to create an alliance with the free world and the West against Iran and its allies.
  • Adopt a framework for (military/national) service under which all Israelis will serve the state and contribute to the national effort. Gantz, a former general, wants an end to exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

Israel’s leadership is now so fragmented, and its population increasingly divided over Gaza and the wider issue of a Palestinian future, that there is even speculation that Netanyahu might be facing the unprecedented possibility of a military coup.

“As the war seems to have less of a point and less success, everything seems to be coming apart,” Shaiel Ben-Ephraim, analyst and host of the podcasts “Israel Explained” and “History of the Land of Israel,” told Arab News.

“Something has to give. The military is talking about a coup. I don’t think it is going to happen, but on Telegram and WhatsApp, military people who could do something are saying: ‘Someone should remove Netanyahu, someone should do something about Ben-Givr.’

“That’s very alarming. We’ve been hearing that from regular people on the left and the center for a long time. But now, even people in the Shabak (Israel’s internal security agency) are discussing the idea.”




An Israeli protester wearing a hat with a slogan against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on April 27, 2024. (AFP)

Netanyahu, said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations and founder of NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem, “is leading us toward a never-ending insurgency.

“The entire military establishment opposes it,” Seidemann told Arab News. “The credible people in the government who are not racist and fanatics oppose it. But he’s adamant, and there are three reasons why.

“First, habitually Netanyahu is incapable of making a decision. He always procrastinates.

“Secondly, he doesn’t believe that peace exists. For him, life is eternal conflict, never decided, and the only goal is to be a bit stronger, a bit more sophisticated than your enemy and to contain them. But you’re not going to solve anything that way.”

But compounding these “predispositions” in the current situation in Gaza, he said, was Netanyahu’s overwhelming self-interest.

“An end of the war, a ceasefire, is the end of Netanyahu’s career and possibly jail for him, full stop,” he said. “That is why he has turned the hostages and their families into enemies of the state.”

There had, he said, been “an organized, sophisticated smear campaign against these people. It’s just remarkable. Why? Because you cannot prioritize returning the hostages and continue to fight in Gaza. It’s one or the other.

“Netanyahu knows that if the hostages are released, the price for that will be a ceasefire, and the ceasefire will be the end of him. So he is doing everything in his power to perpetuate this war. This is the way most people in Israel are talking today. His considerations are all personal.”




Soldiers killed in northern Gaza on May 15, 2024. Top row, left to right: Sgt. Ilan Cohen, Sgt. Daniel Chemu, Staff Sgt. Betzalel David Shashuah; bottom row, left to right: Staff Sgt. Gilad Arye Boim, Cpt. Roy Beit Yaakov. (Israel Defense Forces)

For Seth Frantzman, an adjunct fellow with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post, the lack of apparent direction over Gaza is rooted as much in systemic issues as in Netanyahu’s personality.

“I don’t think that they have invested the resources for long-term planning in terms of the strategy of what comes afterwards,” Frantzman told Arab News.

“That doesn’t mean that there aren’t voices that haven’t been calling for that — the Defense Ministry has been pushing for a day-after plan for many months.

“But Israel has spent 15 years or more ‘managing’ the conflict in Gaza with Hamas. Hamas became the devil that everyone is familiar with and therefore the idea of picking up some alternative kind of structure is a bit complicated — even though it’s obvious, after Oct. 7, that the murderous genocidal nature of Hamas means you just can’t live next to a group like that or continue to appease it.”

But Netanyahu’s “decisive indecision” is proving to be a gift for Hamas, Ben-Ephraim said.

“I think that at first Hamas was unpleasantly surprised by how Israel banded together and struck back so strongly, and the amount of support it got from the US.

“But because the Israeli strategy since has been so horrifically bad, they’re now very pleasantly surprised and indeed stunned to see Israel destroy its international standing, and its internal cohesion and solidarity, to no end besides Netanyahu’s surviving.”




Protesters lift national flags and portraits of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza since October 7, during a rally demanding their release outside Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s private residence on January 27, 2024. (AFP)

Even before his boss Gallant spoke out, Herzi Halevi, the IDF chief of staff, was reported to have taken Netanyahu to task over his failure to develop a long-term strategy.

On May 12, Hebrew-language television station Channel 13 reported what it said was a verbatim account of a heated meeting between Halevi and the prime minister.

“We are now operating once again in Jabaliya,” Halevi, a paratrooper and former head of Israeli military intelligence, reportedly said.

“As long as there’s no diplomatic process to develop a governing body in the Strip that isn’t Hamas, we’ll have to launch campaigns again and again in other places to dismantle Hamas’ infrastructure.” 

It would, he added, “be a Sisyphean task” — a reference to the ancient Greek myth about a king condemned by the gods to spend eternity repeatedly pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down again every time.

A whiff of unprecedented dissent, if not outright revolt, is in the air.

“I don’t think you’re going to be seeing large-scale conscientious objection,” Seidemann said. “That’s not how it works here. But what you will see are tens of thousands of army reservists going home and leading the protests.”




Israeli police disperse a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2024. (AFP)

Such protests have brought about political change in the past in Israel, most notably the toppling of Prime Minister Golda Meir in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in the run-up to which she had repeatedly rebuffed peace overtures from Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in the streets already,” Seidemann said. “And there have been two kinds of protests — for the release of the hostages and for elections for a new government.

“Initially the hostage families distanced themselves as a group. They wanted to appear to be apolitical. But that’s over. They’ve joined forces. There will be an event of some kind at some time over the next month or two, which will bring out millions of Israelis.”

It would, he believes, be impossible for Israel to reoccupy and resettle Gaza, as right-wingers in Netanyahu’s cabinet have demanded.

Quite apart from the uproar such a move would provoke among Israel’s staunchest allies in the West, Gaza “is going to be a lunar landscape,” he said. “Just to maintain some semblance of normality, Israel would have to harness so much of its resources, energies, money, just to be on this fool’s errand of running Gaza.”




Smoke plumes from an explosion billow in the Gaza Strip, as seen from Israel’s southern border with the Palestinian territory, on May 21, 2024. (AFP)

In the meantime, millions are being traumatized, not only in Gaza, where the death and suffering are on such a shocking scale, but also — and crucially for Netanyahu’s future prospects — in Israel.

“The day after, both societies are going to be totally traumatized,” Seidemann said.

“A friend of mine sees the police records, and in Tel Aviv the police are receiving dozens of reports weekly of people who think they can hear digging under their apartment buildings.

“That’s the level of trauma that you’re dealing with and there’s a growing sense that this can’t go on.”

Whatever the eventual solution, and however the war in Gaza is finally brought to an end, one thing is certain, he believes.

“Nothing is possible with Netanyahu at the helm. The only thing that can be done until he’s gone is damage control.”

 


Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say

Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say
Updated 7 sec ago
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Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say

Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say
  • Residents say Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses
  • Israeli military says it is continuing ‘intelligence-based, targeted operations’ in the Rafah area
CAIRO: Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons’ camp in the northwest of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday in fierce fighting with Hamas-led fighters, residents said.
Images of two Israeli tanks stationed on a hilltop overlooking the coastal area went viral on social media, but Reuters could not independently verify them.
“The fighting with the resistance has been intense. The occupation forces are overlooking the Mawasi area now, which forced families there to head for Khan Younis,” said one resident, who asked not to be named, on a chat app.
More than eight months into Israel’s war in the Hamas-administered Palestinian enclave, its advance is focused on the two areas its forces have yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza’s southern tip and the area surrounding Deir Al-Balah in the center.
Residents said Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses.
The Israeli military said it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” in the Rafah area and had located weapons stores and tunnel shafts, and killed Palestinian gunmen.
The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and pre-planted explosive devices.
Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike killed eight Palestinians in Sabra, a suburb of Gaza City in the north, and another strike killed two people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
The military said it had struck dozens of targets throughout the Strip.
On Saturday, Palestinian health officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli strikes in some northern Gaza districts, where the Israeli army said it had attacked Hamas’s military infrastructure. Hamas said the targets were the civilian population.
In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, health officials at Kamal Adwan Hospital said a baby had died of malnutrition, taking the number of children dead of malnutrition or dehydration since Oct. 7 to at least 30, a number that health officials say reflects under-recording.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.

Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’

Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’
Updated 29 min 18 sec ago
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Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’

Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’
  • Top Israeli officials lobbied their US counterparts at ‘the highest levels... at all levels’ for speedier weapons deliveries’

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday a row with the United States over weapons delays relating to the Gaza war would be resolved soon, amid simmering tensions between the allies.
“About four months ago, there was a dramatic drop in the supply of armaments arriving from the US to Israel. We got all sorts of explanations, but... the basic situation didn’t change,” he told a cabinet meeting.
“In light of what I have heard in the last day, I hope and believe that this issue will be resolved in the near future,” he added.
He said top Israeli officials lobbied their US counterparts at “the highest levels... at all levels” for speedier weapons deliveries.
“After months of no change in this situation, I decided to give it a public expression,” he said.
Netanyahu irked Washington with a video statement earlier this week accusing it of “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
US officials have said they were not aware of what Netanyahu was referring to.
Netanyahu’s latest comments came as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant flew to Washington for talks about the Gaza war.
On Thursday, the prime minister said Israel needed American ammunition to fight a “war for its existence” as it battles Hamas militants in Gaza and trades fire with Lebanese Hezbollah on its northern border.
Washington is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has been fighting Hamas militants for more than eight months.


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid
  • Social media video verified by Reuters showed Palestinian resident of Jenin on jeep that passed through two ambulances
  • Israeli military said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him

JERUSALEM: Israeli army forces strapped a wounded Palestinian man to the hood of a military jeep during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday. A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances.
The Israeli military in a statement said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him.
Soldiers then violated military protocol, the statement said. “The suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” it said.
The military said the “conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values” of the Israeli military and that the incident will be investigated and dealt with.
The individual was transferred to medics for treatment, the military said.
Reuters was able to match the location from corroborating and verified footage shared on social media that shows a vehicle transporting an individual tied on top of a vehicle in Jenin. The date was confirmed by an eyewitness interviewed by Reuters.
According to the family of Azmi, there was an arrest raid, and he was injured during the raid, and when the family asked for an ambulance, the army took Mujahed, strapped him on the hood and drove off.
Violence in the West Bank, already on the rise before the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, has escalated since then with frequent army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and deadly Palestinian street attacks.


Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death

Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death
Updated 23 June 2024
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Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death

Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death
  • Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the Gaza war erupted
  • On Saturday, the Jamaa Islamiya group announced the death of one of its commanders, Ayman Ghotmeh

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group said Sunday it had targeted a military position in northern Israel with an armed drone in response to the killing of an Islamist commander.
Israel and the powerful Iran-backed group, a Hamas ally, have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the Gaza war erupted on October 7.
Hezbollah’s announcement came hours after it published a video excerpt purporting to show locations in Israel along with their coordinates, amid heightening fears of an all-out conflict between the two foes.
On Saturday, the Jamaa Islamiya group announced the death of one of its commanders, Ayman Ghotmeh, saying he was killed “in a treacherous Zionist raid” in Khiara in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa area.
Israel later confirmed it had carried out the strike, saying Ghotmeh was responsible for supplying the Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, and Hamas with weapons in the area.
Hezbollah on Sunday said its fighters launched a strike “with an attack drone” on a military leadership position in the Beit Hillel barracks “in response to the assassination carried out by the Israeli enemy in the town of Khiara.”
The Israeli military meanwhile said in a statement that a drone had “crossed from Lebanon and fell in the area of Beit Hillel,” adding that “no injuries were reported.”
Cross-border tensions have surged over the past days, with Israel’s military announcing on Tuesday that a plan for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah responded with threats that no part of Israel would be spared in the event of an all-out war.
The Lebanese armed group on Saturday evening published a video showing Israeli positions and coordinates, along with an excerpt of Nasrallah’s speech in which he says “if war is imposed on Lebanon, the resistance will fight without restrictions or rules.”
Days earlier, it had circulated a nine-minute video showing aerial footage purportedly taken by the movement over northern Israel, including what it said were sensitive military, defense and energy facilities and infrastructure in the city and port of Haifa.
The cross-border violence has killed at least 480 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.


Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency
Updated 23 June 2024
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Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency
  • Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen

DUBAI: A merchant ship was damaged by a drone attack in the Red Sea near Yemen early Sunday morning, though no injuries were reported, according to a British maritime security agency.
Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who say they are acting in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The attack occurred about 65 nautical miles (120 kilometers) west of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, said the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy.

 


“The Master of a merchant vessel reports being hit by uncrewed aerial system (UAS), resulting in damage to the vessel. All crew members are reported safe, and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” said a bulletin from the agency.
“Authorities are investigating,” it added, offering no attribution for the attack.
On Saturday, the US Central Command, which has carried out retaliatory strikes against the Houthis over their attacks on shipping, said it had destroyed three nautical drones belonging to the group over the past 24 hours.
It also said the group had launched three anti-ship missiles into the Gulf of Aden, but no injuries or significant damage were reported.