Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has his back to the wall, despite a consensus to crush Hamas after their deadly weekend assault – Copyright POOL/AFP Chaim GOLDBERG
Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had divided Israel with its controversial judicial reforms, but he now presides over a country which is united in its demand for a definitive reprisal against Hamas.
This sudden change in politics stems directly from the collective trauma caused to Israeli society by the bloody and unprecedented surprise attack by Hamas on Saturday, in which it killed at least 1,200 people and kidnapped dozens more.
“Netanyahu has his back against the wall. Everyone is pressuring him, including his own party Likud,” Akiva Eldar, a veteran political commentator, told AFP.
– No blank cheque –
According to Eldar, even the support offered by US President Joe Biden is not a blank cheque.
“Bibi (Netanyahu) has to destroy the infrastructure of Hamas, for certain. But if that comes at the cost of children dying of starvation in Gaza, then global opinion, currently favourable to Israel, will quickly change,” he said.
“The response has to be proportional to the horrors committed by Hamas. But Netanyahu cannot afford to have on his hands the deaths of 1,000 more (Israeli) soldiers or the hostages.”
Already in Gaza, Palestinian officials have reported more than 1,200 people killed by Israeli strikes, while the United Nations says 338,000 have been displaced.
Another source of pressure on “Bibi”, Israeli economists have warned, is the extended paralysis of the country in response to the attack, as was the case after the 34-day war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.
That problem could be even worse, according to one Israeli military source, because Israel is not well prepared for a conflict that could expand to a second and third front, in the north against Hezbollah and in the east if there is an uprising in the West Bank.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu and one of the leading opposition figures, Benny Gantz, announced an agreement to form an emergency government for the length of the war.
– ‘Netanyahu’s days are numbered’ –
“The presence of Benny Gantz in the government will slightly alleviate the pressure on the Prime Minister,” said Daniel Bensimon, an Israeli political expert and former Labour Party MP.
“It will reduce the tension but it won’t do anything to alter the fundamentals: Netanyahu’s days are numbered and he knows it. He will not survive this crisis. His political career is finished.
“What happened (on Saturday) is unprecedented since the creation of the state in 1948.
“There will be an inquiry. It will be terrible. After that, he will be thrown into the dustbin of history with this shameful stain on his record,” Bensimon said, “and he knows it well. That’s why his back is against the wall.”
Nor have Netanyahu’s pre-war problems gone away.
Once the fighting is over, the protests against his judicial reforms that divided Israeli society for the past ten months are expected to be even more widespread than ever.
According to Reuven Hazan, professor of political science at the University of Jerusalem, that is because Netanyahu’s entire approach towards Hamas has failed.
“Public opinion will make him pay a price when this is all over.
“His approach was flawed. Hamas has been in power in Gaza since 2007, Netanyahu was elected in 2009, they have been in charge almost simultaneously. And it’s during that period that the Islamist threat has grown so much,” Hazan told AFP.
– ‘A huge mistake’ –
Israel has fought multiple wars against Hamas since it withdrew its forces from the Palestinian enclave in 2005, but these have all proved futile said retired general Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser.
“We have made a huge mistake in thinking that a terrorist organisation could change its DNA,” he said.
If previous strategies have been proved wrong, what might Israel do instead?
The Jerusalem Post newspaper raised a question that is on many Israeli minds: “Is this Israel’s moment to re-occupy Gaza?”
The answer is far from clear cut, said the analyst Akiva Eldar.
“When you enter Gaza, you never know in what condition you’ll come out. It’s Netanyahu’s whole dilemma. So, will he be rational enough to make the right decision?”