Israel’s Netanyahu is at war with almost everyone

Netanyahu insists that Israel must be allowed to eliminate Hamas. Many top experts contend that Hamas can’t be fully vanquished militarily. That’s a view now also finding voice from the top ranks of the Israeli military.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a leader locked in battle — many battles. His nation is still in the depths of an unprecedented military offensive against militant group Hamas that has pulverized the Gaza Strip, killed tens of thousands of people and displaced most of the territory’s population. Meanwhile, tensions on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon are spiking, with both Israeli officials and the leader of Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah trading threats of war as Iran’s proxies in the region maintain their antagonism with the Jewish state.

But Netanyahu is also picking fights closer to home and much further away. He recently folded his wartime “cabinet,” a small clique of officials including more moderate political rivals that formed in “unity” to administer Israel’s response to Hamas’s shocking Oct. 7 terrorist strike on the country’s south. Differences over Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict and his pandering to Israel’s far right obviated the purpose of the panel. The Israeli prime minister has sparred with Israel’s generals, with a growing number of public dissensions coming from the top brass.

And then there’s President Biden, whom Netanyahu attacked earlier this week for supposedly withholding weapons from Israel and thwarting its goal to fully defeat Hamas. Netanyahu’s broadside against the White House, which brushed under the rug the huge amount of support that the Biden administration has offered Israel, seemed calculated to curry favor with his right-wing base and boost Biden’s own Republican opponents, who led the charge in inviting the polarizing Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress next month.

Netanyahu, a wily politician and Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is pulling what levers he can in an increasingly desperate quest to cling to power. Domestic anger over his seeming unwillingness to commit to a cease-fire deal that would lead to the release of remaining Israeli hostages in Hamas captivity has fueled fresh protests this week in the country’s cities and calls for his resignation and new elections. New polling by the Pew Research Center found far higher favorability ratings among Israelis for Netanyahu’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, than the prime minister himself.
Netanyahu insists that Israel must be allowed to eliminate Hamas, even though U.S. officials believe the group’s military capacity has been already significantly degraded. Many top experts also contend that Hamas can’t be fully vanquished militarily absent a lasting political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s a view now also finding voice from the top ranks of the Israeli military.

On Wednesday, Israel Defense Forces spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said in an interview with local media that “Hamas cannot be destroyed. Hamas is an idea,” and added that “those who think it can be made to disappear are wrong.”
Hagari seems to be making obvious reference to Netanyahu and his allies further to the right, including far-right cabinet ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, on whose support Netanyahu relies to stay in power. The Israeli far right has been vocally opposed to potential postwar scenarios that would concede anything to Palestinians — mooted plans that include the administration of Gaza by a Palestinian entity, the financing of the territory’s reconstruction and a broader political process to reconcile Israelis and Palestinians. But the absence of a viable “day after” strategy has irked the Israeli security establishment and many of Netanyahu’s centrist rivals.
“What we can do is foster something new to replace Hamas,” Hagari said in his interview. “Who will that be? What will it be? That’s for the political leadership to decide.”

Netanyahu does not seem interested in making that decision. “Ben Gvir and Smotrich’s continued influence, even from outside the war cabinet, was partly the reason for the resignation of war cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot last week,” my colleagues wrote. “The two centrists said they joined the cabinet to ensure that the war was conducted responsibly, but have since concluded that they couldn’t work with Netanyahu as long as he refused to commit to a day-after strategy for Gaza.”

For some in the Israeli public, the prime minister’s political epitaph is already written. “You chose your political survival over the people and the hostages,” Einav Zangauker, the mother of one hostage, told Israeli media, addressing Netanyahu. “The guilt will follow you to the grave. You cannot escape it.”

Yet Netanyahu is expert at defying the odds. His attack on Biden blindsided a baffled White House, whose top spokesperson told reporters: “We generally do not know what he’s talking about.”
The Biden administration has authorized numerous weapons transfers to Israel and even pressured wary Democrats in Congress not to stymie the delivery of this aid, even as the main U.N. human rights body has concluded that Israel may have “repeatedly violated” the laws of war in its use of massive explosives in densely populated areas. Compliant with U.S. law that scrutinizes how foreign governments use U.S. military aid, the Biden administration paused in May a delivery of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel over concerns over the damage it would inflict on Gaza’s civilian population. But Netanyahu spun this one delay into an argument that the White House was undermining his war effort.   
“Israel is at war on four fronts: with Hamas in Gaza; with Houthis in Yemen; with Hezbollah in Lebanon; and with Iran overseeing the operations,” noted Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. “What does Netanyahu do? Attack the United States based on a lie that he made up! The Speaker and Leader should withdraw his invitation to address Congress until he recants and apologizes.”

Whatever happens in July, Biden faces an uphill challenge in November, with left-wing anger over his open-ended support of Israel’s campaign in Gaza threatening to lose him the presidential election in key swing states. Left-leaning critics of the White House are frustrated by his inability to stand up to Netanyahu and sufficiently protect innocent civilians in Gaza.
“Since October 7,” wrote David Klion in the Nation, Biden “has drawn red lines he has no intention of enforcing and allowed Netanyahu to repeatedly humiliate him and get away with it, strengthening the Israeli prime minister both with his domestic constituency and with the American right, which may very well regain control of U.S. foreign policy as a result.”

(Da Washington Post,21 May, 2924)

Ishaan Tharoor, Sammy Westfall