Is Netanyahu biting off more than it can chew First Post 02 Jul 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/gaza-war-is-netanyahu-biting-off-more-than-he-can-chew-13788374.html

Is Netanyahu biting off more than it can chew First Post 02 Jul 2024

          A leader struggling to retain power could be disastrous for a nation. This is possibly where Netanyahu and Israel stand today? The ongoing conflict in Gaza, with no end in sight, has crossed 260 days, over 37,000 Gazans are dead, while Israel has lost over 1500, including soldiers, while 160 remain hostages. Gaza is a rubble, reconstruction of which would need massive funding and time.

Netanyahu is at odds with almost everyone, his own military, his allies, including US and Europe, as also members of his coalition. With the resignation of Benny Gantz from the war cabinet, over disagreements, it now stands dissolved. This gives greater power and control to Netanyahu.   

Netanyahu criticized his armed forces spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, when he rightly mentioned in a TV discussion, ‘To say that we are going to make Hamas disappear is to throw sand in people’s eyes. If we don’t provide an alternative, in the end, we will have Hamas.’ He added, ‘Hamas is an ideology, we cannot eliminate an ideology.’ This is reality, which Netanyahu though aware, tends to ignore. The ongoing conflict only proves that destruction of Hamas is not as easy as he believes.

          A few days earlier, he had objected to the military announcing a daily pause between 8 am to 7 pm in Rafah to permit aid trucks to transit. Netanyahu had stated, ‘We have a country with an army, not an army with a country.’ His security minister went as far as to state that whoever decided the ‘pause was a fool who should lose their job.’

The military subsequently clarified that normal operations would continue. The pause had been announced post talks with Egypt and pressure from the US. The intent was to regain global sympathy, despite destruction and loss of civilian lives.

          Meanwhile in Israel, anti-war protests are on the rise demanding new elections and return of hostages. Despite almost complete control over Gaza, hostages are elusive, implying Hamas is still not defeated and leadership almost intact. Netanyahu continues to block investigations into the 07 Oct Hamas attack which started the war, aware it would indict him.

He also knows that the possibility of his return, post elections, is slim and the only possibility of regaining power, could flow from positive outcomes from the ongoing conflict. He also faces a bleak political future as court cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust seem to be set to indict him.

          Adding to Israel’s problems are growing tensions with Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has been engaging Israel regularly. The firing of rockets from Lebanon has resulted in Israel shifting thousands from its northern border region. Most are unlikely to return as they have resettled elsewhere. This will impact Israel in the long term.

Israel, on its part, has been targeting the Hezbollah leadership by drone and air strikes, almost inciting them to commence operations. The US is attempting to mediate between the two to prevent an escalation, even threatening Hezbollah that it will not stop an Israeli retaliation. The Israeli military has announced that its plans for operations against the Hezbollah have been finalized. The unofficial message from Israel is that Netanyahu would prefer expanding the conflict, rather than ending it.

Netanyahu went thus far as mentioning that with Gaza operations winding up, Israel could redeploy its forces on the Lebanon front. Battle fatigue is a factor which Netanyahu seems to ignore. Israeli forces have been continuously in operations since Oct last year.

Nations including Canada, Germany and others are implementing evacuation plans of their citizens from Lebanon, hinting that an Israeli assault is imminent. India has also warned its citizens of impending operations. Israel is threatening Lebanon, which has no control over the Hezbollah, which resides in its territory, of massive destruction. Iran has warned Israel that any attack on Lebanon would be responded to by them. The scenario seems to be spiraling out of control.

Simultaneously, reduction of military pressure in Gaza could result in the re-emergence of Hamas, as its elements remain active. Israel is planning to handle their re-emergence by intelligence-based operations. Without a ceasefire in Gaza, the release of remaining hostages is in doubt.

          Adding to Netanyahu’s problems is the decision of the Israeli supreme court lifting the ban on recruitment of ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary into the military. This will impact his coalition as he relies on two ultra-Orthodox parties that consider conscription exemptions as key for continuing support.

The court ruling mentioned, ‘At the height of a difficult war, the burden of inequality is more than ever acute.’ How will Netanyahu navigate this is to be seen. Arab residents, who comprise 21% of the population are exempt from military service, though few serve on their own will.

          Europe and the US are pushing Netanyahu for a ceasefire hoping to diffuse the situation before it expands into a regional war, but Netanyahu appears unwilling. In a recent TV interview, he discarded Biden’s ceasefire proposal as also UNSC approved suggestions for terminating the conflict. He continues to insist that his war-aim of ‘destroying Hamas’s military and governing capability’ is a priority and he would not waver from it. Simultaneously he mentioned that Israel is willing to expand the war with Hezbollah.

Officially Netanyahu has avoided mentioning any post-war plans for Gaza, implying that he would want the Israeli army to maintain security control over it, something Arab states would not accept. Israel is suggesting a body created by the US, EU and Arab states to govern Gaza, which would mean a puppet regime. The Arab demand is that the future must cater for a permanent ceasefire as also a Palestinian state, which is at odds with Netanyahu.  

Netanyahu’s insistence on continuing and even enlarging the conflict is having its impact in parts of the globe. Anti-Semitic protests are rising in the west while in the US it is impacting Biden’s chances of re-election. To further hit Biden, Netanyahu blamed Washington for holding back armament supplies, partially blaming them for setbacks in his Gaza conflict. The US was compelled to clarify that only one shipment of 2000lb bombs were held back on concerns of the utilization in populated areas, adding to casualties.

When and if peace finally returns to Gaza, anger against Israel would remain high considering loss of human lives and destruction. The population would be compelled to survive on aid and dole. The atmosphere would be ripe for the creation of another anti-Israel organization. Expansion of operations into Lebanon could destabilize the entire. Netanyahu has possibly timed his operations against the Hezbollah in a manner that it would conclude before his US visit on 24 Jul where he would address both chambers of Congress and maybe even offer a new solution.

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