‘Who’s Driving’? – How Netanyahu Broke Israel up to Warring Camps

Israel continues to bomb Gaza by air, land and sea. (Image: Palestine Chronicle)

By Ramzy Baroud & Romana Rubeo

October 7 has complicated the political scene in Israel in ways that even the masterful politician, Netanyahu, could not handle.

Who runs Israel? This is not an easy question to answer.

Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not exactly run Israel. He is more of a manager, and not a very good one at that. 

Netanyahu, nicknamed Bibi by his fans and detractors alike, has also been known as ‘the King of Israel’. Over the course of over 16 years, Netanyahu has earned the title of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. 

Bibi’s Balancing Act 

In a country that claims to be a democracy, the only rational explanation for why Netanyahu has managed to survive these number of years in one of the most fractious political scenes on earth is simply because he is liked by the majority of people. 

However, this is not the case. Most of Netanyahu’s coalitions, which allowed him to rule year after year, one polarizing election after the other, were assembled based on his ability to play a balancing political act, unprecedented in the history of all Israeli governments. 

Indeed, rarely did Netanyahu rule with an outright majority for his Likud party. To form a government, the Israeli leader found it necessary to form coalitions, which have growingly relied on right-wing and eventually far-right ideologues, the likes of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. 

Far-Right Bonanza 

Netanyahu’s coalition, formed in December 2022, moved forward, somewhat smoothly, if compared to Israel’s inherently unstable coalitions, until the Al-Aqsa Flood operation on October 7, and the subsequent war. 

Within those ten months, Israeli National Security Minister Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Smotrich were given free hand to wreak havoc on Palestinian communities, not only in the occupied territories, including Al-Quds (Jerusalem), but also against the Arab citizens of Israel. 

Though their violent rhetoric, policy and behavior invited Palestinian Resistance and much criticism, regionally and internationally, none of this mattered to Netanyahu. The Israeli leader was mostly focused on remaining in power, at any cost, to avoid or delay legal accountability for several standing corruption cases, embroiling him and his family as well. 

Political ‘Flood’ 

But October 7 has complicated the political scene in Israel in ways that even the masterful politician Netanyahu could not handle.

In addition to a coalition government of far-right ministers calling for the extermination or the expulsion of Palestinians, Netanyahu needed to answer to another strange coalition, the war government. 

This emergency government was formed soon after the start of the Israeli war on Gaza and included the likes of Benny Gantz, a sworn enemy for Netanyahu, whose role in the war cabinet seemed mostly aimed at controlling Netanyahu’s war ambition.

As if finding the balance between two governments was not difficult enough, Netanyahu also needed to balance the growing frustration in the army over their heavy losses and lack of vision in Gaza, and the Israeli street – angry, confused, vengeful, and divided. 

Perhaps, Israel would have been ‘saved’ from Netanyahu’s wrath and self-centered politics if Washington had a strong government of its own. The Biden Administration, however, volunteered itself, from the very first day of the war, to play the role of the lackey, giving Israel whatever it needed while asking as few questions as possible. 

95 days into the war and Israel remains divided, unaware of what it actually wants, unwilling to accept defeat, incapable of moving forward, or in any other direction. 

‘Not Another Star’

“We are not another star in the American flag,” Ben-Gvir said on January 3.

Ben-Gvir did not originate this reference. It is often infused whenever Israeli politicians want to communicate to Washington that Tel Aviv will not follow American diktats. 

But in reality, the Americans did not dictate anything. They have given Israel additional billions of dollars to save their economy, supplied Israel with the very ammunitions that allowed it to conduct the genocide in Gaza, and merely asked, though bashfully, Israel to reduce civilian casualties among Palestinians, just a little. 

According to Ben-Gvir, American handouts and generosity are welcomed. What is not welcomed, however, is the mere suggestion that Israel should set realistic goals for its war or that it should not ethnically cleanse Palestinians out of Gaza, and so forth.

In this atmosphere of chaos, and lack of a serious and decisive leadership, Israel seems to operate as disconnected political camps, fighting amongst each other at the time that their own military is fighting a losing battle in Gaza, with no specific objectives.

A US official explained to Politico on Monday, on condition of anonymity, the state of affairs of Israeli politics.

‘Who’s Driving?’ 

“It’s not always clear who’s driving the train” in Israel, he said.

“There have been times where (Netanyahu) has intimated or even been more explicit in telling us, ‘My hands are tied. You know, I have this coalition. It’s not me. It’s a coalition. It’s not me. It’s the political imperatives that I’m facing.’,” the official added.

But, Netanyahu’s ‘political imperatives’ are of his own making. 

And what is worsening matters for Tel Aviv is that the US President Joe Biden himself has repeatedly reiterated, “I am a Zionist, you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist”.

Biden’s statements have very little to do with the Zionist ideology, or whether one must or must not be Jewish to be a Zionist. It is, in a way, a blank check to Netanyahu to do as he pleases without fearing accountability, or pressure.

Similarly, such statements as that of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on October 12 that he arrived in Israel “not only as the United States secretary of state, but also as a Jew” made things even worse. It meant that American and Israeli interests are perfectly aligned and there will be no questioning of Israeli motives or actions. 

Blinken arrived in Israel on Monday. Prior to his arrival in Tel Aviv, he spoke to reporters from Saudi Arabia, announcing American foreign policy priorities, security for Israel, a state for the Palestinians. 

The problem for the Americans is that their priorities are no longer trusted, accepted or respected by any party in the region, and certainly not by Israel itself. 

The question is, will Washington ever develop the political will to enforce its priorities, or has the age of American leadership in the Middle East gone forever? Evidence on the ground suggests that the latter is true.

(The Palestine Chronicle) 

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out

1 Comment

  1. The real reason why the US lost in Vietnam in the 60s and early 70s was conflicting ideas about what they were there for, etc. The same reason why the US bombed out in Iraq. I’m expecting that in the not-too-distant future, Lebanon, perennially divided, and so on, will be a stronger power than Israel. Whic of course means that Israel will one of these days, be selling its nuclear weapon secrets to Iran to balance its books. Dare I say, “Mark my words”?

Comments are closed.