Division in Israel

Karam Said, Tuesday 28 May 2024

Karam Said sums up how the Palestinian resistance has managed to divide the Israeli war cabinet


Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades Spokesman Abu Obeida’s speech of 25 May, in which he announced that its fighters had killed and captured a number of Israeli soldiers in a complex operation in Jabalia, sparked renewed tensions among Israeli occupation authorities. Long seething friction had flared into the open again a few days earlier when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli army command traded accusations related to the state of national security in the period preceding the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation that Hamas’ paramilitary wing, the Qassam Brigades, launched on 7 October 2023. According to Israeli military’s spokesperson’s unit on 23 May, four different warning letters were passed by the intelligence directorate to the prime minister in the spring and summer of 2023 warning of the heightened security risks in the country against the backdrop of the mass protests and social upheaval in response to the far-right Netanyahu government’s attempts to overhaul the judicial system. Netanyahu denied having received warnings of an imminent Hamas attack and claimed that intelligence reports had given “a completely opposite assessment,” according to a statement released by the prime minister’s office.

“The assessment in the documents that Hamas was not interested in escalation and was interested in a resolution with Israel was consistently shared by all security bodies, who went so far as to claim that Hamas was deterred,” the statement added. Disputes within the Israeli establishment do not revolve only around security preparedness before 7 October. Increasingly acrimonious accusations have been levelled against the current war cabinet and Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in particular, over the failure of Israel’s current military operations in Gaza to achieve its stated goals, namely the elimination of Hamas and the release of the hostages held in Gaza.

The Israeli war cabinet is also deeply divided over potential arrangements for Gaza in the post-war period. This was reflected in statements by Gallant and former chief of staff Benny Gantz earlier this month, stating their opposition to Israeli military control over Gaza after the war. “I must reiterate: I will not agree to the establishment of Israeli military rule in Gaza,” Gallant said in a televised address on 15 May. Noting that he had been raising this concern in the cabinet since October without receiving a response, he stressed, “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.”

Speaking some days later, war cabinet member Gantz, who also opposes Israeli military control over Gaza after the war, warned that he would resign if Netanyahu did not set out a post-war plan for the Strip. Addressing Netanyahu, he said, “If you put the national over personal [interests], you will find in us partners in the struggle. But if you choose the path of fanatics and lead the entire nation to the abyss, we will be forced to quit the government.” Gantz gave Netanyahu until 8 June to produce a plan.

Gallant and Gantz do not dispute the stated Israeli aim of eliminating Hamas, however they disagree on means and ultimate ends. Whereas these two ministers maintain that the only way to bring in an alternative to Hamas rule is by letting “Palestinian entities” take control of Gaza, with support from international actors. Netanyahu insists that Israel should retain indefinite military control over the Strip, a stance he laid out in a position paper released in February.

Despite the Netanyahu government’s attempts to downplay the tensions, Gallant’s televised statement and Gantz’s ultimatum to Netanyahu, evidence that the situation on the ground in Gaza is not going as Israeli military strategists had envisioned, and mounting friction between Israel and its Western backers tell another story: the government is cracking under the pressure. In addition, the concerted political/military propaganda campaign orchestrated by Netanyahu and his supporters from the extreme right regarding the Israel Occupation Forces’ achievements in destroying Hamas’ command and control and logistic capacities is also falling apart. The resistance operations, such as the recent ambush of Israeli soldiers in Jabalia that Abu Obeida mentioned on 25 May, reveal that something has gone awry with the occupation’s military planning and execution. According to several analysts, the operation that led to the death and capture of more Israeli soldiers, delivered a stunning blow to the war cabinet. Although the Israeli government’s immediate reaction was denial, the reality of the operations, as documented by video-footage, will force it to make some tough decisions.

Such developments on the ground in Gaza are wreaking further attrition on the image of the Israeli army, which had been severely dented by its complete lack of preparedness on 7 October. To compound the occupation forces’ embarrassment, the ambush in Jabalia came only days after Israeli Chief of Staff Herzl “Herzi” Halevi toured Jabalia and vowed to free the hostages and recover the bodies of those who had been killed. Despite how the blows delivered by the resistance drive home the failure of the Israeli offensive to achieve any significant progress towards its stated objectives, the Israeli government appears to have no alternative in mind except to prolong the war regardless of the mounting losses to Israeli ranks.

Against this backdrop, pressures may build for early elections in the hope of ousting Netanyahu and his extremist cronies. Much of the pressure is likely to come from the families of the hostages, to whom will be added the families of the soldiers killed or taken prisoner in Jabalia and other recent resistance operations. Protests organised by the families of the hostages have been steadily increasing, both in size and frequency, fuelled by the government’s policies and what protesters allege is Netanyahu’s indifference to the hostages’ fate. This combined with rising discontent at the government’s domestic policies and the approaching opening of the Knesset’s summer session may lend impetus to the Israeli opposition, led by Yair Lapid, who has demanded Netanyahu’s resignation and early elections.

Meanwhile, as Israel persists with its unwinnable war of genocide and erasure of Palestinian Gaza, Israel’s Western supporters, especially its main backer, Washington, are pressing Netanyahu to establish a timeframe for ending the military operation. These powers have been caused greater discomfort by last week’s developments in the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice, whose rulings and decisions have further exposed the Western governments’ double standards regarding the application of international law and international humanitarian law. As they come under increasing pressure from public opinion at home, their pressure on Israel is likely to increase, adding to the domestic pressures on the fraying Netanyahu government and, perhaps, accelerating the end to the war.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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