Is The Gaza Ceasefire The End For Netanyahu?

Authored by Tom Luongo,

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” 
H. L. Mencken

The resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman over the terms of the ceasefire with Palestinians in Gaza has thrown Israeli politics into real turmoil.  

Depending on whose analysis of this situation you read you may be tempted to see this as a good thing or a bad thing. 

Bernard at Moon of Alabama sees a weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being forced to sue of peace after the upgraded response from Gaza.  From MoA:

The short conflict demonstrated that:

  • Israel is deterred. It does not want to launch another war on Gaza.

  • The siege of Gaza, by Israel, Egypt and by the Palestinian authority under Mahmoud Abbas, failed. The reputational cost of the siege became too high after Israel killed some 160 Palestinians during weekly protests along the demarcation fence. It had to allow diesel fuel and money from Qatar to reach Gaza.

  • The siege failed to prevent that Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other groups acquired a larger number of missiles and other new capabilities.

  • The Palestinians in Gaza are united. The resistance against the occupation is alive and well.

This leaves Netanyahu scrambling to fend off snap elections and the rise of the even more hard-line Naftali Bennett who has threatened Bibi’s coalition outright unless he is made Defense Minister, replacing Lieberman.

MoA sees Netanyahu in a very precarious position, which he is, and will be forced to placate Bennett or risk a snap election that could see his government fall.

And it is on this point that Mintpressnews’s Whitney Webb takes another view, namely, that this is not the political victory for Gaza the Palestinians think it is.  Since Bennett will step up the brutality to include all Gazans, including children.

With Lieberman’s party already withdrawing from Israel’s far-right coalition, Netanyahu will likely capitulate to Bennett’s demands in order to stabilize the current government and avoid dissolving the Knesset and subsequent snap elections. Thus, the current instability facing the Likud-led coalition now seems fated to result in a rightward surge, whether it’s through snap elections or through Netanyahu-led efforts to placate other right-wing parties and prevent them from defecting.

Other powerful politicians within Jewish Home, such as Uri Ariel, have also pushed for Bennett to be appointed. Ariel told Israeli media outlet Arutz Sheva:

Prime Minister Netanyahu should appoint Minister Bennett as defense minister and this government can continue to function. I think there is an advantage in stability, of course assuming that Bennett will bring security policy to a much better place.

Naturally, there is a desire of more than one person to be defense minister, but the most appropriate one is Minister Bennett, who was promised the portfolio by the prime minister in the past, and the promise was not honored.”

Over the past year, Bennett has repeatedly accused Lieberman of showing “restraint and weakness” as defense minister, especially in relation to his approach to Gaza’s Great Return March. Accusing Lieberman of “weakness” is particularly shocking given that the Israeli military under Lieberman repeatedly used lethal force to quell protests in Gaza, killing over 200 unarmed Palestinians – including children, medics and journalists – and wounding over 22,000.

As bad as Bibi and Lieberman are/were Bennett makes them look like Quakers.  

So, the situation in Israel is similar to that in Russia for U.S. anti-Russian types.  If you think Vladimir Putin is a dictator and a dangerous right-wing fanatic (which he isn’t) then you don’t understand what stands behind him.

In other words, be careful what you wish for — regime change — because you just might get it … good and hard, to quote Mencken. 

In effect, weakening figures like them empowers the hyper-nationalists who are 1) eager to prove the other guy was a wimp and 2) untested in actual confrontation.  So, they are unpredictable and likely to go off half-cocked.

For all of his faults, Netanyahu is at least battle-tested and can be reasoned with to some extent.

I think, however, Webb overstates the danger for the Palestinians here.  Israel is in the precarious position.  Too much of the world has turned against them and their handling of this situation.  

And that reputational loss is putting Netanyahu in the bind he’s currently in.  He knows what will happen if Bennett is in charge of Israel’s defense forces.  It will be the best recruitment drive for anti-Israeli sentiment the world over, but most especially here in the U.S.

And that is something he can’t have.

Broadly speaking, the height of Israel’s influence over U.S. politics has already occurred with the peak of the Baby Boomers’ political power.  As the generational shift happens more Gen-X’ers and Millennials who have had their fill of subordinating U.S. foreign policy to the whims of Israel will gain influence over U.S. policy.

This isn’t a judgment, it’s a sober observation.

So if Bennett takes over the IDF and takes things to eleven versus the Palestinians in Gaza, then it will cost Donald Trump politically at home and the best ally Israel has had in two decades in the White House will be lost.  

They, along with the Saudis, are now having to truly deal with international criticism of their behavior and can no longer rely on a compliant (and paid for) western media to spin the narrative in their favor.  

And Trump & Kushner’s Project Netanyahu, as Alistair Crooke recently described it, has been nothing but a disaster for all involved, especially the people it was supposed to help — The Saudis and the Israelis.  

And all of Trump’s enemies, even the ones who are also pro-Israel, will turn up the heat on him over our relationship with these two countries if 

They both overplayed their hands thinking that Trump would back whatever play they made.  

It has played right into the hands of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah by continuing to think the insurgency against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could be successful.  What Obama thought would be a quagmire for the Russians turned out to be one for the U.S./Israel/Saudi coalition.

This is why Trump and his advisors have pushed all-in on regime change in Iran.  Netanyahu is right that Iran can and will continue to supply the arms needed to grind out a win versus Israel in the long run.  

If Russia’s S-300s and air defense systems are as good as advertised then Bennett will end the myth of Israeli air superiority after Israel loses a few F-16i’s when he inevitably needs to show strength.

Unfortunately for Israel, that myth is one of the few things keeping things relatively quiet.

Iran will find it’s way through the sanctions.  Netanyahu didn’t have many other options and the neocons in D.C. really believe that this time it’ll be different.  But it won’t be.

In fact, if you don’t think Iran and Russia haven’t game-planned this very scenario then you are as clueless as those that think getting rid of Putin would make Russia more pliable.

Oh right, those are the same people.

The silver lining to all of this is now that Bibi is on thinner ice in the Knesset the best path forward for Israel and Trump is to come to the bargaining table as honest brokers to end the conflict in Syria, something to this point hasn’t occurred.

That will get Iran to stand down, because otherwise Israel’s position in the region will continue to erode.  

Putin was forced by his hard-liners to finally protect both Russian and Syrian interests directly from Israeli harassment.  And that set us on the path we’re on today.  The best deal Trump and Netanyahu are going to get from Putin and Assad is on the table today, not next year or 2020.  

Provided, of course, that either one or the both of them survive.