Israel’s new “unity” government, formed earlier this month to oversee an all-out war on Gaza, seems to be divided over strategy and objectives.
The tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the other two leading generals in the war cabinet, Benny Gantz and Yoav Gallant, is widening this division and creating confusion over the much-anticipated land invasion of the densely populated Palestinian enclave.
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The rift is driven by personal, military, political and ideological disagreements that emerged well before the war started, and are likely to shape the Israeli polity well after it ends.
There is no love lost between Netanyahu and the generals, who felt obliged to join the country’s wartime emergency coalition. They have long treated the veteran prime minister with suspicion and contempt, especially since Netanyahu allied his Likud party with the religious fanatics of the extreme right, and went on to rewrite the country’s fundamental laws, to suit his and his fanatical partners’ interests.
Gantz continues to hold a grudge against the prime minister since the 2020 elections, when the general foolishly broke away from his own grand coalition in order to join a Netanyahu-led coalition government, only to be betrayed by a more confident backstabbing prime minister. Likewise, Gallant continues to hold a grudge against Netanyahu, who fired him as defence minister in March 2023 for questioning the soundness of his fanatical legislative agenda and its implications for national security. Although Netanyahu reversed his decision under public pressure a few weeks later, the two men haven’t buried the hatchet.
Militarily speaking, the generals do not trust Netanyahu and his fanatic minions with war; they especially do not trust their motives and objectives that render the war no more than the continuation of their politics through violence. They reckon Netanyahu, the failed prime minister turned wartime leader, is more preoccupied with restoring his legacy than ensuring the security of the country. But since they were stuck with him as prime minister, the generals had to settle with excluding his most fanatic ministers from the war cabinet.
The generals and security heads have accepted responsibility for the country’s military and intelligence failure on October 7, and are expected to resign soon after they take their revenge on Hamas, and Gaza. Hence, the generals want to assign clear military objectives for the war, notably to destroy Hamas’s military capabilities and dismantle its administrative and political structures.
But Netanyahu has not accepted his responsibility in the the October 7 fiasco. His plan, it seems, is to wage a “long and painful” war, and remain on the political stage as a war hero after the dust settles on the ruins of Gaza.
Delusional? Perhaps, considering the prime minister’s sinking popularity, including within his own party. But Netanyahu’s megalomania, which led to the October 7 blowback, is severe enough that he won’t hesitate to prolong the war for as long as it takes for him to change the public perception and avoid accountability.
Likewise, Netanyahu and his fanatical allies, who deepened Israel’s occupation and inflamed the Palestinian anger, have raised the public expectation from the war, insisting on total annihilation of Hamas and its leadership. This, of course, is as unrealistic a goal as that of the US to finish off the Taliban in Afghanistan, which remains unrealised after 20 years of war. But this unrealistic objective will make it easy for Netanyahu and company to blame the military for its failure to meet the national aspiration when the war comes to an end.
The fanatics have also declared their intention to rebuild the illegal and highly problematic Jewish settlements in Gaza from which Israel withdrew in 2005 – the nightmare of every Israeli general, ever since the infamous general-cum-prime-minister, Ariel Sharon, decided to change the Israeli position from directly occupying Gaza to besieging it in perpetuity.
These disagreements over the war’s endgame have further complicated the already complicated calculations about the invasion and the ensuing urban warfare, which is bound to cause tens if not hundreds of thousands of casualties, and may also open up another front in the north against the Lebanese Hezbollah, pushing Israel towards an apocalyptical scenario.
Enter the United States and its gunboat diplomacy through the deployment of two aircraft carriers in the Eastern Mediterranean to shield Israel from any regional repercussions as it invades Gaza, which has further complicated Israeli calculus and timelines.
Thankful for its strategic and technical assistance in urban warfare, both Netanyahu and the generals have since fallen in line with the Biden Administration, which expects them to agree on clear and realistic objectives and an actionable strategy to meet them,as well give a chance for diplomacy to free more hostages, before launching a land offensive. Since neither side wishes to antagonise America, they blame each other for the delayed land offensive, which most Israelis support, according to recent polls, albeit without a defined endgame.
The deepening rift between its formidable military establishment and its far-right and fanatical religious camp will have far-reaching implications for Israeli society and polity. But for the Palestinians, there is not real difference between Israel’s warmongering generals who call the Palestinians “human animals” and its racist fanatics, who call for their expulsion, especially for those at the receiving end of Israel’s sadistic bombing and siege.
Fascists, fanatics; to-mato, tom-ato.