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Israel’s leadership at a crossroads: Break free or breakdown?

The coming weeks offer a stark choice: broker a hostage deal and normalize ties with Saudi Arabia or jeopardize Israel's future
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (R) in Jerusalem, May 19, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (R) in Jerusalem, May 19, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The recent visit to Israel by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan drove home the message to the government that it is approaching a strategic crossroads, with the window for decision narrowing as the US elections near. Israeli decision-makers must fulfill their responsibilities. Rather than kicking the can down the road, they should make strategic decisions that could secure a historic victory for Israel and Zionism. This includes brokering a hostage deal and achieving normalization with Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.

Normalization will legitimize the existence of a Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East, preserve regional and international support for actions against Hamas, constrain its sources of funding, and build a coalition against Iran. Additionally, it will help curb international legal actions against Israel and its leaders, while bolstering Israel’s global standing.

The political cost will be significant, but it is far preferable to the alternative, which jeopardizes Israel’s security. Continued fighting in Gaza without clearly defined political objectives heightens the risk of escalation on the northern front, in the West Bank, and with Iran, and increases the likelihood of international pressure on Israel to cease hostilities without securing the return of hostages or achieving regional and international cooperation to stifle Hamas.

The coming weeks may be Israel’s final opportunity to secure the release of the 125 Israeli and other hostages languishing in Gaza’s tunnels before this tragedy becomes a yearslong crisis. The State of Israel was founded to safeguard Jews, a mission it failed on October 7th. We must make every effort to bring them home, trusting that our security establishment can manage the aftermath of any deal with Hamas. Without the return of the hostages, true victory remains elusive. Their continued captivity casts a heavy shadow over Israeli society, hindering our ability to overcome collective trauma and restore national cohesion and resilience.

The hostage deal is not merely a moral imperative for the state to its citizens; it represents the pivotal political course needed to extricate Israel from its current impasse. It holds the key to unlocking subsequent political dynamics, notably normalization efforts, and breaking free from the cycle of escalation along the northern border.

And, if, after Israel agrees to cease hostilities in exchange for the release of all hostages, Sinwar reneges on the deal, it will only strengthen the resolve of Israeli society and the moderate countries in the region to defeat Hamas. The relentless campaign against Hamas will then gain US support for expanding operations in Rafah, permanently severing smuggling routes from Sinai to Gaza, expelling Hamas leadership from Qatar, and implementing various other measures. These efforts will persist until Hamas is replaced by a moderate local Gazan leadership that rejects religious extremism and the radical ideology akin to ISIS.

In addition to a hostage deal and a cessation of hostilities in Gaza, possibly for an extended period but not unlimited, Israel will need to embrace the two-state principle and commit to advancing it. This is crucial for fostering normalization. Contrary to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s politically-driven framing, this is not a binary choice between “Hamastan and Fatahstan.” It is abundantly clear to all parties, particularly after October 7th, that achieving the two-state solution in the foreseeable future, especially from a security standpoint, is implausible. There is no Israeli mainstream leader willing to give control of Gaza and the West Bank to a Palestinian entity while it continues to fund terrorists, incite violence, and fail to prevent terrorist attacks from its territory. The Biden administration and the international community recognize this reality.

Ultimately, the choice confronting the Prime Minister of Israel is stark: aligning with Ben Gvir and Smotritch, risking further deterioration of Israel’s security, economy, and foreign relations, while jeopardizing the crucial alliance with the United States, now more essential than ever; or forging a regional and international coalition to defeat Hamas and counter the radical axis led by Iran in the region.

Israelis cherish life over death. It’s an enduring principle that must be upheld. Now is the moment for the leaders in Jerusalem to take a crucial decision on the hostage deal, even if the sacrifices are daunting, and steer away from the strategic impasse they’re heading into. Leaders unable to demonstrate such leadership or make decisions in the national interest should step aside, yield the reins, and go home.

About the Author
Major General (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, is the president of MIND Israel.