Bar Fishman

Netanyahu and the Sword of Damocles

Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial at the Jerusalem District Court on May 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90, an excerpt from The Times of Israel)

In Israel’s political fiasco, few figures command the coalition forces with as much bravado as Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet, the recent inferno with Hamas has marked the concrete end of the perilous strategy long pursued by Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister. Like Damocles, who once sat beneath a sword suspended by a single horsehair, Netanyahu’s political maneuvers with Hamas have left Israel precariously on the brink of an abyss.

For years, Netanyahu has propped up Hamas as a counterbalance to the Palestinian Authority, believing that a divided Palestinian leadership would serve Israel’s interests. This approach, however, has proven to be a double-edged sword. The metaphor of the Sword of Damocles properly describes the essence of Netanyahu’s strategy—where the illusion of control denies the ever-present danger looming overhead.

As the ancient tale goes, Damocles, a courtier in the court of Dionysius II of Syracuse, envied the power of his king. In a twist of fate, Dionysius offered Damocles the chance to switch places, allowing him to experience the luxuries of kingship. Yet, above the throne hung a sword, held by a single strand of horsehair, symbolizing the constant peril faced by those in power. Similarly, Netanyahu’s tenure has been marked by a facade of stability, highlighted by the perilous balancing act of empowering Hamas to undermine the Palestinian Authority.

The consequences of this strategy became glaringly evident on October 7, 2023, when Hamas launched a devastating attack, catching Israel off-guard. As Tal Schneider sadly reflected that same moment: “For years, Netanyahu propped up Hamas. Now it’s blown up in our faces”​. This assessment underscores the harsh reality of a policy that, while tactically advantageous in the short term, has ultimately imperiled Israeli security.

Netanyahu’s rationale was not entirely without merit. By fostering a rivalry between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, he aimed to weaken Palestinian national unity and forestall any cohesive front against Israel. However, this Machiavellian maneuver has failed spectacularly. The illusion of control has been shattered, revealing the fragility of a strategy built on shifting sands.

The recent revelations about Israel’s clandestine reliance on Qatari aid for Gaza further complicate this narrative. Documents show that Israel, while publicly condemning Hamas, tacitly supported Qatari financial assistance to the Gaza Strip. This paradoxical approach aimed to maintain a modicum of stability in Gaza, thereby preventing a humanitarian catastrophe that could spill over into Israel​​. Yet, as the Sword of Damocles metaphor advises, such dangerous arrangements are bound to collapse.

The protests in Tel Aviv against government corruption add another aspect of irony to Netanyahu’s mess. The Likud party’s accusations of “division” ring hollow in the face of a strategy that has sown discord both within and beyond Israel’s borders, mostly in the growing frustration of the Israeli public with a leadership that seems increasingly detached from the realities on the ground​.

The lessons of the Sword of Damocles are clear. Power, when wielded without prudence, is a double-edged sword. Netanyahu’s gamble with Hamas, much like Damocles’ ill-fated period on the throne, has left Israel exposed to the very dangers it sought to mitigate. The illusion of control has given way to the stark reality of vulnerability.

As the country makes efforts to go through this uncharted and dangerous territory, it must keep in mind the cautionary tale of Damocles. True security lies not in the manipulation of adversaries, but in the pursuit of genuine stability and peace. The sword hangs ever above, a reminder of the risks of power and the fragility of strategies built on short-term foundations.

In conclusion, Netanyahu’s tenure has been a high stake of a failing geopolitical game, marked by bold moves and unforeseen consequences. The Sword of constantly reminds the line between control and chaos is perilously thin. Israel now stands at a crossroads, with the lessons of recent history urging a reassessment of strategies that somehow should prioritize long-term stability over short-term gains.

About the Author
Bar Fishman is an M.A. Student and Junior Faculty Member in the Department of Communication Studies at Ben-Gurion University and Sapir Academic College. His research focuses on Political Science and International Relations in the Digital Era, with interests in Digital Diplomacy and Civic Participation.
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