Prime Minister Netanyahu was elected and has remained in power for so many years because of his perceived hawkish and uncompromising views on Israel’s national security. He has maintained peace and security for Israel’s citizens near the Syrian and Lebanese borders, prevented a massive uprising in the West Bank, and avoided entering another war in Gaza, at least for now. But the situation in the south is deteriorating yet again, and he’s exhausted many of his options for getting out of it.
As if the prime minister waving a piece of an Iranian drone directly at the Iranian foreign minister at the Munich Security Conference wasn’t enough, he’s got the action to back it up. Under his watch the IDF has relentlessly attacked Iranian targets in Syria, missile factories in Lebanon, and even weapons convoys in Iraq. Since the start of this year, he has made the message that Israel will not tolerate any Iranian expansion near its borders, hear loud and clear. And he has done this while continuing to maintain strong diplomatic relations with the Russians, despite causing them tremendous headache as a result of Israel’s actions in Syria.
The situation in the West Bank has been complicated, but relatively calm. The potential for a massive uprising in solidarity with the Gaza protests, Trump Administration’s drastic cut in funding for Palestinian institutions (despite major objections by the Israeli defense establishment), and the PLO’s threat to end all security cooperation has put the government in a bind to maintain order. Despite this, and an unfortunate slight increase in Israelis killed in stabbing and shooting attacks recently, the situation in the West Bank has been managed well. According to a recent statement from the Shin Bet, 480 terror attacks were thwarted in the past year, mostly from Hamas. The potential spillover of violence from Gaza into the West Bank has been avoided. There has been no uprising, no Intifada, and not even a mass-casualty attack.
What has become obvious now is that the situation in Gaza is not sustainable, and unlike the previous months, it can’t even be considered “relative calm.” For months the unrelenting terror caused by flaming kites, balloons, and even live animals, have been proven a new challenge for the most powerful military in the Middle East. Around 8,000 acres of land has been burned, animals and livestock killed, and millions spent on battling the fires. In October, a group of Israeli teenagers created an Instagram account called “otef.gaza” to show the world the reality of life in the Gaza border communities, posting photos and videos of the damage that countless fires have caused. These teenagers, 6,000 strong, marched 90 kilometers to Jerusalem, eventually joined by President Rivlin, to express their outrage at the government and demand that it take action to protect their communities.
This all was happening before the complete deterioration of the situation in the last week. Netanyahu had been hoping to strike a deal to quiet the border area before things got out of hand, as they now have. Netanyahu took a gamble and made a deal, hoping to finally receive quiet in Gaza. He allowed Qatar to deliver $15 million in cash directly to Hamas, followed by ten trucks of much needed fuel on behalf of the Israeli taxpayer. Since this transaction only days ago, whatever agreement or understanding there may have been has completely fallen apart. Israel is now facing the largest barrage of rockets seen in months, over two hundred now. An Israeli bus was hit with an anti-tank missile. An IDF officer was killed in an operation inside Gaza. Netanyahu’s gamble with Hamas is now being exploited by his enemies as nothing more than a capitulation to terror and a bribe, which was short-sighted and has now resulted in failure. The option of total war still remains, as does continued negotiation with Qatar, Egypt, and the UN.
Whether the prime minister is facing pressure from the Trump Administration, his military brass, his right-wing allies or even Mahmoud Abbas and the PA to show restraint, the perceived lack of action and deteriorating situation in the south is growing evidence of Netanyahu’s inability to handle the situation. It shouldn’t take teenagers to convince him that the current status quo is unsustainable, and if substantial action is not taken soon, he will pay dearly for it politically.