Netanyahu Isolated

The war cabinet is gone. He now owns the war completely.

AP (“Netanyahu dissolved his war Cabinet. How will that affect cease-fire efforts?“):

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his war Cabinet Monday, a move that consolidates his influence over the Israel-Hamas war and likely diminishes the odds of a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip anytime soon.

Netanyahu announced the step days after his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, withdrew from the three-member war Cabinet. Gantz, a retired general and member of parliament, was widely seen as a more moderate voice.

Major war policies will now be solely approved by Netanyahu’s security Cabinet — a larger body that is dominated by hard-liners who oppose the U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal and want to press ahead with the war.

Netanyahu is expected to consult on some decisions with close allies in ad-hoc meetings, said an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

These closed-door meetings could blunt some of the influence of the hard-liners. But Netanyahu himself has shown little enthusiasm for the cease-fire plan and his reliance on the full security Cabinet could give him cover to prolong a decision.

NYT (“Israeli Protesters Mass in Jerusalem to Call for Elections“):

Thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Jerusalem on Monday to call for elections and the immediate return of hostages held in Gaza in a demonstration that followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent decision to dissolve his war cabinet.

The protest outside the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, highlighted the competing pressures the Israeli prime minister is under from conflicting elements of Israeli society.

[…]

In the crowd in front of the Knesset on Monday was Yair Lapid, the opposition leader in Parliament, video posted on social media showed. Some of the marchers carried a banner stating that they were “leading the nation to the day after,” a reference to the end of the war in Gaza.

An Israeli police statement said that the police had helped facilitate the rally near the Knesset, and no arrests were immediately reported there.

However, confrontations appear to have been more intense when some protesters broke off to march to Mr. Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem, breaching a police roadblock. Anti-government activists have regularly gathered there throughout the war.

The activists chanted, “You are the chief, you are to blame” in front of the prime minister’s residence. Photographs showed some of them gathered around an open fire. Water cannons were fired, and at least nine people were arrested. The Israeli police said in a statement that some of the protesters had attacked officers, slightly injuring some of them.

Former Israeli consul general Alon Pinkas takes to The Guardian to proclaim, “Netanyahu’s ‘war cabinet’ had little power – but its demise does him real damage.”

There is very little drama in Netanyahu’s decision, or rather bland and laconic statement that he is dissolving the “war cabinet” that he himself formed on 11 October 2023. Constitutionally and in terms of affecting policy, the decision is a Seinfeld decision: it’s about nothing. The constitutionally authoritative body – the one with real power – is the security cabinet. The war cabinet was a convenient and circumstantial political invention. But Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz’s recent withdrawal from the government made the forum redundant in terms of policymaking, and politically explosive, since the extreme rightwing ministers now demanded to join.

[…]

Ostensibly, Netanyahu formed the war cabinet for the same reason that Chamberlain, and particularly Churchill, did: to streamline the decision-making process, to make policy debates more effective, briefings more constructive, and to avoid the useless and time-consuming cacophony of pontifications by tens of ministers speaking for what they believe is the historical record, and catering to an enthusiastic audience of themselves only.

In Israel’s case there was also an overriding political reason. The inexperienced, inept, incendiary extremist rightwing government that Netanyahu ceremoniously formed in December 2022 was ill-equipped to deal with wartime strategic thinking, planning and decision processes. Netanyahu needed to shield himself from criticism, surround himself with experience and – since “responsibility” and “accountability” are alien terms to him – shift the onus on to others.

He needed a forum he could conveniently castigate and blame when things went wrong, and criticise members for preventing him from making what he would later call triumphant decisions. Blaming faulty intelligence, the military and the General Security Service (Shabak), and then implicitly – the explicit will come later – attacking US President Biden for depriving him of a historic victory wasn’t enough. He needed the informal forum he could later attack for impeding him.

[…]

But this doesn’t mean it has no political implications. It does, in abundance. First, what the war cabinet failed to do. The presence of two former chiefs of staff of the IDF-turned-politicians, former generals Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, was supposed to add balance, seriousness and purpose. Instead, they failed to secure from Netanyahu a coherent vision for postwar Gaza, a definition of the war’s attainable political goals and plans for different tactical and operational management of the war. For example, once the IDF identified southern Gaza as Hamas’s centre of gravity, the war cabinet failed to effectively question the decision to invade the north instead.

It also abjectly failed to enforce a different force and munitions employment to avoid the indiscriminate deaths of civilians in Gaza. Most glaringly, the war cabinet abjectly failed to respond to Biden’s framework for postwar Gaza, a political process with the Palestinians and a reconfigured security structure for the Middle East. What it did succeed in doing is influence a premature, arguably reckless, attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon in mid-October, and a callous invasion of Rafah as recently as May.

At the same time, the dissolution of the war cabinet forum deprives Netanyahu of his legitimacy and constricts his manoeuvring room. Now the US has no political allies nor a forum to engage with.

The dissolution may not affect policy, but it weakens Netanyahu politically even more than he already is. He owns not only the 7 October debacle, not only the management of the war, but also the weeks ahead – and now he faces them alone.

Netanyahu is not legally required to call for new elections for another two years and change—so long as he can keep a governing coalition together. It’s unclear how much longer he’ll be able to do that.

While the existence of mass protests is never a good sign, I never know how to read them. Are they representative of a major change in the public mood? Or just a particularly motivated niche?

There has been some shift in recent months of Israeli public sentiment toward ending the war and gaining the release of the hostages. How that translates to the large political dynamic, I haven’t the foggiest.

Netanyahu himself is certainly wildly unpopular. But his party still won the largest vote, by a considerable margin, in the 2022 elections despite all manner of criminal charges hanging over his head. He’s been a remarkably resilient figure for a quarter century now.

What he’s tended to do—and I strongly suspect he’ll do now—is double down rather than compromise. With his political career hanging by a thread, he’ll go harder in Rafah.

Interestingly, while he’s increasingly isolated at home, he continues to get bipartisan support here. Congressional Democrats who had been blocking the sale of more F-15s to Israel for months relented yeterday.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    It can be argued as to the effectiveness of this or that decision by Netanyahu, however I don’t think it can be argued that he is continuing a decades long policy of a one state final solution with the Palestinians as the losers in an apartheid regime. This has been Israeli unofficial (but widely acknowledged to the domestic audience) policy since the right wing assassinated Rabin and assumed control.

    It also is apparent to me that Egypt, the US and Israel all recognize (while never publicly stating it) that a significant Israeli goal in the current war is to cause a break in the border with Egypt and create a stampede of hundreds of thousands of Gazans into that country, then close the border behind them and never let them return. So far, this has not been successful, but the war is still not over.

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  2. Assad K says:

    It’s interesting how Netenyahu is taken as some sort of individual wholly separate from the Israeli establishment. It’s certainly come to the fore during the current crisis. People are comfortable with putting any blame for Israeli activity and policy squarely on Netenyahu – not the Knesset, not Likud, not the Israeli voters. Whereas Gazans, or even Palestinians as a whole, are considered guilty for the actions of Hamas (we don’t specifically point at Yahya Sinwar as the sole architect of everything Hamas does) , and as such legitimate targets for many commentators.

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  3. JKB says:

    he’ll go harder in Rafah.

    This is likely what all this is about, including Gantz’s resignation. The “future” is going to come after some ugly fighting in Gaza so the other politicians are distancing themselves. Thus the antisemites in the Biden admin and career DC bureaucracy will have trouble attacking those politicians in their efforts to destroy Israel.

    It is notable that the War Cabinet was dissolved rather than having the departing moderates replaced by hardliners who were already “observers” of the meetings. And also odd that the IDF opened up aid movement during the day. A move which Netanyahu publicly criticized. But letting more aid into Rafah could simply be stocking up the civilians to endure an intense campaign against Hamas. Not to mention, since Hamas steals most of the aid sent to the civilians, that aid could reveal Hamas concentrations. Not to mention their UNRWA collaborators.

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  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:

    It also is apparent to me that Egypt, the US and Israel all recognize (while never publicly stating it) that a significant Israeli goal in the current war is to cause a break in the border with Egypt and create a stampede of hundreds of thousands of Gazans into that country, then close the border behind them and never let them return.

    A point I’ve been trying to make for some time now. There was never a ‘good’ answer, there were only bad and worse answers, and what’s happening now is not the worse answer. The worse answer is 2 million Gazans in the Sinai begging for water and trying to walk to Cairo. Where the Egyptian military would stop them by any means necessary. That’s the future Hamas gave their people, a choice between being bombed by Israelis, pushed into the desert by Israelis, or blockaded and starved.

    This is why the campus demonstrations were so pointless. There was and remains no good solution. On October 7 Hamas signed a death warrant for every man, woman and child in Gaza. The question from Day One was how to keep some portion of those people alive, to stay Israel’s hand. Read some Old Testament. Jehovah was not merciful to conquered people, rather he was inclined to punish Hebrews who were too gentle. There were several occasions where Jehovah explicitly ordered them to kill not just every man, woman and child, but every farm animal.

    Good rule of thumb for the ME: however fucked up things are, they can always get worse. If we cut Israel’s last fragile ties to the West, we’d better start setting up camps in the desert, because Israel does not need our F-15s or JDAMS to ethnically cleanse Gaza. The US is in the trap, too.

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  5. inhumans99 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Nah, we are not stuck in an Israeli forever war trap. We can easily afford to send/sell them bullets, bombs, and jets and we can do that for a very long time without doing any of the actual fighting/ethnic cleansing of the West Bank.

    There is 1 forever war we should be involved in, and it is ensuring that Ukraine remains strong enough to be the buffer between Russia taking over most of Europe, there are long term tangible benefits to keeping Russia’s hands stuck in a tar baby.

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @inhumans99:
    Oh, I was not all suggesting we’d be trapped into direct participation. The trap is political.

    I completely agree re: Ukraine. Not since the Louisiana Purchase have we gained so much, for so little. The Ukraine war is all upside for us.

    The Gaza war is the opposite in some ways: it is not good for the US, we will not profit, and it is damaging to our domestic politics. Not to mention that college campuses, our shock troops, are yelling about things they will have no effect on, and failing utterly to create the same kind of heat behind issues like abortion and trans rights where they could do some actual good. Where he hell are they when we need them? Waving Palestinian flags in Massachusetts, FFS.

    We have limited political capital. Just when we need to focus every bit of our political capital, our energy, on saving our own country from fascism, that energy is being pissed away on raging against Israeli fascism. It’s just so utterly stupid.

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  7. Andy says:

    Still in Germany and not much time for commenting, but I wanted to ask about this:

    @MarkedMan:

    It also is apparent to me that Egypt, the US and Israel all recognize (while never publicly stating it) that a significant Israeli goal in the current war is to cause a break in the border with Egypt and create a stampede of hundreds of thousands of Gazans into that country, then close the border behind them and never let them return. So far, this has not been successful, but the war is still not over.

    What are you basing that on? The facts of what’s happening on the ground at the border are directionally the complete opposite of that.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: Israel started it’s offensive in the north and drove two million people south into Rafah, a few kilometers from the Egyptian border. They continue to attack those that attempt to move back north. They have massively beefed up their military presence at the border with Egypt (as have the Egyptians). Israeli soldiers have exchanged gunfire with Egyptian soldiers, killing at least two. Two members of the Israeli cabinet and multiple more members of the government have explicitly stated that is the desired outcome. There have been Israeli sock puppet editorials in Western publications railing that the only viable solution is for the Egyptians to open their borders and allow the Gazans safe passage into (presumably) refugee camps.

    So let me turn your question around. On what do you base your belief that this is not unspoken but definitive Israeli policy?

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  9. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This is why the campus demonstrations were so pointless.

    They are trying to get the colleges to divest from Israel and arms manufacturers that are supplying Israel. A smaller, more limited goal than protesting here to cause direct change over there.

    On October 7 Hamas signed a death warrant for every man, woman and child in Gaza.

    Contrary to popular belief, Israelis do have agency. There was a lot of choice over how to respond.

    Not to mention that college campuses, our shock troops, are yelling about things they will have no effect on, and failing utterly to create the same kind of heat behind issues like abortion and trans rights where they could do some actual good. Where he hell are they when we need them? Waving Palestinian flags in Massachusetts, FFS.

    Whether or not to support genocide/sparkling-mass-destruction-of-civilian-populations is one of the most important decisions a young person can make.

    It’s big and flashy and there’s video. Video matters. It traumatizes people and it changes people. And there’s so much video.

    Is there dramatic video of someone being denied access to abortion? Not really. Not the same way.

    I do hope that the next time a trans person is brutally murdered (and it’s a given that there will be a next time), that it will be caught on video with high enough quality that it traumatizes the people who see it to the point where they act. Something that captures the hatred of the attackers, and that turns people’s stomachs.

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  10. Eusebio says:

    @Andy: Israel did not secure the Rafah border crossing until May, in an operation that took less than a day. Yet they stated the crossing was being used for terrorist purposes, so surely securing it should have been a high priority during the 7 months prior. They certainly appear to have been hoping for a Gazan exodus into Egypt before they took control of the 12-km border.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Eusebio: And now that they have secured the border, they have engaged Egyptian soldiers there, and even killed at least two. Presumably this had the effect of forcing the Egyptians to deploy farther back from the line. So we have a line controlled by the Israelis, a dead zone, and a line controlled by the Egyptians. If there is panic and a stampede, will the Israeli Army try to stop the Gazas on their way to Egypt? Almost certainly not. Will they let them back in if they are stopped by the Egyptians and attempt to turn around? Again, almost certainly not.

    Every Israeli action on the ground seems to be in support of driving the Gazans into Egypt, without explicitly saying so by all but the most extreme of the cabinet ministers (but, worth noting, not denying it either). When you think about it, the Israeli animosity towards the US pier (slow walking the aid trucks leaving it, “accidentally” bombing the areas around it and the aid workers using it) makes a lot of sense in this light. Starvation will increase the likelihood of that stampede. It may even be that is why the US is attempting to force the pier, as ill suited as it is for the area, as we may be trying to head off the expulsion of the Gazans.

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  12. DK says:

    @MarkedMan:

    This has been Israeli unofficial (but widely acknowledged to the domestic audience) policy since the right wing assassinated Rabin and assumed control.

    It is astonishing that the rightwing fanatics who incited Rabin’s assasination are now running Israel. If it were a work of fiction, I would not believe it. It is tantamount to Jefferson Davis or Alexander Stephens ending up as president of the United States after Lincoln’s murder.

    On one hand, I’m amazed how little this is talked about. On the other, this country can’t even remember how bad Trump’s presidency was, and it ended yesterday.

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  13. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    That a strange collection of comments, many of which directly contradict your theory.

    Israel started it’s offensive in the north and drove two million people south into Rafah, a few kilometers from the Egyptian border.

    So Israel didn’t try to force those people across the border when it had its best opportunity to do so?

    They continue to attack those that attempt to move back north.

    So Israel is intending to force Gazans across the border by evacuating them away from the border?

    They have massively beefed up their military presence at the border with Egypt (as have the Egyptians).

    A highly militarized border is going to be a strong discentive for Palestianians to try to cross. If Israel wanted to drive people into Egypt it wouldn’t have its military standing in the way – quite the opposite.

    And have you actually seen any pictures of the border or followed developments there? Egypt has built a system of walls, guard towers and starting way back in February a berm with another wall on top, then a large buffer zone with another wall, all backed up by the military. There are videos of a small number of Palestinians who managed to get over one wall, and the Egyptian military was not kind to them.

    What, in your imagination, is Israel’s plan to get Gazans through all that and into Egypt?

    And now that they have secured the border, they have engaged Egyptian soldiers there, and even killed at least two. Presumably this had the effect of forcing the Egyptians to deploy farther back from the line.

    We don’t know the details of why that incident occurred – both Israel and Egypt have different stories and have said they will investigate, but it seems that neither side has much interest in actually doing so. Regardless, this is not relevant to your claims. You are using it as a presumption that this has “had the effect” of forcing Egyptians to deploy further back, but that is actually not the case and is entirely unsupported by any evidence.

    Two members of the Israeli cabinet and multiple more members of the government have explicitly stated that is the desired outcome. There have been Israeli sock puppet editorials in Western publications railing that the only viable solution is for the Egyptians to open their borders and allow the Gazans safe passage into (presumably) refugee camps.

    There are certainly elements within Israel that would like to see that happen. But as I’ve said many times, those elements are a minority and do not actually control Israel’s operational war goals. Furthermore, as I’ve also said many times, actions speak louder than words. If those elements were actually in control of the war on Israel’s side, we would see evidence of that on the ground – and we simply don’t.

    Every Israeli action on the ground seems to be in support of driving the Gazans into Egypt

    Only in your mind is that true.

    You should at least consider what would need to happen for Israel to actually carry out such a plan and see if Israel is actually doing those things. But you don’t, you’ve listed a variety of things that don’t show what you claim – quite the opposite – or are not relevant to the question.

    Israel would need to destroy large sections of the Egyptian border defense, take it’s forces away from the border and instead create a cordon to prevent civilians from leaving the border area (not facilitate them moving north away from it, as they have been doing), and then tighten the cordon such that the only escape route is into Egypt. Historically, that is how such actions have been done in the past.

    So your claim that “every action on the ground” is in support of driving Gazans into Egypt is not only factually and objectively false, but so false that much of the evidence you cite actually shows the opposite.

    @Eusebio:

    Israel did not secure the Rafah border crossing until May, in an operation that took less than a day. Yet they stated the crossing was being used for terrorist purposes, so surely securing it should have been a high priority during the 7 months prior.

    Israel has been planning for a Rafah operation since at least January. If you go back and look the history since then, you’ll discover that it hasn’t acted because of US and Egyptian opposition as well as the bevy of useful idiots that declared any military operation in Rafah would kill tens of thousands of civilians. So Israel has waited, and once it became clear that Hamas would not accept any kind of reasonable ceasefire deal (Hamas recently rejected one endorsed by the UNSC and regional governments), Israel went in.

    Contrary to what MM alleges, the purpose of controlling the crossing and the border is to find cross-border tunnels, destroy them, and stop the movement of Hamas arms and personnel across the border to prevent Hamas resupply and put additional pressure on them.

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  14. Eusebio says:

    @Andy:
    The U.S. position was that Israel could secure the Gaza border with Egypt and also target key Hamas elements in and around Rafah without a major invasion of Rafah. This was after Gazans had been pushed from Gaza City to Khan Younis to Rafah, and Israel had no plan for the safe movement of, or care for, Gazan civilians in the event of a major Rafah invasion.

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  15. Andy says:

    @Eusebio:

    And the US government’s position is that Israel is not conducting a “major invasion” of Rafah.

    I don’t have time to get into the details of that, but the point is that regardless of what one thinks of Israel’s operations in Rafah and the border, these operations are clearly not designed or intended to drive Gazan civilians into Egypt, as has been alleged.

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