Israel-Palestine war: For Netanyahu and his political allies, peace is more dangerous than war

Israeli public opinion has turned against both Israel's prime minister and Bezalel Smotrich, his main coalition partner on the extreme right. But they won't give up on their dream of a new Nakba easily

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets soldiers at an undisclosed location in Gaza on 26 November 2023

Meron Rapoport writes in Middle East Eye 5 December 2023

This is a decisive moment in Israel’s war with Hamas. It’s also a hugely dangerous one for both sides.

The resumption of a brutal bombing campaign on the south of Gaza was impelled by an overwhelming feeling in the war cabinet, the media, and among the majority of Israelis that the war should go on, that Hamas should be dealt a final blow.

The Israeli public wants vengeance, and they still do not feel that they have had it.

Faced with the blunt choice of a further exchange of hostages and prisoners and returning to the ground offensive, the war cabinet decisively chose war.

If the war cabinet is a long way from recognising what everyone outside Israel is telling them – that Hamas cannot be fully defeated – there is now a growing new realisation in Israel, maybe even within the army and certainly among commentators, that Hamas is far from being beaten.

All the generals, chiefs of staff and media commentators have had to eat their words about Hamas losing control of the north of Gaza, after they saw during the ceasefire Hamas moving freely in Gaza City, releasing hostages that had been held there.

The army yearns for redemption for its massive failure to protect its citizens in the south of Israel. It desperately needs the scalps of Hamas’s leaders. But in moving southwards, it’s going into a complete unknown.

No exit plan

The first part of the ground offensive was limited to an occupation of Gaza City. That part is far from over, but at least during the first phase the army’s objectives were more or less clear.

It drove the population south to take over the north. Now their objective is far from clear.

It seems that the army doesn’t really know the fate of the remaining hostages. They don’t know how strong Hamas is, and how much it has reinforced its positions during the seven-day truce.

They don’t know how long the US will continue to have Israel’s back, bombing an area into which the majority of Gaza’s 2.3m population are now packed.

As they push the population towards the border, the likelihood that Egypt opens it to allow aid and supplies in against Israel’s will increases.

Palestinians mourn the death of loved ones following Israeli bombardment in the southern Gaza Strip on December 5, 2023, outside a hospital in Khan Yuni
Palestinians mourn the death of loved ones following Israeli bombardment in the southern Gaza Strip on 5 December 2023, outside a hospital in Khan Younis (AFP)

Palestinians in Gaza won’t be pushed out, but supplies, and even arms, could enter from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. So in resuming the war, Israel has no short-term strategy, let alone an exit plan.

Domestically the fact that 80 hostages were released safely will lead to mounting pressure by the relatives of the remaining 134 hostages, civilians as well as soldiers.

After the truce broke down, and hostages who came back reported that Israel’s bombing put their lives in danger, the pressure from the relatives only mounted.

The most likely scenario is that Israel lurches between periods of war and pauses in the fighting, without being capable of finishing either.

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