Widening rift with the military puts Netanyahu in a tight spot

 By James M. Dorsey

Out in August!

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Anarchy in Gaza. Credit: Haaretz

Imagine Gaza if Israel were to agree today to a permanent ceasefire and a complete troop withdrawal from the Strip. One of two things would happen: Hamas would return to power and/or continued anarchy in the absence of a credible post-war administration of the territory.

Anarchy is already the rule of the land, with crime, violence, robberies, killings, smuggling, and protection rackets on the rise.

Nevertheless, in its quest for a permanent ceasefire, virulently opposed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners, Hamas may have found a common interest with its nemesis, Israel’s military. Not that the armed forces have given up on destroying Hamas. On the contrary.

Even so, nine serving and former senior commanders told The New York Times the military favours a ceasefire, even if it allows Hamas to regain control of Gaza temporarily, that would free 120 dead or alive Hamas-held hostages, and enable the military to regroup and prepare for a potential full-fledged war with Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.

Informed sources said the General Staff Forum, which groups several dozen generals, including Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the army, air force, and navy’s commanders, and the head of military intelligence, discussed the notion of a ceasefire.

The discussion followed public statements by the military’s spokesman, Daniel Hagari, and Mr. Netanyahu’s national security advisor, Tzachi Hanegbi, arguing that the prime minister’s war goal of destroying Hamas militarily and politically was unachievable.

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi confers with an air force commander. Credit: IDF

The generals believe a ceasefire and regrouping is necessary given that the military is fighting in Gaza its longest war in Israel’s history. The Gaza war is in its ninth month. Israeli wars usually last weeks at best.

They also feel that a ceasefire could end hostilities across the Lebanese-Israeli border with Hezbollah and potentially avert an all-out conflagration on Israel’s northern frontier.

Responding to the commanders’ position, Mr. Netanyahu thundered, “I’m here to make it unequivocally clear: It won’t happen. We will end the war only after we have achieved all of its goals, including the elimination of Hamas and the release of all our hostages.”

Referring to the Israel Defence Forces by their initials, Mr. Netanyahu insisted, “The IDF has all the means to achieve (the goals). We will not succumb to defeatism… We are filled with the spirit of victory.”

Israeli military rescues two hostages on June 8. Credit: IDF

Hamas took 250 Israelis and foreign nationals hostage during its October 7 attack on Israel. More than 100 were freed in a ceasefire and prisoner exchange in November. The Israeli military has been able to rescue only seven hostages in nine months of fighting.

The commanders are unlikely to get their way as long as Mr. Netanyahu heads a government of ultra-nationalists and ultra-conservatives.

Even so, the commanders' willingness to entertain a temporary return of Hamas, despite their agreement that a long-term arrangement with the group is impossible, constitutes a Hamas public relations victory.

If the commanders got their way, Hamas could declare victory in the war. It would put Mr. Netanyahu in the awkward position of having failed to achieve his war objectives at a terrible cost to Palestinians and Gaza and potentially herald the collapse of his government.

The widening rift between Mr. Netanyahu and the military stems primarily from the prime minister’s refusal to articulate a clear and realistic plan for post-war Gaza.

The government has been mulling various proposals for an administration that would exclude President Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank-based, internationally recognised Palestine Authority, and Hamas.

Mr. Hanegbi, the national security advisor, last week optimistically predicted that a "local leadership that is ready to live alongside Israel and not dedicate its existence to trying to kill Israelis" would be in place in northern Gaza within days. “It will put Hamas under great pressure," Mr. Hanegbi said.

There is no indication that Israel is succeeding in creating a Palestinian administration in its image, with the Israeli military fighting in areas it evacuated in the false belief that it had eliminated Hamas’ presence. Hamas’ whack-a-mole strategy raises the spectre of a ‘forever war.’

Workers repair electricity lines. Source X

This week, in an indication of the hoops Israel has to jump through because it refuses to allow either the Palestine Authority or Hamas to administer Gaza, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant authorized the restoration of electricity at a Gazan desalination and water plant.

Israeli officials said the revived plant would be administered by the Authority’s Ramallah-based Palestinian Water Authority, despite Mr. Netanyahu’s refusal to engage with Mr Abbas’s administration.

The officials suggested handing the plant’s administration to the Authority constituted a softening of Mr. Netanyahu’s rejection of any role in post-war Gaza for the West Bank entity, even if the prime minister continues to insist that Gaza be administered under Israeli tutelage by Palestinians with no affiliation with the Authority or Hamas.

Gazan workers have begun repairing the plant’s energy infrastructure. The plant services Deir al-Balah in Central Gaza and Al Mawasi, an Israeli-designated safe zone on the coast for displaced Palestinians, that has not shielded it against repeated Israeli attacks.

Israeli officials said the repairs and hooking up to Israel’s power grid would enable the plant to provide 20,000 cubic meters of water daily. Currently, the facility, powered by generators and solar panels, delivers only 1,500 cubic meters due to the lack of electricity. 

Sewage floods Gaza. Credit: NBC

The revival of the plant may help Central Gaza’s sewage crisis. Sewage floods what is left of the area's roads, enveloping whole wrecked neighborhoods in its stench in the summer heat.

“The sewage has entered homes… The stench causes diseases for our children and little ones. We cough… Our children complain of itching, bed bugs, and other strange things. We can’t sleep at night because of the mosquitos,” said Mohammed el Bayouk, a resident of Khan Younis.

Marwan al-Homs, a medical doctor, reported the spread of Hepatitis, respiratory illnesses, skin diseases such as chickenpox and scabies, and diarrhea as a result of unclean water.

Messrs. Al-Bayouk and Homs’ portrayal of Gazan reality bolstered by images emerging from Gaza contrasts starkly with Israel’s assertion that it has the world’s ‘most moral’ military and is working to ensure the flow of aid into Gaza.

Shades of grey recently emerged in a rare discussion between Israeli soldiers, members of a student group associated with far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, and a harsh Israeli critic of the Gaza war.

Holocaust scholar Omer Bartov debates Israeli soldiers-cum-students. Source: X

The soldiers-cum-students angrily confronted Omer Bartov, a Brown University Holocaust scholar, who has accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity and raised the question of whether its conduct constituted genocide, at a lecture at Ben Gurion University.

“They are looking at things through a particular prism. They want to think that they’re doing the right thing. They want to think that it’s not just revenge, and that they’re fighting a just war, but they’re also seeing things and they can’t admit to themselves that they’re seeing. They’re seeing the vast destruction, the suffering there, the lack of food, the numbers of innocents who were killed. They see that and they have to somehow rationalize it,” Mr. Bartov said.

Notwithstanding the conflicting emotions and reality on the ground, Israel’s restoration of electricity to the desalination plant does not, in all likelihood, signal an Israeli intention to fully restore electricity in the Strip or start a broader reconstruction of its energy infrastructure.

Israel’s Coordinator for the Government's Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said the move was a humanitarian gesture.

US officials and representatives of international organisations pressured Mr. Gallant, during his visit to Washington last week, to lift Israeli restrictions on the flow of energy and aid to Gaza.

The resupply of the desalination plant was as much an attempt to appease the Biden administration and the Israeli military as it was an effort to shore up Israel’s tarnished image.

Even so, it sparked controversy in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet. “Mr. Prime Minister, stop this foolishness,” tweeted ultra-nationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Israel vowed to cut off essential goods and services to Gaza immediately after the October 7 attack. The Israeli military has since reduced the Strip’s infrastructure to rubble and allowed only a drip feed of fuel and energy to enter Gaza.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and the author of the syndicated column and podcast, The Turbulent World with James M. Dorsey.


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