Jerusalem, Oct 18 (The Street Press) – A hospital entrance was closed for one Israeli cabinet minister. Coffee was thrown at another minister’s bodyguards by an upset person. A third minister was shouted at with words like “traitor” and “imbecile” while trying to comfort families who had to leave their homes during a difficult time.
The shocking Oct. 7 attack by Hamas gunmen has united Israelis, but there’s little support for a government that many blame for lowering the country’s security and sparking a Gaza war that’s causing unrest in the region.
No matter what happens next, a significant day of reckoning approaches for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following an extended career marked by political comebacks.
The anger among the public, with around 1,300 Israeli lives lost, has intensified due to Netanyahu’s self-image as a strategic leader in the vein of Churchill, someone who was supposedly perceptive about national security threats.
Adding to the mix is the societal divide this year over his coalition’s efforts to reform the judiciary, which led to protests by military reservists and raised questions – some now validated by tragic events – about the military’s readiness.
“October 2023 Crisis” read the headline in the widely-read Yedioth Ahronoth, drawing a parallel to Israel’s historical inability to foresee a joint Egyptian and Syrian attack in October 1973, which ultimately resulted in then-Prime Minister Golda Meir stepping down.
Meir’s resignation marked the end of her center-left Labour party’s dominance. Amotz Asa-El, a researcher at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, foresaw a comparable outcome for Netanyahu and his long-standing conservative Likud party.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s a commission of inquiry or not, or whether or not he admits fault. All that matters is what ‘middle Israelis’ think – which is that this is a fiasco and that the prime minister is responsible,” Asa-El explained to Reuters.
“He will step down, and his entire government will go with him.”
According to a Maariv newspaper poll, only 21% of Israelis wish for Netanyahu to continue as prime minister after the conflict, while 66% prefer “someone else,” and 13% remain undecided.
According to the poll, if an election were held today, Likud would see a significant drop in its seats, losing a third, while Benny Gantz’s centrist National Unity party would gain by a third, positioning him for a potential top leadership role.
Although Israel has established an emergency war cabinet, the focus for the public is on decisive action rather than an immediate election. As the counter-offensive escalates toward a possible ground invasion, Gantz, a former military leader, has put aside political divisions to collaborate with Netanyahu in an emergency cabinet.
Netanyahu has been primarily engaged in meetings with military and international representatives, reducing his interactions with the general public. He did meet privately with the families of around 200 hostages held in Gaza, away from television coverage. In response to growing criticism, his wife visited a grieving family.
Notably, Netanyahu hasn’t made any personal statements accepting responsibility, even as his top officials, including the general, defense minister, national security adviser, foreign minister, finance minister, and intelligence chiefs, have acknowledged the failure to anticipate and avert the most devastating attack on Israeli civilians in the nation’s history.
Israel has garnered strong support from Western nations for its current military response. However, this backing could wane if a ground invasion in Gaza leads to an increase in Palestinian casualties and military setbacks.
Furthermore, the ongoing conflict may undermine two key aspects of Netanyahu’s foreign policy. It has put the prospect of peace with Saudi Arabia on hold, and it is also being used by Iran to promote the idea of a Middle East alliance opposed to Israel’s existence.
The Gaza war, with the goal of eliminating Hamas, could potentially last for months. During this time, Netanyahu might experience a political respite, but concerns about his health, given his recent pacemaker implant and age, remain. He will turn 74 on Saturday.
Some commentators suggest that the divisions within Israeli society and their impact on national security should be attributed to broader factors beyond Netanyahu’s individual leadership.