While the terrorist attack by Hamas in Israel is unforgivable, legitimate questions around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership and policies must be asked, writes George Grundy.
HAMAS' SAVAGE and appalling attack represents the worst crisis for Israel since the 1973 Yom Kippur war and appears likely to draw other regional actors into what is already becoming a humanitarian catastrophe.
As over 300,000 Israeli troops and reservists mass on the border of Gaza, much of the world’s fearful focus is on what happens next rather than the extraordinary intelligence failures that failed to stop the slaughter.
Yet, when major terrorism outrages take place, it's always worth taking a step back to consider who benefits. The shocking attack on Israel should be denounced by all, without qualification (as should the bloodshed that will now follow in Gaza), but from the start, it’s seemed that this event has been curiously beneficial to just one man: Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu.
First, it seems extraordinary that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was so unprepared, especially on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war. Terrorists have a penchant for special dates just as much as leaders and dictators; how can the IDF not have been on the highest possible alert, on what was so obviously one of the most notable dates in modern Israeli history?
Who was responsible for such preparedness? Netanyahu. It might normally be the head of the army’s role, but Bibi has made national security the centre-piece of his political life. You can't cast yourself as a strongman keeping your people safe and then point fingers when dealing with the worst security failure in half a century.
Indeed, a litany of allies and members of Israel’s own security apparatus appear to have warned of precisely the risks that have now played out. Earlier this year Ronen Bar, the head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, told Netanyahu that the increase in settler attacks on Palestinians would raise the threat of reprisals.
The calls have been coming from inside the house. Outside too. The Times of Israel reports that a number of Egyptian military and political figures had reached out to alert the Israeli Government. Ten days before the attacks, Egypt’s Intelligence Minister Major-General Abbas Kamel personally called Netanyahu to warn that "something unusual, a terrible operation" was about to take place, emanating from Gaza.
Netanyahu is said to have been shockingly indifferent to the warnings and has subsequently denied receiving any advance knowledge at all. He called it "fake news".
Benjamin Netanyahu has been the prime minister of Israel, on and off, since 1996, but his fifth term has begun to show the classic signs of a man who stayed too long. Netanyahu has spent the last four years fighting off seemingly well-founded allegations of bribery and fraud.
There have been widespread public demonstrations against the Prime Minister and against his outrageous efforts to reform the judiciary, a cynical power-grab and attempt to insulate himself against legal peril, one that would take a dagger to the functioning of Israel’s democracy. Tens of thousands demonstrated against the judicial reforms earlier this year.
Military reservists, including pilots, threatened to not report for duty. Those voices and the threat to Netanyahu will likely recede, now that Israel’s attention is elsewhere.
Much has changed since Saturday. In the wake of Hamas’ devastating attacks. Netanyahu has declared a state of war and called on a main rival, Benny Gantz, to form a unity government. With the nation reeling, Gantz was hardly in a position to say no.
When the leaders of Israel’s new emergency Government spoke they said it was time for "unity" – implicitly behind Netanyahu’s rule – in order to prosecute the war. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Israel’s tragedy has strengthened Netanyahu’s political power immensely.
And what of other protagonists? American foreign policy has been in the safe hands of Joe Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has barely put a foot wrong since inheriting the role. But American politics remains riven, almost to the point of collapse, by a Republican party captured by a fascist leader and his small fringe of ultras.
Political intransigence from these extremists means America has no ambassador to Israel (and Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and Oman), weakening any ability to hold its key ally in check.
Senator Tommy Tuberville's cockamamy objection to U.S. servicewomen getting healthcare means over 300 senior military positions remain unconfirmed, including that of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most senior military figure in the nation. The House of Congress has no speaker and was sent home a week ago in the wake of Kevin McCarthy's dismissal, lest matters descend into an actual fistfight.
American politics is a mess, at the precise moment that the nation’s military and diplomatic heft is required the most.
At the opposite end of the power spectrum are the Palestinians, especially those housed in Gaza, the world’s biggest prison. The situation in Gaza was already unbearable: power-cuts, little running water, 50 per cent unemployment, coupled with the constant and daily pain and humiliation wrought by settlers and the IDF’s snipers. It’s hard to imagine a situation more perfectly primed for the production of terrorists, a people profoundly without hope, who often see no alternative but to take up arms.
Gaza was already among the worst places on earth to live, now it is likely to become a living hell. With diesel supplies cut off, there’s barely any power, and no power means no refrigeration, lighting, medical storage, heating, water purification. Almost half of the people who live in Gaza are children, who are going to bear a terrible price for a cause they may be too young to understand.
Year on year, without exception, Palestinian casualties vastly exceed those suffered by Israel and it can reasonably be expected that the Palestinian toll will surpass Israel’s within the next few days. The only thing that might stop the total annihilation of Gaza is the risk that such a move might end up killing the dozens of hostages taken by Hamas. Whatever happens, you can be sure that Gazans of all political persuasions will again be the ones to suffer the greatest losses.
Netanyahu has vowed to "crush" Hamas, but one should always be cautious of leaders who use such words, as terrorism can be a complex matter. Yes, the violent acts themselves are carried out by people. Still, the inspiration for such horror is often the mistreatment of a marginalised population.
When a leader promises to crush what is an extremist form of political movement it normally means further mistreatment, which in turn causes a proportion of victims to turn to terrorism. It’s like some evil game of whack-a-mole, and in this instance, it is the beleaguered Palestinian people who will see their lives, and all hope, upended or destroyed.
It's been clear for many years that the so-called "two-state solution" is just a fig-leaf, always just out of reach, giving time for Israel to build yet more settlements. Since 1967, around 700,000 settlers have established towns and homes on land formerly held by Palestinians. Some have lived there for 50 years now. Many enjoy the trappings and wealth of Western society, living cheek-by-jowl with impoverished Palestinians.
Despite the overwhelming condemnation of the settlements by the vast majority of the world community, the land-grabbing continues, and the area controlled by the Palestinians shrinks and shrinks. Zionism, sourcing its beliefs from the book of Genesis, wishes for a holy land that runs from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates. Only the Palestinians, impoverished, imprisoned, starved and brutalised, stand in the way.
Atop it all still stands Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains prime minister after what is already being called "Israel’s 9/11". Netanyahu, who ignored warnings of a possible attack from Gaza, now leads a nation at war. Netanyahu, whose legal troubles are likely to be further delayed or even dismissed, even as Haaretz calls for his immediate resignation.
In an apartheid-esque region stuck in a state of almost permanent catastrophe, Saturday’s attacks appear to have one winner, and that man heads one of the most effective and well-resourced fighting forces in the world. Israel has called up 360,000 reservists. There is talk of bombing Iran.
We could be about to witness a historic slaughter in Gaza and Bibi is right back where he wants to be. Benjamin Netanyahu built his entire political career on manipulating fear to maintain power, whilst telling Israelis that state brutality ultimately kept his people safe.
This week’s horrendous attack by Hamas has exposed that pact as being untenable, but the man whose Faustian mantra has suffered this abject failure is being rewarded the most.
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