Benny Gantz, 2014 Benny Gantz, 2014. Photo: Ariel Khermoni / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Netanyahu’s crisis reflects both the brutality and the failure of his war on Gaza. Kevin Ovenden looks at his latest conflict with his own military, and his dangerous escalation in Lebanon  

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has dissolved his war cabinet that was formed to pull in the official opposition in the wake of the 7 October attacks.  

It will mean that decisions will now be by him and his office and by a broader security council in which forces of the extreme right have a say. They had been kept out of the inner war cabinet and allowed instead to drive further ethnic cleansing and pogroms on the West Bank as compensation.  

At the same time Netanyahu has ordered an escalation of attacks on southern Lebanon hoping to provoke a response by the Hezbollah Lebanese resistance that goes beyond the calibrated actions it has so far taken. Israel this morning assassinated another Hezbollah commander with an air to ground missile strike in Lebanon.  

Tensions  

This all takes place as tensions between the government and the core of the permanent state in Israel are growing and as demonstrations are rising demanding elections and putting return of the hostages above unrealisable military objectives demanded by the genocidal right in Israel and voiced by Netanyahu.  

The army has instituted ‘tactical pauses’ in its continuing onslaught in Gaza. Netanyahu complains that he was not consulted. The military command is going ahead anyway, which it is constitutionally permitted to do on operational matters. 

The supreme court has taken evidence from the security services and has said that the inquiry the government has been pushing for into the Shin Bet and other agencies about intelligence failures running up to 7 October would damage the ‘operational effectiveness’ of the military and intelligence organisations. 

It has closed the door – for now at least – on Netanyahu’s attempt to shift the blame for the state’s failure away from the government and from the priorities of the most fanatical settler parties and onto the generals and heads of intelligence. Wherever the truth lies, the army and retired spy chiefs have claimed that the weakening of the Israeli position on the border with Gaza was caused by the diversion of troops and capacity to defend the fascistic settlers terrorising Palestinians on the West Bank. 

Netanyahu just wants blame not to fall on him – which many Israelis, even those strongly for the war, feel to be the case. 

The state prosecutor has also opposed the government proposal to extend the call-up period by three months. His argument is that it is a disproportionate response from the standpoint of Israeli citizens and the constitution to do this while maintaining the exemption for Haredi, religiously orthodox men in the religious seminaries whose life revolves around religious studies. There is also widespread public opposition to extending tours of duty. There are filthy videos of troops desecrating Palestinian homes, religious buildings and people – and celebrating doing so. But 30,000 Israeli soldiers have contacted mental health professionals since the start of the war and despite the sociopathic Tik Tok images the truth is that IDF forces are fearful and damaged as they continue to face organised resistance. 

War damaging society  

Their anguish is as nothing compared to the Palestinians they are committing war crimes against. But it is an indication of how this war is damaging Israeli society, military, economy and state. Every soldier called up is removed from the productive economy. 

The call-up issue and exemptions from military service again cleave into the divisions within Netanyahu’s parliamentary majority, depending as it does on the religious and the non-religious radical right. 

All this points to a hardening of the divides in the Israeli political system that saw huge demonstrations this time last year against attempts by Netanyahu to weaken the role of the judiciary. 

State figures and former generals are pointing out that if the judiciary is seen internationally to lack even the nominal independence that is the ‘global standard’, then charges of war crimes will be more difficult to fend off and delay from being heard in international bodies and courts. 

Last weekend saw a big demonstration in Tel Aviv calling for elections and for Netanyahu to go before the anniversary of the war in October. Among the protesters were some calling for a ceasefire and negotiating the hostages’ release, not sacrificing them to a war that Israel is not winning, despite the carnage. Ten Israeli soldiers were killed by resistance forces at the weekend. It was a shock to Israeli opinion which is told very little about Gaza other than propaganda and what passes the military censor. 

Protests reflect schism 

The protests are far from pro-Palestinian, though there are smaller left-wing ones which do raise the Palestinians and their rights. And most of Israeli society is for inflicting brutality on the Palestinians in this war. It is not just the fascistic right. 

But the mobilisations are a reflection of the returning schism in the state and society over Netanyahu and his government – from which the centrist Benny Gantz resigned, triggering the dissolution of the war cabinet. 

Gantz is wholly opposed to the fabled ‘two state solution’, which is really a fantasy intoned by western leaders. That he has abandoned the cabinet on account of Netanyahu constantly prolonging the war and blocking any attempt to discuss a post-war plan says everything. 

One former hostage on Saturday directly blamed Netanyahu for refusing an exchange deal and continuing the war. It is at moments like this with internal opposition rising that Netanyahu has historically lashed out further. Israel’s increased attacks on southern Lebanon look to be part of this. 

Lebanon  

The US has swiftly dispatched an envoy to try to prevent an all-out escalation. But US diplomacy has lost traction with even friendly states in the region as its secretary of state Antony Blinken is widely mistrusted and Biden seen to be incapable of enforcing his supposed red lines on Israel. 

The US government is not prepared to take the action that would stop Israel’s war tomorrow. In fact it has falsely claimed that Netanyahu backs ‘the US plan for a ceasefire’ and that Hamas is the stumbling block. Only for Israel to deny it backs such a plan and for Hamas to endorse it. Thus we have escalation and widening of the war at the same time as empty words about bringing it to a halt. Netanyahu has his own personal reasons for doing so. He faces charges of fraud, corruption and malfeasance that are held at bay only through his holding the office of prime minister.  

It is not just Netanyahu who is guilty. Two other members of the war cabinet were indicted at the International Criminal Court, for example, and culpability goes far wider. But suspicion is widespread in Israel that his own attempts to avoid domestic justice are a big factor in the continuation of the war. 

The global solidarity movement for the Palestinians can play its part in isolating apartheid Israel and increasing the pressure within the state to stop the onslaught. 

We can win more and more people to stand with the Palestinians for justice and peace and to widen the movement to connect with workers and the popular masses – above all in the Middle East. 

Understanding the imperialist drive in the Middle East that links the oppression of the Palestinians to the repeated interventionist wars and now threat of another war on Lebanon is crucial to doing that. If the collective resistance of Palestinian society can continue to hold firm, then both the international isolation of Israel can grow, with processes continuing at the International Court of Justice and ICC, and the domestic fractures can widen. One in three people in a survey of 15 major countries said they were boycotting one brand or another due to the Gaza atrocities. 

Politically, Netanyahu is losing this war. It can become a defeat for Israel in the way that the Soweto Uprising was in South Africa in this month of June in 1976. It was the beginning of the ending of the days of apartheid. Stand with Palestine. Build the solidarity movement. Make it a vital political issue wherever we are.  

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Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.

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