Israel’s war has mostly succeeded, but real battles await

TEL AVIV, Israel — As Israel’s war with Hamas reaches the half-year mark on Sunday, April 7, the country may be winning the conflict on the battlefield, but the real fight has only just begun. From a leadership crisis at home to diplomatic debacles abroad, fires of all sizes now rage for Israel across the Middle East — if not the entire world. 

In Gaza, Israel has yet to take the city of Rafiah, fully oust Hamas’ tunnel-burrowed leadership or bring back the more than 100 hostages who are hopefully still alive hundreds of feet below the sand. In the country’s north, the threat of a confrontation with Hezbollah has seen some 100,000 Israelis flee their homes as talk of a new front opening with Lebanon has Tel Avivis rapidly stocking their bomb shelters. 

Across Israel’s roadways on Thursday, drivers were confused when GPS systems suddenly showed them traveling in Beirut instead of Tel Aviv.

It seems the signals were scrambled by the Israeli military in an effort to thwart the navigation systems of potential retaliatory missiles, following an attack in Damascus Monday that killed more than a half-dozen Iranian officials. No one has yet claimed responsibility for this hit, though Tehran says Israel and the US are to blame — and will pay for their transgressions accordingly. 

Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being attacked from all sides as he attempts to retain power amid calls for his resignation and early elections. Getty Images

In Washington, this week’s accidental killing of seven relief workers from Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen (WCK) — including American Jacob Flickinger — is further testing strained Israeli-US relations, and imperiling Joe Biden’s already precarious re-election campaign. 

While Biden has yet to follow many of his Democratic colleagues and formally call for a cease-fire, he described the WCK deaths as “outrageous” and appeared to threaten Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with aid conditions if Gaza n civilian casualties aren’t minimized.

President Joe Biden’s early support for Netanyahu’s war strategy is waning as he faces pressure by his base to censure Israel following this week’s World Central Kitchen attack. AP

True, Netanyahu released a formal apology for the drone attack. But military intelligence suggests a lack of battle-field discipline directly led to the WCK tragedy, which will only further fuel global anti-Israeli activists to demand a cease-fire amid their claims of genocide and targeted killings. 

Ultimately, however, the fires are raging most furiously within Israel itself, where poll after poll suggests Israelis are fed up with Netanyahu, and most believe he’s unfit to retain power.

An image of 25 year-old Noa Argamani as she is kidnapped by Hamas terrorists from the Nova dance party in Southern Israel into Gaza. Six months later she remains in captivity — a symbol of the conflict’s failure to reach an end point. AP

This week, for the first time ever, hostage family groups publicly declared Netanyahu personally responsible for their relatives’ continued captivity — leading to the largest anti-government protests since the conflict’s outbreak and violent struggles between Israeli police officers and demonstrators desperate for the return of their loved ones. 

“I will buy you a first class ticket to retirement,” screamed protestor Katia Amorza to Netanyahu as she stood with a bullhorn outside the Knesset gates, explaining to me how the government continues to fail the war effort.

Protesters hit the streets of Jerusalem on Tuesday, April 2, to demand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster. REUTERS

Judging by the crowds who’d slept in tents all around her for the previous three nights, Amorza is certainly not alone.

Visiting Israel over the past week has revealed the Jewish nation careening from crisis to crisis with no clear end in sight. Sure, the skies may be blue, the beaches and cafes packed amid Tel Aviv’s unseasonably warm early spring weather. But an air of caustic uncertainty has befallen the “city that never stops” — as thick and murky as the unusually dense fog that has obscured Israel’s Mediterranean coastline for the past few mornings. 

A rally in London outside the Qatari embassy where demonstrators demanded the release of hostages held in Gaza. AFP via Getty Images

While Israelis uniformly continue to hold Hamas responsible for starting this war, politics and personal gain are increasingly being discussed as the reason for the conflict continuing. Make no mistake, much like the pro-Palestinian protestors calling for global jihad, Israelis want this war to end. They want their hostages released, their soldiers back home and their displaced Northerners returned to their towns and kibbutzim now overrun by wildlife and wildflowers as resident-refugees bide their time in Tel Aviv hotel rooms.  

But as Netanyahu speaks about “the day after” — his vision for Gaza once the fighting stops and the enclave returns to Arab rule — Israelis are far more focused on preventing a return to “the day before.”

The burnt shell of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, one of the thousands of buildings destroyed by Israel over the past six months in its campaign to oust Hamas. REUTERS

For the moment, Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul effort, and the mass protests they inspired throughout 2023, remain on pause. But a similar sense of government impunity and overreach now accompanies the prime minister’s unwillingness to resign or, at least, call for early elections. (Spoiler alert: Netanyahu would almost certainly lose).

As more Gazans starve and hostages die, some Israelis I met have begun to speak the unspeakable: Enough with trying to neutralize a possibly unneutralizable Hamas, bring the hostages home by any means necessary.

As the war in Gaza reached the half-year mark, Israelis remain united behind their nation’s war effort, but increasingly divided by the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. John Theodor – stock.adobe.com

But with their indifference to civilian deaths and many of the hostages likely horrifically abused, Hamas has no real incentive to grant the captives freedom, no matter how sweet a deal Israel offers. Without the hostages’ release, Israel will fail to achieve Netanyahu’s goal of “total victory,” which only further delays an end to the fighting and continues the cycle of frustration and protest.

On Wednesday, just days before the war’s official six-month mark, Israeli War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz called for early elections in September in a bid to force the change so many of his countrymen believe is long overdue. Elections, however, have been called before and, each time, Netanyahu has managed to cling to his premiership. But these are clearly unprecedented times as Israel — united as a people despite their political differences — remains mired in the longest war of the nation’s brief history.


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