Netanyahu still believes he is the state


On Oct. 6, 2023, Israel was tearing itself at the seams over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s misguided attempt to eviscerate the Israeli judiciary, known to critics as the Judicial Coup. Netanyahu proposed far-ranging changes to the judicial selection process and the scope of the Supreme Court’s powers of judicial review.

The changes were not minor reforms, but a radical revamp that would have made the Israeli judiciary subservient to the government. In Israel’s parliamentary system, the legislative and executive are basically the same, since the executive — i.e. the governing coalition — requires a majority in the Knesset.

Netanyahu’s objective was to obliterate any check on governmental power. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis from every political persuasion came out to demonstrate for ten consecutive months. Most Israelis understood that the main impetus for the judicial coup was to keep Netanyahu out of jail, as he faced and continues to face three corruption cases. The leaders of the protest movement were ridiculed by Netanyahu cabinet members, who suggested they were all traitors — including many of the leaders, who were highly decorated veterans.

On Oct. 7, after the Hamas massacres in southern Israel, all the anti-Netanyahu protest groups pivoted immediately and began to provide the social services that the radical and incompetent Netanyahu government could not provide — everything from relocation services for families from the area surrounding Gaza to food and even as far as ordering flak jackets from overseas, because the army did not have sufficient supplies for the soldiers.

On Oct. 9, 2023, I wrote on this site: “Iran and Hamas conflated protests against the government with an unwillingness to defend the country against an external enemy. The dichotomy between government and country is lost on Hamas and Iran. Widespread casualties, hostages and fear have galvanized the Israeli public. The people of Gaza will bear the burden of that miscalculation.” The war has shown this to be true.

Regrettably, Netanyahu continues to demonstrate that the dichotomy between his personal interests and that of the State of Israel is lost on him as well.

Six months into the war, Netanyahu is viewed by the vast majority of Israelis as putting his own vested political interests ahead of the country’s. Israeli opinion polls earlier this week indicate that 71 percent of the country wants him to resign now or before new elections, and close to 60 percent of the Israeli electorate believe he is putting personal political interests ahead of getting the hostages back.

Because Netanyahu relies on the radical right for his coalition, he has squandered every opportunity to demonstrate that this was a war against Hamas rather than against the Palestinian people. In the wake of the killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, Israel has finally opened crossings at the northern end of Gaza (though the Erez crossing has not yet opened), has agreed to allow the Ashdod port to be used for humanitarian aid into Gaza and has agreed to streamline aid from Jordan. Every single one of these steps had been proposed months ago by the U.S. and from within Israel. But, fearing backlash from his extreme right-wing coalition partners, Netanyahu chose not to do the right thing but rather to serve himself.

Critically, Netanyahu allowed the appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza to overwhelm the strategic imperative of maintaining relations with governments in the West — not just the U.S., but Germany, the U.K. and France as well.

Hamas is not an existential threat to Israel — if it was, why did Netanyahu maintain a symbiotic relationship with Hamas since 2009? The far greater strategic threat to Israel is another member of the Axis of Resistance — Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Unlike Hamas, Hezbollah has serious Iranian weaponry: well over 150,000 long-range missiles, which can hit any target in Israel, and massive stockpiles of lesser range munitions that are used against stationary targets in northern Israel — such as artillery, mortars and anti-tank weapons. Hezbollah could fire 400 long-range missiles a day for a year against major Israeli cities and infrastructure without the need for resupply.

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In recent weeks, Hezbollah and Israel have edged up to the precipice of full-blown war — capped off with Israel’s airstrike at the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, which killed six people, including Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Now, with the world wondering what the Iranian response will be, who other than the U.S. is likely to come to Israel’s aid against Hezbollah and Iran in the aftermath of Gaza?

Jonathan D. Strum is an international lawyer and businessman based in Washington D.C. and the Middle East. From 1991 to 2005, he was an adjunct professor of International Law at Georgetown University Law Center.

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