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Netanyahu’s tactical manoeuvring amid political, military turmoil

Jun 23,2024 - Last updated at Jun 23,2024

It seems that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is determined to remain imposed on the Biden administration, which has sought over the past months to weaken him. They have opened direct lines with his rival Benny Gantz and have been pressuring him through internal and external avenues. So far, however, Netanyahu continues to demonstrate his ability to balance on the edge of the abyss.

Gantz’s resignation from the Israeli war cabinet on June10 was expected to initiate a shift in Israeli politics by weakening Netanyahu and acknowledging his failure to manage the current situation, especially with the end of the war Cabinet in its original form. Before that, the timing of the operation to forcibly liberate four hostages on the day Gantz had set for withdrawing from the Israeli government weakened the move and contained any influence it may have had, even if temporarily. From the first day of this war, Netanyahu has focused on saving the hostages by force, achieving his goal on the day the process of overthrowing him was supposed to begin.

Netanyahu’s survival from this crisis does not mean he no longer faces challenges, quite the opposite. While his government enjoys stability with supportive votes in the Knesset, the opposition’s demands for elections next September may be difficult to overcome and could increase pressure on Netanyahu personally, especially amongst international public opinion. Ultimately, Netanyahu might be forced to respond to the country’s democratic sovereignty by agreeing to elections. At this point, Netanyahu’s escape from the centrist pressure in the government might also push him to adopt policies that appease the conservatives, despite the limited scope for pleasing this faction. This is particularly true given the growing anxiety over the prospect of indefinite war or opening new fronts, and a steadfast refusal to accept any of the proposed solutions.

At the international level, the real pressure may come from the American administration, which is also preparing for upcoming elections. This means that the war in Gaza and Middle East issues more broadly will inevitably become significant electoral fodder. This US administration will seek to market itself as capable of achieving various objectives, from ending the war and containing new fronts to relaunching the regional peace process. However, everyone knows that most of the fronts are still open today, and any regional peace process requires a strong and agreeable Israel. Netanyahu fully understands that removing him from the scene at this time may not be in the interests of any regional deal. His strategy in the next stage may entail but working to postpone Israeli elections until after the American elections, with a clear emphasis on negotiations with the opposition and the judiciary to obtain guarantees regarding his future in the event of defeat.

Nonetheless, the current priorities for the Israeli government are manifold. From a security perspective, the most important is redrawing the security geography of the Rafah crossing and the entire Philadelphia corridor. This began to take shape with the Palestinian side’s destruction of the Rafah crossing, implying it will undergo a complete rehabilitation process subject to new security arrangements that the Israeli government seeks to impose as part of ending the war in Gaza.

Practically speaking, the coming months present significant challenges for the American administration. It is currently re-presenting the pre-October 7 “Regional Peace Plan”, as one of the practical solutions to the current situation. Despite this, everyone acknowledges that the complexities on the ground, whether in Gaza or other fronts, are too extensive to be resolved through Washington’s peace plan. From the moment the decision to go to war in Gaza was taken, American peace proposals lost their appeal to all parties.

Consequently, the inability to stop the war in Gaza through diplomatic means with a regional deal implies a high level of engagement on the Lebanon front and a high possibility of escalation. This situation will keep the American administration entirely dependent on the development of events, stripping it of any ability to push for a settlement or regional peace process. This could later force it to focus more on the military aspect than the political one, especially in the event of a transition to open war with Hizbollah and the anticipated escalation in Yemen.

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