Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has at least four different problems.
First, an upcoming State Comptroller report seems set to accuse Mr. Netanyahu of keeping critical information from his cabinet in the buildup to Israel’s summer 2014 military action in Gaza, and of failing to adequately respond to tunnels Hamas used in launching attacks on Israeli soil.
Second, Mr. Netanyahu is under increasing pressure from coalition partners in his cabinet. As I noted last November, the Israeli government is defined by significant internal tensions. Leading the charge for tougher action against the Palestinians is Education Minister Naftali Bennett. A young, charismatic hawk and proponent of expanded West Bank settlement construction, Mr. Bennett wants to bend Mr. Netanyahu to his hard-line agenda.
Third, the likelihood of renewed conflict with Hamas is growing by the day. Recent weeks have seen Hamas escalate the pace of rocket, mortar, knife, and bomb attacks on Israelis. In response, the Israeli military is launching operations against Hamas facilitation nodes.
Fourth and finally, tensions are growing with Iranian proxies in the Golan region on Israel’s border.
Let’s take the third and fourth issues first. Israel’s strategic goal in dealing with Hamas is to constrain the group’s military capabilities. Partly motivated by the aforementioned domestic controversy over Hamas’s infiltration tunnels in 2014, Netanyahu also wants to ensure that they cannot launch a surprise attack on Israeli civilians. Such an attack would cost innocent lives, and, more important, it would embolden Israeli adversaries at a time of growing regional instability.
Israel wants Iran to know that it will not replicate America’s strategy of acquiescence and will role the military dice to preserve its deterrent posture if it must.
And that leads us to Iran. With President Bashar al-Assad of Syria now buoyed by Russia, Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) and Iran sense an opportunity to re-commit their energies toward Israel’s northern border. The Syrian Civil War has imposed a heavy military and political toll on Iran and LH, but their existential fetish for Jewish blood is unrelenting. As the Middle East sinks into unrestrained violence, the Obama administration has sat idly by, dancing to Vladimir Putin’s tune at every turn. And without any confidence that Obama would come to its aid in a time of need, Israel is now aligning with the Sunni-Arab monarchies against Iran. Netanyahu’s recent assurance of Israel’s continued claim to the Golan Heights was a physical metaphor for Israel’s evolving security strategy: Israel wants Iran to know that it will not replicate America’s strategy of acquiescence and will role the military dice to preserve its deterrent posture if it must.
#related#Domestically, Netanyahu must also now decide how to deal with Naftali Bennett, and big changes may be coming on that front. As columnist Mazal Mualem outlined yesterday, the prime minister may soon form an alliance with Isaac Herzog, the leader of Israel’s liberal Zionist Union coalition. Mr. Herzog’s desire for engagement with the international community would give Israel a stronger diplomatic hand in challenging racist agendas such as the Boycott and Divestment movement. It would also allow Netanyahu to neutralize Bennett, and thus move forward on tentative efforts to build trust with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in hopes of a possible resumption of peace talks. That’s important, because absent progress toward peace, Mr. Abbas will face an increasing challenge from extreme elements in Fatah’s leadership. And if he’s outmaneuvered, Israel may find itself facing a concerted union of enemies in both Gaza and the West Bank.
These are very tough times for Netanyahu. Whatever happens next will have grave consequences for Israel’s security and its relations with the international community. Here’s hoping that the prime minister succeeds, and that the next American president takes our traditional alliances more seriously than Obama.
— Tom Rogan writes for National Review Online and Opportunity Lives. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets @TomRtweets. His homepage is http://www.tomroganthinks.com.