Home News As Gaza ceasefire balances, Netanyahu adopts strategy to retain power

As Gaza ceasefire balances, Netanyahu adopts strategy to retain power

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is known for stalling for time and postponing major decisions. But he may not be able to do it for much longer.

At home, his far-right coalition partners have threatened to dissolve the government if he agrees to a ceasefire and does not try to clear out Hamas. Rafah, southern Gaza.

Militarily, the strategic logic is to complete the disintegration of Hamas by capturing Rafah and controlling the border with Egypt. But diplomatically, his allies, particularly the United States, are urging him to agree to a ceasefire and skip Rafah and the potential civilian casualties a large-scale operation could cause.

As a result, Mr. Netanyahu is now negotiating and maneuvering on multiple fronts simultaneously, all of which has major implications for the conduct of the war and his own future as prime minister.

After he recently warned Palestinians in parts of Rafah to move to Israeli-designated safe areas, Israeli forces occupied the Gaza side of the border with Egypt late Monday night, sending a signal to his far-right government alliance, Hamas and Israel. The Biden administration has said it will continue to prioritize Israel’s security interests. What’s more, Israel’s smaller war cabinet, which includes senior opposition figures, supported the decisions.

Seizing the Rafah crossing into Egypt attempts to complete Israeli security control of the Gaza border and has so far avoided a large-scale and controversial military operation in Rafah itself, which is filled with displaced civilians. That could be a sign that Israel is finally ready to agree to at least a temporary ceasefire in Gaza, although the outcome of those talks remains uncertain.

“Netanyahu is being pulled in every direction” and pressure is mounting on him to respond, said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel now at Princeton University.

Above all Mr Netanyahu wants to avoid new elections, which could mean losing power and reopening the various court cases against him. “Political survival always comes first in Netanyahu’s calculations,” Mr. Kurzer said.

He said he also faced competing pressure from “extremists in his own coalition who want to continue the war” and from the hostages’ families, who want the government to prioritize a ceasefire and release more people being held hostage. Israel during the October 7 Hamas-led attack.

He noted that external pressure came from Biden administration officials and some members of Congress “who are losing patience with the humanitarian situation.” They want a ceasefire and oppose a major attack on Rafah. Finally, he said, there is “a real and ongoing threat of escalation, particularly from Hezbollah.”

Here’s a closer look at the political, military and diplomatic issues facing Mr Netanyahu as he weighs his next steps.

Mr Netanyahu is eager to unite his ruling coalition, which holds a slim majority with 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

His far-right partners Itamar Ben Gweil and Bezalel Smotrich, who jointly control 14 seats, have vowed to leave the government if the prime minister makes too many concessions and agrees to a ceasefire in Gaza, Thus allowing Hamas to claim victory. They insist, as Mr Netanyahu has done, that the military will take action against Rafah.

Gadi Eisenkot, a former general and opposition member of the war cabinet, accused the pair of carrying out “political blackmail” and blocking the return of at least some of the hostages.

But new elections will almost certainly produce a new coalition without Mr Ben-Gevir and Mr Smotrich, leaving Mr Netanyahu with some wiggle room.

Agreeing to a phased temporary ceasefire, as proposed in current negotiations, would likely allow Israel to deal with what it calls the four Hamas camps in and under its leadership of Rafah at a much slower pace over several weeks, especially now along the lines of Egypt The Gaza Strip on the border has been occupied.

It will also bring home more hostages – not all, but some of the most vulnerable, and some who have died and may be buried by their families. This could help reduce anti-government rallies that are often staged by hostage families.

It would also go some way to placating President Biden, who could declare a diplomatic victory with a ceasefire that would also allow more humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza and allow more civilians to move to safer areas, even to the north, They were shielded by Israeli troops and avoided a full-scale attack on Rafah.

“Netanyahu is in no rush to end the war,” said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator who now directs the U.S./Middle East Project at the nonprofit policy group. “He doesn’t want a ceasefire that threatens his coalition or his ability to continue the war after the pause. He wants to drag this out because once the war is over, what reason is there not to hold new elections?”

Israeli military officials and analysts stress that cutting off the smuggling of weapons and equipment from Egypt through Rafah’s underground tunnels is more important to Israel than Hamas fighters remaining in Rafah.

Although Egypt denies large-scale smuggling into Gaza, Israeli officials believe that much of the extraordinary arsenal and construction supplies Hamas has amassed in Gaza came through Egyptian tunnels.

“If we end the war without blocking the tunnels, we will enable Hamas or any other terrorist group in the region to rebuild their military capabilities,” said Kirby Michael of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Nizam Nouriel is a reserve brigadier general and former head of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau of Israel’s National Security Council. He has worked with Netanyahu for many years. “Rafa is important not because there are still four Hamas camps,” he said. “Rafa is important because the message to Palestinians living in Gaza is that Hamas will not be able to control Gaza forever.”

Otherwise, he said, Gazans will “continue to fear Hamas and therefore cooperate with Hamas.”

Natan Sachs, director of the Middle East Policy Center at the Brookings Institution, said even the modest operation in Rafah “serves several of Netanyahu’s goals simultaneously.”

Mr. Sachs said that like many Israeli officials, including those who now hope for a ceasefire, “Netanyahu sincerely believes that the operation in Rafah is critical to Israel’s overall goals – not just pursuing the remaining Hamas forces and cutting off their ability to smuggle supplies across the Egyptian border.”

Sachs said the military operation “also puts pressure on Hamas to relax some of its broader demands in ceasefire negotiations.”

He said that despite serious US concerns, a limited operation in Rafah now suited Mr Netanyahu politically, saying “right-wing opposition to a deal now and facing public opposition to a deal before the main objectives of the operation are achieved” The Wrath of Mars”. If severely damaged, still standing. “

Mr Netanyahu faces intense diplomatic pressure from allies including Washington and Berlin, the United Nations, the European Union and Sunni Arab regional countries to avoid taking major action in Rafah.

They want him to allow more humanitarian aid to Gaza and agree to a deal with Hamas that at least promises what the current draft text calls “sustainable calm,” rather than a permanent ceasefire.

But such a deal would still not resolve fundamental differences between Israel and Hamas over how to end the conflict.

Hamas wants to end the war now, withdraw all Israeli troops from Gaza and release all hostages in exchange for the large number of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Israel wants to ensure that any ceasefire is temporary so that Hamas cannot claim victory and begin to regain control of Gaza.

Still, after Hamas’s recent concessions, combined with Israeli military action to control Egypt’s borders, a ceasefire seems much more likely than before — and may even be what Mr. Netanyahu wants. .

But Gazans are wary and distrustful of Israeli statements. Mkhaimar Abusada is a Gazan political scientist whose university in the enclave of Al-Azhar was destroyed in the fighting. Abu Saada, who is now in Cairo with his family, said he was convinced that “Netanyahu will enter Rafah no matter what the international community says.”

Mr Netanyahu “wants to retain his coalition government, avoid early elections, remain prime minister and not go to jail,” he said. “I just hope he treats Palestinian civilians in a humane way.”

But in the end, Mr. Abu Saada said, Mr. Netanyahu “can’t win for Israel after this war without so much death and destruction, where all Palestinian civilians and children have died.”

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