Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has criticized the policies of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that “the beginning of the war may be a precursor to Israel being mired in the Gaza quagmire.” In an opinion piece for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Barak called for early elections in Israel “before it’s too late.” The former Israeli prime minister said, “On the battlefield, we see inspiring displays of courage and sacrifice. In Israel, we see despair, a sense that despite the gains of the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas has not been defeated and the return of the hostages is receding.”
In Israel itself, many sensible people believe that the war against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which has been continuing for nearly four months, and in which the powerful IDF have not achieved their objectives, makes no sense. Many media outlets point out that when there is no specific political objective, the Israeli military cannot achieve total victory and will inevitably “drown” in Gaza.
And this is not just a metaphor – the facts clearly show that the Israeli military is caught in a stalemate and is suffering significant losses every day. In one day alone, 24 Israelis were killed in two episodes, and the losses are increasing every day. In addition to those killed, there is also a large number of wounded and crippled, many of whom will be incapable of leading a normal life. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has forbidden his military to talk about their losses in the bloody war against the Palestinians, but a review of Hamas’s reports from the battlefield suggests that they are not insignificant.
In Israel, even the military has pointed out the danger of getting involved in simultaneous fighting in the Gaza Strip, on the border with Lebanon and in the West Bank, not to mention Israel’s continuous unjustified bombing of Syrian cities, especially the capital, Damascus. Commenting on this situation, Barak said that the problems on these other fronts are distracting the attention of the military from the main task in the Gaza Strip, dispersing the military forces available into several theaters of war, making it more difficult for Israel to use the aid provided by the US, given the large-scale international protests, and threatening the normalization of relations with Arab countries and the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Comments and speculations are already appearing in the international press about what might happen if Egypt, and, more likely, King Abdullah II of Jordan, were to come to the aid of their Palestinian brothers. It should not be forgotten that Jordan is home to large numbers of Palestinian refugees, who are protesting angrily about the monstrous policies of Israel and the US in the Gaza Strip.
According to the Jerusalem Post, there is a growing chasm between Netanyahu and the generals in his war cabinet, in terms of their views on how to fight the war and its future prospects. The military is still dutifully reporting to the Prime Minister, a civilian, but who knows what will happen when IDF casualties increase further and approach the military’s red line, after which point it may just simply obey the orders of higher authorities without question. In this regard, the Iranian Tehran Times has wryly noted that soon there will be no one left to draft into the army, as all the more or less combat-ready men and most of the women are already in the armed forces.
What is more, we can now say that Israel has lost one young generation, which Netanyahu, for the sake of saving his career and reputation, has thoughtlessly threw into this terrible war. According to Israeli media, even the elite Golan division, after two months of intense fighting in the Palestinian enclave has now been withdrawn from the Gaza strip to rest, reform, recruit more troops and reequip. The Golan division has suffered serious losses: according to some estimates up to 40% of its personnel have been killed or injured. Many of the soldiers have had to undergo urgent psychological rehabilitation treatment. And what can we say about the young reservists who were sent to this war without proper training, and many of whom have been killed, or are now disabled or suffering from psychological disorders that prevent them from returning to normal life.
All this is due to the inept leadership of Netanyahu, who, stubbornly pursuing his own selfish goals, has lost the trust of the majority of Israelis and isolated his country on the world stage. Long before the events of October 7, it was already clear that Israel was in dire need of a change in leadership, and now that need has become especially urgent. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have resigned because of the security failures that enabled the Hamas attacks, in which an unprecedented number of Israelis were killed, but instead he blamed others for what happened. Netanyahu claimed that the crisis required him to stay in his post and lead the war to destroy the “terrorists.” Right from the beginning, he repeatedly promised an early “total victory” and the release of the Israeli hostages. But he has failed to achieve this: the army is suffering huge losses, the fate of the hostages is unknown, and Hamas is fighting desperately against the IDF, which are many times bigger in terms of their strength and resources. Meanwhile, Israel’s government, country and society are divided over Netanyahu’s aggressive tactics, which are unlikely to bring victory.
Gaza is now considered the most dangerous place on Earth to live. According to the UN, Gaza’s 2.2 million residents are essentially living in conditions of starvation, exacerbated by Israel’s relentless attacks and its obstruction of humanitarian aid. Most homes in the northern part of the Strip are now uninhabitable.
The Israeli public no longer feels safe, as even Israeli President Isaac Herzog admits. The level of confidence in the country’s political leadership is so low that most Israelis are demanding an urgent change of prime minister, and the prestige of the security forces and intelligence agencies, which the country once prided itself on, has been seriously damaged. Netanyahu’s “total war” in Gaza has sparked conflicts in the occupied West Bank, with Hezbollah in Lebanon and with the Houthis in Yemen. Israel now faces a struggle on many fronts that could last months, perhaps years, and which will undoubtedly result in more Israeli deaths.
Netanyahu’s war has set back the normalization of relations between Israel and the Gulf Arab states begun by the Abraham Accords. And, to judge by recent votes at the UN General Assembly, it has isolated the country internationally to an extraordinary degree. In The Hague, Israel stands accused of committing acts of genocide, which it naturally denies, as it has pursued its a policy against the Palestinians for 76 years. Israel’s relations with friendly European countries, whose calls for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza Netanyahu rejects, are extremely strained. Most notably, he is now in an open dispute with the US, Israel’s most important ally and a major supplier of financial aid and vast quantities of weapons.
Many Israelis are appalled by Netanyahu’s self-serving and destructive behavior. Internal pressure to replace the prime minister and make changes to Israel’s military strategies and post-war planning is increasing rapidly. Opinion polls show that Israelis no longer trust Netanyahu and want him out. The position of his Likud party has also deteriorated sharply. It is clear to almost everyone that the prime minister’s reliance on far-right ministers to rally his coalition is preventing sound decision-making. The opposition parties are demanding early elections.
This necessary and overdue internal debate reached a new level of intensity after a dramatic statement by Gadi Eisenkot, a reserve lieutenant general and former chief of general staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Eisenkot said that the release of the hostages should be the first priority and that a cease-fire was required. He accused Netanyahu of misleading Israelis by claiming that Hamas could be eliminated. In his view, urgent attention needs to be paid to deciding on the form of a post-war political settlement.
What is Netanyahu doing at this critical moment? Deliberately and with a great deal of self-serving political calculation, and in an attempt to preserve his premiership, he decisively and firmly declares: “Under any arrangements which we make in the foreseeable future… Israel must retain security control over the whole territory to the west of the River Jordan. Palestinian sovereignty is not an option. That will never happen while I am in power.”
It is possible that Netanyahu genuinely believes that no two-state solution could ever work, and he is doing what he can to prevent this. By taking a tough stance, he may be hoping to convince the Israelis that he still offers the best hope for their future security. Perhaps he hopes that it will help him cling on as Prime Minister until a second Trump presidency comes to his rescue.
But, like a blind man, he is wrong on all counts. Netanyahu is not a partner in the struggle for peace, but rather the enemy of peace. Now is the ideal moment for the US and British governments and Israel’’s other friends to pressurize him into resigning. For the Israelis in their very difficult situation, this is an opportune moment to say Goodbye Bibi!
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”