Observations of an Expat: Poor Bibi

Spare a thought for Bibi Netanyahu. He is caught between a rock and several hard places. He is fighting external wars against Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran; an internal war against his cabinet colleagues and a diplomatic one against the Biden Administration and most of the rest of the world, if not all of it.

The results of this complex picture could be Armageddon, stalemate or any one of the many in between scenarios.

While pondering the fate of the Israeli prime minister you may also want to consider all the other players who are dragging the world to the brink of a Middle Eastern abyss: President Joe Biden, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. They are locked in a dangerous escalating tit for tat dance of death.

Within the Israeli cabinet there is a four-way tug-of-war between Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and War Cabinet Minister and Opposition Leader Benny Gantz. They all appear to hate and distrust each other.

According to sources, Gallant and Gantz have hardly spoken to each other since Benny Gantz beat out Yoav Gallant for the top military job ten years ago. Itamar Ben-Gvir is an ultra-Orthodox Jew who said Netanyahu should “go berserk” after Iran’s missile attack on Israel. He described Israel’s retaliatory attack on Iran’s third most populous city, Isfahan, as “lame.”

Gallant is not as extreme as Ben-Gvir, but not far off. Benny Gantz is the nearest thing to a dove that there is in the Israeli war cabinet. But even he is calling for the “total destruction” of Hamas. If elections were held today, Gantz would be prime minister.

All four men have conflicting views on a post-war Gaza. Netanyahu wants the army to take over. Gallant wants an ill-defined arrangement with the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority. Ben-Gvir is pushing for replacing the 2.2 million Gazan Palestinians with Israeli settlers and Benny Gantz is keeping his cards close to his chest, but hints at a politically slimmed down two-state solution.

Netanyahu, according to sources, deals with his rivals by ignoring them. All the major decisions since October 7 have been made by the prime minister without – or with the minimum – consultation.

This goes for his relations with President Joe Biden as well. Netanyahu has ignored American calls for restraint in his attacks on Gaza. Neither was the US informed of the attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus or the attack on Isfahan until “minutes” before they occurred, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Meanwhile, the left-wing of the Democratic Party is pulling Biden away from Israel and the Republicans are pushing him towards it. The US president also has to deal with Ukraine and the strategic threat of China. All this in an election year when he is trailing arch-foe Donald Trump in the opinion polls.

Biden’s main aim is to prevent the Gaza War and Iranian-Israeli retaliatory strikes from spiralling out of control. His calls for de-escalation, restraint and caution have been echoed around the globe including top adversary China as well as Britain, Japan and all of the EU countries. Biden’s “red line” is the threatened Israeli attack on 1.2 million Gazans holed up in the southern city of Rafah.

Netanyahu for his part, has said, that an attack on Rafah will come, and it will be at a time of his choosing. Furthermore, he, not Joe Biden, will make the decisions about what the Israeli army does and how it does it. At the same time, Netanyahu is banking on continued American military aid and full support if Israel is attacked.

Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini, celebrated his 85th birthday on the same day that Israeli missiles landed on Isfahan. Iran is, on the one hand, the evil theocratic force behind Hamas, Hezbollah and the Yemeni Houthis attacking Red Sea shipping. And on the other, it is demonstrating restraint to avoid escalation. Its attack on Israel was telegraphed beforehand and afterwards Tehran said there would be no further retaliation, even though the effect was minimal. And when Israel bombed Isfahan, the Iranians dismissed it as almost an inconvenience.

The fact is that Iran is not ready for a war with an American-defended Israel. It has severe domestic problems, both politically and economically. At the same time, there is an irrational ideological Iranian hard-line to match that of Israel. They are known as the Paydari Front or the Front of the Stability of the Islamic Revolution. Ayatollah Khameini, still retains dictatorial powers, but he is 85 and the Paydari Front now controls many of the key government positions.

Meanwhile, Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas and the mastermind with Muhammad Deif of the 7 October attack, is believed to be holed up in a tunnel under Rafah along with a number of the Israeli hostages. Somehow or another, pollsters have managed to infiltrate Gaza, and discovered that Gazans are angry at the death and destruction that Hamas has brought down on their heads. Gazan support for Hamas, according to these brave pollsters, has dwindled to about 35 percent.

But Sinwar’s 7 October appears to have triggered giant strides towards several goals. He has severely strained relations between Israel and its chief backer the United States; turned Israel into a pariah state in the eyes of many; torpedoed the Abraham Accords and Saudi recognition of Israel; and put the two-state solution back on the diplomatic agenda. But that is unlikely to be the end of the matter.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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9 Comments

  • You forget another most pertinent point. Bibi knows that if he ceases to be PM, then he will be in court on corruption charges. So he’s desperate to stay in power and this colours everything he does to the detriment of peace and the hostages and it’s why he must continue to wage war.

  • Steve Trevethan 20th Apr '24 - 1:27pm

    Might it be that an unstated purpose of the combined behaviours of the current U. S and Israeli governments is to show that, without U. S support, international bodies to promote a reasonably genuine rules based world are ineffectual?

    Might such be part of a larger, unstated U. S policy of seeking/ maintaining world dominance?

  • Martin Gray 21st Apr '24 - 7:48am

    I see that the Western liberal democracies are gearing up for some more sanctions to be imposed on Iran for firing those obsolete missile and drones in retaliation for the flattening of their diplomatic compound in Damascus. Thankfully nobody was killed by those Iranian missiles .
    The unrelenting death toll in Gaza continues – the continuing deaths of children goes virtually unoticed in those so called Liberal western democracies – the stench of hypocrisy is almost overpowering…

  • Steve Trevethan 21st Apr '24 - 10:28am

    Well posted Mr. Gray!!!

    Why is it that an adult being offended in London gets lots of publicity while children in Gaza having limbs amputated without anaesthetic do not?

  • Excellent summary Tom and some excellent comments. Meanwhile our government continues to “lay off” Israel and the official opposition lets them get away with it.

  • Martin Gray 21st Apr ’24 – 7:48am..Again, well said..

    Every western news outlet appears to have forgotten the fact that the escalation in the ME was solely due to israel’s attack on Iran; an attack designed (successfully) to portray Israel as the victim rather than the villain and to draw the west politically and militarily into the conflict ..

  • Tom, thanks for this excellent summary.
    Steve, it was hubris that led that “London adult” to think his hurt was so important – he was on the radio shortly after you posted your comment, demanding that heads should roll. The BBC would have wiser and kinder not to let him paint the picture of self-obsession which he did. It was unfair to all the Jews I know. However, it was instructive, and indicative of the kind of hubristic mindset that lets Netanyahu think he can trample over international law without losing the support of most of the rest of the world because of what happened to Jews in the past.
    Bibi, that ‘get out of jail free’ card has been ripped to shreds by your criminal actions in Gaza. The ICJ report will take a few years, but world public opinion has already found you guilty.

  • Peter Hirst 7th May '24 - 12:18pm

    The only viable solution is a diplomatic one through negotiating. Whether ending the war in Gaza can lead directly to a wider peace settlement is a mute one. Whatever happens Israel recognising the rights of the Palestinian people to a secure home must be part of the settlement. Of course the people of the Middle East must also recognise Israel’s right to a peaceful and secure future also.

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