NewsGaza conflict and U.S. tensions test Netanyahu's legacy

Gaza conflict and U.S. tensions test Netanyahu's legacy

Israeli forces took control over the important Rafah border crossing in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli forces took control over the important Rafah border crossing in the Gaza Strip.
Images source: © East News | AFP PHOTO, Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies

2:11 PM EDT, May 11, 2024

The conflict in the Gaza Strip has persisted for more than six months, showing no signs of abating. Although Hamas's strength has diminished, the group remains undefeated. Adding to the tensions, the possibility of a broader regional conflict involving Iran hangs ominously over Israel. Within Israel itself, the situation appears bleak.

Polls suggest that should early elections be conducted, the opposition is likely to come into power. The military stalemate in the Gaza Strip and domestic challenges only scratches the surface. Israel is grappling with a profound image crisis, facing growing criticism on the international stage.

This crisis is starkly evident in the strained relations between Israel and its principal ally, the United States. The question arises: Is this the culmination of Benjamin Netanyahu's lengthy political tenure, marking him the longest-serving prime minister in the nation's history?

A distant victory in the Gaza Strip

After half a year of continuous fighting, a decisive victory in the Gaza Strip eludes the Israeli military. Despite their efforts, Hamas maintains a considerable force, estimated at 14,000 fighters. A recent announcement by the army spotlighted their control over the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, labeled as Hamas’s final bastion.

Yet, even in areas deemed as "subdued," Hamas operatives remain active, primarily due to an elaborate tunneling system beneath the Gaza Strip. Initially estimated to span 217 miles before the war, the network has reportedly doubled, underscoring its vast scale within the enclave’s modest geography.

The absence of significant military triumphs for Israel highlights a critical issue: the detention of numerous Israeli hostages by Hamas, posing a considerable political challenge for Netanyahu’s administration.

Is a tactical retreat by Hamas on the horizon?

Prime Minister Netanyahu posits that seizing Rafah is the key to absolute victory. He alleges the town shelters many of Hamas's elite military leaders. Nonetheless, this outlook isn't universally accepted.

Critics argue that an offensive in Rafah may not yield the ultimate victory anticipated by Netanyahu, suggesting that Hamas could pull back tactically, only to return once Israeli forces withdraw.

The deepening crisis between Israel and America

The Rafah conflict underscores not merely a military debate but also a political dilemma. Over a million Palestinian civilians, primarily refugees, reside in the area, and the U.S. administration worries that an aggressive offensive might lead to substantial civilian casualties, urging Netanyahu to refrain from such actions.

This dispute is emblematic of the broader escalating tensions between Israel and the United States.

A global disagreement

The Biden administration's patience is wearing thin with Netanyahu's approach, perceived as undermining U.S.-led peace efforts. This dissatisfaction was markedly displayed when, in a departure from precedent, the U.S. abstained from vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

This incident has sparked debate within Israel, with some framing the contention as exclusive to Biden's presidency. However, disillusionment with Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip has led to a notable decline in pro-Israel sentiment among Americans, particularly the youth.

Internationally, Israel's controversial military strategies in the Gaza Strip, resulting in significant civilian casualties, have drawn widespread condemnation, with South Africa spearheading legal action against Israel in the International Criminal Court, alleging genocide. This move represents a significant diplomatic setback for Israel.

The domestic turmoil

The military stalemate, the international image crisis, and the friction with the U.S. are just indicators of Israel's deeper troubles. Public sentiment has turned massively against Netanyahu following a deadly Hamas assault, with a substantial majority calling for his resignation.

Despite mounting pressure for early elections, Netanyahu remains resistant. Yet, his political future is uncertain, with internal government disputes threatening his coalition’s stability, including debates over military conscription and the funding of religious institutions.

The looming confrontation with Iran

Further exacerbating Netanyahu's concerns is the potential of the Gaza conflict spilling over into a wider regional war with Iran and its allies, highlighted by recent escalations at the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The (un)sinkable prime minister

Netanyahu, a divisive yet undeniably skilled politician, has dominated Israeli politics for over 16 years. Despite the myriad challenges, his political acumen has kept him afloat through turbulent times. However, the current crisis poses a significant threat even to someone as resilient as Netanyahu.

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